Maggie Kozuch: From Champions League winner to World Tour Finals gold medallist
Lausanne, Switzerland, July 1, 2020 - Maggie Kozuch is one of only a very few players in the world to have enjoyed the highest level of success in both indoor and beach volleyball. She won the CEV Champions League with Pomi Casalmaggiore and joined an elite group of players by winning a major FIVB Beach Volleyball event at the World Tour Finals in Rome in 2019 with partner Laura Ludwig.
In this, the second part of this exclusive series with the free spirited German blocker, we hear about her transition from indoor to beach and the challenges that present themselves when in her words ‘you change sport’.
“My decision to change sports came around due to a lot of things. First, indoors I played five months with shoulder pain and it was the first year that I decided to not go to the national team practice. I decided to rest, do yoga and listen to myself to see what my body needed. I wasn’t sure if I could play and not be in pain. In 2017, I already had the contract in China and had decided to play. In the end, however, with a lot of back and forth, the team and club didn’t register for the league, and I was left without an offer and club. It was very late and everyone already had a club - so I was left in limbo.”
Kozuch says that due to the nature of international volleyball, it isn’t strange for a player to approach a season without a contract and find a team at a very late stage. It was on a visit to the German National Tour that things started to change.
“Everyone thought I had come to watch because I was interested in transferring to beach volleyball and that wasn’t the case at all. Britta Buthe decided to stop playing, and Karla Borger didn’t have a partner and it started to become more serious, people from the federation started to ask me at the tournament... and then Karla called me. We spoke for an hour and something inside of me was just wanting to play beach.”
Kozuch and Borger played 29 events together in 2017 and 2018 before Ludwig made the call to Kozuch to create a team for 2019. Maggie continued to receive offers to play indoor volleyball, including in Turkey, but says she has no regrets.
“There was never any doubt. I had shoulder pain anyway and many more doors open by taking on another sport at an elite level... but it did bring a lot of challenges, including economic. People were saying that I should stay indoors... because I had worked for it my whole life. It wasn’t a decision based around money. I have learnt a lot about beach volleyball and other professions. We are very independent and very responsible in our project at the moment, which I like. We have the responsibility to make choices on what works best for us. I can make decisions on food, sleep, treatment and meetings. I have never doubted my decision, I don’t even think about it. I have my supporters, team and sponsors to thank for that and I am super happy that they have stayed with us.”
Kozuch describes volleyball and beach volleyball as no more ‘different or similar than she thought they would be’ and draws on her own experiences about being a player in both forms of the game and the differences between the two.
“Indoor is quick, high rhythm, a lot of running and sometimes you don’t even touch the ball, you have substitutions. You don’t have so much time to work on the details as you do in beach. I played at a different club every season so I feel my process was built with Giovanni Guidetti during the summer months, when I was on national team duty. There you have time to build a process - sometimes in the club situation there's a little less of the process and it's more focused on results. There are no substitutions in beach volleyball and the support staff have to work with players on every small detail to improve their game.”
“I love the speed of the indoor game, I love the moment when the setter gives me a fast set and you are in that moment in the air where everything stops and you are there jumping in the air with arms open with the ball and you see and take the decision in this moment. It's a feeling that is beautiful and I can still feel it... I don't know if I could get that feeling back on court now. It would probably take a long time to get back to that... but who knows. In beach, the speed is different but what I see is that I am working so much on my body, how I use my body in the healthiest way, how I transform my body and technique on to the sand. I have to consider the wind, the lack of walls and reference points... it is difficult but I love it.”
Kozuch mentions blocking as one of a list of skills that she is always trying to get better at in the beach game and something she has to reflect on every day as she progresses in her mission to ‘fulfil’ her potential at the net.
“Indoors I was a good blocker when I was blocking alone, because I knew it was kind of a lost situation already and I was often very successful. But then when I was more responsible for putting my block in the right place as a middle blocker sometimes, I was a little bit tentative. This is something that has changed and it is fun to see it evolve and see the different movements evolve. And I also enjoy the decision making, to pull or to block and if I do decide to block to give it 100% and put this all together with the whole block and defence system.”
Kozuch had a career of almost 20 years in indoor volleyball and for her it's a family sport and one that her mother and father both played. She admits that there are many skills that she has carried over from her indoor career which have helped her move to beach, and many other skills from the hard surfaced game that she has had to abandon.
“I will say my physical ability had to change for beach volleyball to adapt to jumping in the sand and moving the correct way. I was always jumping forwards in indoors and moving in different directions. But now I need to be very stable for my jump and also in the air - this was tough to adapt to and I still have to improve.”
Kozuch says that someone should write a book to explain all the differences between indoor and beach strategies, and how it feels to play the two sports.
“The demands of the sports are just so different - in beach I feel how much you pay attention to the physical aspect. You need your body to adapt to different techniques and demands. I am not saying you don’t need it for indoor, but you work with a setter who sets the ball where you want it, and if you are tired you can take a rest. You can feel the pressure of being on the bench indoors, and you feel that pressure when you are playing. Indoor is so fast because you use the floor to be fast and play quicker. You can also play quick on the sand, but it's a different way of doing things, and different skills to master.”
Although the demands of the sports are very different, Maggie also says that trusting in your journey even when the chips are down also plays an important role.
“Mentally, for me to deal with the pressure that I put on myself or to accept the pressure that comes from the outside is interesting. Trusting in the moment, yourself and your process at the point of your biggest struggles is key. I was forced to do this in Rome and the fact I trusted the process worked, and the result was something beautiful.”
Kozuch is a thinker and studies her own feelings and behaviours. She says she is a reflection of the people she has met and the people who have influenced her, and is a big believer in trying to find her ‘flow’, ‘a state where everything is moving slow and fast at the same time’. Balance is key to finding her flow.
“It’s about trying to achieve this flow, and the way that makes us comfortable... going from being out of our comfort zone and then being comfortable again and evolving. To get to that point, there is a lot of thinking with the coaches, who adapt training as a result. Sometimes we need a break, or need to go into nature. These things are very important and then we have to put everything together and find a balance.”
It will certainly be interesting to see how Maggie Kozuch and Laura Ludwig return to the qualification process for the Olympic Games in Tokyo. They are currently well positioned and we wish them all the best in their journey together.