Hated by some and loved by others in gym class, volleyball revolves around teamwork. There are no star players or high-priced rookies who won’t play their hardest. Instead it’s a core group of individuals who put the word “team” right next to “work”. Even though it’s not as commercialized as other sports, volleyball is very competitive. There are rivalries and matches that go on longer than everyone expected. There are even a few shocking plays and controversial calls. When it comes to championships, there’s nothing bigger for the sport of volleyball than the Summer Olympics.
Digging Into History
The idea for the sport came from a YMCA physical education director named William G. Morgan . On February 9, 1895, Morgan created a new game called Mintonette. The game took some of its characteristics from tennis, handball and even basketball. However, Mintonette (as volleyball was know back then) was designed to be an indoor sport older members of the YMCA could handle.
The first rules were created by Morgan. The physical education director decided to use a net, a court and handful of players for the sport. Matches were composed of nine innings with three serves for each team in every inning. There was no limit to the number of ball contacts for each team and hitting the ball into the net was considered a foul (loss of a point).
After an observer noticed the volleying nature of the game at its first exhibition match in 1896, the sport became known as “volleyball”. The rules were slightly modified by the International YMCA Training School and soon the game spread around the country to various YMCAs.
As the rules evolved, different techniques and skills were created. By 1916, the skill and power of the set and spike had been introduced. Four years later, the game changed from 21 to 15 points and a “three hits” rule was introduced.
As the game grew, Volleyball became an instant hit to many different countries. In 1947, the Federation Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) was founded and the first world championships were held two years later. Since then, the sport has become well-known in North America, Brazil, Italy, Netherlands and China.
Serving Up The Rules
In regards to game play, volleyball is fairly simple. Matches are usually started with a coin toss to determine which team (consisting of six players) serves first. Once the winner is decided, a player from the serving team (the server) throws the ball into the air and attempts to hit the ball so that it passes over the net. Once in the opponent’s side of the court, the opposing team must use a combination of no more than three hits to return the volleyball to the serving team. The three hits usually consist of a bump or a pass, a set and then a spike or an attack.
The team with possession of the ball that is attacking is described as the offense. The team on defense attempts to prevent the attacker for directing the ball into their side of the court. In order to be successful, players close to the net will jump and reach above the top of the net to block the ball. If the ball is hit around or through the block, the players on the defensive side will attempt to control the ball with a dig. If successful, the team transitions to offense. The game continues on in this manner until the ball touches the court within the boundaries or until an error is made.
Some errors include:
- When a player touches the ball twice in a succession.
- When the ball is touched more than three times by a team.
- When a player touches the net with any part of his or her body or clothing while making a play on the ball (with the exception of the hair)
- When a player takes more than 8 seconds to serve.
Attacking The Six Basic Skills
In volleyball, competitive teams try to master six different skills: serve, pass, set, spike, block and dig.
The Serve; this basic skill involves a player standing behind the endline who will attempt to drive the ball (serve) into the opponent’s court. Their main objective is to primarily is to make it land in the opponent’s end by using direction, speed and acceleration to their advantage. When the ball lands directly onto the other court or is deflected outside off a player, the serve is called an “ace”. There are many different types of serves such as the Underhand and Overhand Serve, the Jump Serve and the Float (when the ball is hit with no spin; direction is unpredictable).
The Pass; also called the reception, it’s an attempt made by a team to properly handle the opponent’s serve or any form of attack. The skill of passing involves two techniques: the bump (an underarm pass where the ball touches the inside part of joined forearms) or the overhand pass (handled with the fingertips like a set).
The Set; the main goal of the second contact that’s usually made by a team is to place the ball in the air so it can be driven by an attack. The setter is an important role as they coordinate the offensive movements of the team and decide who will be the attacker. They can also play the ball into the opponent’s court themselves. This is called a “dump”; either placing the ball into the corners or spiking it.
The Attack; more commonly known as the “spike”, it involves a player attacking the ball so that it ends up in the opponent’s court. A player makes a series of steps, jumps and swings at the ball. There are different techniques such as the Off-Speed hit, the Backcourt hit and the Quick hit.
The Block; in order to make sure an attack is unsuccessful, players will use the block technique. A block can either be offensive (hit the ball back to the opponent) or defensive (slow it down so it can be easily played). Blocking is also classified according to the number of players involved. For instance, along with a solo block, there is also a double and triple block.
The Dig; it is the ability to prevent the ball from touching the court after a spike. In some instances, a player may be forced to quickly drop his or her body to the floor to try and save the ball.
Setting Up The Olympic Tournament
Volleyball in the Olympics can be traced all the way back to the 1924 Summer Olympics, in Paris, where the sport was played as part of an American sports demonstration event. However, consideration was given until after World War II. In order to support the request for the sport to be included, a special tournament was held in Bulgaria in 1957. The competition turned out to be a success and helped the sport enter the Olympic stage in 1964.
The Olympic tournament first started out as a simple competition. Every participating team played against each other and were ranked by wins, set average and point average. The format seemed successful, but couldn’t keep the audience interested in some of the remaining matches as medal winners were often determined before the final game.
To help fix this problem, a final round consisting of quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals was created. The new system has become the standard for the volleyball tournament since 1972.
One surprising fact is that the number of competitive teams has grown since the sport was first introduced. There are now 12 teams on average that participate in the Summer Olympics. Some interesting countries that will be aiming for the gold this year include Egypt, Poland, Cuba and Algeria.
If you’re interested in hearing more about other Summer Olympic sports, then stay tuned. Articles on the history and development of interesting sports will be posted every weekend up until the actual Olympics!
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