Volleyball is a sport played by two teams on a playing court divided by a net. There are different versions available for specific circumstances and purposes. With half a billion organized players in more than 210 countries, volleyball is one of the most widespread sports the world over, and it has had a positive reception in widely differing cultures. In its origins it has certain similarities with basketball. Both games were developed in the United States in the 1890s; both achieved a rapid global spread by means of the international YMCA system, where they were applied in support of a pragmatic muscular Christianity; both are nowadays internationally recognized, dynamic competitive sports with a certain touch of lifestyle. This last point can be demonstrated not least by the latest shoot off the main branch of volleyball, beach volleyball, which signals sunshine, summer, and sandy beaches. Furthermore beach volleyball's inclusion in the Olympic program in Atlanta in 1996 marked the unique occurrence of two internationally widespread variants of the same branch of a sport.
Standard play in modern volleyball involves two teams with six players each—in beach volleyball, there are, however, only two players on each team—playing on a court measuring 29 feet, 6 inches by 59 feet in indoor play, and 52 feet, 6 inches by 26 feet, 3 inches in beach volleyball. The height of the net is 7 feet, 11 and ⅝–inches for men and 7 feet, 4 and ⅛–inches for women. The ball, which weighs about 9.7 ounces and is about 26 inches in circumference, is put in play with a service from behind the end line. The rally continues until the ball is grounded on the playing court or goes out of bounds, or until it is not returned properly.
The team has three hits to return the ball to the opponents court and a player is not allowed to hit the ball twice consecutively. The team winning the rally scores a point; when the receiving team wins a rally, it also gains right to serve, and its players rotate one position clockwise. (Until 1996, the receiving team only won the right to serve, not a point and the right to serve, when it won a rally.) The first team to reach twenty-five points with a two-point advantage wins the game. Volleyball can be divided up into a number of basic techniques. In a "perfect" rally, they will appear in the following order: service, receiving, setting, attacking, blocking, defense, setting, and so forth, until the point is decided. Since the net prevents any actual physical contact between the teams, perfecting—at enormous expense of time—these individual techniques in a precise team collaboration has taken on ever-increasing significance.
The Inventor and His Time
The inventor of volleyball, William G. Morgan (1870–1942), completed his degree in physical education at Springfield College in Massachusetts. Springfield was a YMCA college, and one of Morgan's teachers was John Naismith, who had developed the game of basketball in 1891. Another of Springfield's teachers was Amos Alonzo Stagg, whom many consider to be the father of modern American football. Thus, three men who played influential roles in the development of three of the most dynamic games of our times were together at the beginning of the 1890s at a minor college in Massachusetts. Stagg refined an existing sport; Naismith and Morgan invented new ones. Morgan's game became publicized when he became physical education instructor at Holyoke, another YMCA college in Massachusetts, in 1895. He called it "mintonette," but, even by 1896, it was being called volleyball.
Morgan developed his game as a combination of tennis, baseball, and "handball"—a ball game along the lines of the French jeu de paume. There already existed a game called "minton," which included elements from baseball and tennis. Some have suggested that this game may—considering its name and its earliest rules—have been the inspiration for mintonette. Others have suggested that the game of badminton, which Morgan knew, provided the source for the name. However, Morgan scarcely knew of the German game of "faustball" (fist ball), whose first written rules—in German—date from 1893. It is therefore unlikely that this game inspired Morgan. Wherever the form and the name of mintonette may have originated, Morgan's major new contribution were that, in the net game he created, the ball could only be played in flight (volley), the rules permitted teamwork, and hands alone and no other implement could be used to keep the ball in play.
Like Naismith and Stagg, Morgan can be seen as part of a pedagogical tradition that, in the United States of the 1890s, sought to invent, redefine, and introduce ball games both inside and outside the educational system. As with another initiative of the period, namely the Playground Movement, which took its inspiration from Germany, the game was educative. However, while Naismith designed basketball as a pedagogical "answer" to football and soccer as regards, for instance, central elements of the game such as body contact, movement with the ball, and scoring, Morgan created volleyball for middle-aged and nonathletic men who could not play more strenuous sports, so it is more of a pedagogical "target group game" Behind volleyball from the start lay an exceptionally simple concept. In July 1896, the American magazine Physical Education printed the game's first rules—and there were only ten; they have been altered endlessly ever since. The game was developed for men, but before long women were playing as well.
