Baku 2015: A Sport-by-Sport Review

Team GB’s athletes showed that they are among the best the continent has to offer at the European Games as the squad finished with 47 medals. Th...


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The creation of volleyball has its roots in the creation of basketball. William G Morgan was a former student of the creator of basketball – Canadian physical education teacher James Naismith – at the YMCA training school at Springfield College in Massachusetts, and wanted an indoor game that was slightly less physical for middle-age sportsmen to play during the harsh New England winters.

Beach volleyball first appeared in the 1920s in Santa Monica, California, and quickly spread across the world as a popular holiday and leisure sport. The first major tournaments started taking place in California in the early 1950s, and the sport soon became part of the Hollywood jet-set lifestyle as film stars, pop stars and beauty queen pageants joined the spectacle. Its glamorous reputation attracted sponsors, which helped increase its professionalism.

International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch visited one of the major week-long tournaments in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil in 1994, and was so impressed by the spectacle of the event and the 140,000 fans who attended the games that he helped the sport to gain Olympic status.


Olympic History

Beach volleyball officially made its Olympic debut as both a men’s and women’s sport in the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, USA. Over 150 countries compete in the discipline, but so far the gold medal honours have been shared between four popular exponents of the sport – USA, Brazil, Argentina and Australia.


Beach volleyball is played between two teams of two players on a sandy court measuring 16m in length and 9m in width. The aim of the game is for players to score points by getting the ball to touch the ground in their opponent’s half. In between the two halves of the court is a 1m-high net, strung between two posts so that its top edge is 2.43m off the ground for men’s tournaments and 2.24m off the ground for women’s tournaments.

Two vertical pole markers sit on top of the net – spaced at 8.5m width – and mark the area that the ball must be passed through for legal shots. If the ball hits a marker, a point is lost.


The ball

The ball is constructed from a brightly coloured leather skin over an internal rubber bladder, and is inflated with air to provide the necessary ‘bounce’. Because beach volleyball is an outdoor sport, it must be non-absorbent and non-slip, even in wet weather. It has a circumference of between 60cm and 67cm, and weighs between 260 and 280 grams.



Male players must wear shorts and a tank top, while female players wear a top and briefs or a one-piece bathing suit. They can also wear a cap or sun visor, and other accessories such as sunglasses, kneepads or armbands. They must, however, be barefooted.


Sets and points

Matches are won with the best of three sets – i.e. the first team to two sets wins. In the first two sets, teams compete to be the first to score 21 points, but must have a two-point advantage over their opponent to win. If there’s a final tie-break set, the aim is to reach 15 points, again with a two-point advantage. There is no upper limit, so sets continue until one team has the requisite two-point advantage. Teams change ends every seven points in the first two sets and every five points in a tiebreak.


Serving the ball

The winner of the last point gets to serve, with players in a team alternating the serve if they retain possession after winning another point. Serves are made from behind the back line of the court, and players tend to use a technique known as a jump serve, rather than a traditional tennis-style serve. The server must get the ball into the opponent’s half in one shot.


Hitting the ball

When hitting the ball in beach volleyball, players aren’t allowed to grab hold of it, but must make a clean, quick hit. Teams have right to hit the ball three times in their half of the court – usually a receiving shot, a set-up and a final attacking shot – but players can’t hit the ball twice in a row, so have to pass the ball to each other if they’re preparing their attack.

The ball can touch the top of the net before hitting the ground on the other side, but this counts as a touch. If a player blocks a smash shot from an opponent, then he can touch the ball again to prevent it from hitting the ground, but this again counts as two shots. Players can even intrude into their opponents half, so long as they don’t impede play.

Team HeroesEntire Team

Born in South Africa, Shauna Mullin lived in Malaysia between 1994 and 1998 and first played volleyball while there. The daughter of a hotel manager, Mullin settled in Edinburgh in 1999 and started taking volleyball more seriously, playing for ...

Zara Dampney has played both indoor and beach volleyball for Britain. She graduated from the University of Sheffield with a law degree in 2006 and completed a masters in international development at the University of Bath. Dampney ranks qualify...

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