The pandemic took some digs at volleyball, but a participation spike could soon be coming.
Flying in the face of pandemic woes and an accompanying drop-off in participation, women’s volleyball had a banner year in 2021. Highlights included the debut of a professional league in February, a gold medal sweep in the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games and a record-setting NCAA championship in December. All of these successes are expected to give the sport a tremendous boost heading into 2022 after suffering as an indoor sport beset with pandemic restrictions the past two seasons.
“With the COVID pandemic and shutdown in 2020 we did see a drop in membership and are now working to improve those numbers by hosting quality events and supporting our USAV regions and clubs in their efforts to drive membership,” says B.J. Hoeptner Evans, communications manager for USA Volleyball. The organization is also focusing on grassroots efforts.
“We are working to increase the popularity of volleyball among underserved communities by partnering with Starlings, a non-profit organization that works with at-risk and disadvantaged girls by providing them opportunities through volleyball. As the pandemic subsides, we hope to increase these efforts.”
For many team dealers, volleyball has long been an integral part of the business and despite participation taking a big hit during the pandemic, the sport is still able to generate healthy revenues.
“Volleyball has been a great sport for us over the past couple of years — it’s really taken off and we’re seeing a surge, including club teams,” says Jerry Lavender, owner of Sports Specialty, Columbus, MS. “Volleyball will continue to grow as a sport for us. There are now more club teams and summer camps. We already have gyms — all we have to do is put up a net.”
Aaron Karsh, director of operations at California Pro Sports in Harbor City, CA, reports that volleyball is the most popular women’s sport for his business, followed by lacrosse. He also sees opportunities in women’s rugby and travel softball.
“Things are going well overall. Women’s sports account for 40 to 50 percent of our business and that figure is growing,” he says. “The key driver is increasing participation. Girls are trying more sports and are becoming multi-sport athletes.”
However, getting and keeping products in stock has been a constant source of aggravation, particularly regarding women’s products.
“Women’s-fit sweatshirts and T-shirts are especially an issue,” says Karsh. “There are fewer options on the women’s side compared to the men’s and unisex categories.”
He also points out that while “men tend to just buy what’s available, women often like to bring an idea to us and want to know if we can handle it, such as a T-shirt that they may have designed. With women, it’s more of a ‘listen versus sell’ approach.”
Even when products are in stock, easy sales aren’t guaranteed. Betsy Frey, owner of Holyoke, MA-based Holyoke Sporting Goods, reveals that selling girls’ volleyball uniforms can be difficult.
“Lots of girls are self-conscious about their bodies and some don’t like spandex shorts, so many coaches just buy regular shorts,” she says. “It’s important to find uniforms that are appropriate for everyone and to be sensitive to [the girls’] issues.”
In the U.S., volleyball is usually thought of as a girls’ and women’s sport. Almost 80 percent of USA Volleyball’s membership of roughly 400,000 consists of girls between the ages of 12 and 18 and close to 90 percent of the organization’s membership is female.
Volleyball continues to be the number one high school team sport for girls, according to USA Volleyball.