Who doesn’t love summer? Cookouts, ice cream, and trips to the beach! Next time you’re at the beach, don’t just plop on a towel and be a beach bum, grab some friends and join a sand volleyball game!

CurioCity has a great article on polishing up your hits if you’re rusty, but here we’ll prepare you on the differences between indoor and sand volleyball. If you’ve ever watched an Olympic game, you’ve probably noticed the uniform is a little different: indoor volleyball is played with shorts, shirts, and sneakers, while beach volleyball players wear bathing suits and are barefoot. Balls are also slightly different: indoor balls are smaller and harder than beach volleyballs. Also, in indoor volleyball, six players rotate positions on the court. In competitive beach volleyball, there are only two players, but recreational ball can have many more players join in the fun!

Did you know? Beach volleyball debuted as an official Olympic sport in the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games.

The most obvious difference is the playing surface. Sand provides a unique challenge for players — in fact, it takes 1.6 times more energy to run on sand than it does to run on concrete! Why does it take so much more energy? Sand is composed of tiny grains of rock and mineral, mainly silica dioxide, or quartz. Although an individual grain of sand is solid, many grains of sand can behave fluidly. Imagine tightly grasping a handful of sand. Chances are, the grains will escape your grip and appear to flow out of your hand in a stream.

So, what does sand’s behavior have to do with volleyball? The answer lies in a couple of laws of physics. One is the First Law of Thermodynamics — energy is neither created nor destroyed, only changed from one type to another. The other is Newton’s Second Law of Motion — the force (F) on an object is equal to its mass (M) multiplied by its acceleration (A): F = M*A

When you jump, you convert your potential energy (stored energy, or energy that you can possibly use) to kinetic energy (the energy of motion). When you jump on sand, you transfer some of your energy to the sand which causes the grains to move (you’re giving them kinetic energy). You’re also applying a force to the sand grains, and they move, or accelerate, away from you. Because you’re giving some of your energy to the sand to make it move, it means that you use more energy to jump the same height as you would on a hard surface. However, if you stomp hard and quickly going into your jump, that will help to pack the sand under you, so you can jump higher.

Did you know? Although beach volleyball originated in Hawai’i, it was popularized in Southern California in the 1920s.

Learn More!

More about beach volleyball

Physics of volleyball

Perfect your game

Article first published on July 27, 2010.

Michelle Meighan

I am a graduate student at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ.  My research is on the development of an electrophoretic capture device to improve upon traditional capillary electrophoretic techniques. I am familiar with a range of electrophoretic techniques, as well as other separations methods.I am an active member of the American Chemical Society and the Society for Applied Spectroscopy (SAS) and am currently finishing up a 2 year term as the student representative on the Executive Committee for SAS.


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