During the recently completed Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, volleyball was a sport that received plenty of airtime, and local college coaches are hoping that exposure can give the sport a boost.
The usual suspects -- basketball, swimming, track and field and gymnastics -- often receive large amounts of time on-camera during the Olympics. But volleyball doesn't receive the same attention, and the players and coaches, especially at the high school and collegiate levels, often toil in anonymity.
That's why coaches like Alija Pittenger of Loyola University were thrilled to see so much volleyball on the screen in Rio. Men and women's volleyball of the outdoor and indoor variety were featured prominently by NBC throughout the games.
"The fact that so many people were able to see that will only help grow the sport," Pittenger said. "Volleyball doesn't receive the same amount of exposure as other sports, so the hope is that after seeing how exciting volleyball matches are, more people will get involved with the sport as both players and spectators."
Other local coaches at UMBC, Coppin State and Morgan State echoed Pittenger's hope of increased participation with the sport. The manner in which children become involved in various sports has evolved during recent years, and they're hoping more kids become interested in volleyball at a younger age.
These days, more kids specialize in one sport instead of playing one per season. And they seek out club or travel teams with rigorous schedules in the hopes of increased college exposure -- often starting at an early age.
Morgan State coach Ramona Riley-Bozier said she'd like to see more children start playing the game earlier now, and seeing it on TV could help make that happen.
"Kids start dreaming when they're young about what they want to be or what they want to do," she said. "They start visualizing about it. Those are the same kids that us, as coaches, are recruiting. If you have enough kids working to get there, there'll be more kids for us to recruit. And they're good, and they get it."
UMBC coach Ian Blanchard feels more kids everywhere are becoming interested in the sport and, therefore, he's got a bigger talent pool from which to recruit. But he said schools like UMBC know they won't land the blue-chip players that find their way to higher-level programs. Still there's plenty of talent available for the Retrievers and other Division I schools to recruit.
"From a recruiting standpoint, it's really important that I'm in the right forest," Blanchard said. "The trickle-down effect is, there's more and more volleyball players playing. The talent pool is getting larger and larger and larger. You have so many more kids that are playing, and that's the positive ... of the Olympics."
In fact, Blanchard thinks volleyball is growing into more of a sport that people want to watch on TV.
"The biggest reason why is that volleyball is played above the net at the women's level," Blanchard said. "We're getting more and more athletic women playing volleyball."
The coaches also agreed the attendance at matches benefits from the additional TV coverage. It's a chain reaction, especially with younger athletes. Girls (and guys) watch the sport. They want to play the sport, and so they'll go to see a college match. One thing leads to the next.
"The more coverage you have, the more it will affect attendance, especially when it comes to young kids," Coppin State coach Kyetta May said. "It's exciting. It's a sport that's played with a lot of finesse and skill."
The coaches agreed the Olympic TV coverage of volleyball should help the sport in recruiting, subsequently increasing the talent pool and attendance.
Time will tell how much volleyball can grow during the next four years, but for now, it has become much more of a hot topic than before.
"I've seen firsthand now, once people get a chance to see how exciting volleyball matches are, they get hooked," Pittenger said. "I hope that after watching the fantastic competition in Rio that people will come and check [out] our local teams."
Issue 225: September 2016