Volleyball is a team sport played by two teams on a playing court divided by a net. The sport originated in the United States, and is now just achieving the type of popularity in the U.S. that it has received on a global basis, where it ranks behind only soccer among participation sports. Today there are more than 24 million Americans who play volleyball. There are 800 million players worldwide who play Volleyball at least once a week.
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No one in the UK believes me when I say that volleyball is one of the most popular sports in the world, and in some countries is up there with football in the popularity stakes. Unfortunately, given it's my favourite sport, it is little known in Britain ('what do you play again? Netball? Basketball?'...) and even less understood. Which is a real shame as the sport is a great, physically challenging but non-contact activity, and an excellent spectator sport with its requirement of spot-on communication between team members and spectacular jumps and hits.
Volleyball originated in the USA in 1895 and only became an Olympic sport in 1964. When players refer to 'volleyball' they usually mean the 6-a-side indoor variety, not the 2-a-side 'beach volleyball' that everyone remembers due to the bikinis! The techniques are similar, but the tactics very different, and I find the indoor variety more fun to play and watch - the six players in their 9x9m side of the indoor court each have their own role and position, communication skills and teamwork are absolutely key, and the hits and retrievals are more spectacular with players leaping athletically all over the place. It makes for exciting viewing and an adrenaline buzz when playing.
- The Basics of Play -
Volleyball matches are usually the best of 3 or 5 sets. To win a set, a team has to get to 25 points - and be 2 points clear of the opposition - the last (3rd/ 5th) set, if it is needed, is only played to 15 (2 points clear again). A point starts with a player serving the ball onto court. The ball has to cross the net, and the opposition then have 3 touches before the ball has to cross the net back to the other team. A team doesn't have to use all 3 touches, but tactically it's usually the best option. The point is won, and ends, when a team gets the ball onto the floor of the opposition's court, the opposition hit the ball out, the opposition play more than 3 touches, the opposition serve into the net, or the opposition commit a foul. The team that wins the point gets to serve the next one.
Ideally, the 3 touches consist of:
1. The 'dig' or pass - the aim is to put the ball up nice and high, aimed towards the net to the player who is the 'setter' (see below). Usually a pass is made off your forearms.
2. The 'set' - this shot is usually played off the fingertips; the aim is to pass the ball along the net to the waiting hitters. The height of the ball's trajectory varies depending on which attacking tactics the team has agreed to go for.
3. The 'spike' or hit - the final touch aims to make it as difficult as possible for the opposition to make a good first touch on their side of the net, so the ball is hit (usually hard, but you can also do sneaky strategic shots) by a player jumping above the height of the net and walloping the ball down. [Incidentally, the net is almost 8 feet high for men, and just over 7'4" for women.]
Obviously if the opposition have just hit a massive spike at you, your pass may not be at all accurate and then the chase is on to get the ball back over the net to the opposition within 3 touches, in whatever form of shot you can!
- Positions -
Most people remember vaguely from long ago school gym lessons that you rotate players during a volleyball game. This is true, but in good teams each member plays a particular position, with key roles and responsibilities:
Setter - the setter takes the second touch of every point (in an ideal world), lining up the attack by setting the ball along the net to the front court players for them to whack it over the net at the opposition. The setter's position on court is on the right (as you look at the net).
Outside spiker - the outside player is on the left of the court (as you look at the net). Their job is to hit the ball and, hopefully, win the point.
Middle - this is my position :) - usually the tallest player on the team (at almost 6foot/179cms I would be deemed short by Olympic women's standards!!), it's the middle's job to get their hands in the way of the opposition's hits (a 'block') to take the speed off the ball - which can travel up to 90mph in men's matches - as well as playing attacking hits at the centre of the net.
The six team players line up with three players along the net, and three behind them 'backcourt'; the three positions are, therefore, repeated in the backcourt row, where the players pass rather than hit (although they can do a backcourt hit if required).
The final position was only invented in the last 10 years and allows shorter people to play competitively! The 'Libero' is a backcourt specialist. S/he is the best passer on the team, and can substitute temporarily for any other player (who is less good at passing) when they are backcourt. Once the libero rotates to front court, the libero goes off-court again (or substitutes for another backcourt player) and the original player resumes their position frontcourt for attacking.
