Originally known as “mintonette,” volleyball was the brainchild of American William G. Morgan, who came up with the idea for the new sport in 1895.
As a student at the Springfield College in Massachusets, he had befriended James Naismith who, in 1891, had himself invented basketball. After graduating, Morgan went on to become director of physical education at the Young Man’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Holyoke, Massachusets and it was there that he devised his new sport, which was designed to be a combination of basketball, baseball, tennis and handball.
Morgan was keen for his sport to offer a less physically intense and demanding alternative to Naismith’s basketball, one that would appeal to a far broader range of ages and physical abilities. Describing his early experimentations, he said: “In search of an appropriate game, tennis occurred to me, but this required rackets, balls, a net and other equipment, so it was eliminated, but the idea of a net seemed a good one. We raised it to a height of about 6 feet, 6 inches [1.98 metres] from the ground, just above the head of an average man. We needed a ball and among those we tried was a basketball bladder, but this was too light and too slow. We therefore tried the basketball itself, which was too big and too heavy.”
It was not until 1900 that a specially designed ball - lighter and smaller - was devised, which opened up a whole new range of tactical and technical possibilities for the sport. The offensive style of setting and spiking was first showcased in 1916, in the Philippines. Over the years that followed the rules of the sport were further refined and standardised. In 1917, the scoring system per game was changed from 21 to 15 points, while in 1920 the rule stipulating a maximum of three hits per team was instituted.
Until the early 1930s volleyball was for the most part a game of leisure and recreation, and there were only a few international activities and competitions. There were different rules of the game in the various parts of the world; however, national championships were played in many countries (for instance, in Eastern Europe where the level of play had reached a remarkable standard).
The sport took a huge step forward in 1947 with the creation of the Federation Internationale De Volley-Ball (FIVB). Two years later the inaugural World Championships took place in Prague, Czechoslovakia.
Volleyball made its Olympic debut at Tokyo 1964, with the USSR taking men’s gold and the host nation winning the women’s competition.
Beach volleyball, which had its origins on the beaches of California back in 1930, had to wait until 1996 for its inclusion on the Olympic programme, and it has helped take the global reach and popularity of the sport to a new level.
Volleyball has witnessed a particularly impressive growth spurt over the last two decades, fuelled by the expansion of international competitions such as the FIVB World Championships, the FIVB World League, the FIVB World Grand Prix, the FIVB World Cup and the FIVB Grand Champions Cup, not to mention of course, the Olympic Games, where both the indoor and beach versions now enjoy huge popularity.
Today, over 120 years after it was first conceived, volleyball is played by more than 800 million people worldwide, a fact that would surely leave its creator, William Morgan, whose goal was to create a sport open to all, a huge amount of satisfaction.