8 Things I Miss About Playing Volleyball in the 80’s

I don't know who these people are, but God love 'em

I don’t know who these people are, but God love ’em – they may as well be me.

I could never have played volleyball today.

You guys are so explosive, so big, so powerful and so good! I have to admit, I’m kind of jealous.

Seeing my beloved game today makes me think that the game I fell in love with and played for almost twenty years is like a long-lost cousin with bad hair, flourescent scrunchies and knee pads that doubled as pillows during tournament breaks when we were “off two, ref one” before we played again.

But hear this 2015 volleyball, you ain’t got nuthin’ on the good old days. Here’s my head nod to the game I remember and things I’m kind of sad you will never understand:

1. Concrete courts – Dude. My first experience with competitive volleyball happened in the parking lot of my elementary Catholic school. Two metal poles holding up a very old net was all we needed to get our game on. We played all our games on the black top making sure to keep the ball (and our bodies) away from the basketball upright just inches from the service line. Avoiding the two metal poles that strung the net was imperative lest you end up with a big blue knot on your forehead. Do not even get me started on knee scrapes, arm scrapes and gravel injuries. You really had to love this game. I don’t even know how you people tear your ACL’s so frequently with the cushy lives you live on indoor courts!

2. Bun huggers – It wasn’t until I had children of my own that I realized that we used to play volleyball in maternity underwear. I mean, seriously, take the biggest pair of underwear ever invented and sew them out of the thickest cotton ever spun and then have young girls play a sport in them. To add insult to injury have them tuck their over-sized, extra-large, ill-fitting, beefy tee-shirt into that pair of underwear. I cannot even. BUT I DID. No one ever told us otherwise. We just wore this like it was normal. Good love, 2015, you guys have it made.

3. 5’8 Middle Blockers – I know, I know, your liberos are 5’8. I’d be hard pressed to find a middle under 6’3″ these days, let alone under 6’0. But back in my day, we had ’em – and they were feisty. See, our middles didn’t used to be the biggest or tallest players, most of the time they were are most athletic players. Why? Because they had to run all over tarnation to block balls AND they played middle back so they had to dig every single ball across the back line (we’ll get to playing six rotations in a second). 5’8 barely gets to sniff the court anymore and that’s kind of sad.

4. Playing all the way around – I’m not trying to be mean, but I feel sorry that you don’t know what it feels like to play all the way around. The rhythm you can get from being on the court in every rotation is pure happiness! It’s like your favorite song is on the radio or your favorite meal or your best pair of jeans and soft tee-shirt. I know there are a few of you still out there keeping the dream alive – enjoy it.

5. Marathon rally’s resulting in NO point – Omg, life without rally score. Once upon a time someone would go back to serve and sometimes a marathon three-minute rally would ensue. Just when you think the ball is going to drop, out of nowhere the ball is up and back over on your side. No hit was too hard, no block was too strong and no ball was out of distance to run down. But then the ball lands untouched on your side…and your team had served. AND NO ONE GETS A POINT. 2015, that is what I call heartbreak of the worst kind. You will never know heartbreak like that.

6. Marathon 5 game matches – There are no words for a match that lasts two and half hours. No words. Only throbbing shoulders, aching knees, empty water bottles and one team with the suckiest bus ride home. The end.

7. Defensive specialists – Do not confuse these people with liberos. A defensive specialist, otherwise known as a DS, was just a warm body for most teams. The really good ones (I knew a few legit DS’s) were the ancestors of the libero, they are your grandmothers. They paved the way for you. By the time I got to college, there were some really great DS players but they were few and far between. Remember back in my day most of us were playing all the way around, so unless you needed a sub for your middle there was no real need for a DS and putting scholarship money toward someone who just played back row was not the standard.

8. Eight, I forget what 8 was for – I miss my Violent Femmes cassette tape, my Sony walkman and the people I spent my whole life with at tournaments. Thank goodness not much has changed for the sport there, except maybe the music.

Eight wonderful reasons I played the sport. Eight wonderful ways the game and life as a volleyball player has changed. Tell me, what are your favorite things about playing volleyball? What will others miss as the game continues to evolve?

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Categories: Life Lessons Through Sports, Volleyball Life

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17 replies

  1. Violent femmes! Thanks for memory!

  2. Great article – thank you for the stroll down memory lane ! 🙂

  3. What a well constructed article about the game I grew up loving in the 70’s and 80’s. Truly the game has evolved in part because of the rule changes and increased scholarships available to women today. I got a laugh out of the 5’8″ middles. I coached a 5′ 6″ middle in the 80’s who ended up being an all american in the NAIA college division. In today’s game she would have never seen the front row. She was quite dominant picking apart defenses with a combination of power and “beach-like cutty and tool shots” She was similar to some of those middles that play on Asian teams. Very smart, very skilled and yes she was my best passer too so definitely a 6 rotation player.

    • The good old days, right? thanks for reading!

    • Scott Mais, did you coach St Ambrose in Davenport, Iowa in 1988? If so, I was your middle hitter at a mere 5’8″, but not the all American you spoke of. You gave us the freedom to reach our full potential! I have the fondest memories of you as a coach and how you took our rag tag team to nationals! One of the first in the school’s history! We beat one of the top ranked teams in a scrappy 5 game battle and I was up against one of the highest ranked middle hitters. What beautiful memories. I wouldn’t give them up for the world!

  4. This brought back memories, I was the defensive specialist, love the article

  5. Have a 5’8″ daughter who was the only setter NIU had in her day. She could jump and block with the big girls. You’re right, its the athleticism and desire.

  6. Concerning playing all the way around, I remember learning very well the different technics. Passing and setting for hours, getting corrected and being happy. It was a little bit like going into a trance. Now I train have middleblockers that are enormous in the net, but any of my 12 years old buddies could teach them how to find the right place, position yourself and pass the ball. That is a little sad.

  7. Were we teammates! I was a 5’9″ middle at William and Mary. We wore buns that were hunter green which was a lot better than the bright yellow ones they wore at Marylane! I played backrow (the other middle was subbed out for the non scholarship DS) and I loved the Violent Femmes. I still remember the 2.5 hour battles vs Chapel Hill and the ability to come back when the score was 13-2! I am sharing this with all of my 80’s high school and college teammates – thanks!

  8. #2, 4 and 6! At 5’8″, I played outside hitter for the Univ of MD. I remember after 5-GAME matches we would put our backs on the floor and our feet up on the wall just to try and get some relief. And it’s a game, not a set. A set implies more than one, doesn’t it?

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