Coming off the wild ride that is World Cup season, it’s hard to imagine a time when soccer was known as little more than glorified “kick the can” in the United States.
But that was the reality.
Similarly, today in Iowa, boys’ volleyball teams are far from the norm, with scattered club and intramural teams across the state. There are a handful of men’s college teams, including one at Mount Mercy University.
There are a lot of misconceptions about what the sport actually entails — and who is playing it.
“Men’s volleyball is actually nothing like you would expect,” said Kurt Trout, director of Iowa High Performance Volleyball, a member of Iowa Volleyball Region and an arm of USA Volleyball. “It’s about who can jump the highest, who can hit the ball the hardest. It’s a very intense sport.”
Men’s volleyball teams tend to attract seasoned athletes looking for a new challenge, or those who grew up around the sport, from sisters or mothers or even fathers who either coach or play volleyball. Right now, 22 states offer boys’ high school volleyball, including Missouri, Indiana and Illinois.
“A majority of girls’ high school volleyball coaches are actually male,” said Trout, who has coached both girls’ and boys’ high school and club teams across the Midwest.
Any amount of time spent in a high school gym class is enough to tell there isn’t a lack of interest in playing from high school boys, but rather a lack of opportunities.
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“We have boys who commute long distance every week to be able to participate on a team,” Trout said. “Unlike a lot of sports, there aren’t many casual players, no dabblers, which makes every game even more special.”
Trout strongly believes the quality of the game will not go down as more boys begin to participate.
“We’ve increased participation by about 20 percent in the past couple years, and it’s only getting better,” he said. “The more opportunities we can provide, the more great players we’ll see coming out of Iowa.”
In addition, the success of male volleyball will have positive effects on female volleyball.
“It’s like basketball, where the boys’ teams and the girls’ teams come to each others’ games and cheer their classmates on,” Trout said. “It’s a very collaborative environment out on the court, and while there are many differences between regulation men’s and women’s, it’s the same sport at heart.”
Volleyball also is a safer alternative to many popular sports, with football and soccer often having concussion issues and injuries being abundant on high school courts and fields.
“It is an intense sport, but it isn’t violent or a contact sport,” Trout said. “We aren’t seeing as many of our players having to sit out due to an injury sustained on the court. It’s fast and typically has a quicker play time than other sports, leaving the students with a lot of recovery and rest opportunities.”
Male volleyball players typically stick with the game a long time because they must jump through some hoops to locate a team. But those who put in the effort, invariably get more out of it than they put in.
With men like Trout pushing at the forefront, there is little doubt boys’ volleyball could become even more popular.