Should all volleyball become beach volleyball?
The potential for strategic co-transformation
I was watching the Commonwealth Games beach volleyball game between Canada and Sierra Leone. Yes, correct — alpine and tropical alike, came together in shorts, sand and sun to contest volleyball in Australia’s Gold Coast.
Volleyball can be played across surfaces — indoors, outdoors on road like or lightly grassed surfaces and really outdoors i.e. on the beach or sand. Apart from a net and relatively simple marking, all we need is a ball and players.
So why can’t beach volleyball become the predominant version of the game?
This can have advantages. It can also catalyze a much wider transformation with immense promise.
Building Cost — saved
Sporting stadia are expensive to build, lie unused many times and take decades to pay back. OK, maybe an indoor facility can be shared with other sports and events to spread cots but still, it still needs large dedicated space, maintenance etc. Being able to play on sand surfaces will reduce that cost. All we need is net, sand, ball and players. We can also save on shoes etc. as players play with their very capable natural appendages — feet!
Environmental footprint — reduced
Indoor stadia require air conditioning, flooring etc. No need for A/C on sand and the “flooring” is naturally found. For the few landlocked nations, it can be imported/transported or even better, maybe they can get an incentive to visit a country with a sea shore for tournaments. Sand is a key constituent of concrete so it is better to use it naturally instead of using it to make a building, which then needs AC, lighting expenses etc. By moving to naturally occurring “low-tech” playgrounds, the environmental footprint can be reduced.
City design — improved
Making volleyball and outdoor sand sport will get more people involved in outdoor activities and sport. Volleyball (or casual versions of it) are already popular in parks and beaches so why not embrace that and get the game out of indoor arenas? Cities will also get better utilization for their public spaces.
Visual spectacle — enhanced
Beach volleyball looks like a fun sport with sunglasses, caps etc. It is also 2-a side and played on sand which naturally contrasts with the darker boundary markings. Compare this to the indoor version: 6-a-side, artificial lighting, distinct seats, uniforms with strapping, and boundary markings whose contrast is lost within all this visual overload!
In beach volleyball, the contrast is clear, the ball is colorful and we can see many acrobatic dives and saves which are not found in the indoor version for good reasons. Vitamin D absorption while playing outdoors is an added health bonus as well.
I think these benefits are large enough to consider converting volleyball from an indoor to a predominantly outdoor sport. Some points will need further analysis e.g. the impact of running on sand, all-weather suitability etc. but nothing that cannot be addressed by adjusting rules, pitch size and composition.
A much bigger prize awaits though — the opportunity for co-transformation.
Co-transformation in sports
Sports have often blazed the trail when it comes to transformation. Traditional interventions have centered around player safety and refereeing technology. More innovative approaches have focused on formats and rules. Scoring changes in table tennis, introduction of new formats (ODI, 20/20) in cricket come to mind readily.
Generally speaking, we can observe change at 3 levels:
- Micro: At the operational level, sports must continue to change and adapt with modern times and technology. Examples include better gear, technology aides for referees, improving the ball etc.
- Macro: At a strategic level, sports bodies must continually answer the question, ironically a sports metaphor itself — where shall we play? This involves reviewing rules, formats, marketing, etc. It’s about balancing game play with marketing and economics.
- Platform: If any sport seeks to become more popular in a world with shrinking resources, it needs to cast the net wider and look on the outside for opportunities at this level. These sit outside the traditional realm of sports administration (outputs) and instead intersect with the wider social realm (outcomes).
It’s about moving from Entertainment and Economics to: Entertainment, Environment and Economics.
Sports mobilize hundreds of thousands of people in personal and professional capacities (no pun intended).
At a holistic level, sports bodies will need to start considering how they can collaborate with local governments to support societal, health and environmental benefits.
Sports are often encouraged at community level for health and social benefits. On the other hand, building and investing in sports facilities is a cost that cities generally find hard to bear or justify continually. “Downsizing”from specialized facilities to “everyday places” is a great way for sports bodies to reduce financial overheads while promoting wider social cohesion, community health and environmental benefits.
Co-transformation will be the real game changer.
Co-transformation requires engaging the wider eco-system. I’ve used the word “co” to emphasize that the goal of such transformation is not just immediate output for an organization but a wider, collective and holistic outcome for all eco-system partners.
It is about finding that rising tide that will lift as many boats as possible.
Co-transformation will require sports bodies to recognize their role in society, be aware of relevant ecosystems (literal and metaphorical) and adjust their rules and formats to create meaningful transformation across financial, social and environmental dimensions.
It will require sports bodies to cast their thinking net wider and for local government to also lift their game so that the avenues co-transformation can be visualized, and put into play (all puns intended).
It’s about playing a much bigger, and a rather different game altogether.
The opportunities are vast; and the size of the prize, immense.