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2017-08-22 11:15:00 CEST

Sax on the Beach: Season Finale

Canadian wildcard Ben Saxton writes exclusively ahead of the World Tour Finals

Ben Saxton and partner Chaim Schalk finished fourth in last year's World Tour Finals on home soil in TorontoBen Saxton and partner Chaim Schalk finished fourth in last year's World Tour Finals on home soil in Toronto

And then there were 12. Per gender, so really 24. 48 if you break it down into individual athletes, but 12 sounds more dramatic, so pretend I stopped after the first sentence. Another season on tour is coming to a close, as we head into the Swatch Beach Volleyball FIVB World Tour Finals presented by Vodafone (to give it it’s full name) and highlight 2017’s best teams (and also a scrub Canadian men’s team that blacked out and can’t remember how they got here). It’s a huge accomplishment even to qualify, but especially this season. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned it before, but there has never been more parity in beach volleyball, which is emphasised by the fact that no team was able to win more than a single five-star event this season. Over the course of the four Major events this year, (Fort Lauderdale, Poreč, Gstaad, Vienna) there were 17 teams that earned medals (nine men’s, eight women’s), and only one that earned a medal in three of the four (Brazilians Larissa/Talita – one gold, one silver, one bronze).

This season, more than any other, upsets have been a common occurrence. The talent level this week in Hamburg will be especially fierce. it will be very difficult to pick out a favorite, never mind an underdog. But frankly it doesn’t really matter to any of us whether we’re favored or not, we’ve all got a reason or two (or three or four, etc.) to put our best foot forward and make the most of this particular event. There may not be any ranking points offered at the Swatch World Tour Finals, but it makes up for that in other important areas.

So let’s start with the obvious incentive. Every athlete here will be drooling over the first place prize of $100,000. Yes, we all love the game, and many of us would play whether there was money involved or not, but it’s also our business. We wake up every morning, go to the office (aka beach/gym) every day, and work our behinds off to pay the bills and put food on the table. The teams that qualify for the Swatch World Tour Finals in Hamburg have just been named employees of the year and now we have one last week to determine our holiday bonus. The wildcard teams are especially excited to be invited to Hamburg, since we’ll now be able to upgrade our Charlie Brown Christmas trees (I realize that’s a very North American reference, so feel free to apply any other classic holiday imagery you want, money applies in most cultures.)

Ben sets as a packed Red Bull Beach Arena looks on during the World Championships in ViennaBen sets as a packed Red Bull Beach Arena looks on during the World Championships in Vienna

Once you get past the Dollar signs that have replaced our eyes ($, €, £, etc. Again, use whichever applies to your culture), and look a little deeper, you’ll find we play for another reason, also. Pride. Protecting our own pride is one part of that. Every athlete has an ego, if you don’t think you can win, you probably won’t, and every team in Hamburg thinks they can win. But more than that we play to make others proud. We want friends, family, fans, and countries to follow along and cheer us on. To recognize what we’re doing and be excited to join us on our yearly adventure that for the last three years has reached its climax at the Swatch World Tour finals. We want our role models to be proud of our evolution, and on the flip side of that we want people to be proud to choose us as their role models. We are proud of the sport we play and we want others to share in that. This event created by Swatch Major Series puts all that pride on the line and lets us do just that.

At the end of the day, though, I will be playing because beach volleyball is fun. Sometimes I need to remind myself of that. Once upon a time, I was a five-year-old kid trying to keep a balloon off the ground, and now I’m still doing pretty much the same thing 20-plus years later. There’s nothing I enjoy more than finding new ways to launch my body like a plaything to keep that precious ball off the sand. I can’t speak for the rest of the athletes on this point, but I certainly hope they feel the same. Play is important for a person’s sanity and soul, if you don’t enjoy something, it can eat away at you. The money and the pride are important, and I will do what I can to earn more of either, but if I couldn’t enjoy myself while I did it, I’m not sure that either would be worth it.

Now let’s get the Swatch World Tour Finals started. Let’s win some money. Let’s make some people proud. And above all, lets have some fun!



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