Volleyballs have multiple materials. There is a rubber bladder that holds the air and is quite fragile. To protect this bladder, an outer layer is added. This layer is often made out of synthetic or genuine leather and more recently foam. For indoor volleyball, they use balls that are stitched. Outdoor volleyballs need to be waterproof and therefore they are often vacuum formed using heat. A volleyball needs to be the correct weight, size, and shape to make sure that it has the correct bounce and roll. Mikasa is the official volleyball brand in a lot of competitions. Cheaper brands use less layers and the balls don’t last that long. Let’s discuss further how volleyball is made.
Inner rubber bladder
The first step when producing a volleyball is the create the rubber bladder. This is cut out of sheets of rubber that are bought from another factory. Rubber is a natural product that comes from a plant. It has to be heated and filtered before it can be formed in sheets. After the rubber sheet has been cut, it is heated to make sure that it has a round form. A mold makes sure that the bladder is perfectly round. If there would be impurities here, the ball would not be round and it would affect how you play volleyball. The bladder also needs to hold air for a long period of time without leaks. Therefore quality control for this part is very important. More expensive volleyballs use a higher quality bladder so they should last longer. If the bladder breaks (for example due to heat or cold), you will have to throw away the volleyball as you can’t play with it anymore.
The inner rubber bladder is connected to the outer layer with a small valve. This valve is used to inflate or deflate the ball. This part is rather small and can break over time so you have to be careful when you touch this part. It is important that the valve is not affecting the way the ball rolls. Therefore the manufacturer has to find a way to make sure that the valve is usable but also that it is hidden in the ball so that you don’t feel that part when you are serving, digging, or playing with the ball overall. In the past the valve was sticking out and a part that could easily break. Nowadays the valves have improved a lot.
The outdoor layer of a volleyball can consist of different materials. This depends on the application (indoor, outdoor, or beach volleyball) and also on the manufacturer. Volleyballs typically used to consist of leather. More recently they started to use foams such as polyurethane. These foams are a lot cheaper to manufacture. Some people don’t like how these foams feel but they have become quite popular overall.
Outdoor volleyballs have to deal with more wear and tear and therefore the fabric that is used is a lot stronger.
The outdoor layer affects the look and feels of the volleyball a lot. If the material is hard, it will not be as much fun to play volleyball as it is with a lot of force. It also affects how slippery the ball is. Therefore, if the outer material is not able to handle sweat, it will be harder to play with it.
The outer layer also has to be elastic so that the ball bounces. The ball should jump up and not fall flat when it hits the ground. The outer layer creates this effect as the material contracts and then expands, creating the bounce that we want for volleyball.
This is typically created by merging several smaller pieces. They often use stitching for higher-quality materials (such as leather). For foams, they often use heat to create a round shape. Stitching takes more time so these balls are often more expensive than the ones that use foam. Some argue that leather balls last longer but this depends on how well you take care of the ball and how often it is used. Foam balls can last a long time as well and their cheap price compensates for breaking faster.
Painting of the ball
Volleyballs come in several colors and patterns. Some just use stripes whereas others have complex patterns. The latter is mainly used for outdoor volleyball and not for competitions. This could distract players too much so they use standard colors for balls that are used in competitions. The stripes on a volleyball can make it easier to follow the ball when it is moving fast. Therefore the color scheme has a function and is not just for decoration purposes only.
Other than that the logo is often added to the ball so that the manufacturer can brand itself. They often also add other information such as the production date, how to reach the manufacturer, and so on. This is printed in small letters on the ball, often next to the valve.
Testing the ball
It is really important that the ball is perfectly round and that it holds the required pressure. If the ball leaks or is deformed, they will not sell it and destroy it instead. Back in the day, they used to do this manually but now they use lasers to do this check. Finally, the ball is often deflated before it is shipped. This saves a lot of space in a shipping container and also in the store itself. Sometimes a pump is added to the ball when you buy another. If not, you can always use a bicycle pump. Just make sure that you don’t overinflate the ball or it could break. You should test the pressure of the ball every 2 months to make sure that it is within the required limits.
We have discussed how volleyball are made and tested here.
They used to add a lot of leather around volleyballs. Recently, people have become more aware of the environmental impact of leather and they try to use it less often. At the same time, the quality of synthetic leathers has increased a lot and it has become more affordable as well. A lot of brands have therefore switched from natural leather to synthetic leather. Especially the cheaper brands have opted to use synthetic leather. Some brands are experimenting with foams as well as these are even cheaper to produce. A lot of volleyball players like the look and feel of natural leather and prefer to play with these balls.
Players often have a lot of discussions about the ball when they play. The weight and size of the ball can affect how it reacts to touches. To avoid this discussion during competitions, there are official rules about how the ball has to look. During the Olympics, they use balls that have the following specifics:
|Standard indoor volleyball
|Weight 9.2-9.9 oz
Youth use smaller balls as these make it easier to play and score points. The weight of the ball that they use is the same as for adults. For beach volleyball, they use a bigger ball to make the game faster and more challenging.
Let’s take a look at some of the things that you have to take into account when buying a volleyball:
To conclude, we can say that you have volleyballs in different sizes and materials. It depends on how much money you want to spend on it, your personal preferences, and also the application. New materials such as foams will be added in the future so it will be exciting to see how volleyballs will evolve in the coming decades. The look and feel will probably remain similar but the balls might last longer or be cheaper to produce. Molten, Wilson, and Tachikara are popular brands. More recently new brands have emerged that offer cheaper alternatives. For competitions, famous brands are used. For playing at home, you can use the cheaper volleyballs as the quality is often acceptable. Just make sure that the weight and size are the same as the one you will use during a match as it can throw off your game if you are used to training with a ball of a different dimension.