I’m going to venture into a space I don’t often occupy, and that is sharing my opinion on macro volleyball topics. Sure, I’ll debate what “ready position” actually means and can have a long discussion with you about substitution strategy, but those are just a part of the game!
Challenge #1: Rules
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gone to a volleyball match as a spectator and have had to explain at least one call to someone. Oh wait I can….
And honestly, I enjoy it! I like helping parents know when to cheer for their daughter, explaining WHY a call was actually a good call despite the entire gym booing, and in general just helping the fans around me understand the momentum of the game.
But let’s be honest here… Volleyball is confusing.
Now, I’m not saying we need to change the rules or anything. I believe the rules (for the most part) make sense and are easy enough to keep up with once you learn them, but it’s that learning part that seems to keep casual spectators from becoming diehard fans of the game.
Whenever I’m in attendance, I typically find myself cheering a second or two ahead of everyone else (hair flip) on big plays because the speed at which I can WATCH the game is different than everyone else.
Now, replace volleyball with soccer, basketball, or hockey, and I’m usually wondering what exactly everyone else in the stadium/arena is cheering about! So I just wait until I see fans from the team I’m cheering for start to cheer (or boo, etc.) and I then feel safe to join in.
This tells me two things: 1) I need to learn more sports, and 2) That’s probably how the majority of the parents in the gym feel while watching their daughter play volleyball.
The bottom line: Volleyball rules are confusing, and I believe that educating fans in a fun way is the solution.
Challenge #2: Celebrity
The most popular sports have iconic figures behind them. Think of literally ANY popular sports team and part of what MAKES them popular is their most visible player(s).
Now let’s talk volleyball.
Yes, volleyball teams have popular players and incredible athletes on their team. But I also know that I could go to a college game, stay and interview the people leaving the arena afterward, and ask them who their favorite player is. I’m guessing 80% of the answers would be “#8 was pretty good!” Or “I liked the blonde one from the other team!”
In general, the public doesn’t know volleyball names, save for Kerri Walsh-Jennings and Misty May-Treanor.
But that’s not their fault!
The news talked about this duo at length, and they became household names because of their incredible Olympics run.
However, we choose not to focus solely on one or two players from our own team, and for good reason.
Volleyball is such an incredible team sport. You literally cannot play by yourself, and even a dominate player will struggle to be involved in every play.
Add in the mental aspect of needing to be one unit, and if you even TRY to promote one or two players you’re going to run into team chemistry issues.
Our players all need to feel valued (especially for the younger teams) in order to perform, but maybe it’s time we look at different ways to create “celebrity” on our teams to get people into the gym in the first place. Fans need someone to cheer for!
This could be done a few ways, including doing an athlete spotlight, either in your programs, on the big screen (*cough cough, college programs), or by doing select interviews with local newspapers.
The struggle here is to find a balance between promoting individuals and promoting the team as a whole.
This is, I believe, the biggest way we can change the number of fans of volleyball. It’s going to take some finesse in execution, and lots of mental toughness training for our players.
I’m positive this will be a bumpy road, and will likely result in uncomfortable team discussions if you decide to venture down this path… but I also believe the reward (larger crowds - louder gyms - more exciting atmosphere - something bigger to play for) will be worth it in the end.
Agree, disagree, or just have a comment you want to make? Join Get The Pancake’s closed Facebook group to get in on the discussion.