The History of Volleyball | Volley-Pedia’s 'The Story of Volleyball'
As one of the five largest sports in the world today, we thought there should be a decent account of how we got here.
While you may not be a history buff, this page will do its best to give our great sport a complete history in one place:
Hopefully entertaining you along the way.
A Brief History of Volleyball: In 1895, William G. Morgan is credited with inventing a new game for his YMCA members. He called it, ‘Mintonette’, but it wouldn’t be long before this new recreational form of activity caught on, developed a series of 10 official rules, and started moving toward the global game of ‘volleyball’ we’re familiar with today.
Mintonette & The First Exhibition
Early Days & Growth
First Novel Introductions
Rally Scoring & Libero
World League & Video Challenge
VNL & Beyond
Part 1: Volleyball Origins
How Did Volleyball Start?
In 1891, William G. Morgan was studying his undergrad at Springfield College of the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association). Strangely enough, it was there that he met James Naismith--who would come to be known as inventor of then new sport, ‘basketball’, in that very year.
After finishing his studies, Morgan had a brief stint in Maine after which he was offered an opportunity in Holyoke, Massachusetts:
The original home of volleyball.
It was there, as director of physical education, that Morgan was given a new level of control of the exercises, activities and entertainment of YMCA members.
His class grew quickly. Word of his Morgan’s enthusiastic leadership spread, until he had too many members to know what to do with.
He needed a new activity; one that could include a large number of members at the same time, with a slightly competitive edge.
Having befriended Naismith in their college days, Morgan knew all too well about basketball:
But it was seen as a young man’s sport; violent, intense and exhausting.
Many of Morgan’s club members were older, and he needed an alternative that would appeal to all ages: basketball couldn’t be the answer.
Something from nothing similar
The YMCA was a haven for activity in the late 19th century, so Morgan was surrounded by sports of all disciplines.
However, even with the sports available to him, there was nothing so similar to volleyball that it’s clearly derivative.
Basketball and volleyball may have similar physical qualities today (tall, fast-paced, and vertically gifted athletes), but back then it would’ve seemed as different to volleyball as golf is to tennis.
Clearly, Morgan drew his inspiration from badminton.
Part 2: Mintonette & The First Exhbition
What is Mintonette?
The original name to label his new game was ‘Mintonette’; a derivative of badminton which can loosely be understood as ‘little badminton’.
Perhaps it’s fair to say that the original game really did resemble badminton.
Here are some fun facts about Mintonette:
Invented in 1895
6ft 6 (198cm)
Ball Size and weight:
25-27 inches and between 9 and 12 ounces.
No. of players:
25 x 50 foot court
The Spalding Bros.
One minor sidestory to the volleyball tale is the ball itself.
When experimenting with his new game, Morgan tried all varieties of balls.
Most immediate to him were the balls that were already being manufactured. He tried a basketball, but soon found that it was too heavy and dangerous to contact.
Then he tried taking the bladder out of some common balls: footballs, basketballs and the like. But the result was always the same:
Too light, and impossible to really control.
It was at this point that Morgan decided to reach out to a local manufacturer in Massachusetts: the Spalding Bros.
With their help, he was able to design a ball that was lighter than a basketball and softer to the touch, without being so light as to lose control.
The first volleyball was formed, and the Spalding Bros. would go on to be a household name in volleyball circles from that moment on.
*Today, Spalding are a large manufacturing company of all sporting gear, and their volleyballs are used primarily on the beach volleyball scene.
Some More Mintonette Rules:
While the game itself never had time to fully develop as ‘Mintonette’, there were some original rules that Morgan scribbled down.
A match included nine innings, with three serves per team per inning.
There was no limit to the number of contacts for each team before sending the ball back over the net.
Service rules followed a tennis-style ‘Double Fault’ system.
Ladies were allowed to catch the ball and throw it back over the net.
Reading those rules alone, you may have had trouble recognizing the sport as what we would call volleyball today.
*And in case you were wondering, Morgan included the exception for ladies as a means of protecting their fingers… if he saw some of the ladies playing international volleyball today, I’m sure he would have thought twice about trying to protect their fingers!
The First Exhibition
It’s early 1896.
Wilhelm Rontigen’s discovery of X-rays and their potential for the future of medicine are front-page news.
The Tootsie Roll is introduced by Leo Hirschfield.
And William G. Morgan is invited to put on a demonstration of his new game, ‘Mintonette’, at the YMCA College in Springfield.
