We're on the brink of another summer Olympics, meaning volleyball is heading back into the spotlight. All over the world, people will be watching players serve, dive and dig for balls, and they'll get excited and want to participate. Of course, those of us in the volleyball industry think that's great news.
Indoor volleyball has long been the standard for play. On the high school level, we've seen it stubbornly remain in the top 10 sports for girls year after year. A seated version of this game is one of the Paralympics' most popular sports as well.
In addition, the sand-based form of volleyball gets even more press each year. According to research released by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, "beach/sand volleyball is a growing sport that is gaining popularity at all levels. Since 2007, it has added more than 1 million participants, a 28% increase in four years."
Back from the Beach
The NCAA has added sand volleyball to its list of emerging sports for women, and just this past April, the American Volleyball Coaches Association hosted the first Collegiate Sand Volleyball Championship in Alabama. It's probably safe to say that as the sport expands, we can expect to see a lot more schools competing, as well as a lot more action on the local and regional scene.
It's also become a little more family-friendly; changes to the sport on the high school and college level will see it rebranded as 'sand' volleyball rather than 'beach' and will not require players to compete in bathing suites. And with the emergence of sand volleyball as a recognized collegiate sport, the NCAA has announced that six scholarships will be available at the Division I level and five scholarships at the Division II level.
That other Surface
It's enough to make many destinations wonder how they can be a part of volleyball's growth, and how they can bring it to their town. Two words: grass volleyball. Despite not being at the forefront of people's minds, grass volleyball is exploding in popularity across the country, and has become a viable, cost-effective option for volleyball players everywhere. Grass volleyball tournaments have popped up across the nation on golf courses, driving ranges, parks, soccer complexes, baseball outfields, farm fields, airports and more.
Grass volleyball tournaments can range from 200-plus volleyball courts right down to three or four courts, depending on the space available. Grass volleyball courts are extremely versatile and take less than 10 minutes to set up. There are a variety of court systems to choose from. The main ones use just a simple peg for the boundary lines and four tent stakes to secure the net. Grass volleyball equipment does not damage the surface and is easy to transport.
An increasing number of parks and recreation departments are becoming interested in holding city and municipal leagues, with play in local parks. This is a very cost-effective service as it provides a great activity to the public and gets exposure for the park district. It’s a great win-win situation: low cost, little maintenance, and happy people who are able to play.
The Sport for a Lifetime
Volleyball, as played on any surface, has always been considered a lifetime sport . It is wildly popular on the youth level, but has a huge foothold in the adult market as well. It provides a good workout, a good social environment, and it fosters competition at all levels.
We have seen an explosion of youth clubs, tournaments, and more, and now we're starting to see adult tournaments. (Of course, we like to point to our event, the Waupaca Boatride, which we call the U.S. Open of grass volleyball. It started as mainly an adult tournament with four courts in an unused section of a local park. It now runs events across the country from Pottstown, Pennsylvania, to Columbia, South Carolina, to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and to every state in between).
Get a (Social) Life
The social element of volleyball is one of the elements that make it such a great event, with men, women, young and old all coming together to play the game they love. Some tournaments have become traditions: the Six-Man in Manhattan Beach, California, sees teams combine great volleyball with costumes. In Aspen, Colorado, every Labor Day weekend finds hotels filling with players and spectators for the Motherlode event. While the majority of volleyball players fall into the below-40 age range, there are some events with age divisions for people 70 and up.
The volleyball community is a close-knit group that enjoys seeing old friends and meeting new ones, getting together with teammates and even their competitors. Volleyball players seek out great competition whether it is on grass, sand, indoor or outdoor surfaces. Great volleyball events are unique for different reasons, be it the scenery of Colorado, the camping and live music of Wisconsin, or the seaside of Oregon. And then, of course, there's the competition itself. Volleyball, like any sport will bring out the competitive nature of the people playing it.
The flexibility of volleyball is also another great feature, be it a doubles tournament, triples, fours, all the way to sixes. You will always be able to find a volleyball format that fits any player at every skill level in any part of the country on any playing surface. Something we have noticed on the rise is the family format, with mother and father now playing with the kids as a team. This is a great way for parents to pass on the love of the game, to travel as a family, and to keep that competitive family gene alive playing in tournaments together. We do have a lot of siblings that play together, brother/brother, brother/sister, and we also have husband and wives who play together. In fact, it's safe to say this sport has brought together a lot of couples. (In terms of family formats, we have yet to see the three-generation team playing in any of our events but we are sure it is coming in the very near future).
Volleyball and Sports Travel
Volleyball players are also known for their love of travel, and part of that love expresses itself as the excitement of journeying to other great volleyball events. This allows players to do the proverbial road trip with their teammates (and for some to relive their college road trip days). Many larger tournaments -- ours is one, but there are others -- will promote other events and venues by making trips to those tournaments part of their prize package. This allows players to travel and experience even more volleyball around the country.
As sports tourism has increased, so have the volleyball vacations. Not only do families travel to support kids who are competing, but sports-minded people love to travel together. After all, what better way to combine socializing and sports than with a vacation that incorporates the sport that you love? Being a spectator at a well-run event can be every bit as much fun as competing.
Volleyball has certainly experienced its share of changes in recent years from rules to scoring to court sizes, but the one thing that does remain is the diehard volleyball community. So once again, we look toward the Olympics for that surge of popularity. We'll see the sport grow when it's coupled with a few new sand volleyball tours, with more kid hitting the indoor courts in school sports, and with adult leagues growing outside on grass as well.
The old thought that volleyball is just an indoor game or a beach game is a thing of the past. Volleyball can be played anywhere, on any surface at anytime and you will never find a shortage of volleyball players looking for a game. Harness this growing sport, and you'll bring in the players, the spectators and the press.