Is volleyball a girl sport? This might astound you.

Both men and women can play volleyball so the sport is definitely not exclusive for girls. There are a lot of male professional volleyball players, mainly in Europe and Asia. However, the statistics seem to confirm that more girls play the sport in the USA. There might be several reasons why this is the case. Let’s dive into them in this article and discuss why volleyball is more popular with girls than boys.

Less clubs available to play volleyball

In the USA Title IX states that both girls and boys should get the same opportunities in school. This law that was enacted in 1972 also affected sports in school. In practice, this resulted in giving boys and girls the same amount of options to pick from when it comes to sport. Since budgets are limited and there are a lot of sports, schools could only offer a limited amount of options. Therefore a lot of schools in the USA have a volleyball club for girls but not one for boys. If there is no club close by, people will decide to play another sport. You won’t travel several hours just to be able to train. Therefore a lot of boys opted to pick another sport. This can be solved by increasing the budget so that more sports can be offered and more volleyball clubs can be opened. Data from Statista shows the high school volleyball participation between boys and girls.

Source: Statista

It is clear that there is a big difference between how many girls play volleyball in high school versus how many boys do so. We see that the sport is gaining popularity overall but the gap between boys and girls is not really narrowing. Title IX can explain a part of the difference but we can look at the data in Europe and there we see that more than 50% of the players are female as well. In Germany and Belgium for example, about 60% of the volleyball players are female. This difference is already less pronounced than the data we saw for high schools in the USA but there are still more girls playing the sport than men do. Let’s look at some other reasons that might explain this gap.

Less attention to the sport

In news, media volleyball gets less attention. There are no big games on TV and big clubs that compete with each other. Men often like to cheer for a team as a bonding activity. Woman often spend their time in another way. This could explain why men are less likely to play volleyball as they want to mimic the players that they see on TV and they, therefore, pick another sport. Hopefully, volleyball will become more popular in the coming years and we will see more players picking up the sport. Volleyball is played during the Olympics so this can attract a lot of new players to the sport. The female team of the USA performed very well in the last editions and this could have inspired a lot of girls to pick up the sport. The male team didn’t win as much and this can explain why fewer boys get interested in the sport. Young people often want role models and there are more female role models in volleyball than there are male role models. This is a self-reinforcing cycle as these role models attract more players and these have a higher chance of becoming successful and role model themselves.

Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash

Other sports have a big budget to invest in marketing. NBA basketball teams make a lot of money and this allows them to reinvest this in reaching new audiences and promoting the sport. The NBA was not that big just a few decades ago but they were able to grow the sport a lot by promoting the sport and showing that it is a lot of fun to play basketball and spectacular to watch. There are proposals for more professional volleyball competitions in the USA as well. These might attract more attention and let boys find their way to volleyball as well.

Less professional options

In the USA you can’t earn a lot of money by being a professional volleyball player. You often have to go abroad. With other sports, you can opt to be a professional player in the USA. This can repel a lot of people that want to make a career out of their sport. This could explain why a lot of guys pick other sports as they plan to play the sport professionally. There are also fewer scholarships available for volleyball and this can affect the decision-making process as well. Kids don’t always pick the sports that they play themselves. Parents might therefore take financial considerations into account and steer their kids towards sport with more earnings potential. As volleyball gains more traction, it is possible that there are more ways to earn money with it and this could result in more male players picking it as well. 

A lot of men want to become professional athletes as they think that it will provide them with a nice lifestyle. Volleyball does not make this possible so it gets often ignored as an option. In Europe, it is possible to become a professional player and there you see that more men play volleyball than in the USA. If there would be more professional competitions in the USA, more men might pick up the sport as well.

Most players have to go abroad. Let’s take a look at the career of Rachael Adams, one of the most successful volleyball players on Team USA:

Less physical contact between the players

Volleyball teams stand at another part of the field with a big net between them. Therefore there is no contact between the teams and it is less physical. You don’t have to push and pull your opponent to score a point. Therefore, the sport is less aggressive and this might make it more interesting for girls. Some guys enjoy physical confrontations and they might want to be able to interact with their opponents more directly. This allows them to play more mind games with their opponent by teasing them and pushing them around. Women might be less interested in this type of interaction and might enjoy the camaraderie of a cooperative sport where you need the whole team to work together to accomplish the goal. 

While there is less physical contact between competing players, volleyball teams tend to be very close. They have to make sure that everyone on the team is able to play several roles and positions on the field. Since volleyball is played very fast, you have to be able to anticipate how your team members will react and you have to know what they are good at. This results in a strong bond between the players. Girls might appreciate this deep connection more than men do.

Photo by Josh Duke on Unsplash

 Perception about the sport

Some people perceive volleyball as a girls sport because a lot of girls play it. Young people are often nervous about the opinion of others so boys that were considering volleyball might pick something else after hearing that it is ‘something for girls’. A strong marketing campaign that pays attention to the male Olympic team and the many successful male players could turn this around. Therefore I am very excited about the coming decades for volleyball. People will learn more about this sport and I think that it has the potential to grow a lot. It has all the ingredients of a successful sport: unpredictable, show, drama, and so on. If we can get more professional competitions, people will get to know the sport better and see that both males and females can play it.

Kids often want to play a sport with their friends. This is why a lot of them are attracted to popular sports and it is difficult to stand out and pick a unique sport. Peer pressure might push them to join their friends and pick up something more mainstream such as basketball over volleyball. Volleyball is already quite popular amongst girls so they might bring their friends to join the training and go from there.

The female team USA team has the Olympic tournament in 2021. This can make the game more popular in the USA, especially if they keep performing well.

Volleyball is harder to learn

Volleyball can be quite challenging at first as you have to learn a lot of moves. From setting, passing, blocking to digging, each type of action requires its own technique. Boys might be less patient to learn this and it is possible that they want to see results more directly. It can take a few weeks or even months before you start to get the hang of the basics of volleyball. In other sports, you can score faster and learn the basics after a few hours. Volleyball is more complex and requires more deduction to learn the basics.

It is clear that both men and women can play volleyball. The data shows that mainly women play it for now. This might change in the future but we mentioned some reasons why it might attract more women for now. This ranges from the fact that the sport is less well known, to there being fewer clubs for men and that there are more female role models. Inherently there is nothing that should stop men from playing volleyball as it is a great sport that requires a lot of practice to get great at.

 Some argue that volleyball is more popular amongst girls because they tend to grow faster as a kid. Since there is a high net in volleyball, height has an advantage. I don’t think that this argument is valid though as other sports also have a height advantage. Other reasons that were mentioned during this article seem to make more sense overall to explain why more girls tend to play volleyball than boys. 

Sources:

https://www.sport.vlaanderen/media/12602/191127-man-vrouw-in-de-sport_final.pdf

https://www.statista.com/statistics/268009/participation-in-us-high-school-volleyball/