Can you play volleyball professionally? The answer will surprise you

You might be good at volleyball and consider making a career out of it. First the good news. Yes, you can play volleyball professionally. A lot of teams pay their players to partake in competition and make a full-time job out of it. Unfortunately, this is not possible in the USA. You will have to go to Europe or Asia if you really want to earn money by playing volleyball.

For example, volleyball is very popular in Italy and Japan. There are organizations working on a new pro volleyball league in the USA but it could take some more time to set these up. Maybe in the coming years, it will be possible to play volleyball professionally in the USA as well (for example Athletes Unlimited is working on a new concept).

At this point in time, however, the career path for professional volleyball players is less clear in the USA if you compare it with other sports that have big budgets behind them. The chance that you can become a professional volleyball player is quite low but you can give it a shot if you really want it.

Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash

There are quite a lot of players with the USA nationality that play professional volleyball in Europe. While they might be annoyed that they can’t play in the USA itself, they were still able to accomplish their dream of playing volleyball professionally. This is a great achievement as not a lot of players get selected to do this. It takes years of hard work and dedication to get there. You have to participate in a lot of tryouts and competitions and finally, a scout should notice your talent.

Then after working on your skills for a while longer, you might get an invite to join a training program by a professional team. Once you have proved yourself there, you might be able to sign a contract. Becoming a professional player, therefore, involves a lot of steps and it can take quite some time before you get there. Most professional players are in their early twenties or mid-twenties.

This is older than the professional players in a lot of other sports. You can ask your coach what the next steps are for you if you are considering a professional volleyball career. They can suggest what program or tryout you can join to get there.

Are volleyball players rich? 

Yes and no. While some of the best-paid players make more than 1 million USD per year, this is not that much if you compare it with other sports where professionals can make much more. 

For example Ronaldo, a popular soccer player makes more than 20 million USD from his player salary alone. This does not include sponsorships and other revenue sources.

Photo by Michele Feola on Unsplash

Given that volleyball is not that popular in the USA, it is harder to get sponsorships as well. There are no shoes that are named after a volleyball player as we see with the shoes that Jordan or Shaquelle O’neil has. You also don’t see volleyball players in ads so these are all income streams that are not available for volleyball players.

There is also a Pareto rule in sports salaries. That means that 20% of the players earn 80% of the money. Therefore a small group of players earns quite a lot whereas most players don’t earn a lot. Therefore most volleyball players don’t get rich by playing volleyball. They can however use the skills that they have learned during their career to earn more money. If you are on a volleyball team, you will learn how to work with others and how to manage them.

These are essential skills if you want to have a high-paying function. Therefore a lot of players can earn a lot of money once they retire from playing volleyball professionally. There are definitely ex-professionals that got rich by implementing the skills that they have learned during their volleyball career. So while you might not get very rich by playing volleyball professionally, you can still leverage it to make money down the line. 

Let’s take a look at a day in the life of a professional volleyball player:

Fortunately, the USA female volleyball team is doing very well. They can become more popular in the coming years and this could lead to new business deals. For example, they can get sponsorships or appear in ads. These appearances can pay very well and could be even more lucrative than player salaries themselves.

This could mean that professional competition in the USA could grow quite fast as the players can substitute their salaries with other incomes such as ads. We will have to see how this plays out in the coming years. It took the NBA a lot of time to become as popular as it is today so volleyball could be on the same trajectory. NBA players didn’t earn a lot in the seventies either. 

A lot of big brands don’t even make volleyball gear as they believe that the market is not big enough. This gives an indication that the sport is still growing and gaining popularity. This also means that these brands won’t pay volleyball players for their expertise or to be featured in commercials.

In Italy and Japan volleyball is very popular and players get paid quite well but you can compare the salaries to normal jobs. They are paid quite well but you won’t be able to live a billionaire lifestyle with them. 

At what age do volleyball players retire?

Most volleyball players retire in their mid to late thirties. Some have to retire earlier as they don’t get a new contract or are injured. Other players get tired of having to train that often and make other career choices. Especially for players from the USA, it can be challenging as you can get homesick after a while. Playing volleyball professionally is not something that you can do for your whole career as you have to jump and run a lot.

After a while, you get slower at this and can’t compete with newer players. Some people don’t want to admit this to themselves but sooner or later you will notice that you just can’t keep up anymore and that it is time to retire. Having to train that often also requires a lot of dedication and after a while, most people want to explore other areas of life and they don’t want to be in a sports hall anymore for a whole day.

Photo by Jannes Glas on Unsplash

You see that in a lot of sports, people stop their professional careers around the age of 35. This is the same for professional volleyball players. 

Some players retire earlier and try to make a comeback. This can be quite challenging as you have to rebuild a lot of systems and getting back to that high intensity can take a lot of effort. Making a comeback after retirement is therefore extremely difficult and not a lot of players can pull this off.

 A lot of retired players become coaches or personal trainers. Others leverage their knowledge to start a company or to become a manager. Professional players often have a lot of discipline so they can use this to become successful in several types of careers. 

Given that volleyball players don’t earn that much, they often have to start another career after they have finished playing volleyball full time. 

To conclude we can state that it is possible to become a professional volleyball player in Europe or Asia. At the moment it is not possible to do so in the USA but this could change soon. Volleyball players often don’t earn that much money so they often need another career after they have retired. Often this is not an issue as volleyball teaches you a lot of useful skills that you can apply in business as well. The career path is not as clear as for a lot of other sports that are more popular.