Indoor & beach volleyball history: a brief overview

You might think that volleyball has only been around for 40 or 50 years. You’d be wrong – the history of volleyball actually stretches all the way back to the 19th century, and the sport has come a long way in the 120 years in between. We’re going to look at all the facts and answer the main questions about how this sport came to be in this brief history of volleyball.

History of indoor volleyball

To find out when and how volleyball was invented, we need to go all the way back to 1895, at a Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) school in Holyoke, Massachusetts, USA. There, we can answer who invented volleyball – the physical education director, William G. Morgan, wanted to come up with an indoor sport that was less physical than basketball but still required a good level of fitness. It was in that very establishment that he wrote down the first rules for a game he called mintonette.

For, the structure of the game, Morgan took the ball from basketball, the idea of a net from tennis, and the use of the hands from handball to make a true hybrid sport. Volleyball had been born, but it wasn’t until a year later when the sport was presented at the Physical Director’s Conference in Springfield, Massachusetts, that Dr Alfred Halstead gave it the name we know today.

Development of volleyball rules

Of course, the original volleyball rules were quite different to the modern sport. The court was a lot smaller, but there were no limits to numbers of players or the number of times the ball could be hit up in the air. The early game consisted of 9 innings, with 3 serves per inning and the sport remained unchanged for a few years until, in 1900, volleyball’s famous inventor himself commissioned a lighter ball – the same ball that is used today.

Volleyball developed slowly over the following twenty years, with the 15-point system being introduced in 1917 and a 3-hit limit following in 1920. 1922 saw the first YMCA national championships and six years later, the first US Open was held under the jurisdiction of new governing body the United States Volleyball Association – now USA Volleyball.

Continued growth of volleyball

The sport continued to grow in America, but it was also being played abroad; the set and spike was invented in the Philippines, for example. In fact, even though we know that volleyball was invented in the US, the first World Championships in 1949 was dominated by the European nations – Czechoslovakia were the winners. In fact, the US have only won the men’s World Championships once – in 1986 – although they did win the Volleyball World Cup in 2015 and the women’s World Championships in 2014.

Today, 220 nations are registered with the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB), which has been the international governing body since 1947. It is one of the most played team sports worldwide and has been an Olympic sport since 1964. But the sport has also spawned a successful spin-off; Beach Volleyball.

History of beach volleyball

Unlike its predecessor, the history of beach volleyball isn’t quite as certain. General consensus says that it was likely played in Hawaii first, on Waikiki Beach in 1915. However, there are those that point to the 1920s, in Santa Monica, as being the true birthplace of the sport as we now know it, played by two people per team. Indeed, Paul Johnson of the Santa Monica club hit on the 2 v 2 format while waiting for other players to turn up for a game in 1930 – it had previously been played as a six-a-side game.

Beach volleyball quickly became popular as a family-friendly sport that could be played on holiday, and it spread around coastal areas worldwide. It was particularly popular in the States though, as it was a cheap way for people to enjoy themselves during the financially difficult times of The Great Depression.

Competitive beach volleyball

By the 1940s, beach volleyball was being played competitively and it grew through the 50s and 60s, as superstars such as The Beatles got involved in high profile events. It wasn’t until 1976 that the game went pro though, at The Olympia World Championship in California.

It didn’t take long for the FIVB to get hold of it after that, and Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro hosted the first sanctioned tournament in 1987, and the world series followed in 1989. Now, the Beach Volleyball World Tour features nearly 50 international tournaments, with the total amount of prize money per year in the millions.

Beach volleyball in the Olympics

Beach volleyball followed volleyball in becoming an Olympic sport in 1996. In these events, and the world championships, Brazil are by far the dominant nation, winning 12 golds combined, compared with the United States’ 5. Despite ongoing financial issues, particularly in America during the 2000s, it still remains an extremely popular sport and is watched by some of the largest television audiences at the Olympics.

Both volleyball and beach volleyball are now major sports, played by professional athletes. But its popularity endures through being easy to learn and play regardless of fitness or mobility levels. And with many schools across Europe and around the world having volleyball as the main team sport on their curricula, the sport has a bright future. Not bad for an off-the-cuff idea from 1895!

Now you know volleyball’s history why not check out some of the most famous volleyball players of all time!