By Jacob Hudson
The ball is coming towards you at speeds close to 70 miles per hour at just 15 feet away and you have but a split second to react to where it is going to hit, and in that time make a move to not only keep the ball up in the air but position it perfectly towards the right side of the net so another teammate can get up under it and keep the rally going. Maybe, in that split second, it will land perfectly in the platform you have created with your arms, maybe it is off to the side and you have to dive to the floor, or maybe it is even coming straight for your face and hopefully if you are quick enough you get your hands up in time to save it or else risk player suicide and taking the speeding ball right to the face. This is the sport of volleyball, and they say this is too easy? They call this a girl’s sport? And why are those two things synonymous with each other? Tiffani Caldwell, a former student from Southern University stated that just because she is a female, she gets mistaken for playing volleyball all of the time, and Jeffrey Lorenz, another former Southern University student thinks that volleyball is such an easy sport because it “doesn’t take as much hand-eye coordination and skill.” The sport of volleyball, particularly on the men’s side, for far too long has been underappreciated because of the thought that it is not manly enough to be interesting or takes little skill to be good at. The interests, participation, university wide availability of the sport are what sets the female side and the male side apart.
The reason why so many people believe volleyball is a female centered sport is because of the media, or lack of media, coverage of the male side of the sport. You would be hard pressed to find a men’s volleyball game or even a women’s volleyball game on primetime on ESPN, the best you could do is find replays and highlights of a couple games on ESPN’s website. Volleyball has been framed in a certain light ever since Title IX was enacted and popularity hit the roof among women because it gave them a chance to play at the university level. Title IX has done so much to make sure that female-played sports are just as represented as men’s sports that often times many male sports get overlooked or shafted. It is all about equality and it seems that the sport of volleyball, especially on the men’s side, is not held to the same standards as most other sports. For men, football is always the reigning champ among male sports, and when it comes down to having a football program or a men’s volleyball program at a university, the former usually wins. Title IX is a big reason why majority schools can only have one program or the other for men, it is pretty much a numbers thing, but another reason is because of the money factor. A school might not be able to afford a football program and both a women’s and men’s volleyball program. Equipment costs a lot of money, not to mention travel and apparel for the players. At the high school level alone, schools can be spending over $700 on mandatory equipment needed to provide the players. Also, football generates much more revenue than men’s volleyball does; from screen time, to ticket sales, to fan donations, the sport of volleyball just would not be able to keep up. But why does the sport of football have to be the one that trumps everything else? Why does it have to be at the forefront of what is considered a “man’s sport? What does football have that volleyball does not? It pretty much goes without saying that it is the physical domination of the sport; the age old contest of man pitted against man in a physical duel to test who is more brutally overpowering of the two.
The ability to dominate someone physically seems to be the cornerstone of what manly sports are judged by. It seems to be that the more physical contact a sport has, the “manlier” it is. Maybe volleyball gets downplayed because it is not required to be beefed up or super speedy, but that is where volleyball is open towards anyone who wants to play; weight, athleticism, and surprisingly height play little factor in being able to skillfully play the game. Being over 5’8 and having some form of athletic ability and coordination definitely help, but they are not detrimental to succeeding in the sport. Volleyball is a game that involves quick hand-eye coordination, quick reflexes, and court awareness, not to mention the fundamental skills it takes to acceptably pass, set, serve, dig, block, and hit (or spike, which is a term that me and most other volleyball players hate to hear). I mean as Southern Accent writer David Rumsey puts it, “You literally get to hit a ball as hard as you can at another person’s face, if you want. What’s more exhilarating and manly than that?” There is no better feeling than jumping to your full height, smacking the ball with all the force in your body and watching from your uplifted pedestal as you either slam the ball down on the ground or knock someone’s face in. Watching an opposing hitter in midair, especially one who can really put the ball down, prepare to hit is one of the scariest things but once you have that split second to judge where the ball is going to go and get in the right position dig it up or save your face is one of the most satisfying feelings. Even to be able to block another player’s hit gives one the most dominating sensation, much like in basketball.
And yet many people feel it is any easy sport. Maybe it is because it has no direct contact; you are not bum rushing some dude to the ground. You can see how much more popular the sport is among women or rather unpopular among men by viewing the availability on the university level for women to play volleyball versus men. In the United States alone on the Division 1 level, there are over 300 universities that offer women’s varsity volleyball programs as opposed to less than 30 varsity volleyball programs offered to men. In Virginia there are 30 Universities from Division 1 to Division 3 that offer women’s varsity volleyball programs and only four that offer men’s varsity programs. The reason why there are so many more women’s programs than men’s is because over the years the women’s side has spread like wildfire across the US from west coast to east. If the men’s side spread like that than viewership may go up for them, but in order to have a following and interest at the college and professional level, it will need to spark an interest down in the small town and grassroots organizations; I’m talking about the high schools, the club leagues, and the church leagues.
People probably view volleyball as too easy and as a girls sport because they are not exposed to higher level competition, or even men’s volleyball period. If they go to a school with only women’s volleyball program, or they only type of volleyball they are exposed to on television is women’s, than that is the only side they will see and it is where the stigma starts. Even on television women’s volleyball is broadcasted so much more than men’s. And why do people watch it? Come on, we know it is because of the sex appeal; the short shorts and tight clothing appeals to any man, they do not have to know a thing about the game. What would a male who knows nothing of the game want to watch more, a sand volleyball tournament featuring two sweaty shirtless guys, or two toned and tanned females in bikinis? Jeff Mosher, coordinator of boys’ and men’s development for USA Volleyball, believes that cable television coverage of collegiate matches and exposure to the Olympic Team USA may help to shape America’s attitude differently on gender within volleyball and through that, spark male interest. Mosher stated, “The more men’s volleyball can be presented to the general population, the greater the demand will be to provide opportunities for boys to play. Once boys see men play volleyball at the elite level and see the power and athleticism involved, they no longer view it as a women’s sport.”
As much as I want people to stop saying my sport is too easy or made for only girls to play, if the men’s side of volleyball were portrayed in a different light by the media, by maybe actually being featured on television, than maybe the public’s outlook of the sport will change, and through that more interest will be gained in the sport. All sports require some form of unique skill set or type of athleticism and not one should be downplayed based on whether it matches better with a certain gender or not. If you are one of those people that feels volleyball is just an easy “girl’s” sport, take the time sit down and watch an actual men’s match, or even play against some guys who have experience. Sure it may bore you or seem too complicated to get into at first, but you can’t tell me it would not take some courage from you to be staring down death as a line drive monster of ball is hurling towards you from the sky, with no block to back you up; we will see who the “girl” is then.