Volleyball spread by means of the worldwide YMCA system, but World War I gave it a powerful shove forward. American soldiers had, in Europe alone, 16,000 volleyballs, imported by the army. Variants of volleyball were played around the world. In Japan, for instance, a nine-a-side version of the game, with no rotation, was popular until long after World War II. Even in the United States, there were for many years varying rules and interpretations of the rules in volleyball circles. Not until 1917 did sports committees of the YMCA, the colleges, and the universities in the United States agree on a unified set of rules; the world had to wait until 1976 for an official U.S. endorsement of the international volleyball rules, which the rest of the world had agreed upon in 1947 when the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) was founded.
Trends in the Development of Volleyball
On the one hand, the desire to make the game exciting for the players, friendly for the spectators, and interesting for the media guided the development of volleyball. Therefore, officials and participants attempted to keep the techniques simple, the rules comprehensible, and the breaks in play short. Yet, they wished to preserve the original founding ideas of the game as well—for example, that all players should alternate between defense and offense respectively, and that specialization ought not to take place. The attempt to protect this idea from inventive coaches and teams aiming for specialization led in time to the introduction of the rotation system, the attacking line, and restrictive substitution rules. Another fundamental idea was that in the interest of excitement a balance should exist between defense and attack with regard to strength. Since the attacking game in volleyball is the most advantageous, there has traditionally always been an attempt to strengthen the defense. This practice, for example, led to the easing of the blocking rules, the rule permitting players to step on the center line, the antennas, the decision that blocking does not count as a hit, and new and modified techniques of defense partly inspired by beach volleyball.
The United States may have invented and spread the game, but other countries helped develop the game into the version played in the early 2000s, in part for two reasons: because volleyball in its homeland always stood in the shadow of basketball, baseball, and football; and because the spread of volleyball took place to a large extent in areas that, after World War II, belonged under the Eastern bloc. The United States avoided international tournaments when they were introduced at the end of the 1940s and didn't begin to take part in international events until the World Cup in 1956 and especially the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. Nevertheless, in the 1980s, the United States made a serious comeback on the international scene both with regard to men (Olympic gold medals in 1984 and 1988, World Cup winners in 1985, and World Champions in 1986) and women (Olympic silver medal in 1984). In addition, the United States developed beach volleyball and has always been a dominating force in that game. Throughout the 1990s this variant of volleyball, without losing its original stamp as a recreational activity, simultaneously developed its own competition rules and professional tours with corporate sponsorship. In the development of professional indoor volleyball, too, the United States took an early lead in 1975. A professional coed league, the International Volleyball Association (IVA), with men and women players on the same team, was set up. The basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain showed his commitment by becoming both a player and the owner of the league's southern California franchise. In 1980, however, the IVA had to close for economic reasons. In the early twenty-first century, the big money in volleyball was in Europe, especially in Italy.
The Spread of Volleyball and Key Rules' Developments
- • 1900, Canada is the first "foreign" country to adopt volleyball. It is followed by Cuba (1906), Japan (1908), China and the Philippines (1910), Central and South America, India, Korea (1910–1917), Western Europe (1914–1920), and Central and Eastern Europe (1920–1925).
- • 1913, volleyball on the program for the first Far Eastern Games in Manila. Teams were made up of sixteen players.
- • 1916 in the Philippines, an offensive style of passing the ball in a high trajectory to be struck by another player (the set and spike) was introduced.
- • 1917, the game was changed from twenty-one to fifteen points.
- • 1918, only six players per team on court.
- • 1920s, three hits per side and back row attack rules were instituted. Serve and return specialists, set and attack specialists and court defense techniques are developed. Blocking (single player) is introduced.
- • 1924, volleyball demonstration game at the Olympics in Paris.
- • 1927, the YMCA World Championship for men in Copenhagen. Winner: Estonia.
- • 1930, the first two-man beach game was played.
- • 1931, international tournament in Paris. Winner: USSR.
- • 1938, two-man blocks permitted.
- • 1947, the Fédération Internationale de Volley-Ball (FIVB) is founded (in English, the International Volleyball Federation, or IVBF).
- • 1948, first European Championship for men. Winner: Czechoslovakia.
- • 1949, first World Championships for men. Winner: USSR.
- • 1948, first two-man beach tournament held.
- • 1949, the initial World Championships are held in Prague, Czechoslovakia.
- • 1950s, attacking systems, the swerve serve, and the bagger technique are developed.
- • 1964, volleyball is introduced at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Winner: USSR for men and Japan for women.
- • 1965, first World Cup for men. Winner: USSR.
- • 1970s, back spikes (a smash from behind the attacking line) are systematized.
