Why Are Volleyball Shorts so Short and Tight?
As a volleyball coach, a question I often get asked by parents who are new to the game is, "Why are the volleyball shorts so tiny?"
Everyone seems to have an opinion on this. Some people claim it's for sex appeal and to lead to more spectators (if this was the goal, it was a failure!). Some people think it's because young girls just love strutting their stuff nowadays. And some point their fingers to history and physics to explain why the girls wear these shorts.
As a coach, and as a woman, I can empathize with parents and players that are uncomfortable with the shorts. I played volleyball in the 90s (the era of baggy pants and flannel!) when bun huggers were just going out of style and before the current spandex had really taken hold. I started my volleyball career wearing basketball length shorts and loose long sleeve jerseys. I finished it wearing short, spandex length shorts and a cap-sleeved jersey. I felt uncomfortable enough in the short shorts, having all that leg exposed! I can completely empathize with girls and parents who wished there was a little more modesty in volleyball. If I had to wear the uniform my players do, I would be uncomfortable! But my players don't want to play in any other kind of shorts.
Share Your Opinion!
What kind of shorts do you think volleyball players should wear?
The History of Volleyball Shorts
Volleyball was invented in late 1800s but was primarily a men's game in the beginning. It wasn't played by women at the international level until the 1950s and it didn't become a widespread college and high school level sport until the 70s after the NAIA and NCAA had introduced it as a varsity level sport.
The women's volleyball uniforms of the 70s reflected the fashion of the time. Mid length shorts, form fitting (but not tight) shirts.
As the synthetic material spandex became more popular in the late 1970s, many teams started switching over to spandex as part of their uniform. Both in the United States and internationally, women were wearing what was commonly referred to as "bun huggers" with greater frequency. These spandex bottoms resembled a bikini brief. They were a higher cut "short" that allowed for full range of motion. One of the downfalls to this particular cut of volleyball short was that the shorts would commonly "ride up" and find themselves uncomfortably wedged in one's bottom, exposing greater amounts of the rear end than intended or wanted.
Bun huggers held on for quite a long time, despite their many drawbacks. It really wasn't until the late 80s and early 90s when teams started transitioning back to more traditional shorts styles. I remember in 1994 talking to a friend about the horror that was our volleyball uniform and then being thankful that we didn't have to wear the old school bun huggers that some of the other schools wore. So they weren't completely phased out at that point!
In the late 90s, the spandex volleyball shorts started to come back into style. This time with a little more length to them. Originally many teams had a longer style 4" spandex short as they transitioned out of the traditional shorts and back into the spandex shorts. But the teams often quickly moved to the 2" spandex shorts. The longer shorts just moved too much. The players would find themselves tugging at them to get them back into place or finding too much material had creeped upward into uncomfortable locations.
At this time, nearly every female volleyball team in the united states wears the spandex short as part of their uniform. I have personally witnessed some schools that wear a more traditional mid-thigh short instead of the spandex short (often private religious-based schools), this is often because the uniform is in violation of the school dress code. Ironically, I have discovered that nearly all of those players wear the spandex under those shorts to avoid exposure when diving and rolling.
Why Are Spandex Preferred in Women's Volleyball Today?
This is the hot-button debate, isn't it?
Despite what many may have you believe. The shorts were not chosen with a desire to sexualize your daughters or to add sex appeal and spectators to the sport. The shorts were chosen for comfort and practicality.
First and foremost in the reason for choosing the spandex shorts used today is because of the range of motion. The spandex short does not, in any way, inhibit its occupant's range of motion. Volleyball is a sport often played while flying through the air or very low to the ground and these motions require flexible clothing. Try doing 50 lunges in your traditional shorts and see where your shorts wind up, especially if you have larger thighs as many female back row players do. The material moves and bunches in traditional shorts, but it moves MUCH less in the short spandex shorts. The same goes for repetitive jumping.
Next, do a few backward somersaults in your traditional shorts. Have someone snap a picture of you in mid-somersault. See where your shorts are? Are your underwear exposed? When you stand up are the shorts bunched up in weird ways? Yes, that's another reason for the spandex short over a more traditional short. Volleyball players often dive, do a shoulder roll and are back up and ready to play in a matter of seconds. Spandex will allow for freedom of motion without having to worry about exposing something you didn't intend to!
Also, spandex has moisture-wicking properties which also offers its advantages. In reality, they are as comfortable as wearing your underwear, if not more comfortable than your underwear. For experienced players who have gotten over the body consciousness of getting used to the spandex, they are just a part of the uniform they put on. Many players never have to adjust or think about it again.
Finally, the volleyball players I know DO really enjoy wearing them. They find them fashionable and comfortable. They love finding new spandex to wear to practice in bright colors and patterns. Nike has really established a niche market with its Nike Pro spandex shorts. They are always talking about the new patterns that Nike has come out with and admitting their jealousy when somebody has a new pair. So there IS an element of vanity and fashion to it, but they wouldn't have lasted this long for vanity's sake, and they certainly wouldn't have made it to the international stage if fashion and vanity was the only rationale!
Spandex as a Uniform
Just wait, I can hear you thinking, "If spandex is so advantageous to volleyball players, why don't the Men's teams wear them?"
Well, there are a couple of quick explanations for this. First of all, it really isn't fashionable for men to wear itty bitty spandex shorts, neither is it practical considering the different equipment that men are born with. Women may have LESS to worry about when wearing spandex, while men would actually have more to worry about.
Second of all, the advantages it lends to women are reduced in men. Men's thighs are generally a different shape and so they are less likely to have shorts ride up. Also, women play the game differently than men do. For women, the game is more about flexibility and agility than it is for men. The men's game is really dominated by power over agility. Not that they don't have players who go to the floor! They do! It's just a different type of game than the women play. They don't necessarily use the same types of motions in the same quantities that the women do.
What Do You Think?
Now that you have read the history of the shorts and the reasons why volleyball players wear those little spandex shorts, what do you think? Are you buying it? Do you wish the uniform would change? Do you find the shorts to be sexist? Let the world know what you think, leave a comment below!