Volleyball: Soaring in Popularity | Sports Destination Management

Volleyball: Soaring in Popularity

Jun 24, 2011 | By: Fred Stringfellow


Photo courtesy of Waupaca Boatride Volleyball
Photo courtesy of Waupaca Boatride Volleyball

When the volleyball soars through the air and over the net, who's going to be diving after it on the other side: an Olympic caliber athlete in pursuit of a medal, or a teenaged kid determined to beat out a rival high school?

The fact is, both are possible, as is anything in between. Volleyball is played by just about every age group, at all levels of competition (and recreation), on three different surfaces, indoors and out. Not a lot of sports have that much versatility, yet retain the same scoring system, the same ball and the same court. (There is even a version of volleyball for athletes with mobility restrictions, known as seated volleyball).

Volleyball as we know it remains one of the most popular sports. According to the National Federation for State High School Associations, just under half a million students (boys and girls) played volleyball during the 2009-2010 school year, making it the sixth most popular sport offered. The advent of beach volleyball in the summer Olympics has increased the sport's profile still further for both men and women, although the women's games receive more televised attention.


Photo by Don Abramson, Corrigan Sports
Photo by Don Abramson, Corrigan Sports

And now, as an event planner, it's your turn to get involved. Maybe you're helping to plan a regional tournament. Maybe it's a skill clinic or a camp. But no matter who's coming, no matter who's competing, you're the one who is hoping to score. But where to start? And how?

At the beginning, say the professionals. Consider this your set-up in finding the perfect facility.

The Order of the Court
Volleyball is divided into three different categories, according to the surface on which it is played. Volleyball as many know it (often referred to as indoor, or regular, volleyball) may be played indoors in a gymnasium. Beach volleyball is played on a court that has been set up on sand. Volleyball also can be played outdoors on grass.


Photo by Don Abramson, Corrigan Sports
Photo by Don Abramson, Corrigan Sports

"Grass is a very popular surface for college teams," says Melissa Walker of the Northern California Volleyball Association. "You'll see a lot of grass volleyball tournaments held as fund raisers." (This surface is popular for events held in recreational areas, such as camps, parks and picnic grounds, but tournaments are also hosted on grass).

The paradox of volleyball is that in addition to grass, the other two surfaces -- hardwood and sand -- are also considered ideal for the sport, "even though they have completely different performance characteristics," says Robert J. Cohen of Robert Cohen Company, LLC in Albuquerque, New Mexico. "I can’t think of another sport for which that is true."

The international governing body of volleyball is the Federation International de Volleyball, or FIVB. Regulation court dimensions for regular volleyball play are 18 meters (59 feet) long by 9 meters (29 feet, 6 inches) wide. The beach court measures 52 feet, 6 inches by 26 feet, 3 inches (16 meters by 8 meters). In both cases, the court is surrounded on all sides by a free zone (the space outside the sidelines) of 9 feet, 10.11 inches (3 meters). This provides a safe overrun area for players. Courts should never be placed so close together that the free zone is compromised.

For regular, grass and beach volleyball, the space over the court must be free from any obstructions to a height of 7 meters (23 feet) from the playing surface. Note: Dimensions of the free zone and the overhead clearance required will vary at higher levels of competition (such as the FIVB World level) for regular and beach volleyball; always have your level of competition in mind when choosing a facility -- and have the most current version of the rules on hand.


Photo by Don Abramson, Corrigan Sports
Photo by Don Abramson, Corrigan Sports

For men, the top of the net should be 2.43 meters (or 7 feet, 11 5/8 inches) from the floor. For the women, it should be 2.24 meters (or 7 feet, 4 inches). In co-ed competitions, the men's volleyball net is used. Net height measurements are taken from the center of the top of the net to the ground. There are some rule differences and the ball is slightly different, but play is mainly conducted the same way for all types of volleyball.

For all volleyball events, the event planner should seek a venue that will accommodate all participants. Look for a facility that has ample space around the playing area to provide adequate room for coaches, officials and other player personnel. Spectator seating is also needed.

With sufficient space for multiple courts to be set up, a number of games can be played at once. If this is a skills clinic or player development camp, at least one 'arena' court should be available, so that demonstrations can be given.

Technical Details
Competitive athletes will require team benches, and safe places to store their bags, jackets and other gear. Showers, lockers and other amenities will contribute to the experience. In beach or grass volleyball, players will appreciate a bench with a sunshade or umbrella that can be put up.


Photo courtesy of Waupaca Boatride Volleyball
Photo courtesy of Waupaca Boatride Volleyball

Lighting must be sufficient for the game to be played safely. While recreational volleyball can be played in normal lighting, higher levels of play demand higher levels of lighting, particularly any matches that will be televised. In addition, if you are planning an event where play takes place in an elimination format, and teams may play multiple games in one day, a well-lit facility can expand the playing day and allow each court to host more games.

For outdoor play (including beach volleyball), where natural lighting will be a factor, courts should be oriented in a north-south direction to allow for play throughout the day. (Courts that are oriented in an east-west direction will result in players on one side of the net having to face directly into the sun at various times).

On the Surface
Surfacing for areas being considered for indoor volleyball events is governed by the FIVB rules, and information can be found on that organization's website. For beach and grass courts, the surface should be as flat and uniform as possible. Grass must be kept trimmed to a manageable level. Because most beach volleyball athletes play barefoot (as do many grass court players), courts must be kept free of sharp objects. Sand courts must be raked regularly to remove rocks, shells or other objects. FIVB competition rules state that the sand must be at least 40 centimeters deep (about 15 and 3/4 inches).

Ace your next volleyball event by knowing the rules of the game, the needs of the players and the requirements of the governing body. You'll spike your way to success.

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