Volleyball: this fast-growing sport serves up fun and profit

Volleyball: this fast-growing sport serves up fun and profit – setting up volleyball programs in local parks

Joanne Kaldy

It fills the pages of Sports Illustrated. You see it on MTV. And you can read about its stars in People magazine. It’s one of the hottest trends in America today. It’s volleyball. Volleyball? Yes, the sport that used to be the strict domain of company picnics and backyard get-togethers has become a favorite activity of millions of people of all ages. It’s launched its own stars, such as Randy Stoklos. And it has launched a very profitable business for many more.

For those parks and recreation departments that have not yet jumped on the volleyball bandwagon, it’s not too late. Small departments and large alike can position themselves to take advantage of the volleyball boom that is sweeping the nation.

Looking Back: History of

Volleyball

Volleyball originally was called “mintonette” by YMCA director William C. Morgan, the man credited with inventing volleyball in 1895. He developed the game “in an attempt to meet the needs of local businessmen who found the game of basketball to be too strenuous.”(1) Because it required only a few basic skills and could be mastered easily by players with a variety of fitness levels, the game caught on quickly. The name was changed to “volleyball” in 1896 by Alfred T. Halstead.

Over the years, the game has progressed and has changed in status from that of a pure recreational game to one that is both strenuous and competitive. The game has developed some unique characteristics. For example, the spike was added to the game by Filipinos.

Today, volleyball attracts “all types of players-recreational to competitive, little skilled to highly skilled – and all ages.”(1.) The game has appeal because it is fairly easy to master and can be played on a variety of surfaces. Additionally, the sport requires a minimum of equipment and other gear, which gives it an advantage over many other sports that stress the need for expensive equipment and clothing.

From Popular Fun to

Serious Sport

For many years volleyball was a popular group activity at picnics, backyard barbecues, playgrounds, and school yards. In many ways, it was as much of a social activity as it was a sport. People of all ages and levels of skill could play together, with a minimum of preparation or equipment.

In recent years, however, volleyball has caught on as a competitive sport as well. And the sport’s popularity has grown, thanks to increased exposure through the Olympics (the U.S. has won gold medals in this sport in recent years), network-televised tournaments, and volleyball tournaments and games shown on MTV.

Additionally, fit and happy young people can be seen playing volleyball and enjoying life on beer commercials, soft drink commercials, and lots of other youth-oriented advertising.

Today, volleyball still is played by people who just want to have some fun and/or get a little exercise. But it also is considered a serious sport that requires athletic conditioning, training, and skills. USA Volleyball, the national governing body for the sport in the U.S., has more than 90,000 registered members competing in leagues and tournaments across the country. This legion of “hard-core” players are among the reported 2.8 million Americans playing the sport at some organized level.

According to USA Volleyball, there are between 500 and 700 adult volleyball clubs in the U.S., with participation ranging from “after-work recreational” teams to highly competitive teams who compete in leagues. There are between 1,100 and 1,200 junior volleyball clubs nationwide. Some of these clubs have become training camps for young volleyball players seeking athletic scholarships. The junior system also is punctuated with highly competitive leagues, some of which publish standings and statistics regularly during the season.

USA Volleyball alone sponsors approximately 4,000 tournaments annually, approximately 90% of which are one-day events drawing anywhere from 15-35 teams. The balance are multi-day, inter-regional events that draw between 200-400 teams.

Indoor, Outdoor, in the Sand

In addition to its expansion into leagues and tournaments, volleyball has become a sport that is played indoors and outdoors all year long. During the spring and summer, outdoor games are held on grass and on sand courts.

Sand – or beach – volleyball is the latest trend in the sport, first started about 12 years ago. It has made volleyball hotter than ever, particularly in mild climates such as California and Florida. Sand volleyball, according to Wayne Baine, assistant director of the Cincinnati Park and Recreation Department and a top volleyball player himself, says that sand volleyball is safer and results in fewer injuries; but it also is more challenging. “Jumping and running are more difficult in sand,” he said, “and you have to be in good shape to play well on this surface.”

