Sean Rosenthal

Sean Rosenthal: “I’ve got a target on my back”

Words: Ann Donahue
Photo above: Josh Glazebrook/Red Bull Content Pool

At the start of the brand-new Swatch Beach Volleyball Major Series, the pro beach volleyball player reveals how high expectations can lead to big wins.

Watching Sean Rosenthal play beach volleyball inspires a number of questions: How the hell high is his vertical leap? (42 inches.) Does he have his own fan club roaring for him in the stands? (Yes, Rosie’s Raiders.) And are he and partner Phil Dalhausser the presumptive winners going into every match? (Most definitely—the duo won three titles on the FIVB tour in 2014, finishing the season first in total number of wins.)

As we head into his peak season, Rosenthal discusses how being a favorite should motivate—instead of intimidate.

Sean Rosenthal

Take it from a pro: A Southern California native, Rosenthal has appeared in two Summer Olympics.

© Josh Glazebrook/Red Bull Content Pool

THE RED BULLETIN: The Swatch Beach Volleyball Major Series starts off with an event in Porec, Croatia, on June 2. Are you looking forward to playing there?

SEAN ROSENTHAL: The only place in Croatia I’ve played is in Zagreb, which is in the middle of the country, so we’re excited about this one because it’s supposed to be a beautiful spot on the beach. I presume we’re going to get some good fans and fill the stadium up.

Do you think seeing beach volleyball played live will get more people involved?

I hope it does. I don’t think we have any Croatian teams, really, that play.

It’s a bit of a contrast to the grand finale in Fort Lauderdale.

It will be great—hot, I’m sure. Maybe get a little 15 minutes of rain every day. [Laughs.] We always like playing in Florida. It’s easier to get the body warm.

Does being the favorite going into events like the Swatch Series impact your game, or is that just chatter?

It doesn’t really change anything for us. We’ve been close to the top there for a couple years, with each other and with other partners, and it kind of puts a target on our backs. You just have to go out there and play your game… and beat everybody. [Laughs.]

How did you get that kind of confidence? Did you have it from the start of your career? 

I grew up in Redondo Beach, California, and I was always going down to the beach and I was always into sports. I combined the two when I was 14. At 16, I qualified for the Manhattan Beach Open. 

“In the end you just have to go out there and play your game… and beat everybody.”

Getting your head around competing against world-class talent at that young age must have been great mental training.  

Absolutely. I got to hang out in the player tent with [Olympic gold medalist] Karch Kiraly and [five-time Manhattan Beach Open champion] Mike Dodd. I had to miss school for the qualifier, and then I had to miss school again because I made the main draw. I don’t even know if I told my mom, although I must have because she showed up that weekend.

Did you see that early confidence builder pay off?

One of my proudest moments is when I wound up winning my first tournament ever, because I beat Karch in the semifinals. It was a crazy week for me because we won some games we weren’t expecting to win. I was 22 at the time. It was a surreal weekend.

Sean Rosenthal

Christopher McHugh, Phil Dalhausser and Sean Rosenthal perform at the Beachvolleyball Grand Slam in Klagenfurt, Austria on August 1st 2014

© Philipp Schuster/Red Bull Content Pool

So if you’re a total amateur, how can you take your beach volleyball play to the next level?

The biggest thing for people is to not try to hit the ball so hard. They see what my partner Phil can do, or what Kerri Walsh Jennings can do, but you should just do the basics: Get out on the court, move your feet, try not to be lazy and pass the ball the best you can. But the best thing for newbies is to have fun. The more fun you have, the less you feel like you’re working out.

I know this is a thing with surfing, but is there any sort of territorial issue with volleyball players when you go down to the beach?

[Laughs.] I would say 90 percent of the people are cool. If you’re walking down there by yourself and you ask to join a game, pretty much most people will put you in a game.

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