MEL Coutts is no stranger to big matches but the beach volleyball player admits that next weekend may just be the biggest occasion of her entire career.

In a week’s time in Cyprus, alongside her partner, Lynne Beattie, Coutts will attempt to secure a place at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia’s Gold Coast and if the pair are successful, they will become Scotland’s first representatives in beach volleyball at the Commonwealth Games.

The pair are in good form and earlier this year made history by becoming the first Scots to win a match on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour. They will need to be at their very best if they are to make it through next weekend’s qualifying tournament and Coutts is well aware of how monumental an achievement it would be if the pair could make the Gold Coast.

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However, the 45 year-old from Edinburgh is conscious that focusing too much on the potential rewards could work against them as they try to bring their best performance to the court.

“I try not to think too much about being the first Scots to ever get to a Commonwealth Games because we’re not there yet but yeah, it would be absolutely phenomenal,” she said.

“We’ve certainly both played in big games before where there’s a lot at stake although actually, nothing quite as big as this. We know how well we can play though so a lot of it is just about being consistent. We’re not thinking that we have to miraculously produce a performance –- it’s knowing that we have that fight and that ability in us to make it to Gold Coast. It’s nothing that we can’t do, it’s just about being prepared and being in exactly the right frame of mind to do it.”

Between them, Coutts and Beattie have a wealth of experience to draw upon; Coutts is an internationalist in both indoor and beach volleyball while Beattie a regular in the British indoor team, even captaining GB at the 2012 Olympic Games.

It is this experience that Coutts knows will be vital to tap into as they attempt to control their nerves in Cyprus next weekend.

“While we haven’t played in a tournament with as much as this riding on it, what we have done is play in pressure situations – games like semi-finals to get through to a big final and also games that you just really want to win,” she said. “So what we definitely have to our advantage is the experience we both have and so we’re feeling good.

“What we’ve been working really hard on is our teamwork, our communication and our processes for everything that we do and if we focus on that, it will pay dividends because otherwise, you can get so caught up in the score and what’s riding on the result. If you can focus on what you need to do to perform well, that takes away a lot of the pressure, I think.”

If Coutts and Beattie can make it to the Gold Coast with Team Scotland next April, it will be all sunshine and sand, which could not be further from their current training conditions.

Neither Coutts nor Beattie are full-time athletes, with Coutts working for Edinburgh City Council and Beattie with Scottish Volleyball and so early morning sessions are currently the order of the day.

The pair are currently honing their skills at the crack of dawn on Portobello beach, which can often be freezing cold and soaking wet, but Coutts is far too hardy to let a little adverse weather put the brakes on her achieving her dream.

“In all honestly, once you’re out there, it’s absolutely fine because you warm up and you don’t feel the cold,” she said. “It’s the getting up when it’s freezing cold and it’s dark that’s the tough bit but what gets me through it is the thought of getting to the Gold Coast.”

Coutts has overcome far worse than a bit of Scottish weather in recent years – in 2014, she ruptured her ACL and feared that her career was over. But she admits that her stubbornness ensured she battled her way back to fitness.

These days, the prospect of representing Scotland at the Commonwealth Games may be Coutts and Beattie’s personal target but they also have ambitions of leaving a significant legacy, which will benefit the sport as a whole for years to come.

“We’ve done some quite groundbreaking stuff for beach volleyball like getting permanent posts down at Portobello,” Coutts said. “What we’ve always wanted to do in addition to doing well ourselves is to grow the sport so we’ve been coaching kids, we’ve had schools down to the beach, we’ve had summer and Easter camps and we’ve set up a club so that people can use the courts in a more organised way.

“Leaving a legacy behind us has been a huge part of this for us.”