William G. Morgan, a YMCA physical education instruction in Holyoke, Massachusetts, is credited with the invention of volleyball in 1895. Originally called mintonette, Morgan intended the sport to be a relaxing sport with minimal physical contact for local businessmen.
Mintonette brought in features from several other games and sports, including basketball, baseball, tennis and handball; the original net was borrowed from a tennis court and raised to an arbitrary height (6 feet, 6 inches) in order to be slightly taller than an average man’s head.
The first real mintonette game took place in 1896 between two five-player teams at Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts. Later that year a faculty member who was watching a match remarked that the players seemed to be volleying the ball back and forth to one another, and that maybe it should be called volleyball. Morgan approved, and the name stuck.
Although volleyball had been given a proper name, it still didn’t have a suitable ball. Early games used the bladder out of a basketball, but it was too light and slow. The complete basketball (ouch!) proved much too large and heavy. Spalding, the sports equipment manufacturer, had its headquarters in Holyoke, so Morgan commissioned a special ball for the game. The design was completed in 1900, but revisions continued for the next several decades.
Changes to the ball were one of many problems that early volleyball players and coaches faced. Every couple of years the court size and other rules would change, making it difficult to teach the game. The number of players on a team was usually determined by space availability, and the players did not rotate. Some of the early rules, which were originally published in the YMCA Athletic Handbook in 1897, will seem very odd to modern players:
* Volleyball courts measured 40 feet by 80 feet (12 meters by 24 meters)
* Net height could vary from 6 to 6 1/2 feet (1.8 to 2 meters) and divided the court in half.
* Teams consisted of four players.
* A game was made up of four innings.
* Servers used a bat to serve the ball over the net, and if they failed to get the serve over the net this was considered a fault and the server was out. If the server was the last on his team to serve, his side was out.
* The “volley” part of the game meant that a player could not touch the ball twice in succession.
Later rule changes allowed for any number of players on a team, and play consisted of keeping the ball in motion back and forth across the net. Play ended when one side failed to return the ball or the ball hit the floor, resulting in either a point for the serving team or a “server’s out.” The “server’s out” has since become a “sideout.” A game now consisted of nine innings, with each side being allowed a set number of serves during each inning.
The net violation rule was already in place: if a player touched the net the volley was over and it counted against his side. Catching or holding the ball was not allowed, but players could dribbled the ball if it bounced continuously and they did not cross the dribbling line.
In 1896 the sport expanded to Dayton, Ohio and the rules underwent another revision. At this point the net height was standardized to 7 feet 6 inches (2.3 meters) (much closer to its current height) and dribbling was eliminated. Games were played to 21 points instead of for a set number of innings.
After the turn of the century volleyball quickly expanded internationally — check out our upcoming Volleyball History posts, 1900-1964: The Path to the Olympics and 1964 -2010: The Rise of Specialization for more details.