Volleyball. Encyclopedia of World Sport

Volleyball, invented at the beginning of the 20th century, is on one level a simple recreational game and on
another level an intensely competitive sport.
William G. Morgan invented volleyball in 1895 to be a
pleasant and diverting indoor winter game that could
augment the rather austere regimen of gymnastic exercises of late 19th century physical education in America.
Morgan specifically created volleyball for his clients
at the YMCA in Holyoke, Massachusetts, most of whom
were businessmen, middle-aged, frankly stout and
unathletic, and in general not up to the challenges of
basketball. The original volleyball was played by two
teams who pushed a slow, oversized ball back and forth
over a net that was only a few inches higher than some
of the players. Originally calling his game “mintonette”
because he used a badminton net, he subsequently
changed it to volleyball, as better suited to the game’s
Volleyball, like basketball, spread very quickly and
for similar reasons. Moreover, both games were enthusiastically promoted by the YMCA and the Young
Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), both of which
had chapters throughout the world. Thus volleyball,
like basketball, initially moved across the globe in support of a pragmatic and “muscular” Christianity.
In the United States itself, the first national championship was played in 1922 in New York City. The Pittsburgh team carried away the trophy. In 1928, the United
States Volleyball Association (USVBA) was formed.
Volleyball was introduced into Japan in 1913 by
F. H. Brown, yet another YMCA organizer. Very quickly
thereafter, “bareboru” became a regular feature of the
Japanese sports scene. The YMCA was active in other
parts of Asia as well, notably China, India, and the
During and after World War I, American soldiers
played the game in Europe, not least of all because
many YMCA instructors had been inducted into the
army as physical education instructors. Many YMCA
and YWCA organizers stayed on after the war, and the
game grew in popularity through the 1920s, particularly
in France where many local volleyball clubs were established. The Russians too became interested in the game,
and the Soviets and their client states were to become,
with Japan, major competitive players of the game.
The first international volleyball tournament in Europe was held in Paris in 1931.
By 1920, volleyball had become popular in Central
and South America, particularly in Peru and Brazil.
Both countries would eventually become top volleyball
In 1946, the International Volleyball Federation was
formed. The federation’s most active original members
were France, on the one hand, and the Soviet Union,
Poland, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia—all communist nations—on the other. The United States showed
no interest at the time in top-level volleyball, and the
predominance of communist nations in top-level play
ensured that the game would be played in a specific and
highly politicized atmosphere for the next two decades.
The only international volleyball played by the
United States during this period was a “match”between
the U.S. and Soviet embassy staffs in The Hague in
1955. According to the New York Times, the Soviets—
who had proposed the friendly game—“beat the
United States on the volleyball court this afternoon in a
setting redolent of the spirit of coexistence, cooperation and goodwill.”
In 1961, the Olympic Organizing Committee voted
to allow volleyball into the Games. The Soviets and
their clients, and the Japanese, were naturally great advocates of the change, and, at the 1964 Games in Tokyo,
the Japanese, Soviet, Czech, and Polish teams were the
main players. The Japanese women’s team was formed
in 1953 and sponsored by the Nichibo Spinning Mills
near Osaka. Hirofumi, who worked as the company’s
manager in charge of office supplies procurement,
drove his team very hard: practice, after work, was 6
hours a day 7 days a week, all year. Though such methods were criticized by some, it has to be said that Hirofumi’s 1964 team performed splendidly. Significantly,
the first U.S. national training center for the game, near
Houston, Texas, was dedicated to women’s volleyball: a
rare case of a sport being led, in development and toplevel participation, by women. However that may be,
the U.S. men’s team took the gold medal at the 1984
Olympics, the women took the silver, and the United
States has since been a world power in the sport.
Rules and Play
Volleyball was originally played over a net that was just
6 feet, 6 inches, but that height has been raised several
times, and is now 7 feet, 115/8 inches for men and 7 feet,
71/2 inches for women.
Standard play is between two teams of six players.
On each side of the net the teams are arrayed in two
rows of three: left, center, and right forwards and left,
center, and right backs. The goal of the receiving team
is to return the ball to the opposite side. They may handle the ball three times before the ball is returned and,
indeed, the strategy of the game depends crucially on
just such ball handling. In the basic volleying process
there are a number of essential skills to be mastered.
Blocking is handled by the front line. All body contact with the net must also be avoided, which adds another level of challenge to mastering the block.
The “spike,” one of the more dramatic offensive maneuvers in volleyball, can be sent into the opposing
court at speeds above 60 miles per hour, leaving very
little reaction time for opponents.
The serving team wins a point if the other side is
unable to return the ball; if it loses, there is a “side-out”
and the other team takes the serve. The players on the
team that scores a side-out rotate clockwise so that
each player begins the new set playing from a new position. Players must be in their appropriate positions at
the moment the ball is served.After the serve, however,
players may move to any position on the court and it is
this feature that introduces the possibility of functional
specialization into a game that was designed to be “universal” in terms of the skills required by all of its players. The post-serve movement of players is also, of
course, a key matter of overall strategy in the game.
A game is won when a side has taken 15 points, so
long as the other team trails by 2 points or more.
Beach volleyball—though played by many purely
as a recreation, and by top-level players as a form of
training—has developed its own competitive rules,
teams, and a professional tour with corporate sponsorship. It became an Olympic sport in 1996 in Atlanta.
Bibliography: Beal, Doug. (1985) Spike! The Story of the Victorious U.S. Volleyball Team. San Diego, CA: Avant Publishers. MacGregor, Barrie. (1977) Volleyball. Brighton,
Sussex: EP Publishing. United States Volleyball Association. (1992) The World of Volleyball (video). North Palm
Beach, FL: The Athletic Institute.