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Commentary: Some questions about the volleyball uniform…

by David F. Pendrys

For the various sites I write for I go to a lot of women’s volleyball games. The sport in general especially the indoor variety is overlooked to a great degree as the excitement and athleticism is at a high level. Volleyball is awesome. Though I’ll be honest, I wonder where the uniforms came from. In most sports which are available to both genders there is usually a similarity of uniform, just look at Soccer, Swimming, Basketball, and Boxing for an example of that, but in volleyball, guys wear long shorts, women wear spandex shorts far shorter than the men’s. This apparently has been the style for a long time though I wonder where it originated? I noted that my old high school not so long ago had uniforms consisting of soccer style shorts and actually baggy shirts so I wonder where the trend all started.

While the entire question of wardrobe and decency goes on all over society the volleyball uniform has led to some debate. On one side are concerned parents (at the pre-college level) over the length, as well as others who wonder about the difference, and on the other side those that argue that the women’s game is different than the men’s game requiring the change.

What do the rules say? Nothing about length.

USA volleyball rules say “All female players shall be attired in identical jerseys and shorts or one-piece uniforms.” ( )

FIVB, the international governing body, regulations say “A player’s equipment consists of a jersey, shorts, socks (the uniform) and sport shoes.”( )

And the NCAA rules say “The playing uniform consists of a jersey plus shorts/briefs, pants or culottes (one-or two-piece). Gym shoes are required equipment.” ( )

So the determination is being made elsewhere. I scoured the internet looking for justification. A question on a College Volleyball coaching blog outlined the differences between the two games but also posited that the spandex could be longer. Though even this blog didn’t really know where it all began. (

A yahoo answers query (yes I know this is not the best source) also had volleyball players defending functionality, but the question is was the short length necessary even if spandex was. Also note the way the question is posed is not very supportive of women and objectifies them. (

Interestingly enough, a volleyball shorts manufacturer even noted that longer shorts won’t affect the game but will make competitors look “old school” suggesting it was fashion not function that was the concern. (

So it seems it is the spandex, not the length of it that affects performance. So why the shortness? It has created concern beyond just myself. Now on the one hand if I get too judgmental in one direction, I can be proscribing what I think are my values on what women wear, and that would be a problem since that should be up to the athletes, just as fashion is up to individuals, however it is also a fair question to ask in general, what should be the norms?

One blog written by a mother concerned about the shorts in pre-college sports outlined the concerns with appearance of photos exploiting volleyball players online as well, though conceded that when asking players themselves why they were short there was an athletic explanation given. Still she also noted many male troll comments on the same subject. (

Another concerned mother also was wondering about the length for younger competitors ( ) A third concerned mother went farther calling for a ban on cameras (which is a separate issue) because of the length issue. In the comments section one can see the debate surging ( )

Personally, at the pre-college level this is a bigger deal and concern then at the college level, though I do wonder about the length at all levels. It seems the potential negatives outweigh the positives. The reason that the cretins of the world can find photos and post them in an objectifying fashion is the revealing nature of the uniforms themselves. These are not outfits of a length that would be in normal wear. Teams generally arrive for matches wearing warmups or shorts, making it even less of a normal thing. Obviously some will be fine with it, some will not. It would be good to know why the uniforms differ, do they need to, and if so why? If tomorrow all volleyball players were basically in a soccer uniform would performance decrease? And if it isn’t functionally necessary, is this just a stylistic decision that should continue? I realize that practically every team in the country and international competition wears these uniforms so I am going against the grain. I also realize I invite criticism from those who play and coach, but please send it on.

I am a huge supporter of the sport overall and those who participate, the blog’s considerable attention to the sport proves it, but I do wonder sometimes if a style or idea can come out of somewhere and be adopted, and years later just be accepted as how it’s always been without further evaluation.










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2 replies »

  1. “So it seems it is the spandex, not the length of it that affects performance.” Nope. If that were the case, the men woudn’t wear baggy shorts over theirs, or the women could wear the baggy shorts over their spandex. The truth is no one wants to see men’s ugly hairy thighs but bring on those luscious teen girl legs!

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