People don’t often talk about volleyball as much as they do about basketball and soccer but you’ll be alarmed at just how popular this sport is.
There are over 900 million volleyball fans worldwide, and a huge chunk of these are concentrated in Asia (343 million fans), Europe (139 million fans) and North America (102 million fans).
Just in case you are still a little skeptical, did you know that during the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, volleyball was the most watched sport? Despite its widespread popularity, however, there are some fun facts about the game that even the most ardent fans might not know about.
Below are 10 of volleyball history facts that you’ll probably hear for the first time. Let me know in the comments which one is the most shocking to you.
Fact 1#: The first days of volleyball
Volleyball has a very long history spanning well over 100 years. The game was invented by a YMCA physical education director back in 1895, and the first official volleyball game was played on July 7th, 1896. This inaugural game was played at Springfield College (formerly known as the International YMCA Training School), Massachusetts.
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Despite this long history, however, it is not until 1947 that volleyball became an official sport, only after the formation of the Federation International De Volleyball (FIVB). FIVB was initially formed to monitor male volleyball players, but women’s rules and regulations were later added in 1952.
Fact 2#: Have you ever heard of Mintonette?
When it was created by William G. Morgan, the game was initially called Mintonette, and the idea behind it was to have a game suitable for older members of the YMCA.
Mintonette heavily borrowed some characteristics from baseball, handball, basketball, and tennis and this came about while William G. Morgan tried to think of a game that required less strenuous athletic effort and with minimal physical contact.
What elements of volleyball were borrowed from which sport?
• From tennis – the net
• From basketball – the ball
• From handball – the idea of playing with your hands and playing off the overhangs and the walls.
• From baseball – the concept of innings.
While creating the game, Morgan did not have a particular number of players in mind. All that was stipulated was that the game should preferably be played indoors, and this is an aspect that has largely been retained to date.
Fact 3#: How volleyball got its current name?
If the game was initially known as Mintonette, how did the name ‘volleyball’ come about?
Well, during a certain match, Morgan happened to overhear a spectator mentioning that since the play involved “volleying” the ball back and forth over the net, then perhaps volleyball would be a more fitting name and so it was.
Have you ever been writing something related to volleyball only to sit back and think for a minute whether volleyball is actually one word or two words?
Well, volleyball was initially spelled as two words (volley ball), but with the sport gaining more popularity, it was compounded into one word (volleyball), and this happened in 1952.
Fact 4#: How volleyball got into the Olympics?
There are many variations of volleyball, but of all of them, beach volleyball is by far the most popular. Beach volleyball is speculated to have originated on Waikiki Beach in Hawaii in 1915, but it was popularized in California in the 1920s.
Following this, the first two-man beach volleyball game was played in 1930, with the first beach tournament being held in 1948.
Professionally, the first two-man beach volleyball tournament was held at Will Rogers State Beach in 1976, and this was officially known as the “Olympia World Championship of Beach Volleyball.”
In 1996, another milestone was reached whereby two-person beach volleyball officially became an Olympic sport in both the male and female categories. It is likely that this milestone was facilitated by the formation of the California Beach Volleyball Association (CBVA) which had taken place the previous year, in 1965.
Fact 5#: The history of volleyball outfit? Controversies?
Volleyball has been riddled with a lot of controversies as far as the outfit of the players is concerned. Up until the 2012 Olympics held in London, female volleyball players were under the obligation to wear either a bikini or a one-piece swimming costume.
This blatant attempt to sexualize the sport went as far as to stipulate that for players wearing a bikini, the lower part had to be a maximum of 7cm measured at the hip from top to bottom.
As a matter of fact, beach volleyball is the only Olympic sport whereby players are prohibited from wearing too much clothing.
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In the 2016 Rio Olympics however, things changed rather drastically. This was the first time Egypt’s women’s beach volleyball team participated in the Olympics, and the dressing rules were adjusted to accommodate the players’ religious and cultural beliefs.
This saw some Egyptian players wearing long sleeved tops and long pants with one player, in particular, going as far as to wear a hijab during the match.
Fact 6#: Did you know volleyball was using the basketball to play with?
Initially, volleyball was played using a basketball, but this brought about some issues seeing as a basketball was a bit too heavy and bulky for volleyball.
Subsequently, players started using basketball bladder instead, but this was still not a suitable alternative because the bladder then became too soft and therefore hindered ball control.
In the early 1900s, Morgan contracted A.G. Spalding to design a special ball particularly suited to volleyball. This ball would be made of a rubber bladder encased within a leather shell.
It was also to be 25” or thereabouts in diameter, and this is very similar to the volleyball as we know it today. By current FIVB regulations, a volleyball must be spherical, weighing 260-280g and having a circumference if 65-67cm.
Fact 7#: The tallest players in volleyball
The tallest professional volleyball player is a sitting volleyball player by the name of Morteza Mehrzad. Standing at a towering 8’1” (246 cm), Morteza also holds the record for being the tallest Paralympian, the tallest man in Iran and jointly, the second tallest man in the world.
Sitting volleyball aside, the tallest volleyball player is Dmitriy Muserskiy. This Russian player is a towering 7’2” (218cm) and currently aged 30, he has been playing volleyball since the age of 8.
Besides being the tallest volleyball player, he is also considered among the tallest athletes in the world and his 20+ years of experience place him as being among the best volleyball players in the world.
Fact 8#: The unprecedented growth
Over the last decade, volleyball has undergone unprecedented growth, and it now stands at being among the big five international sports along with soccer, cricket, field hockey, and tennis.
This exponential growth is evident in the fact that FIVB is the world’s largest international sporting federation. As of 2015, FIVB had slightly over 220 affiliated national federations. On a larger scale, the FIVB presides over five continental confederations which are CAVB in Africa, NORCECA in North and Central America, AVC in Asia, CEV in Europe and CSV in South America.
Facts 9#: Beach volleyball is incredible
Beach volleyball is played by 2-person teams, and at the Olympics level, players are constantly changing their teammate.
However, the one exception to this is the American duo comprised of Kerri Walsh-Jennings and Misty May-Treanor. The two were teammates during the 2004, 2008 and 2012 summer Olympics and they went ahead to win three consecutive gold medals during that period.
Besides the Olympics, this duo also won the 2003, 2005 and 2007 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships and so it comes as no surprise that they have been christened “the greatest beach volleyball team of all time.”
Shortly after their victory in the 2012 Olympics, Misty May-Treanor retired from competitive play, and when Kerri Walsh Jennings paired up with another teammate in the 2016 Olympics, the duo won a bronze medal. So maybe the concept of a “perfect match” does exist after all.
Facts 10#: You probably have already heard about Kiraly!
You can’t talk about soccer without thinking of Pele, just the same way you can’t speak about volleyball without mentioning Karch Kiraly.
Amongst both male and female volleyball players, Karch Kiraly is the only player that has ever won gold medals both as an indoor volleyball player and also as a sand player.
Kiraly won with the United States men’s indoor team in 1984 and 1988 Olympics and beach volleyball in 1996. Interestingly, he is amongst the four people who’ve won medals both as players and as coaches.
Kiraly has won more tournaments and more money than any other player on the AVP Pro Beach Tour. In total, he has won 148 pro beach volleyball titles. Previously, the record was held by Sinjin Smith who had 139 open tournament wins.
Volleyball has been around for over 100 years, and the sport continues to grow to date, with an increase both in the players and in the fan base as well.
This is evident in the fact that FIVB is continuously working to accommodate people from different cultures and religions.
Through initiatives such as the Volleyball Nations League (VNL), attempts are being made by FIVB to enable fans to feel like they are part of the game and who knows, perhaps we shall see more hijabs out on the court in future tournaments.