It won’t surprise you to know football is the most popular sport in the world but did you know volleyball is the second most popular?
And did you know volleyball has been around for 120 years? It was developed in 1895 by William G Morgan, an American physical education director, as an indoor sport, less than rough than basketball but still needing some athletic effort, designed for older members of the YMCA.
‘Which makes it a great sport for everyone,’ Martin, the man in charge of fees for Bexley Volleyball Club, said as we chatted before a training session. The club meets on Monday evenings in a gym at Townley Grammar School in Bexley, and Martin beckoned us through the door as the junior team finished training.
‘We’re a friendly club and we welcome all ages and abilities,’ Martin added, pointing out his son who was slamming the ball across the net, and introduced me to coaches Stevie and Katie. Training sessions are run by qualified Volleyball England registered coaches and, at the session I attended, there was also a man from London Sport, carrying out an assessment on a recent grant application from the club.
Katie threw me a ball and told me to get on the court to practice passing. After playing Freyathlon beach volleyball earlier in the summer, I was recklessly confident about my volleyball skills.
I found a partner and we began passing the ball between us. Katie quickly spotted a few rookie errors on my part and made sure I was holding my hands correctly (to avoid breaking fingers or thumbs), facing in the direction I wanted the ball to travel, and that I was squatting down under the ball. I gave silent thanks to the squat drills I’ve endured with Evolve Fitness Studio and Wonder Woman Workshops. With those corrections made, I started to notice I could rally the ball for longer with my partner. She noticed how the longer our rallies went on, the redder my forearms became.
There were about 20 players, slightly more men than women. Stevie split us into three groups (beginners, intermediates, advanced) and, while he focussed on the intermediate and advanced players, Katie took us beginners to one end of the gym. She explained how to place your hands around the ball – in a ‘V’ or ‘W’ shape – to control the speed and direction of the ball and also to avoid damaging your fingers. We passed the ball between us, high in the air, and got a good rhythm.
Next we practiced holding and bouncing the ball in the air before passing it to our partner. Under Katie’s encouragement I tried throwing the ball higher and more slowly before making a pass but it went against my natural inclination. Katie then sent us, in pairs, to different basketball hoops to practice our jumping and shooting. I managed to get one hoop, my partner scored many more. Apparently volleyball players jump about 300 times a match. I’m confident this achievement will not be mine.
Every so often I snuck a look at the advanced group practising set pieces, diving across the court, and slamming the ball across the net. It reminded me of some of the handball manoeuvres I’d seen a few weeks earlier, although I noticed some of the volleyball players were sporting knee supports. Which may have had something to do with the collision between knees and hard floor or to do with general wear and tear on bodies. No getting away from it, the volleyball players seemed older than many of people I’d met so far on the Freyathlon journey. Granted, everyone seemed younger than me but a fair few people seemed closer to my age than the school students who used the gym during the day. Clear evidence that Mr Morgan was on to something, and the first Freyathlon sport I’ve taken part in where age really didn’t appear to be an issue.
Stevie joined us to teach us how to spike, or serve, the ball. He got us to stand facing a wall, throw the ball up, and slam it with an open palm against the wall. He watched each of us and gave feedback. For me, he suggested throwing the ball higher and giving myself more time before I hit it. As soon as I did what he suggested I discovered my hand connected better with the ball and my spike reached a higher point on the wall. I’m not sure each one would have gone over the net but there was an outside chance a few might have done.
After a water break, Stevie brought the whole group together. He asked for two net volunteers (for each side of the net) and got the rest of us to stand in three columns, one for spikers. We moved onto the volleyball court in groups of three. If the group of three won the point, we moved across to the opposite court and remained there until another group won a point. It was a fast-moving game and on the first couple of rounds I didn’t get to touch the ball. But suddenly I saw the ball coming towards me and no one else was around. I moved forward, crouched down, positioned my hands as Katie had told me, and the ball bounced up so one of my team could tap it over the net. I can’t claim it was anything I did but my team won the point!
High on the success, I decided to try my hand at spiking and joined the queue. At the last minute my nerve left me and, after checking with Stevie, I served underarm. It went over. And out. An overenthusiastic and misaimed shot.
I scurried to the back of the queue. Stevie called for three more spikes and I knew I wouldn’t be back on the court that evening. I collected my bag, gave out a few Freyathlon cards, and thanked everyone who’d put up with my efforts.
And added volleyball to the post-Freyathlon sports roster.
Volleyball. 30 November 2015
Townley Grammar School, Bexley
Cost: First session free, £5 for adults and £3 for juniors