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Indoor Volleyball, Beach Volleyball

David Bunting from England

David Bunting from England
(Top) A player in attacking mode. (Bottom) The same player tries to block the opponent's attack.

The history of volleyball is closely linked to that of another popular court game. In fact, just eight miles and four years separate the historic development of volleyball and its cousin basketball. In 1895, William G. Morgan was the education director as the Holyoke, Massachusetts, YMCA.

Four years earlier, his colleague James Naismith had invented the game of basketball just down the road at the Springfield YMCA. Naismith’s game was catching on quickly but there was a drawback. Not everyone could keep up with the fast pace of basketball—and that was even before the fast break was created. Morgan needed a game that could be enjoyed by middle-aged men.

Morgan conceived a court game he originally called mintonette. He chose the name because his new sport was related to badminton. Mintonette was played on a court divided by a six-foot, six-inch net. Teams volleyed the ball back and forth across the net until one team missed. The first competitive game of volleyball was played July 7, 1896.

Changes were immediately made to Morgan’s game. One of the first changes was the name itself. Alfred Halstead is credited with renaming the sport with the descriptive words “volley ball.” (Can you imagine Karch Kiraly playing for a gold medal in Olympic beach mintonette?)

The number of players on each team also was limited. Originally, a team was allowed to have as many players as it could fit into its half of a 50- by 25-foot court. The number of players was set at nine per side and later reduced to six. Rotating players to various positions on the court has been part of the game from the beginning.

The number of times a team could touch the ball before it went over the net was eventually established at three. The first rules allowed an unlimited number of hits. The earliest games in Morgan’s gym were played with the rubber bladder from inside a basketball. Spalding made the first official volleyball in 1896. By 1900, the standard shape and weight of the ball were almost identical to those used today.

The height of the net was raised to make play more challenging. Today, the net is just under eight feet for men’s competition and just over seven feet for women’s. Under the original rules of volleyball, a team had to score 21 points to win a game. In 1917, that number was reduced to 15.

YMCA workers took the game from Holyoke to US missionary schools in Asia. The game became very popular in the East as was played in the Oriental Games as early as 1913. Volleyball also caught on in Russia. When regular international competition began in the 1950s, Russia was the dominant team. During the World War I, United States troops introduced volleyball in Europe.

You know a sport has really arrived when official governing bodies are established. For volleyball, this happened in 1928 when the United States Volleyball Association was formed. The organization later became USA Volleyball. The Fédération Internationale de Volley-ball (FIVB) was founded in 1947. In 1949, the first men’s world championship tournament took place in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

It quickly became apparent that volleyball had appeal far beyond the middle-aged men it was originally introduced to. Colleges and high schools began to adopt the sport for both men and women.

Volleyball became the competitive fall sport for girls. The first US national volleyball championships for women were played in 1949, 54 years after women began competing in the game. The first international championships for women were played in 1952 in Moscow. The NCAA added a women’s volleyball championship in 1981. USC won the first women’s collegiate title. The first men’s NCAA volleyball championship was played in 1970. UCLA won six of the first seven men’s volleyball titles.

Beach volleyball is fundamentally similar to indoor volleyball

A team scores points by grounding the ball on the opponents' court, or when the opposing team commits a fault (error or illegal action); consecutive contacts must be made by different players (except after a block touch, when any player may legally contact the ball). The major differences between beach and indoor volleyball are:
  • Playing surface – sand rather than hard court
  • Bare feet are allowed for the players
  • Dimensions: each half of the court is 26.2 ft square, compared to 29.5 ft in the indoor game.
  • The beach court has no "attack line", unlike the indoor court, which has such a line 9.8 ft from the net.
  • Team size – two rather than six, with no substitutions allowed
  • Scoring system – best of 3 sets played to 21 (15 for a deciding set) rather than best of 5 to 25
  • Open hand touches, tips, and dinks are illegal
  • A block at the net counts as one of the three allowed touches in the beach game, but not in the indoor game
  • Open-hand setting standards are different in the beach game – double hitting is called tighter but lifts are slightly more lenient
  • Coaching during matches is not allowed
  • There are no rotation errors on the beach – players may switch sides at will
  • It is legal to cross under the net in beach volleyball as long as it does not interfere with opponents' play
  • Teams switch ends of the court every seven points (every five points on a deciding set) rather than between sets
  • In both indoor and beach versions, the height of the top of the net is 7 ft 11 1/2 in for men and 7 ft 4 in for women
  • There is no Libero in beach like there is in indoor
The libero player was introduced internationally in 1998, and made its debut for NCAA competition in 2002. The libero is a player specialized in defensive skills: the libero must wear a contrasting jersey color from his or her teammates and cannot block or attack the ball when it is entirely above net height. When the ball is not in play, the libero can replace any back-row player, without prior notice to the officials. This replacement does not count against the substitution limit each team is allowed per set, although the libero may be replaced only by the player whom he or she replaced. Most U.S. high schools added the libero position from 2003 to 2005.

In the 1940s, another style of volleyball was developing up and down the California coast. Teams of two or four players would square off on sand volleyball courts. Unlike indoor volleyball, beach volleyball is played on sand. Young and old players would form impromptu competitions on the beach. Spectators would often gather to watch the volleyball matches. Before long, the best teams were traveling up and down the coast to play in beach volleyball tournaments. The first two-man volleyball tournament was held at State Beach, California in 1943.

In 1965, The California Beach Volleyball Association was founded. It was responsible for standardizing the rules of the beach and for organizing official tournaments. By 1976, the very best players on the beach were competing for prize money as professionals. Male players formed the AVP, the Association of Volleyball Professionals, in 1983. Women beach volleyball players formed their own association in 1986.

When former college and Olympic indoor volleyball stars began playing on the beach the sport became even more popular. Beach volleyball spread from California to Florida and then to other states—even to some that don’t have beaches. In some areas, beach volleyball is played indoors in arenas filled with sand. By 1993, beach volleyball had become so popular in the United States, that tournaments were broadcast on national television.

In 1987, two-men beach volleyball teams competed in the first world championships. The first two-women’s world championships were played in 1993. Four-player beach teams became popular in the 1990s.

Today, men’s and women’s competition in both indoor and beach volleyball are part of the Olympic games. Indoor volleyball became an Olympic sport in 1964. The host team, Japan, won the women’s gold medal. In the first four women’s Olympic volleyball competitions, Japan and the Soviet Union met in the finals. The Soviets prevailed in 1968 and 1972. Japan won again in 1972.

In the men’s medal competition, the Soviet Union has been dominant. After winning gold at the first Olympic volleyball competition, the Soviet men won a medal in each of the next five Olympics they competed in—three golds, one silver and one bronze. The US men’s team won back-to-back gold medals in 1984 and 1988.

Beach Volleyball became on Olympic sport at the 1996 Atlanta games. The US, Brazil and Australia have been the teams to beat on Olympic sand.

Hardly anyone watching the fast, powerful sport of modern volleyball would recognize it as a game originally designed as a less-strenuous form of recreation for middle-aged men. Today, some of the world’s very best athletes are digging, setting and spiking the ball in gyms and on beaches throughout the world.

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