Spiking Popularity

Getting in on the demand for beach volleyball facilities

By Jackson Silvanik

When the NCAA approved the first Beach Volleyball National Championship to be held in 2016, it was seen as a reflection of the meteoric rise in popularity that has caused colleges from around the country to add the sport as a varsity program. Easily categorized as a coastal sport, though, would the landlocked nature of so much of the country prove challenging to the continued growth of the game? Rapid expansion into states such as Nebraska, Tennessee, and Illinois indicate that the popularity of beach volleyball will not easily be impeded. Now that young athletes are noticing there are opportunities to play at the collegiate level, the demand for competitive youth beach volleyball is reaching new heights, while adults looking for new recreational opportunities are turning to the game with increasing frequency.

Photo: © Can Stock Photo / Pavel1964

Photo: © Can Stock Photo / Pavel1964

Several cities are seizing the opportunity to be at the forefront of this recent wave of popularity, finding ways to add courts in creative recreation and business settings. City officials are noticing the need for facilities to host high-level junior events and are looking to revitalize existing neighborhoods or enhance their current public green space by adding beach volleyball. The sport is also an excellent way to stay active; think of a young professional group that forms a league at a local bar/beach volleyball complex, or parents who meet up to play quads at the park and bring their kids along to play in the sand.

Several case studies provide a glimpse at the ways some communities are looking to transform their economic situations by capitalizing on the growth of the game.

One Of The Best In The Country
Hunstville, Ala., Mayor Tommy Battle, an early adopter of beach volleyball, has been looking for ways to transform the John Hunt Park into a recreational hub that will serve as a centerpiece for not only northern Alabama but the central South as a region. The initial park master plan was sketched out in 2015 as a way to revitalize an abandoned airport project, but a nimble approach to developing the recreational venues led Battle to incorporate a high-level beach volleyball facility as he and others noticed the rising popularity of the game and the benefits directly experienced by their southern neighbors in Gulf Shores, Ala.—the home of the NCAA Beach Volleyball National Championships.

The plan now includes a 12-court lighted facility--one of the best in the country--that can benefit both local residents and athletes throughout the region who are clamoring for a place to compete in top tournaments.

“This beach volleyball complex is an example of that. If we went back three or four years ago, that wasn’t part of the vision, but beach volleyball has now become a college sport,” says City Administrator John Hamilton, speaking with local news station WHNT. “The NCAA now offers beach volleyball, and we’re seeing our youth leagues and our clubs respond to that. And there’s a significant increase in demand from our citizens to have that kind of venue.”

Photo: Stetson Athletics

Photo: Stetson Athletics

Steven Clenney, the Manager of Sports Development with Visit Lake in Lake County, Fla., is familiar with the challenges involved with drawing participants and spectators to locations that are off the beaten path. Tavares, Fla., doesn’t ring many bells with the general public; it’s a smaller town in north-central Florida that sits about a 45-minute drive from Orlando Sanford International Airport.

There, the Hickory Point Recreational Facility sits just off State Road 19 next to Lake Harris, and was opened in 2014 via a partnership among Lake County, the Florida Region of USA Volleyball, and the Lake County Water Authority. It features 21 lighted professional-grade courts on 24 inches of top-grade sand, and is nestled on a sprawling 68-acre complex next to the water.

Steve Bishop, Executive Director of the USAV Florida Region, quickly helped the site flourish as a hub for youth beach volleyball in the state. Even before renovations, the site had hosted 54 events and drew players from 90 cities in Florida, 25 states, and 15 countries.

That history of success led the city to propose a $1.8-million renovation that elevates the site to one of the premier large-scale beach volleyball facilities in the country. The newly built Athletics Center, which took about six months to build, features locker rooms, clubhouse, team meeting space, official’s room, training area, concession stand, public restrooms, and covered pavilion area.

The site recently hosted the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s Small College Beach Championships, where 20 schools spanning NCAA DII and DIII and the NAIA competed for two championships over a weekend.

County Commissioner Josh Blake told the Orlando Sentinel he feels that the funding for the renovations is a perfect use of Lake County’s 4-percent tax collected on hotel and motel stays—funds that are put towards efforts at drawing in overnight visitors.

Lake County Commissioner and Tourist Development Council Chairman Tim Sullivan remarked in a press release, “This athletics center will pay for itself many times over, attracting athletes and their families to enjoy sporting in Lake County.”

No Stranger To Hosting Events
Operators of the Youngsville, La.,-based Sports Complex are taking a different approach to bringing volleyball to town, though they’re optimistic that the region can experience a similar positive economic impact. Rather than a large-scale facility designed for destination-style events, Youngsville is carefully expanding its sports complex as it ventures into the beach volleyball space. The plan is to construct five professional-grade courts within the existing sports complex, where it will complement existing tennis facilities.

The sports complex is no stranger to hosting events; it regularly hosts soccer, softball, baseball, and basketball tournaments that draw participants from all over the region. Events are a crucial component of the local economy; after the city recently lost out on the Louisiana Gulf Coast Oil Exposition—which moved to New Orleans for 2019 after 65 years in the area—the city has been looking for new revenue streams. The Expo was expected to bring in several thousand visitors, which would have resulted in a $2.5-million economic impact over the course of three days.

Youngsville Mayor Ken Ritter, speaking to the Acadiana Advocate, says, “The addition of sand volleyball will add another layer of recreation for our residents, and it will serve as a catalyst for economic growth in our community. It’s good for local businesses and good for the economy.”

The project is expected to cost just under $825,000 and is being funded through a 1-cent sales tax that Youngsville implements for recreational projects.

Now, the plan is for local, state, and national volleyball games, league play, and tournaments to help drive tourism that brings heads to beds in Youngsville.

Volleyball’s growth at the collegiate level has been remarkable, but the truly exciting movement is among those people who see the beach game as a viable recreational opportunity for adults and children of all skill levels. The number of facilities just needs to increase. After all, shouldn’t we all be a little more active?

Jackson Silvanik is the Editor of Publications at the American Volleyball Coaches Association in Lexington, Ky. Reach him at Jackson.Silvanik@avca.org.



Planning To Build A Beach Volleyball Court?
Keep in mind these standard guidelines from USA Volleyball:

Location: Consider the number of courts you’re looking to construct (NCAA competition requires at least two courts, but at least three are recommended). Once you’ve found the spot, it is common for beach volleyball facilities to engage an architect or engineer to assess the soil quality and drainage. It is recommended that the playing surface reach a sand depth of at least 18 inches, while surrounding free areas have at least 12 inches. NCAA courts consist of a playing area of 8 meters by16 meters (26.25 feet by 52.49 feet) with a “free zone” extending 5 to 6 meters on each side of the court. Keep in mind that you’ll also need vertical space--at least 12.5 meters (41.01 feet) of overhead must be free from obstruction. Whatever you choose, the courts will require maintenance both during and after construction. Getting a better feel for the ground conditions will help decide how to approach drainage and safe net-system anchoring.

Orientation: Courts should run with the long axis at a north-south orientation, allowing for the sun to rise and set along the net line. This will have the effect of reducing glare for participants.

Sand: When building a court outside of natural beach environments, a sand depth of 12 inches to 24 inches is ideal. Plan on somewhere between 200 and 600 tons of naturally weathered sand. The sand should be double-washed and free of silt and clay for a high-quality playing surface. White sand resists heat—an important element to consider in environmental conditions. Sand that is granite-based (not calcium or limestone) remains stable in a wide variety of weather conditions and makes for a consistent experience. A particle size of .5 mm to 1 mm will assist in proper drainage and be soft enough to reduce player-safety concerns. A sub-angular particle shape resists compaction and also proves helpful with drainage. Those who are only able to reach a sand depth of around 12 inches will have to till the surface and rake the courts more frequently. Sand that is too coarse will be too rough, but sand that is too fine will compact into something like mud.

Costs will fall into three general categories:

1. Sand and gravel
2. Excavation and equipment rental
3. Court equipment (net systems, poles, fencing, dividers, etc.).