How to build a sand volleyball court. Avoid mud and dirt.

Beach volleyball is becoming more popular and more people are considering building a court. Building a sand volleyball court is quite straightforward but takes several steps. Don’t underestimate the amount of work that is involved in this if you want to keep the court clean for several years.  Let’s go over them point by point.

1/ Finding the required space

A beach volleyball court measures 29’6″ feet by 59′ feet for 2 players per team and 26’3″ x 52’6″ for 6 players per team. It is possible to use the court of 6 players for 2 players as well as you can just scale it down. You also need some space around the court and the total dimensions are therefore between 70 feet x 90 feet and 70 feet x 100 feet. It is possible to scale it down and play on a smaller court but scaling it down too much in the width will make the game less fun. Scaling it down in the length is often not too much of a problem. You need to find a piece of terrain that can be flattened out. If there are a lot of rocks on it, this could be harder to do.  

You might also need space to store the balls and have a room where people can sit. Building a court on a small terrain is often difficult as it will annoy people that they don’t have any infrastructure close by. Finding a good tradeoff between court size and the size of the accommodation is essential.

Let’s take a look at some beach volleyball highlights to get warmed up:

2/ Site preparation: drainage

Check with your local county if you have the required permits. It can take several months to acquire them as they might have to do some environmental research or get permission from the local inhabitants. Also, make sure that there are no service lines or other utilities below the court. 

Drainage is essential when you build a volleyball court or it will end up becoming a mud pool. Some parts of the court are excavated deeper so that the water goes in that direction. There should be a pipe away from the lowest part of the court to a drainage ditch outside of the court. One or more drainage ditches are required so that the water can flow away. The highest part should have a cleanout at the end.  The hardest part is to excavate about one arm’s length of dirt. This is often done by machine as it would require a ton of work to do by hand. Check the composition of the underground to see how well it drains. It is often recommended to use drainage pipes with holes so that the water can spread out over the court and the rest can go to the ditches. The PVC pipes should be supported by pea gravel. This part is essential and you should spend quite a lot of time studying what the best approach is for your situation.

If you just want to have a court that lasts a few weeks, drainage might be less essential.

3/ Foundation

We want to retain the precious sand in place. This is done by building a decent foundation. Gravel is often used to do this. Pea gravel is smaller than normal gravel but also more expensive. It is recommended as it is better at retaining the sand due to its smaller size. Over this gravel, a fabric is mounted. This fabric keeps the sand and gravel in place. There are a lot of types of fabric. Make sure that you get special separation fabric that is used by professionals. The local hardware store often doesn’t have this in stock as other applications don’t require such a sturdy fabric. Once again, this part is essential if you want to make sure that your beach court remains maintainable for several years. It is easy to just pour sand over a plot of land but it will end up looking quite nasty after a while if you don’t build a proper foundation for the terrain. Especially if you live in areas where it rains a lot or there is a lot of humidity, it is essential that you think about the foundation and drainage. 

Photo by Josh Duke on Unsplash

Don’t use other materials such as concrete to create this foundation as the sand can move over time and players can get in contact with the foundation. A net is not that hard and keeps the players safe. In everything you do, you need to think about the safety of the players at all times.

4/ Bring on the sand!

You have a lot of types of sand. There are several gradations, from very fine to thicker. We want to use the right type of sand as some of them are unpleasant to play on as it flies around all the time. Furthermore, we also need sand that is pure. We don’t want to have rocks or dirt in it. It is also essential that the sand isn’t sharp as this makes playing in it a lot less pleasant. A lot of companies create a specific blend of sands for this type of application. Don’t take random sand as you will regret this because it affects the playing comfort and durability of the court.

Given that you will need more than 100 tons of sand, this will require quite some money as you need transportation to get the sand there as well (often more than 10k USD). Removing sand is quite difficult to do so it is better to think about what sand you should get before installing it.  

It is a great idea to add material to protect the sand at its edges. This can be done with rubber and plastics. Rubber is more expensive but can be more durable. This makes sure that the sand doesn’t get dirty at the edges. The first impression of a court is important and if people feel that it is dirty, they might be less inclined to play. You can always add this later on if you want to save money.

You also have to maintain the sand. There are sand graters that pull the dirt out of the sand. Players can drop a bottle or pieces of plastic and the wind can add dirt as well. Raking the sand is not sufficient as you won’t be able to remove all the dirt in this way.

Even if it is just a temporary court, I wouldn’t cheap out on the sand as some of them can be quite annoying to play in given that they are quite abrasive.

5/ Poles and net

Having sturdy poles is essential as volleyball players can run into them or send the ball in the net. There are several materials that can be used for poles:

  • Wood: this can give the old school volleyball vibe. Wood has to be treated and maintained from time to time. Be sure to use sturdy wood as not every type of wood is strong enough for this application. 
  • Aliminium: This material is lighter but more expensive than steel. It is becoming more popular as it is easy to install and is quite durable. 
  • Stainless steel: normal steel will rust quite fast so it is essential that you take stainless steel. These poles are slightly more expensive but they are worth it. They are standing outside all the time so have to withstand a lot of rain and wind. 

These poles should be cemented 3 feet deep to ensure that the wind doesn’t take hold of them. Always check with professionals such as VolleyballUSA to make sure that you know what you are doing. Some poles can have sharp ends and this is not an ideal situation.

Official outdoor nets measure 32 feet long by 39 inches. They often slide in the poles so that the height can be adjusted. Sometimes newer players want to have a lower net. There are a lot of nets on the market. Try to make sure that it has bright colors so that it is easy to spot as players often get distracted and can run in the net. A net is quite easy to replace and is in most instances affordable. It is better to save money on this if you want to start out than saving on drainage or sand as these are a lot harder to replace later on.  

If you want to get started with a cheaper net, you can get a great net by Franklin Sport. These nets have steel poles and a great net. They are not as durable as cemented poles but should last quite a long time if it is taken care of. They even have a version that is dedicated to the famous beach volleyball legend Kerri Walsh. She even provided input in the design so you can be sure that it is a great net to get started.

6/ Finishing up the court.

We have to add boundary lines and a fence to finish things up. Make sure to read the instructions of the boundary lines as the attachments often have to be placed quite deep so that players don’t trip over them. You might use cords but this is not recommended as these don’t stretch when people trip over them and they are quite rough to touch. Using fabric such as the one below is often a better idea as these stretch and are quite soft. It is often best to use a black one as these don’t discolor as fast as other colors. It is less noticeable than bright red so if you don’t have a lot of sun, you might consider that option as well.

To conclude, we can state that building a beach volleyball court is more than just adding sand to a field. You need proper drainage and a foundation. It is also necessary to use concrete for the poles. A lot of people underestimate how much work and time is involved in building a great court. Therefore it is often best to work with a professional company.