Although by Morgan’s own rules, teams would be allowed to have any number of players, each team was composed of just 5 male players on the court.
The captains of the first official volleyball match, interestingly enough, were J.J. Curran and John Lynch; mayor and chief of the fire brigade of Hoyoke, respectively.
So, the scene is set.
A beautiful Springfield day, playing Morgan’s new sport in the open air with the Spalding Bros. specially designed ball.
As well as the first official exhibition of the sport which would grow to be the 2nd most popular sport in the world, this day would mark another important event:
The introduction of a name.
The live exhibition took place at Springfield colleges YMCA campus. As such, several prominent members of the national YMCA were present for what might be the latest introduction to the curriculum.
Among the audience was Alfred t. Halstead.
And while his role in this great sports history wouldn't go much further than the events of that very day, his name will forever be associated with the name ‘volleyball’.
After watching the exhibition, Halstead commented that it was a fine game, but that there was something off.
The name wasn't right.
Instead, he suggested that a name which captured the true nature of the sport be introduced:
Coined on account of the players’ actions seeming to mimic those of tennis players making a ‘volley’ play (striking the ball before it can hit the ground), Volley-ball was quickly adopted as the official name for the game.
It wouldn't be until 1952 that the hyphen was dropped and we were given the familiar form we see today: Volleyball.
But there is plenty to happen between then and now.
For example, how did the sport grow from a simple exhibition to become something known all around the globe in under two decades?
Part 3: Early Days & Growth
Early Days & Growth of Volleyball
While it would take a couple of decades for volleyball to rely spread the globe, there was rapid expansion already in the first 7 years.
The first official match was played, once again, at Springfield college in 1900.
From these humble beginnings, the game was able to spread through Canada, the orient and even Cuba by 1907.
In 1913, the sport is able to grow further still, making its mark in distant lands like Brazil, Puerto Rico and Uruguay.
Today, Brazil is a powerhouse of international volleyball, and when we see that its soil was one of the sports early homes, perhaps this makes mores sense.
Fast forward three years and shift focus to a small series of islands in the Pacific ocean:
The Philippines, 1916.
They've developed a new style of play for the sport, one which most closely resembles what is know today.
At the time a revolutionary offensive style, they figured out how to play the ball high and to the net, from which another player can setup a ‘bomberino’
If you think about it, a bomberino is pretty much what it sounds like:
Someone who's throwing down bombs. In todays game, these are the spikers--but you have to remember at the time, there were still unlimited players and contacts.
The idea of spikes, setters, middle blockers and liberos was completely foreign, but the phillipinis had discovered a new way of terminating the rally with great success.
In the same year, the NCAA is invited by the YMCA to discuss the sport in detail--the score is changed from 21 points to 15 and the sport is officially added to the sports curriculum.
One final stimulus in this decade was provided by the U. S. Military troops.
In 1919, 16,000 volleyball are distributed to troops and allies. An incredible promotional stunt (of course, that wasn't the real goal behind it) which allowed the sport to spread further throughout the globe by 1920.
Familiar rules begin to form
Entering the swinging 1920s, volleyball too was swinging into gear.
Three hits per side was now officially in the rulebook and back row attack rules were in full force.
1922 sees the first national championship, with the help of our friends at the YMCA, hosted in Brooklyn, New York . The competition is 27 teams strong, with 11 states getting in on the action.
27 teams for a tournament may be a small event by today's volleyball standards, but in 1922 it was a sign of things to come.
In fact, by 1928 demand for the sport had grown to the point that it was clear we could no longer run things off the cuff:
A governing body was needed, with a standardised set of rules and regulations.
The USAVB is formed in 1928.
Today, the organization has dropped the ‘B’, and is known simply as USA Volleyball.
*Remember, at the time the sport was still called volley-ball and so the acronym included the extra ‘B’. In fact, all across the world, volleyball federations are scattered with clues of its hyphenated Volley-Ball past.
Part 4: First Novel Introductions
First Novel Introductions
While the Filipinos had already introduced the first iteration of volleyball structural development, the 1940s and 50s saw many new introductions to the game which had previously gone untouched.
The forearm pass, for example, one came into widespread use in the late 1940s.
Up until 1946, it was entirely common for players to receive the serve and play the ball with an overhead pass.
Mind you, today it would seem that this technique is still the more effective passing method. For the data on this, see our post ‘Should I jump serve in volleyball’
In 1947, an international federation for volleyball is founded:
Following on from this creation, the first World Championships are held in 1949 for men and in 1952 for women.
