Ten Great Reasons to Love Volleyball

By John Kessel | Oct. 03, 2017, 4:06 p.m. (ET)

As a parent, knowing the “why” is very important. This past week, my son who is playing professional volleyball overseas (we have no pro league here in the United States for the No. 2 most popular sport worldwide) did an interview for a volleyball web site. He was asked if he had been pressured into the sport.

No, he played 10 sports growing up. He was captain of his high school lacrosse and tennis teams. He just loves the joy he gets from playing volleyball. He was also asked if he got to the U.S. National Team level because his dad has worked for USA Volleyball for more than 30 years. Again, no. The U.S. Men’s Team AND any European pro league is clearly a meritocracy. You get your slot based on performance.

His interview had me wondering how he ended up loving the game. Also, what should parents know about volleyball so that they give it a chance to be THEIR sport. For example, do parents know how safe volleyball is compared to other sports? I have searched more than 100 years of data and I have not found a report of a child, or a player of any age, dying simply due to the actions in volleyball.

According to 2008-2013 data, volleyball is one of the three safest NCAA “Top 25” sports – only swimming/diving and women’s indoor cross country are safer (note the black triangle of “rate ratio of injuries per 1,000 athlete exposures).

Similarly, the most recent high school data (2016) for the National High School Federation’s (NFHS) top 10 sports shows volleyball ranked at the bottom of the rate of injuries (1.19 per 1,000 athlete exposures) with only baseball being safer.

But that is not why I am glad Cody, and his sister McKenzie who also played 10 sports growing up, played volleyball to the college level. Here are some my top 10 facts I would like any parent to know:

10. It is one of the three most popular sports played in the world for both men and women, along with soccer/futbol and basketball. How diverse is our sport? There are 221 nations that are members of the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB). That is more than any other sport in the world and 28 more nations than are members of the United Nations.

Here in the United States, volleyball is the No. 1 girls’ team sport in high school (in terms of participation). More than 440,000 played last season, thousands more than in basketball, soccer or softball, just to name a few. There are more than 10,000 scholarships at the college level.

9. It is one of the top three most popular Olympic sports both in ticket sales and television ratings every four years.

8. In this day and age of concussion concern, while kids might get hit in the head by not reading the incoming serve correctly (a 2006 report from the National High School Federation found that “nearly half of concussions came from passing”), it is ranked as one of the three lowest concussion rate sports at both the college and high school levels.

7. It is a sport for a lifetime. You can start by having great fun games with your 3-year-old and a balloon or beach ball. Did you know your child could still be playing at the USAV Open National Championships 50 years from now? The USAV Opens has age groups of 79-plus. William G. Morgan may have created volleyball in 1895 as a less-strenuous option, but the modern game develops and expects good fitness, not just fun.

6. It teaches teamwork in ways few sports can. No one player can “star” on a volleyball team. Good volleyball at any age is played with three hits. Volleyball teams learn to “Better the Ball,” which is a great trait in life. This team sport teaches about leadership, failure and success and so much more.

5. It is incredibly challenging but needs little equipment other than perhaps knee pads. By challenging, I mean it is a rebound sport, like tennis, badminton, and even golf. But players must learn to do it ALL with their own bodies. You can’t buy the latest racquet or bat to “play better.” Your WHOLE body is legal to use, so you get an all-around workout. You can play on grass, sand, wood, concrete, water and mud. This wonderful sport may even become the first winter AND summer Olympic sport as the FIVB moves toward playing SNOW volleyball.

4. It is exciting to watch. One player will touch the ball for around 5 seconds TOTAL per match. Players must learn to read OVER the net and deflect the ball to the next spot, never getting to hold onto the ball or pause as in basketball, soccer, baseball or other popular sports.

3. Coaches and staff involved with USA Volleyball programs mandatory training in SafeSport (safesport.org) and IMPACT (Increased Mastery and Professional Application of Coaching Theory) – two other ways we work to make the sport better for everyone. We have been training volleyball officials since 1928. Contact your region if you or your kids want to get involved in this way too. 

2. It brings people of all ages and abilities together. I have played six, four, three and two-person co-ed games with my kids for years. Want to know my favorite way to play? REVERSE co-ed, where the net is lowered to women’s height and females play at the net and males play back row the entire time, landing BEHIND the 3m hitting line. My favorite day of the year for over a decade was playing grass doubles with my kids in Vail on Father’s Day in the “Father-son/daughter” tourney. Paralympic sitting volleyball can be played by both disabled and able-bodied people. Anyway can also play the Deaflympic version of volleyball.

1. Did I say safe? Yeah that matters to me. Volleyball is a NON-contact sport. It’s fun, powerful, fast, exciting, playable for a lifetime in so many ways and safe.

Safety is important so please know about the organization STOP Sports Injuries, which was initiated by the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine. USA Volleyball has been a collaborator since its inception, and the site has some great resources.

We love to see multi-sport athletes including volleyball as an option, but not specializing. Research shows that injury rates are higher for kids who focus on one sport. Give other sports a go when kids are young, all the way to about their sophomore year in high school. Then if your child WANTS to, go ahead and specialize.

The NFHS and the University of Wisconsin studied single and multi-sport athletes at 29 high schools in 2015-2016. The multi-sport athletes were HALF as likely to suffer a lower extremity injury. More facts and figures can be found here

Graphic that shows more athletes are injured when they specialize earlier

Join us for Open Court, on or around Oct. 28, where regions, schools and clubs are encouraged to offer 60-90 minute “Discover Volleyball for Free” experiences. Contact your local USAV Region for more information on getting involved in the sport, as player, coach or official, and give it a go!