With the Olympics almost a month away, we want to do more than sit back and cheer in front of the television. So we’re digging deep to uncover the most interesting facts about some of our favorite Olympic sports and are kicking it off with beach volleyball! This sandy sport made its grand appearance at the 1996 Atlanta Games and has quickly become one of the most popular spectator events at the Summer Olympics.

Bump, Set, Spike! — The Need-to-Know

Photo by Jess Ivy

The Big Difference: There are a few things that set beach volleyball apart from the indoor version. Instead of playing inside (well, obviously…) the game is outside on a sand-covered court. The sandy court is smaller than the indoor court too, because running in the sand is a lot more exhausting. The ball used in beach volleyball is also lighter and larger than the heavier leather balls used indoors.

  • Teams Are Tinier, Too: There are only two people on each team (as opposed to six people indoors). Matches are played to best-of-three sets, with each set played to 21 points. If the game goes to the tiebreaker set, it’s played to 15 points.
  • The Olden Times: Beach volleyball first appeared in Santa Monica, California in the 1920’s, and since then has spread to sand around the world. Fun fact: In the 1960’s, The Beatles played a match on Sorrento Beach in Los Angeles with President John F. Kennedy on the sidelines! (Wonder who he rooted for?)
  • The Moves: Players need to have strength, speed, and stamina to keep the ball off the sand during each round. Technical skills, quick reaction times, and being able to play well with a partner are also super important to winning a match. There are also no specific positions for each player — just one who stays on the right side of the court, and one who stays on the left.
  • The Lingo: Here are some beach volleyball terms off the beaten (sand) path. Talk like this and you’ll be a beach volleyball pro!

Mintonette: The original name for volleyball.

Hold: When the ball settles in the hands before the player releases it.

Spike: An over-arm move where the offensive player “smashes” the ballover the net.

Facial: A spike that hits the opponent straight in the face. (Ouch.)

Block: Jumping at the net with arms out to stop the opposition from spiking the ball.

Dig:A “passing” move where a player puts together both arms in order to bounce a hard-driven ball into the air. An offensive spike usually follows this move.

Pepper: A practice drill where players hit a ball back and forth without a net.

Kong: Named after King Kong’s style of swatting planes, this is simply a one-handed block.

  • London 2012: This year, the competition will be held at the Horse Guards Parade, which will be covered in 3,000 tons of sand! Twenty-four teams will compete — each country is only allowed one men’s team and one women’s team. And thanks to new rules adopted by the International Volleyball Federation, women are now allowed to skip the skimpy bikinis and wear shorts and sleeves if they’d prefer. (Sorry, dudes!) The first match is on July 28th, so mark your calendar, and check out the rest of the schedule to follow along. And make sure to watch out for the U.S. Women’s Team, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, who brought home the gold in the 2004 and 2008 Games. Also keep a close eye on Phil Dalhausser and Tod Roggers of the Men’s U.S. team, who also are defending champs. Let’s see if they can keep goin’ gold in London!