The rotating happens thus: when your team wins the serve back from the opposition, your team all rotate one position clockwise - so you take it in turns to serve, and spend 3 rotations at the front of the court, followed by 3 rotations at the back. You have to be stood in your current rotation position before the ball is served, but as soon as the server hits the ball, all hell breaks loose as players scramble as quickly as possible to the actual position they want to be in (ie middles dash from the outside edges to the middle; setters run right; outside spikers zoom left!).
- Why bother playing? -
Volleyball is a great social sport. Given its lack of popularity among British people, local clubs always have a cosmopolitan flavour with many players from Europe, the States and, well, the entire rest of the World really.
Communication is such a key element to this team sport that it a superb way to make new friends.
Players have to have a varied repertoire of passing, jumping, hitting, serving, diving etc so volleyball is a fantastic all-over body workout, burning gazillions of calories into the bargain (ok, this may be a slight exaggeration but during a 2 hour match it certainly feels like it).
Volleyball is also an easy sport to get into - joining a local club is usually cheap compared to a lot of other sports, and normal sports kit is all you need to possess.
Learning the basics is fun and relatively easy, and clubs usually have a beginners' or development team where you can hone your competitive skills with other new players.
With the 2012 Olympics looming, where Britain will field a volleyball team for perhaps the first time ever, now's the time to get started!
It is estimated that globally volleyball is the second most participated team game in the World (behind football, but over here it is something we are forced to do at school for 6 weeks and then it is never given another sport. I have played up to a very high level since I was a child so this is my attempt to pimp the sport a little bit. The basic aim of the game is to get the ball on the floor of the opposition using skills, tactics and occaisionally the odd 6ft8 monster hitter.
Volleyball was created in 1895 in Massachusetts by a man called William G Morgan. He wanted to create a game incorporating elements of Tennis, Handball and Basketball in a less aggresive, but just as energetic way. It was first know as Mintonette, but became known as Volleyball several years later. It became part of the Olympic games in 1964 with the Beach version becoming an Olympic sport in 1996.
A volleyball court is 9m wide by 18m long. The net is in the middle and there is also a 3m line from the net which divides back court from front.
A beach volleyball court is obviously on sand and measures 8m wide by 16m long. There is no line to divide back and front court.
Men - 2m43
Women - 2m24
Volleyball is in essence quite a simple game, so her are the basics:
* Each team has 6 players
* Matches are played in sets. To win a set you must get 25 points or by 2 clear points above this. A point is scored from every service and matches are best of 5 sets. The 5th set, if necessary is first to 15, or by 2 clear points.
* Once the ball goes over the net the team has 3 touches to get the ball back over.
* It is a non-contact sport and you can't touch the net
* A rally is over once the ball hits the floor and it is legal to use any part of your body to hit the ball.
* Once a team has won a point they take the serve. To ensure the strongest server is not always serving after every service won the team rotates clockwise around the court
* Only the team captain may talk to the referee, you can be sent off for breaking this rule, although a sending off only lasts 1 set.
There are generally 4 types of players in volleyball who are all specialist in their own fields. Although due to the rotation system this means players will not be in a natural position they will 'switch' into position once the ball has gone over the net. The positions of players are generally numbered anti-clockwise so the server will be at 1, with the person to their left being number 6. 2,3 and 4 are front court positions and 1, 5 and 6 are back court.
Setter - A setter will switch into positions 1 and 2 and out of the three touches will always take the second pass. Their job is to put the ball up for a hitter to spike. Overall these players are usually the most skillful but are tiny.
Middle Hitters - Middle hitters switch into positions 3 and 6. They are close to the setter for a quick hit and are usually the strongest, tallest players.
Wing/ Outside Hitters - Wing hitters are in poitions 4 and 5. They are the more tactical hitters who can alter their run up to the hit to give a wider range in their attacks.
Libero - A libero is a specialist back court player who can not serve or jump anywhere in the front court. They will be substituted on and off on a rolling system throughout the game and must wear a different coloured shirt to identify them. They are usually brought non to deal with a particularly difficult server.
With the exception of the libero each team will have 2 setters, middle hitters and wing hitters who will be diagonally opposite each other before the switch.