- • 1973, first World Cup for women. Winner: USSR.
- • 1983, 100,000 spectators—a record for an international volleyball game—see the USSR defeat Brazil 3–1 in Rio de Janeiro.
- • 1987, FIVB institutes a Beach Volleyball World Championship Series. Winner: USA.
- • 1990, the World League is created.
- • 1990s, the jump service becomes common and defense techniques from beach volleyball gain a footing. Playing the ball with the feet is allowed.
- • 1996, two-person beach volleyball is added to the Olympics. Winner: USA.
- • 1998–2000, the "libero" is introduced as a defensive player whose jersey must contrast in color to the other players. The game is changed from fifteen to twenty-five points, each serve ending in a point.
Brandel, Christian. Volleyball-Welgeschichte. München, Germany: Copress Verlag, 1988.
Fédération Internationale de Volleyball. 100 Years of Global Link: Volleyball Centennial, 1895–1995. Lausanne, Switzerland: FIVB, 1996.
Levinson, David, and Christensen, Karen, eds. Encyclopedia of World Sport III. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 1996.
Sherrow, Victoria. Volleyball. San Diego, Calif.: Lucent Books, 2002.
Shewman, Byron. Volleyball Centennial: The First 100 Years. Indianapolis, Ind.: Masters Press, 1995.
Invented in 1895, volleyball has grown from its roots as a non-contact recreational exercise to its current status as one of the world's most popular sports. It is a remarkable irony of sports history that volleyball's inventor, a Massachusetts Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) instructor, William G. Morgan (1870–1942), developed this sport in same American town where James Naismith had created basketball four years earlier.
Originally known as "mintonette," Marshall intended his game to be played by an older age group, persons who sought the benefits of an exercise that did not present significant physical risks. Marshall envisioned the new game to be one that would strictly avoid any potential for body contact between opponents and thus be less demanding than the recently developed, but locally popular, basketball. The popularity of the newly named volleyball spread throughout the United States and overseas in the early 1900s due to the worldwide influence of the YMCA, which introduced the sport at its local gyms. In 1916, the style of the sport changed forever when the offensive tactic of the set and spike was first developed in the Philippines, where it was known by the colorful description, la bomba.
Other than subsequent technical refinements to the manner of play, the rules of volleyball have been unchanged since their codification in 1920. The United States Volley Ball Association (later known as USA Volleyball) was formed in 1928, the world's first national governing body in the sport. The first variant of volleyball, beach volleyball, was first played and developed in California after 1930. The international growth of volleyball was impeded only by World War II, and in 1946 the international federation governing the sport, Federation Internationale de Volley-Ball (FIVB), was chartered. FIVB sanctioned the inaugural world volleyball championships in 1949, and the sport was included for the first time as both a men's and women's sport in the 1964 Olympics.
The first professional volleyball league was formed in 1983, and other professional leagues were established in a number of other nations in the succeeding years. Beach volleyball developed its own following, which resulted in both a first FIVB world beach championship in 1987, followed by the inclusion of beach volleyball as an Olympic sport in 1996. Volleyball in both forms is played in every country of the world.
The rules of volleyball are relatively simple; it is the precision with which a team can execute within this uncomplicated rules framework that defines success in the sport. The object of both indoor volleyball and outdoor volleyball is to direct the ball over the net without the ball being safely returned by the opposing team. A team is permitted a maximum of three contacts with the ball after receiving the ball from the opposing team, in addition to any contact with the ball at the net if one of the team attempted to block the ball. Outdoor volleyball is played with two players per side, the indoor game with six per side. If the team can combine to deliver the ball over the net so as to prevent its return by the opposing teams, either by directing into the floor within the playing surface, or when the opponent cannot return the ball after three contacts, a point is scored. Games are scored by the first team to reach 25 points, and a match usually will consist of a best-of-five-games format. When a fifth game is necessary to decide the match that game will be played to 15 points.
Height is an important, but not determinative, physical attribute in volleyball. While tall players typically will dominate in the play at the net, smaller and more agile players are essential in covering open areas of the court, to both keep the ball in play after an opponent's attack, and to coordinate the offensive attack by putting the ball into play as a part of a set offensive sequence. The setter is such a player, the team member responsible for putting the ball into a position where it can be delivered with an authoritative spike into the opponent's court. In elite international volleyball, it is not uncommon to have male players at 6 ft 9 in (2.06 m) or taller playing in the frontcourt, and on women's teams, 6 ft 2 in or taller (1.87 m). However, unlike basketball, where the game has evolved so as to require a significant degree of muscular strength at the forward positions, volleyball players are often very lean of build, with tremendous leaping ability.
The net is positioned midway on a court that is 59.6 ft long, and 29.6 ft wide (18 m by 9 m). The net is 7.95 ft high for men's play, and 7.4 ft high for women (2.43 m and 2.24 m, respectively). The ball used for all players is constructed from synthetic materials, with a circumference of between 25.5 in and 27 in (65 and 67 cm), and a weight of between 9 oz and 10 oz (260 g and 280 g).
The court is marked by lines to define the side defended by each team. As a general rule, the ball may be hit by a player from anywhere on the team's side of the net, including what would otherwise be an out-of-bounds position. Each court has an attack line placed 9.9 ft (3 m) behind the net; this is the boundary that determines the frontcourt from the back-court. Players in the backcourt are not permitted to attack, or spike, the ball unless they are positioned behind that line. The attack line also assists in defining the role of a specialist known as the "libero." The libero is a player who can be substituted for any player in a team's backcourt. The libero is not permitted to serve the ball nor may the libero spike the ball or rotate into the frontcourt. The libero was a position invented in the mid 1990s to create an additional role for the shorter volleyball player.
A volleyball game commences with a serve of the ball, a shot delivered from behind the end line of the court. A serve may be made with any arm action, provided that the fundamental rule of ball contact and handling is observed—a volleyball may not be thrown, lifted (typically with a cupped hand), or struck twice in one motion (double hit). A hard serve will often be delivered as a jump serve, where the power of the jump is converted into arm speed and consequently a greater force is imparted to the ball. The manner in which the player's hand is applied to the serve will determine how the ball will travel through the air. Like a soccer ball or a baseball, the spin imparted to a volleyball creates the Magnus effect, where the ball moves in the direction of the lower air pressure created by the spin. A hard-spinning serve is a difficult ball to handle for an opposing team. A float serve is designed to achieve the opposite effect from a spike serve. The float serve is delivered with little or no spin, making its path through the air unpredictable.
There are many specific methods for handling the ball once it has been served. The basic movements are the bump, set, and spike. The bump is usually performed with both arms held together and the hands as fists held together, and the ball then directed upward; the bump is usually made to keep the ball live and to establish an offensive maneuver. The set is a pass directed by a player with the intention that it will be delivered for a score by a teammate. The setter is the person who is designated to perform the bulk of the setting duties for a team. The spike is the ultimate effort by a team to score a point, representing an attack on the ball above the height of the net. A successful spike will result in a "kill," a point for the team where the ball could not be returned. As a general rule, no player is permitted to touch the net while the ball is in play.
The rules regarding the manner in which the ball may be handled are essentially the same for the outdoor beach volleyball game. The presence of two players versus six makes the tactics of beach volleyball relatively simple; the sand playing surface makes jumping much more difficult. The outdoor court is slightly smaller than that used indoors: 52.5 ft by 26.2 ft (16 m by 8 m). In a curious way, the most significant difference between the indoor and outdoor games is the flash and the glamour that quickly became associated with the beach version. The sunny venues and the form-fitting uniforms worn by players gave the newcomer sport tremendous international television appeal at every Olympics since its introduction in 1996.
Volleyball training must be oriented to the objects of the game. It is a game that is primarily anaerobic in the manner in which athletic movement is required and energy produced in support. On any given point contested during a game, the athletic movement demanded of a player may be of between five seconds and 30 seconds duration. The typical rest interval between each point is approximately 10-20 seconds. Exercises that assist in the development of explosive leaping ability, quick lateral movement, and hand-eye coordination are of primary importance to the volleyball player.
Aerobic training is also important to overall volleyball performance. Aerobic strength will permit the players to sustain their energy levels through games that may last as long as two hours, as well as to facilitate physical recovery. Physical strength in the sense of developing maximum muscular power is not as important as the achievement of balance and flexibility. Volleyball success requires that the player possess an optimum range of motion, to permit the greatest degree of lift in the leaping required, as well as to enhance the cushioning of the forces repeatedly directed into the body through jumps and landing.
One appeal of volleyball, beyond the nature of the game itself, is that it is a sport that can be played by any body type at any age. It can also be played safely and without significant rule changes by men and women, mixed, or co-ed settings.
vol·ley·ball / ˈvälēˌbôl/ • n. a game for two teams, usually of six players, in which a large ball is hit by hand over a high net, the aim being to score points by making the ball reach the ground on the opponent's side of the court. ∎ the inflated ball used in this game.