In 1895, a man by the name of William Morgan in the small town of Holyoke, Mass. had an idea that would change the sporting world forever—whether he knew it or not. Morgan had an inkling to create a sport that would combine the most popular elements of baseball, tennis, handball, and basketball all into one. His new sport could be played both indoors and outdoors, much like basketball, tennis, and handball, with the team positions aspect of baseball. After a few tries of developing the sport, a lightbulb went off. This new and fascinating sport would be named, “mintonette.”
Mintonette was to be played with nine innings and a few number of players. Thanks to working at the local Young Man’s Christian Association, more commonly known as the YMCA, mintonette spread like a burning fire. Over time, more players wanted to join the fun. As fate would have it, people all over Asia were playing mintonette due to international YMCAs. At the turn of the 20th century, a specialized playing ball—which is still used today—was made.
Over the next 20 years, the rules of the game were finalized, and volleyball got its current name. Due to the sheer number of people interested in playing volleyball worldwide, Japan, Russia, and the United States formed a national association in the 1920s. During both WWI and WWII, soldiers played volleyball to keep themselves occupied in the fields. Since all nations had allied forces, those soldiers learned to play the game as well.
In the 1940s, Europe began its volleyball craze and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) named volleyball a formal sport at the end of the decade. Soon after, the first volleyball world championships were held for men, and three years later the first championships were held for women.
In the spring of 1947, a man by the name of Paul Libaud from France took it upon himself to grow volleyball into an official worldwide sport. Libaud called upon 14 national federations to form the official Féderation Internationale de Volleyball, also known as the FIVB. Nations involved in the discussion and founding of the still-present organization included Belgium, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, Egypt, France, Netherlands, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Uruguay, the United States of America, and Yugoslavia. Also on that day, the 14 nations elected Libaud to run the FIVB and serve as president, a title he held until the 1980s.
While the adults and amateurs were finally getting their recognition, youth athletes were not far behind. An official Junior’s Program was developed in the mid-1960s and has been breaking records ever since.
Volleyball made its Olympic debut during the 1964 summer games in Tokyo and was immediately met with praise. Even though Russia, then known as the USSR, was dominating the sport and winning nearly every medal, that did not stop other nations from rigorously training and competing in the next games. The U.S. were granted their first gold medal in volleyball during the 1984 games in Los Angeles, and again during the Seoul games in 1988.
While volleyball was as its peak, a cousin to the sport was not far behind waiting to take over.
Beach volleyball originated in Hawaii during the summer of 1915 when George David Center of the Outrigger Canoe Club placed a six-foot-six net in the sand to play volleyball. As the summer went on, the number of people waiting to play rapidly increased. Currently, photos adorn the Canoe Club showing the first few summers that beach volleyball was played.
Beach volleyball also credits some origin to California in the 1960s as part of the “beach” craze. Thanks to movies like Beach Blanket Bingo, people not only went to the beach, but teenagers lived the beach lifestyle. The beach version of volleyball could not have arisen at a better time.
After the initial volleyball craze was over with, the sport was falling back in popularity. However, once the IOC officially named beach volleyball as an official Olympic sport in 1996 just in time for the Atlanta games, that changed, especially in the United States. To date, the United States has won 11 medals in the sport with a worldwide expectation that Team USA is a powerhouse.
The FIVB then stepped in and created an official Beach Volleyball World Championship in 1997. To date, Team Brazil has won the most championships with 11 under their uniforms.
Beach volleyball celebrities like Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings also became worldwide superstars overnight in the 2004 games. The pair also won gold in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic games before retiring as a duo. Walsh Jennings went on to medal again in the 2016 Rio Olympics, but May-Treanor has hung up her uniform for good. While together, the duo also won several FIVB Championships in 2003, 2005, and 2007. Suddenly, everyone in America wanted to be just like the cool and athletic pair and tried to replicate their athleticism and teamwork. To date, Treanor and Jennings are known as being “the greatest beach volleyball duo of all time” by sports fans around the world.
However, even though popularity for both regular and beach volleyball rose rapidly, it is harder to stay at the top than be at the top. While both variations are popular due to the game being highly athletic, competitive, gender neutral, and a strong emphasis on teamwork, the games do currently have setbacks that, if are not fixed now, could potentially ruin the sport forever.
Volleyball is becoming a pay-to-play sport. Basically, this means unless a family has money, their child can not play or get the exposure needed for a collegiate scholarship. Even though organizations such as the Amateur Athletic Union are keeping volleyball’s popularity at an all time high with several record-breaking tournaments each year, local clubs are raising costs and only becoming available in highly populated areas across the nation. However, thanks to school teams, volleyball is not becoming too out of reach just yet. With that being said, it is ultimately up to sporting events planners and tournament organizers to make sure that volleyball does not become too out-of-reach in the future. Since volleyball is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon, the gap will have time to close.