Recently, I asked my 11-year-old son if he would consider joining a sand volleyball team for boys. Since volleyball was a fun part of high school PE classes for dad some years earlier, I figured he might find it fun, too.
My son’s response? “Volleyball is for girls.”
Try as I might, talking to him about the great Karch Kiraly and all of the stars of the U.S. men’s indoor gold medal Olympic volleyball teams of 1984 and 1988, I could not convince him otherwise. Unfortunately, I could not blame him for his attitude toward the game.
Take a look around. Not so much at the worldwide view of the game, but at what happens right in front of our noses. In my grade school days, the girls played volleyball in one part of the playground while the boys played either touch football, wiffle ball or kickball in another. Never the twain shall meet.
To the present day, California high schools have state championship playoffs for girls in the fall, but none for boys in the spring. And at some high schools, unfortunately, few seem to care much about the boys version of the sport.
Back to the worldwide view, volleyball in its various forms is popular among both genders. Heck, in Brazil there’s a form of the game called futvolley (or futevolei, if you happen to be visiting there). It blends soccer and volleyball as players attempt to play the ball with any part of the body except the hands (which goes a long way in explaining why Brazilians are so good at both sports). But in other parts of the world, sadly - – including some schools and neighborhoods nearby – - old stereotypes persist.
For comparison, field hockey had a 72-year head start as an Olympic men’s sport before the inaugural women’s competition in 1980. But this country has long went against the international grain, as the game has long been considered a “girls’ sport” here.
Will volleyball fall into the same trap? Like field hockey, it’s too good a sport to get stereotyped. Unfortunately, though, it’s very easy for a volleyball-for-all proponent to feel like a voice in the wilderness.