By this stage, in the 1950s, volleyball was played by over 50 million people each year and was growing in popularity rapidly.
In 1957, the International Olympic Committee announced that volleyball would be designated as an Olympic sport, to be included in the Tokyo 1964 Olympic games.
Since its introduction in ‘64, Olympic volleyball has grown to become one of the most watched sports at the Olympic Games. In fact, time and time again it polls as the most popular team sport at the Summer Olympics, with totally unfamiliar viewers falling in love with both indoor and beach volleyball over the course of competition.
My personal theory is that it’s the first time people are given a taste of high level competitive volleyball--high-paced, dynamic athletes doing something with incredible precision:
What’s not to love?
Part 5: Olympic History: Volleyball
Olympic History: Volleyball
Volleyball was first introduced into the Olympics in 1964 (Tokyo, Japan).
However, the Olympic audience had already been given a taste for volleyball as early as 1924: in Paris.
Volleyball was played at the ‘24 Games as part of an American sports exhibition, but it would be another three decades before an official request for entry into the Olympics would be filled.
Finally, in Sofia, Bulgaria, a special tournament was put on to fulfill the request.
Volleyball was officially put on the IOC’s radar, and listed for the ‘64 Olympic Games.
Since then, Olympic Volleyball has been a highlight for many at the Summer Olympics: for none more so than players fortunate enough to represent their National Teams. It’s the most prestigious event in World Volleyball, and it brings out the highest level of the sport time and time again.
The first Summer Olympics followed a simple round-robin system--similar to English Premier League soccer where rankings are just tallied up by a team’s position on the ladder.
The problem with this is that, in some circumstances, the winner is already determined before the final match.
That’s bad for audience engagement, and it’s also a bit lacklustre for players:
There’s nothing worse than pulling your shoes and knee pads on for a match that has no real ‘winner’.
So, the format has eventually shifted over the years to include a final series.
At this most recent Olympics, tournament play was split into four separate pools, with the strongest seeds spread out throughout the Groups.
Qualifying for the Olympics in volleyball is another thing entirely.
This is a process that spreads out over years, with World Championships, Continental Champs, Volleyball Nations League and various competitive results counting toward your total qualifying points.
There are also automatic bids into the tournament for the host country, and to winners of specific World-Class tournaments. 2020 is set for Tokyo, Japan, and so both Japan’s Men’s and Women’s National Teams will be given automatic bids into the elite 16 Olympic bracket.
Part 6: FIVB History
The FIVB stands for the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball--the ‘VB’ tail being a remnant of Volley-Ball’s hyphenated past.
It was founded in April of 1947, as a federation of 14 countries coming together under the leadership of France’s Paul Libaud.
The first representatives included:
It was an important moment for global volleyball, and a positive sign for the sport’s continuation as more than just a popular game:
But a serious sport to be considered for major events like the Olympic Games.
The first 37 years of the FIVB were headquartered in Paris, France, until Mexico’s Dr. Rubén Acosta took over the presidency.
World Championships and Global Events
The establishment of a common body for volleyball meant a few things:
One of which was the introduction of global tournaments like the World Championships.
The first Men’s World Champs tournament was held in 1949, while the Women’s would follow soon after in 1952. Ever since, World Championships tournaments have been the height of prestige among national volleyball federations:
The competition is brutal, the level of volleyball is elite, and the prize is the be crowned World Champions:
In 2018, the honor went to the Polish Men’s National Team, and the Serbian Women’s National Team.
The World Cup was the next major FIVB promoted event to really catch on, with the first men’s World Cup held in Poland, 1965. The first women’s World Cup wouldn’t come until 1973 in Uruguay.
And while this prestigious quadrennial event is yet another exhibition of world-class volleyball:
It also has a strong practical influence on national programs.
At each World Cup, 3 teams will receive automatic bids into the following Olympic Games.
The FIVB moves to Lausanne
In 1983, Libaud stepped down as President, and with the succession a change to Lausanne, Switzerland was implemented.
The FIVB is still headquartered in Lausanne today, which proves the perfect location to spread the sport across all five continents. It also places the FIVB in close proximity with the International Olympic Committee.
Today, the FIVB consists of 220 affiliated federations, and sets the standard for international volleyball. Tournaments like Volleyball Nations League, World Championships and SWATCH Beach Tour events are all governed by the FIVB.
Rally Scoring & Libero
World League & Video Challenge
VNL & Beyond