After conquering the Midwestern United States, volleyball began its quest for world domination. It was introduced to the Philippines and China in 1910, to Japan in 1913, to Siberia and the Polish army in 1915, to Uruguay in 1916, to Brazil in 1919, and to Syria in 1922.
The Philippines was the birthplace of the offensive style we know and love today. They were the first to use the set/spike technique of passing the ball in a high trajectory for another player to strike quickly. They called a successful attack of this kind the bomba, or kill, and referred to their hitters as bomberinos. I’m very disappointed these terms have fallen out of use.
With the sport’s popularity on the rise, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was invited to aid in editing the rules and helping with promotion in 1916. Following the NCAA’s involvement the net height rose again, this time to 8 feet (2.4 meters), games were played to only 15 points and matches consisted of three games, making the game much more like a modern match.
1919 saw the American Expeditionary Forces’ distribution of nearly 16,000 volleyballs to its troops and allies, and around the same time YMCA directors who were sent to Europe to help rehabilitate Allied armies introduced volleyball to many European countries. These two events were pivotal to the international expansion of the sport.
By 1920 additional changes were in place. Court dimensions were changed to their modern size of 30 feet by 60 feet (9.1 to 18.2 meters), ball size and composition was regulated, playing the ball below the waist was prohibited, and the three-hits per side rule was put into place. The back row attack rule, which prohibits the three back row players from jumping at the net to hit the ball, was also added in 1920.
During its early years, the YMCA continued to have an important role in volleyball’s expansion. In 1920 the YMCA held its first national championship for volleyball in Brooklyn, New York, with 27 teams from 11 states participating. By 1925 the Amateur Athletic Union took over control of volleyball, and in 1928 the United States Volleyball Association (USVBA) was formed to oversee the game at a national and international level. It was clear that tournaments and standard rules were now needed.
The interwar years were also important for sports overall as recreational sports became more integrated into daily American life. The 1930s saw the first two-man beach volleyball game, and referees became a recognized part of the game in 1934. The USVBA was formally recognized as the governing body for volleyball in the United States in 1937. A 1946 study of recreation revealed that volleyball was fifth most-promoted team sport in the country.
The newly official USVBA was one of the charter members of the Federation Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB), which was formed in 1947 in Paris, France. The following year the first two-man beach tournament was held, and the USVBA sponsored national championships for women’s indoor teams in 1949, armed forces teams from 1952 to 1964, and even collegiate championships in 1949. A collegiate division for competitive college teams was also added in 1949.
Between the two World Wars many universities and colleges in the United States introduced volleyball classes as well as intramural and college teams. The first varsity team was created in 1949 at Florida State (only for their men’s team), and they were also the first university to offer volleyball scholarships and to employ a full-time volleyball coach. Collegiate involvement overall, however, was sluggish for the first ten years. Although teachers and students formed teams, most teams would dissolve when their primary players graduated.
The sport continued to grow in popularity and scope after World War II, and by 1951 there were more than 50 million people playing volleyball each year in more than 60 countries.
With such widespread involvement international competition was inevitable. USVBA sponsored US teams in the inaugural World Championships in 1949, and the first Pan American Games were held in 1955. In 1957 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) designated volleyball as an Olympic sport and planned for its inclusion in the 1964 Olympic games.
Prior to the ’64 Olympic games new types of plays were added to volleyball’s repetoire, including the soft spike (a.k.a. a dink or tip), the forearm pass (bump), blocking another team’s attack across the net and spectacular defensive dives and rolls. A ball composed of leather panels over a rubber carcass was constructed for the 1964 games, and a very similar ball is still in use today.
The Soviet Union won the first two men’s indoor Olympic volleyball tournaments; host country Japan won the inaugural women’s gold medal, with the Soviet Union bringing home the gold in 1968.
To read the final chapter in our three-part history of volleyball, check out 1964 -2010: The Rise of Specialization. For details about the origins of the sport, you can read 1895-1900: Laying the Foundation.