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Creating a Low Cost Volleyball

May 29, 2014, 6 a.m. (ET)

OK Volleyball Thinkers. I need some help in creating a ball for young kids.

About 20 years ago I created a “balloon ball” – a fabric shell patterned after one of those plastic/vinyl beach balls that are like 6 colors with a plastic valve to inflate by mouth. The pattern/info on how to make them is in the MiniVolley book on pages 90-92. You can get that free here and know that we have free Spanish and Italian editions too.  Tens of thousands of fabric balls have been made, including a pink series for cancer fundraisers as seen below, or in the color of a college VB program, to be given away to camp kids. You just put a balloon into the fabric shell, which has a button hole where you insert the balloon, and you have an almost no cost ball for kids.  If you make the material from nylon, it is even a slower traveling/falling ball due to the lighter weight shell. Make it like these two from cloth and it travels a bit faster. Construct it from pack nylon cloth, aka cordura, and you have a ball that almost plays full court normal.

Molten took the idea and had the shell made into 18 panels, stitched far better, added a real valve and weighted it to create their popular red/white/blue “First Touch” ball – in 70g, 140g (my favorite) and 210g. These cost just over $10 each, and need to be used only indoors, and never overinflated to protect the seam sewing. They are a great lower cost option to be able to include in a player registration fee, so every player goes home with a ball.

Those of you who have visited my office know I have a LOT of memories up to view and remember. Some might even call it stuff.  Specific to this blog, I find inspiration and hope with a ball made from banana leaves, from a kid in Africa, where not having a ball means you make them. I have another more “modern” African “city” ball, made from strips of rubber wrapped around soft milk “cartons” that are refilled with air.  I have a rattan Sepak Takraw ball and a plastic one that can hold up in the less humid climes where rattan would dry and break. I have about a dozen youth balls that all are lighter, but all cost $15 or more dollars.

I have searched the world’s manufacturers to get a balloon made from nitrile, rather than the normal latex due to some schools allergy policies, but no luck yet. The fabric shell version protects the kids from contacting the balloon, but we still want to also have very low cost balloons printed like a volleyball as USAV giveaways to grow the game. Some of the most intense and fun volleyball games I have played have been over the seat rows in airports, or in living rooms over a table.  The slower falling ball gives even 3 year olds a chance to volley the ball, plus there is zero pain at contact, unlike heavier volleyballs.

In the end, it is about slowing the ball down so younger kids have more time to track it/move to it and keep it in the air. A balloon works well and we are now looking at punch ball thickness options to slow it down but make it a bit more durable. The other idea you can see from the picture here, is to put duct or masking tape around a balloon so it falls a bit faster, but still slower than a regular volleyball. Increasing the number of tape strips to vary the weight and speed of balloon, thus changing the difficulty factor for the class or team.  As they improve, the balloon should fall faster, as you add more tape strips. This is a screen capture from the youth video I did in 1998 for Puerto Rico, which while in Spanish, is still a good youth video with small court (12 on one basketball court space), skills, games and grill ideas for their school program – every school got a copy thanks to sponsor donations back then. You can see the whole video here if you missed it. 

I have filled balls with helium to slow them down – it works only at the balloon thickness level, any other ball is too heavy for the helium to have an impact. Mylar permanently helium inflated balloons only come in a flatter, seam side stamped versions – I don’t think they can make a truly round volleyball from mylar with the valve they use. As the video shows and as an option, the “market balls” that are permanently inflated, printed in fun colors and images, are another lower cost option. They however are bulky, not something we all can carry in our bag and give away, and still a bit pricey for giveaways.  I have the beach ball pattern fabric shells in my briefcase, and balloons and give them away, and the smile on a kids face as they go off to play with their “ball” is priceless.

What I am looking for are two options.

1.  A volleyball like (seams printed), punch ball thickness, nitrile balloon…and if we can’t get it at low cost in nitrile, then it will have to be latex I am thinking.

2. A beach ball, sized a bit oversized from a volleyball, with the core five skills of the game on each panel, and the basic rules on the sixth panel

The latter idea I have been pitching for years to fast food companies as their kid’s meal giveaway. Again with no luck nationally. Rather than have a plastic toy that you “play” with for about 5 min then never use again, a giveaway of sports “balls” (soccer, basketball, volleyball, etc.) would be PLAYED with.  Don’t get me started on the obesity problem in our nation and just … I have seen a beach ball from this idea for sale, but it is like $3. I am looking for pennies per ball so all of us can have dozens to give away/play the game with.

Anyone have any good contacts? I want to make 100,000, maybe even a million so that all of us can create games to play with kids and show them the fun that comes from volleyball – 1 v 1 to 9 v 9. Is there a way to create a penny per ball type volleyball to give to kids? I don’t think 3-D printers are going to work…lol.  

Please share any idea in the comment section and thanks in advance for all your work in growing the game together. 

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