June 3, 2011

Women's Volleyball Uniforms

Dear Coach,

Thanks SO much for all the great advice! Love the blog and refresh your page every day to see what's on your mind! I have new question for you, on a totally offbeat topic...

Some of my players were hanging out with some other young high school athletes the other day after practice and after noticing how tall and strong these other girls were I went over and invited them to try out for volleyball!

Their response while rolling their eyes was that they were basketball players, not volleyball players. I asked them what they thought the difference between the two was, and they said that volleyball is 'too girly' and that they'd never come out for my team because they'd have to wear spandex shorts rather than the baggy uniforms they got for basketball. They really emphasized the issue of the skin tight shorts, and how 'gross' they are.

After this exchange with the girls, I watched their basketball practice and discovered that their WHOLE team was made up of tall, athletic, motivated, and aggressive young women--exactly what I want on MY team!

Why are these athletics preemptively self-selecting out of my program and into this one?  I'm sure that it's not *just* because of the shorts, but why give them any reason not to come out at all?

I honestly couldn't give them a good reason why our sport encourages us to put our (sometimes very) young girls in these revealing outfits, particularly at a time in their lives when they are *most* insecure with their bodies. I remember feeling absolutely mortified as a hs freshmen when I was handed a teeny-tiny pair of spandex shorts, and it wasn't until I was a junior in college that I really felt comfortable enough with my own body to wear them without some degree of shame. Flash forward 10 years and I'm coaching club when the festival was in Reno and I remember how uncomfortable I felt herding my teams of 14s and 12s through hotel casinos while they got cat-called by creeps.

Where did the convention for girls to wear spandex come from, and why do we continue it at the expense of our athlete's well being and at the expense of recruiting young, strong athletes early on? Some people say that it's for an increased ease of motion on the court while diving and rolling, but I don't see any men's volleyball programs putting their guys into spandex, do you? If they do wear compression shorts, it's under their baggy board shorts.

So... even if I change my team's uniform next year (which, of course, my program can't afford to do) not only will every other team they play will be wearing spandex, so will all the D1 programs that I take them to watch during season, as will all the other club teams they see the rest of the year. What's a coach to do?

Best, C.M

Thanks for the email and glad you enjoy the site.  I am a bit backed up right now with my day job as the Mellow Month of May went by too quickly and demands of never ending recruiting, along with preparing for all the details of the 2011 season are coming fast. 

I think your question is good and the uniform issue is one which used to come up quite often but has quieted down a bit. If the time of year was better, I would provide a full answer for the site, as I feel the issues/concerns you have expressed must be on many of the parent's minds.

My quick reply is that each sport has a uniform which is specific to the needs or culture of that sport.  I can remember when teams used to wear buns, which seems ludicrous today, but that was the style.  I may be way off, but I think this clothing style was introduced by the Japanese who also wore long sleeve shirts.  The logic being that the tight bottoms and long sleeve tops allowed for better movement during defensive training and play. 

As to your point about men's volleyball - male players don't sprawl and roll, they dive and pull through (if they play defense at all); that and the culture of the beach volleyball led to longer shorts to allow for sliding on the thighs when playing defense.

For many sports, their is a certain (hopefully) logic to their uniforms - Gymnasts for rapid, complicated body movement without being hindered; football is tight so defenders can't pull the jersey, baseball wears a belt with a buckle to hold the pants in place when sliding and for basketball, because of the entertainment  industry influence, they may have become fashion/trendy oriented in their uniforms because I can't imagine playing in the 'sweats' they play in (super long shorts that go below the knees are sweats!).

Unfortunately, there are always those knuckleheads which will act like idiots and make comments upon seeing players in spandex outside the court.  I still hear idiotic remarks when we happen to stop somewhere on the way back from the gym.

I hope that the sight of the large club tournaments do relieve some of the anxiety felt by young players or new parents about the uniforms; 80 courts of players in the same uniform can lend some validity to the uniform for the new VolleyFamilies.

As for your program, either stay the same or change.  I would guess the spandex is just the most convenient reason for the potential players to shun the sport.  It could be a combination of the basketball coach discouraging Volleyball participation (#1 reason in my conversations with high school volleyball coaches) because the Volleyball season occurs before basketball, maybe the potential players are more comfortable not being "girly" in their athleticism which I find illogical, but being macho/aggressive is encouraged in sports or, as you illustrated, the emotional issues of wearing such form fitting clothes in a public eye.

Just as I don't see gymnasts or football players going to loose fitting uniforms, I can't see women's volleyball changing.  Maybe the spandex length can increase (for instance, most of my international players always want the longer spandex, but the USA players want the shorter spandex?) but it would still be snug.

I encourage you to be aware of potential emotional issues (which you have demonstrated) and then stay focused on building a great team with players who are hard working, respectful and believe in the sport they are playing - By creating such a team, you will have players beating down your door to tryout.

Again, very good question.


  1. Our team is requiring the Sofie Shorts instead of the Spandex. This is due to the school rules prohibiting spandex in school and the players are performing just as well in the shorts as the Spandex.

  2. Coach, with all due respect I've never seen a gymnastic team stop somewhere on the way home from a tournament wearing just a leotard. They cover up with sweats. The volleyball team should too. If girls short length has to be fingertip length in school, this should apply to all. As a school bus driver it was off-putting to see the volleyball team jogging one morning outside the school in what looked like their underwear.

  3. Sex sells - At the college level it makes NCAA Volleyball more attractive to ESPN for TV contracts. There is NO, NONE, NADA reason for the current garments being used. It is sexually explicit display of adolescent girls and it is wrong. I see it in the dance world for girls, gymnastics and volleyball. Look what happened in swimming when longer suits were proven to be faster - they outlawed the suits. It's a crime that we put these kids through this process.

    I encourage all teams and coaches to use appropriate clothing for their young athletes.

  4. For whatever reason, women and girls clothing has always been geared toward showing skin and the body. That's just fashion. Women and girls wear short-shorts in the summer time while men and boys were long baggy shorts. Women were tight jeans and tops with emphasis on the rear-end and chest while men generally wear looser jeans with t-shirts. It's only natural that this trend crosses over into sports. With the exception of basketball and maybe soccer, every other sport women and girls play requires less clothing than their male counterparts: tennis, gymnastics, volleyball, field hockey, track . . . name it. Don't think it's a conspiracy with a bunch of guys in some dark room discussing how to sexualize your daughters or sisters while they sports. Just the way the world works right now. Accept it or don't.

  5. I've coached high school girls volleyball for years. There is practicality behind the tight uniforms. Loose shorts and jerseys raise the possibility of unintended illegal contact in the net and under the net. Long tight sleeves take the sting off when players pass and dig. Loose sleeves would never work.

  6. I specifically searched this topic after watching the Women's NCAA Tournament this weekend, and noticed top ranked teams wearing loose fitting jerseys. Look at the Texas/Stanford match highlights as one example. I'm hoping the the culture is changing in this direction and look forward to comments about the topic.
    I remember playing in buns in the 80s and know that warm ups were on as long as possible before the match and back on right after.


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