Written by: Collin Kannenberg
We are in the dog days of summer and not a day goes by where Wisconsinites are out appreciating the sun and warmth after another harsh winter. Arguably the hottest (in terms of temperature and popularity) places to spend a summer day is at Bradford Beach right on the coast of Lake Michigan. Every summer, Bradford Beach is home to one of, if not the, most popular summer volleyball leagues in the Midwest. With about 450 teams participating this summer over multiple days of the week and ranging in talent level, Bradford Beach volleyball has established itself as a premier summer night activity in Milwaukee. We spoke with the founder and CEO of Volley Life, the company that runs the league, Tomas Goldsmith, and discuss the popularity of volleyball in Milwaukee, his background as a professional volleyball player, and some unique talents you would not expect from him.
Tomas started playing volleyball as a young child inspired by the fact that both of his parents played. He was about 4 years old when he was first hitting the ball around. He began playing club volleyball when he was 13 years of age but had good competition just playing against his parents who played in tournaments themselves. By the time he was in high school he was playing in tournaments of his own and continued to enjoy playing throughout college where he played at Rutgers University.
Being a professional volleyball player may not be all about talent. I mentioned to him that while observing 2 vs 2 matches at the beach, many of them seem to be at a very high level. What distinguishes the professionals we see on TV from the best at Bradford Beach? “You need to have the time and money to devote to traveling and training that a lot of players don’t have”, Tomas said. Many of those who are playing for fun at the beach simply cannot devote the time or money into training on a daily basis. To make it in professional volleyball it takes intense training and dedication.
For the C-League league (low-level players), training is non-existent as it is “just for fun”, but for Tomas, there is a strict routine. When it comes training, Tomas said that it varies depending on the time of year. “Right now I’m in the season so I’m doing a lot more overall health of the body and mobility of the joints rather than trying to build power. You have to continue to train the muscles to prevent injury.” He said he does endurance training a couple of times a week and some recovery workouts. During the offseason, he does more with weight training.
Tomas has not made it to the Olympics yet but mentioned that he has played against and continues to play with guys who competed in the Olympics. In a professional indoor league, his team captain is Lloy Ball who competed in the 1996, 2000, and 2004 Olympics and won gold in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Tomas had, however, been selected to be on the USA team for the FIVB Snow Volleyball Series opener in Moscow in 2018. “It was a little bit different than sand. It wasn’t nearly as soft as sand, we were wearing cleats. I wasn’t really sure how to prepare for it. I never played in it before. I was just lucky enough to be selected by team USA to go play and we were kind of the pilot crew just testing it out.” Tomas said this is something that could eventually be an event in the winter Olympics at some point.
Now how does Tomas factor into the Bradford Beach leagues? When he was at college at UW-Milwaukee, he used to work for the previous person who ran the leagues. He would set up the courts and help out with equipment. He applied for the volleyball director position in 2015 after SURG restaurant group took over the league and Tomas took over a new role. After 2 years SURG decided to split, and Tomas founded Volley Life. He started managing volleyball leagues at Grant Park Beach in 2018. This year, 2019, is his first year managing Bradford Beach. “The goal is really to create the best possible beach experience in the midwest… mainly I wanted a place that I was happy to come down and play at and train at. It was to create a business to take advantage of the opportunity, but also create a business to be able to pursue my passion”, Tomas said about starting Volley Life.
The change in management from SURG restaurant group to a brand new company in Volley Life was a big move in Milwaukee volleyball. SURG was responsible for adding the tiki hut bars, beach tents, and all the competition to the beach. When Tomas started running it in college in 2015, the year SURG took over, he said they were just under 400 teams and then saw it grow to about 600 teams when they left. This year it dipped back down to around 450, which Tomas says “is a testament to people’s faith in Volley Life to do a good job.”
Moving forward, Tomas hopes to add more courts in the coming years. He hopes this will increase the number of leagues they can entertain and hopes to keep the team participation increasing. This year there was not enough space for the 100 or 120 teams he feels they can add. He feels confident in getting to that 600 number in the coming years.
While Volley Life is the name of the business, Tomas does have a life outside of volleyball. In fact, he is a talented musician. He graduated UW-Milwaukee in 2014 with BFAs in Jazz Studies and Music Performance. For the past 4 years, he has been teaching music lessons but has recently resigned to dedicate more time to Volley Life and also to focus on his playing career. He hopes to play music professionally again someday as well. “It has been a challenge balancing both music and volleyball, but those are the two things I am the most passionate about and the two things I get the most reward out of doing”, Tomas said about his two passions.
As a participant in the Bradford Beach league, it clearly is in good hands. There is good competition, even in the C league, for anyone to play. The atmosphere is unlike any other volleyball league in Wisconsin, and Volley Life will continue to make it a destination for all beachgoers. Having someone who plays volleyball professionally will help the integrity of the league and ensure that enhancements will continue to be made. Pursuing a passion as a career is everyone’s dream, and Tomas is making that happen for him. He took advantage of an opportunity and the risk is paying off. As long as Tomas is in Milwaukee, the Volley Life will continue at Bradford Beach.
Link to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s article on SURG: