Volleyball is a team sport in which two teams of six players are separated by a net. Each team tries to score points by grounding a ball on the other team’s court under organised rules. It has been a part of the official program of the Summer Olympic Games since 1964.
The complete rules are extensive. But simply, play proceeds as follows: A player on one of the teams begins a ‘rally’ by serving the ball (tossing or releasing it and then hitting it with a hand or arm), from behind the back boundary line of the court, over the net, and into the receiving team’s court. The receiving team must not let the ball be grounded within their court. The team may touch the ball up to 3 times but individual players may not touch the ball twice consecutively.
Typically, the first two touches are used to set up for an attack, an attempt to direct the ball back over the net in such a way that the serving team is unable to prevent it from being grounded in their court.
The rally continues, with each team allowed as many as three consecutive touches, until either (1): a team makes a kill, grounding the ball on the opponent’s court and winning the rally; or (2): a team commits a fault and loses the rally. The team that wins the rally is awarded a point, and serves the ball to start the next rally.
The ball is usually played with the hands or arms, but players can legally strike or push (short contact) the ball with any part of the body.
The History of Volleyball
On February 9, 1895, in Holyoke, Massachusetts (USA), William G. Morgan, a YMCA physical education director, created a new game called Mintonette as a pastime to be played preferably indoors and by any number of players. The game took some of its characteristics from tennis and handball.
Another indoor sport, basketball, was catching on in the area, having been invented just ten miles (sixteen kilometres) away in the city of Springfield, Massachusetts, only four years before. Mintonette was designed to be an indoor sport less rough than basketball for older members of the YMCA, while still requiring a bit of athletic effort.
The first rules, written down by William G Morgan, called for a net 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m) high, a 25×50 ft (7.6×15.2 m) court, and any number of players. A match was composed of nine innings with three serves for each team in each inning, and no limit to the number of ball contacts for each team before sending the ball to the opponents’ court. In case of a serving error, a second try was allowed. Hitting the ball into the net was considered a foul (with loss of the point or a side-out)—except in the case of the first-try serve.
After an observer, Alfred Halstead, noticed the volleying nature of the game at its first exhibition match in 1896, played at the International YMCA Training School (now called Springfield College), the game quickly became known as volleyball (it was originally spelled as two words: “volley ball”). Volleyball rules were slightly modified by the International YMCA Training School and the game spread around the country to various YMCAs.
The first official ball used in volleyball is disputed; some sources say that Spalding created the first official ball in 1896, while others claim it was created in 1900. The rules evolved over time: in the Philippines by 1916, the skill and power of the set and spike had been introduced, and four years later a “three hits” rule and a rule against hitting from the back row were established. In 1917, the game was changed from 21 to 15 points.
In 1919, about 16,000 volleyballs were distributed by the American Expeditionary Forces to their troops and allies, which sparked the growth of volleyball in new countries.
The first country outside the United States to adopt volleyball was Canada in 1900. An international federation, the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB), was founded in 1947, and the first World Championships were held in 1949 for men and 1952 for women.
The sport is now popular in Brazil, in Europe (where especially Italy, the Netherlands, and countries from Eastern Europe have been major forces since the late 1980s), in Russia, and in other countries including China and the rest of Asia, as well as in the United States.
Beach volleyball, a variation of the game played on sand and with only two players per team, became a FIVB-endorsed variation in 1987 and was added to the Olympic program at the 1996 Summer Olympics. Volleyball is also a sport at the Paralympics managed by the World Organisation Volleyball for Disabled.
The Rules of Volleyball
The game is played on a volleyball court 18 meters (59 feet) long and 9 meters (29.5 feet) wide, divided into two 9 m × 9 m halves by a one-meter (40-inch) wide net placed so that the top of the net is 2.43 meters (7 feet 11 5/8 inches) above the centre of the court for men’s competition, and 2.24 meters (7 feet 4 1/8 inches) for women’s competition (these heights are varied for veterans and junior competitions).
There is a line 3 meters from and parallel to the net in each team court which is considered the “attack line”. This “3 meter” (or 10 foot) line divides the court into “back row” and “front row” areas (also back court and front court). These are in turn divided into 3 areas each: these are numbered as follows, starting from area “1”, which is the position of the serving player:
After a team gains the serve (also known as siding out), its members must rotate in a clockwise direction, with the player previously in area “2” moving to area “1” and so on, with the player from area “1” moving to area “6”.
The team courts are surrounded by an area called the free zone which is a minimum of 3 meters wide and which the players may enter and play within after the service of the ball. All lines denoting the boundaries of the team court and the attack zone are drawn or painted within the dimensions of the area and are therefore a part of the court or zone. If a ball comes in contact with the line, the ball is considered to be “in”.
An antenna is placed on each side of the net perpendicular to the sideline and is a vertical extension of the side boundary of the court. A ball passing over the net must pass completely between the antennae (or their theoretical extensions to the ceiling) without contacting them.
Volleyball at the Olympic Games
The history of Olympic volleyball traces back to the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, where volleyball was played as part of an American sports demonstration event. After the foundation of FIVB and some continental confederations, it began to be considered for official inclusion.
In 1957, a special tournament was held at the 53rd IOC session in Sofia, Bulgaria to support such request. The competition was a success, and the sport was officially included in the program for the 1964 Summer Olympics.
The Olympic volleyball tournament was originally a simple competition: all teams played against each other team and then were ranked by wins, set average, and point average. One disadvantage of this round-robin system is that medal winners could be determined before the end of the games, making the audience lose interest in the outcome of the remaining matches. To cope with this situation, the competition was split into two phases with the addition of a “final round” elimination tournament consisting of quarter-finals, semifinals, and finals matches in 1972.
The number of teams involved in the Olympic tournament has grown steadily since 1964. Since 1996, both men’s and women’s events count twelve participant nations. Each of the five continental volleyball confederations has at least one affiliated national federation involved in the Olympic Games.
The U.S.S.R. won men’s gold in both 1964 and 1968. After taking bronze in 1964 and silver in 1968, Japan finally won the gold for men’s volleyball in 1972. Women’s gold went to Japan in 1964 and again in 1976. That year, the introduction of a new offensive skill, the back-row attack, allowed Poland to win the men’s competition over the Soviets in a very tight five-set match.
Since the strongest teams in men’s volleyball at the time belonged to the Eastern Bloc, the American-led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics did not have as great an effect on these events as it had on the women’s. The U.S.S.R. collected their third Olympic Gold Medal in men’s volleyball with a 3–1 victory over Bulgaria (the Soviet women won that year as well, their third gold as well).
With the U.S.S.R. boycotting the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, the U.S. was able to sweep Brazil in the finals to win the men’s gold medal. Italy won its first medal (bronze in the men’s competition) in 1984, foreshadowing a rise in prominence for their volleyball teams.
At the 1988 Games, Karch Kiraly and Steve Timmons led the U.S. men’s team to a second straight gold medal. In 1992, underrated Brazil upset favourites C.I.S., Netherlands, and Italy in the men’s competition for the country’s first volleyball Olympic gold medal. Runner-up Netherlands, men’s silver medallist in 1992, came back under team leaders Ron Zwerver and Olof van der Meulen in the 1996 Games for a five-set win over Italy.
A men’s bronze medallist in 1996, Serbia and Montenegro (playing in 1996 and 2000 as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) beat Russia in the gold medal match in 2000, winning their first gold medal ever. In 2004, Brazil won its second men’s volleyball gold medal beating Italy in the finals. In the 2008 Games, the USA beat Brazil in the men’s volleyball final