Serve - The first point of attack in volleyball is the serve. If you are learning to play volleyball you will learn an underarm serve first. This will mean you holding the ball flat in your weaker arm and using your stronger arm as a pendulum to hit it. As you become more competent you will learn an overarm serve. This uses your body weight as the power. Again you will hold the ball in your weaker hand then throw it about a metre in front of you. Stepping into the space and bring your hitting arm over your shoulder in a bowling movement you will hit the ball with an open palm. You can serve from anywhere along the back line and it is still valid if it hits the net. It is illegal to block a serve as some of these players who are 7ft could just do this making it a very dull game. As you become a stronger hitter you will be able to add a jump or a bit of spin and some of the best players can hit a serve at about 80 mph. Generally if you are a back court player and the ball is coming at head height, leave it because it is going out
Dig/Bump/ Forearm Pass - Once the serve has come over the net it is easiest to dig/ bump/ forearm pass it. This is because if a ball is coming at you at 80 mph you do not want to be putting your fingers in the way. To do this manouvre you place your arms out straight in front of you with your hands on top of each other, pull your thumbs in to make a flat platform and thats it. This position is about creating a flat platform and using your body to absorb the power. This is done by bending the knees and simply rising up. This will create a controllable ball into the setter as opposed to if you swing your arms when it is likely to go off at any angle. It is best to use this pass if the ball is between your neck and knees.
Volley/ Set - The volley is the most accurate form of passing in volleyball. It is played when a ball is at head height and is often used by the setter to put up a ball for a hit. To volley the bal you star with your fingers together and thumbs at right angles. Put the tips of your thumbs together and the tips of your second fingers together to make a diamond shape. Once you have done this open up your other fingers to give you a greater contact area on the ball. Raise your fingers above your head with bent elbows (to create another diamond shape.) If you are in the correct position, the ball should be able to go though the gap between your thumbs and smack you square on the forehead!
Hit/ Spike - This is the money shot. Once the set has been launched the hitter will be on their run up in. They jump whilst the ball is still in front of them and use their body weight and momentum to hit the ball hard and down. A backcourt player can hit the ball but can not enter the front court in the process.
Block - When the opposition see the hit is coming they try and put the hitter off by forming a block. This can be 1 or 2 people jumping and trying to form a barrier with their hands. If the hit goes off the block and back over the net the hitting team must try and form an attack again. If the hit touches the block and goes up, the blocking team must keep playing using their 3 touches as the block doesn't count.
Volleyball can burn up to 500 calories per hour.
There are many sneaky tactics in volleyball which I love. Here are a few of them:
* Your team will always want the game playing at their pace. If they are on a roll the dead ball will be passed around quickly to keep up momentum. If players need a breather between points the ball will be accidentally drop, kicked or rolled in the wrong direction.
* If you are on the receiving end of the serve and need a breather you can fake a coughing fit or take an age to tie up your shoe laces.
* There is a lot of huddles after every point, with cheering and celebration. If an opposition player has made a number of mistakes the huddle will probably laugh too to try and crack them.
* In beach volleyball the ball can be rolled along the sand so when the server hits the ball sand will go in their face.
* In beach volleyball you can indicate behind your back to the server where you want the ball serving by using hand signals.
* My personal favourite, although probably classed as cheating is to shout "out" when the other team are playing as they will leave it and you will win the point!
To play volleyball you just need a ball really. The ball size is 65-67cm and is made of leather. These balls are quite specialist and can hurt if you are a beginner so you should probably practice with a cheap airflow football. If you wanted to splash out on a proper volleyball they are about £50! If you want to play at a higher level, every county across the country has volleyball teams and there is a national league and a GB team for those really good players. If you are playing indoors you will need a good pair of trainers, tied up, possibly some kneepads, some shorts and a tshirt. Volleyball kneepads are available from high street suppliers for about £15, but most people playing volleyball get theirs from www.prosportinternational.co.uk.
Volleyball is a great way to meet new people. If you are playing in a league you will probably be training once an week and having a game that week too. During the summer there are tournaments almost every week, and volleyball players play hard and the party hard too!
If you want to do something more than go to the gym this is a great way of getting fit and meeting new people.It is a game that is open to all physical abilities and ages, and can be learnt very easily. I would advise giving it a couple of months or starting off with a learners team because it can be disheartening if you are getting beaten week-in-week-out, or are seen as the weakest link in a team. Always remember to warm up first, especially your fingers and just remember if you are going to play beach volleyball there is a rule about how skimpy the outfits have to be, so it is one for the super fit! Don't be put off if it hurts in the first few weeks, you will come out black and blue, but this will go away after a fortnight or so and you get used to the ball. In the 15 years I have been playing the worst injury I have ever seen was a black eye, no broken bones or anything!
If you are looking for a local club this website is quite a good one: