Photo © Ronstik | Dreamstime.com
If you love hosting volleyball events, have we got some exciting news for you.
The National Federation of State High School Associations recently released its first sports participation report in three years, and volleyball was the only top 10 sport among girls to register an increase. What’s more, on the boys’ side, volleyball was among the sports generating the highest participation increases since the 2018-19 school year — the last time the NFHS tracked such data.
But here’s the kicker: the emerging sport of girls’ beach volleyball nearly tripled its number of participants between 2018-19 and 2021-22, thanks to the increasing prevalence of beach volleyball at the collegiate level.
The Los Angeles Times is hailing beach volleyball as “the newest trend in Southern California sports — a wave of beach interest that could have major effects on the future of college volleyball.” The number of female beach players at the college level spiked from 868 in 2016 to 1,485 in 20221, according to the NCAA.
Already, some of Southern California’s top hardwood high school players have opted to focus entirely on the sand version of the sport. “I think it’s just exciting to a lot of indoor girls that have been playing indoor their entire life … it’s this new shiny toy,” Newport Harbor High School star Quinn Perry, who is one of those indoor players transitioning to outdoors, told the paper.
The Times cited three major factors for this burgeoning movement:
1. More versatility: On the beach, players aren’t stuck in one position — they need to be able to hit, pass, block, serve or dig.
2. More agency: In indoor … players get subbed out by a coach if they make a mistake. In beach, there are no rotations.
3. Less injury risk: Running on the beach might be more exerting physically, but it’s also much less painful diving on grains of sand than smacking a hardwood court.
Even though beach volleyball has been an Olympic sport since 1996, it’s been slow to build momentum until the past decade or so. It was approved as an NCAA Emerging Sport for women in 2009, and the first official beach volleyball season was played during the spring of the 2011-12 academic year. The inaugural NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship took place in 2016, and now beach volleyball is the fastest-growing NCAA sport over the past five years, according to the American Volleyball Coaches Association.
For now, at least, California — where the Pro-Am Beach Soccer National Championship was held in August — appears to be the epicenter of beach volleyball. Especially Southern California. But that’s changing, according to one veteran player.
“The college game, in general, has pushed it massively,” Tri Bourne, who played men’s volleyball for the University of Southern California and then switched full-time to the beach game, told the Daily Breeze in Hermosa Beach, Calif. “It’s grown the sport at the grassroots level. It’s made it so that kids, mostly girls – and also their parents — see an opportunity for them in the future through beach as an avenue.”
“Spring competition and beach volleyball will bring added exposure [and] enhance recruiting and the opportunity to bring … even more elite student-athletes in our sport,” said Jerritt Elliott, head volleyball coach at the University of Texas, which announced in August the launch of its women’s beach volleyball program beginning next spring. “It also will provide additional training opportunities along with some exciting volleyball events and competitions in the years to come. And on top of that, it’s a really fun and entertaining sport that I know our fans will really enjoy coming out to see.”
Zach Weinberg, volleyball associate head coach at Tennessee Tech University — which also will begin women’s beach volleyball competition in spring 2023 — echoes Elliott.
“I’m ecstatic for what adding beach means for our students-athletes,” Weinberg said when the Golden Eagles announced the news. “Even though beach is the fastest-growing sport in the NCAA, I would still consider it in its infancy. Our players jumping into the sport now and continuing to grow the game will be a mark of pride for them, and they will always be able to say they were part of the inaugural beach team at Tennessee Tech. I can’t wait to see how playing beach volleyball molds the overall skills of our student-athletes. … Playing on the beach will help their court vision, their conditioning, and assist them in gaining tangible, transferable skills they can use on the beach or on the court.”
Colleges and universities adding beach volleyball to their intercollegiate sports programs also are attracting players unsure about competing in collegiate indoor volleyball.
“I’ve always loved [the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga] and wanted to go there, but didn’t know if I wanted to play indoor [volleyball],” Emma Hayes, a volleyball standout at Northwest Whitfield High School in Georgia, told the Dalton Daily Citizen this spring. “UTC was my number one school. When they started the beach program, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.”
She also cited why she prefers beach volleyball over the indoor game.
““It’s a very different sport,” Hayes said. “It’s very highly competitive, but at the same time it’s outside … There’s usually music playing during the games at tournaments. It’s really chill and just a different vibe.”