Feature

History of beach volleyball and how it’s different from indoor volleyball

Know everything about beach volleyball, the sport that has been an Olympic discipline since 1996.

By Jay Lokegaonkar ·

Beach volleyball is one of the most popular recreational activities in the world.

An iteration of indoor volleyball - founded in 1895 - beach volleyball was popularized in the early 1920s in Santa Monica, California, where it became a favourite among the residents as a leisure activity.

The sport also found its patrons among the many Californian beach clubs, which hosted local beach volleyball tournaments.

While the rules of beach volleyball remained mostly consistent with the indoor version of the sport throughout the 1920s, the players at the Santa Monica Athletic Club started experimenting with just two players on either side of the court, which later became the format that was adopted for professional beach volleyball.

On Labor Day weekend in 1976, the Will Rogers State Beach in the Pacific Palisades, California played host to the Olympia World Championship of Beach Volleyball, the first professional beach volleyball tournament in the United States. UCLA Bruins duo Greg Lee and Jim Menges won the competition.

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Key differences between indoor and beach volleyball

Match setting

Unlike indoor volleyball, where the two competing teams field six players each, teams in beach volleyball can only field a two players per side on the court. There are no substitutions allowed in beach volleyball.

As opposed to the hardcourt in indoor volleyball, beach volleyball is a sport played between two teams on a sand court.

The match starts with a coin toss to decide which team serves first. Both players on the team have to serve alternatively after every change in serve upon winning a point.

Beach volleyball rules and scoring system

Beach volleyball is a best-of-three set contest unlike indoor volleyball where matches can go on till five sets.

The first two sets in beach volleyball are played until one team reaches 21 points - as opposed to 25 in the indoor version for its first four sets - and the third and final deciding set, if required, is played to 15 points.

Each rally in beach volleyball is worth a point and a team has to have a lead of at least two points while reaching the designated points tally - 21 in the first two sets and 15 in the third - to effectively win the set.

Hence, if the score is 20-20 in the first two sets or 14-14 in the decider, the set continues, even after the next point is scored, until one team builds a lead of two points over the other.

In the event that neither team wins the first two sets and the game extends to a third and final set, as per rules of beach volleyball, a coin toss precedes it to decide which team serves first in the decider.

Beach volleyball player positions

Blocker

The blocker is the player that guards the net and contests the opponent’s spikes with his or her longer reach and quick reflexes.

Defender

The defender guards the rest of the court and digs out spikes or chases looped up shots into the open areas of the court. The defender is usually the more agile of the two teammates since it takes tremendous acceleration to get across the court and keep rallies alive.

However, unlike indoor volleyball where each team has players with five defined roles, teams in beach volleyball usually use both their players as the blocker and defender based on whether the player is guarding the right-side or left-side of the court.

Winning a point in beach volleyball

Fewer number of players on the court and large open spaces in beach volleyball opens up a much larger variety of creative avenues to score points as compared to indoor volleyball, where the spike is predominantly used to conclude rallies.

The roll shot is when a player loops the ball over the net and over an opponent’s block with a lot of topspin which gives it a sharp downward trajectory, giving the defender only a fraction of second to react and keep the rally alive.

A cut shot is when a player hits the ball across the court into the sand and close to the net in the opposition’s half, making it extremely difficult for the defender to read and dig out.

A pokey is when a player uses his knuckles to drop the ball into open spaces on the court.

Unlike indoor volleyball, a player can touch the ball two successive times only if the first touch came courtesy of an attempted block.

Stepping over the end line while serving, taking more than three touches before hitting the ball across the net into the opposition’s half and the ball bouncing out of bounds after hitting a player; all result in a loss of point in beach volleyball.

Beach volleyball court size and equipment

Owing to the fewer number of players on the court and the difficulty encountered in moving with agility on the sand, the beach volleyball court size is smaller, and the ball is lighter in beach volleyball as compared to those in the indoor variant.

As per FIVB guidelines, a beach volleyball court is 16m (52.5ft) long and 8m (26.2ft) wide.

The beach volleyball net height is the same as that of indoor volleyball, i.e., 2.43m (7.97ft) tall for men’s and 2.24m (7.35ft) tall for women’s competition.

As per FIVB regulations, a beach volleyball ball must weigh between 260-280gms (9.2-9.87 ounces) with a circumference of 66-68cm (25.98-26.77 inches) with a psi of 2.48-3.20.

Beach Volleyball at the Summer Olympics

At the Olympics, beach volleyball was a demonstration sport at Barcelona 1992 and made its official Summer Olympic debut as a discipline in the men’s and women’s category in the subsequent edition at Atlanta 1996.

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The men’s beach volleyball tournament

The United States dominated the men’s beach volleyball tournament at Atlanta 1996. Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes went on to win two sets and beat compatriots Mike Dodd and Mike Whitmarsh in the final to make it a 1-2 finish for the Americans.

At Sydney 2000, American duo Dain Blanton and Eric Fonoimoana won the gold after getting the better of Brazilian pair Ze Marco de Melo and Ricardo Santos. At Athens 2004, Santos returned with a new teammate in Emanuel Rego and went one better, winning the gold medal and ending the United States’ foothold in the men’s beach volleyball event at the Games.

The Brazilian duo had to settle for bronze at Beijing, as the United States’ Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers won the gold, making it three golds out of four for the USA at the Summer Olympics.

Germany’s Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann won gold at London 2012 while at Rio 2016, it was Brazil’s Alison Cerutti and Bruno Schmidt who made their country proud by standing atop the podium.

Bar the all-American final in the Atlanta Games in 1996, every final of the men’s beach volleyball tournament has featured a Brazilian duo.  

The women’s beach volleyball tournament

Brazil’s Sandra Pires and Jackie Silva pipped countrywomen Monica Rodrigues and Adriana Samuel to win the first-ever women’s beach volleyball tournament at the Summer Olympics at Atlanta 1996.

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At Sydney 2000, Australian pair Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst improved on their bronze medal finish at the Atlanta Games and won gold in their home country.

Athens 2004 saw the initiation of one of the most dominant runs in Summer Olympics history.

The Californian pair Misty May-Treanor of Los Angeles and Kerri Walsh Jennings of Santa Clara won the women’s beach volleyball gold medal at three straight Summer Olympic Games for the USA. The duo won in straight sets in the final at Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 as well as London 2012.

Kerri Walsh Jennings teamed up with April Ross at Rio 2016 and settled for bronze, as German duo Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst won their country’s second gold medal in beach volleyball.

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