History of volleyball

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How volleyball became one of the world's most beloved indoor sports

Ironically, the history of volleyball actually begins with basketball.  In the late 1800's Canadian Physical Education professor James Naismith was working for the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts.  He was looking for a way to keep students busy and physically fit during the long cold winters and wanted to design a sport that was played indoors.  

In 1891 he invented basketball, which was originally played with a real peach basket rather than a hoop.  The game quickly took off in local YMCA's and later spread throughout North America.


In the nearby town of Holyoke, Massachusetts, YMCA Physical Education Director William G. Morgan thought that basketball was too rough for older people to participate in, so he decided to create another indoor sport that was not quite as physical as basketball.  Just four years later on February 9, 1895, he introduced the new indoor sport of Mintonette.

In this new sport, there was a six and a half foot tall net that divided the 25ft by 50ft (7.6 x 15.2 meters) court into two squares.  There were nine innings and each side would serve three times per inning.  There was no limitation on how many times the ball could be touched by a single team.

The next year in 1896 the new sport of Mintonette had its first exhibition game at the International YMCA Training School ten miles away in Springfield, where basketball had been invented just five years earlier.


Alfred Halstead, an observer of this first exhibition match, noted that the sport is basically a series of volleys and the name volley ball quickly took the place of Mintonette.  Over time, the two word name was condensed to the single word volleyball.

The rules were amended slightly at this point and the game was distributed to YMCA's around the country.  By 1900, when the sport was only five years old, it had spread to Canada.  By 1916 the most common move in volleyball, the set and spike, had been discovered and just four years later over 20,000 volleyballs had been sold across the globe.

The Olympics

Thanks to the U.S. military, the sport was now quickly spreading worldwide just 25 years after its creation.  Just a few years after that in 1924 the sport was shown as an exhibition during the Olympics, but it would be 40 years before it became an Olympic event in 1964.

Although the sport had been invented in the United States, the U.S. didn't win a gold medal in volleyball until the 1984 Olympics, when the dominant U.S.S.R. team boycotted the games, allowing the U.S. a little breathing room.  They swept Brazil in the final round to take the gold.  The U.S. men's team would win gold again in 1988.  They would not win the gold again until 20 years later in 2008.  The U.S. women's volleyball team has never yet medaled at an Olympic event.

Changes to the Sport

The game's rules have gone through a number of changes throughout its roughly 110 year history.  About the only thing about the sport that hasn't changed dramatically is the volleyball apparel.  The most recent major changes occurred in 2000, when it became allowed for a player to serve from anywhere behind the rear line of the court and for the ball to touch the net on a serve, as long as it went over the net.

In the official sport, each team has six players for indoor volleyball and two players for beach volleyball, but in casual play any number of players are allowed on either team, just as it was in 1895 when the sport was invented.

Today the indoor court is a good deal larger than the original at 9m x 18m, while the beach court is only slightly larger at 8m x 16m.

Volleyball grew quickly and while it doesn't enjoy the immense popularity of basketball, it is still a beloved sport around the world.  There is a Volleyball Hall of Fame in its home town of Holyoke, Massachusetts

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