Boys high school volleyball has grown at the second-fastest rate of any sport in the country since 2012, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations
Between 2000 and 2015, the NFHS statistics show that the number of participants in high school boys volleyball has increased by approximately 18,000, growing from around 36,000 at the turn of the century to about 54,000 in 2015.
Some of the appeal of the sport could be credited to its longevity for those involved.“It’s something that you can always go back to no matter what age,” said John Beckwith, a gold medal national champion coach and former Loyola High School coach in California. “It’s something that’s a fun thing to go back to all the time — hence why once you’re done playing you start coaching or do something else… it’s been a lot of work but a lot of fun.”
Niels Pedersen, current director of 2 City Volleyball and former coach at the University of Wisconsin and Loyola University in Chicago, echoed those sentiments.“Volleyball is a lifetime sport,” Pedersen said. “You can play on the beach; you can play indoors in winter climates, and there are community-rec situations, so it’s something you can continually play.”
According to the NFHS, 19 states had at least 25 high school boys’ volleyball programs, an increase from 16 states in 2005. California has led the way in this increase in programs with 676 schools in 2015 compared to 392 in 2005. NFHS data also shows that the number of boys participating in high school volleyball has increased every year since 2011, breaking 50,000 in 2012.
Club tournaments are also seeing increases in participation — one example being the Boys Winter Volleyball Championship in Chicago.“It’s grown from 100 teams 20 years ago when it was just at multiple sites to now 415 [teams], so it’s been exciting,” said Pedersen.
Pedersen knows that the growth of events like the Boys Winter Volleyball Championship can help the game as a whole.“It gives a really positive incentive,” Pedersen said. “When you come to an event like this, it’s highly motivational. You go back home motivated and tell your friends, then friends tell friends, and they get experience, and it just expands.”For players, some seem to be drawn to the opportunities the game offers. It can create chances that a lot of people may not have always had available, making the continued growth of boys’ volleyball important to players, parents and coaches.
“I’m going to college because of volleyball,” said James Hartley, a member of volleyballmag.com’s 2017 list of 30 underclassmen to watch. “When I was growing up, I didn’t really have many opportunities to play volleyball; I played on a girls’ team, and that was the only thing available. So, for guys to be able to have opportunities when they’re younger is huge.”
To add perspective on how the growth of the game could be impacting the number of high school participants, in 1998, there were just over 35,000 participants in boys’ high school volleyball. As of 2015, that number had surpassed 55,000, according to the NFHS. This means that over 20,000 more boys have the chance to compete at the high-school level and try to earn an opportunity to play volleyball at the collegiate level. Despite this steady growth, just 24 states offer boys’ volleyball at the high school level. Boys in over half of the U.S. still don’t have an opportunity to compete in the sport at their schools, thus increasing the importance of the game’s continued growth.