Adding to sand volleyball’s popularity, the sport was granted Medal status in December i993. for the 1996 Olympics. As a result, a growing number of people Want to play sand volleyball, and organizations are scrambling to build enough sand courts to meet the growing demand.

Volleyball Serves Up Profit

Wayne Baine began playing volleyball in the mid `60s and in recent years has played on the national level all over the country. He came to Cincinnati in 1971 and has been instrumental in taking volleyball to a new level of profit and popularity in his district.

“It’s a program people want,” Mr. Baine said. And it’s pretty popular for the park and recreation department. Twelve courts built in Cincinnati paid for themselves and started turning profits in just three years. Today, the park department’s courts are in demand constantly.

But it wasn’t always that way. Mr. Baine and his colleagues in Cincinnati built up the program and started bringing in pro tournaments and other special events. For example, last year the American Volleyball Association Old Spice Tournament of Champions, featuring top players in the field, came to Cincinnati. The increased visibility has paid off, and the city department has lone from having 30 teams-in-1971 to more than 800 indoor and 250 sand teams today.

“The volleyball program’s a big revenue producer,” Mr. Baine noted. “It helps offset the costs of other programs.”

Reinforcing the demand for volleyball courts, Ron Wyzinski, commissioner of the USA Volleyball Ohio Valley Region, said, “If I had a facility in my region, I could book it every weekend.” Last year his region did $250,000 in business from volleyball, and he expects business to be even better this year and next. His region also offers free courses for people who want to become volleyball officials and programs for people, who want to become coaches.

What P&R Can Do

There are few barriers or drawbacks to parks and recreation departments starting volleyball leagues or offering volleyball courts for rent. But to be successful, parks and recreation officials should be “prepared to be innovative,” said Mr. Baine. “You have to be prepared to build sand courts, courts with lights, and other facilities,” he added. This requires some time, effort, and – of course – money, but in Mr. Baine’s experience, it’s well worth it. Cincinnati operates 6-11 courts with fights, and they are booked every night with leagues.

Offering leagues does require organizational skills, and parks and recreation officials should put some thought into how they classify teams into skill levels, age levels, and other categories. One of the characteristics of volleyball that makes it so popular and lucrative – participation people of all ages and skill levels – also makes it challenging to establish leagues that enable teams to enjoy competitive games.

Karen Montavon, special programs coordinator in Cincinnati, recommends that parks and recreation departments “find as many facilities as possible” for indoor leagues, including making arrangements with schools to use their courts on weekends. “If you can find the courts, you’ll have the people to play on them,” she said.

Just about everyone involved with volleyball emphasizes the sport’s social aspects. Mr. Baine noted that many teams are comprised of singles who plan social activities following the games. Parks and recreation departments contemplating volleyball leagues should consider this social component. Offering picnic facilities and arranging partnerships with local pizza restaurants may help bring people to the parks and recreation volleyball programs who in the past may have gone elsewhere for their volleyball “fixes.”

Ms. Montavon also suggests giving players prizes and giveaways – including t-shirts, water bottles, and hats – to enhance the fun. “These are good public relations for us,” she offered, adding that volleyball participants really enjoy getting these types of items. Ms. Montavon added that the days of giving trophies are gone and that participants prefer prizes they can use.

Volleyball: The Future of P&R?

There are no signs to suggest that volleyball’s popularity will do anything but grow in the coming years. And smart park and recreation departments with a little creativity can turn this growth into profits and high visibility.

For information about USA Volleyball or about how leagues are formed, contact USA Volleyball at (800) 929-8782.

(1.) Viera B. and Ferguson BJ. (1989) Volleyball: Steps to Success. Champaign, IL: Leisure Press.

COPYRIGHT 1995 National Recreation and Park Association

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group