International Women’s Day was marked in the first week of March by worldwide demonstrations and celebrations, adding more momentum to the global #MeToo movement and sparking even more conversations about gender diversity on middle management and boards, and the illogical pay gap.
Proudly then, global sport works to be an equaliser of opportunity at its highest level. The upcoming Youth Olympic Games in October are making history, having approved athlete quotas at an exact fifty-fifty male to female split.
It seems hard to believe now, especially where in New Zealand several of our most decorated Olympians are women, that as recently as 1984 the Olympics did not include events like the women’s marathon, as the common accepted belief was that women should not run long distances for medical reasons and inferred it would harm their ability to conceive children.
Women’s rowing took until 1976 to be included in the Games and then only at 1000m instead of the 2000m racing distance we know today, for similar gender bias reasons, and the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) recognized the women’s pole vault only in 1992.
And it’s not just the athletes; at the upcoming Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in Australia, Basketball is joined by hockey and swimming in confirming that, for the first time ever, at least 50 percent of each sport’s technical officials will be women. The Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) has already approved seven additional women’s event categories to the Gold Coast 2018 sports programme to ensure, that men and women compete for an equal number of medals (133 women’s events; 133 men’s events; nine mixed/open events).
There however remains a niggly issue; some of the female games, such as beach volleyball, have become highly popular events drawing enormous TV ratings and unfortunately, this is anecdotally attributed to voyeurism.
Some argue that the clothing worn by beach volleyballers plays its part, however if one was to make an honest comparison with athletics, and pool-based sports, it would be hard to justify this reason alone. This also ignores the fact that in 2012 the governing body of volleyball made a rule change stating; “Players can wear shorts of a maximum length of 3cm above the knee with sleeved or sleeveless tops or a full body suit”. So there.
Beach volleyball also proudly pays the same prize money to its male and female teams in World Tour events and the game has no gender specific modifications. Beach volleyball differs from the indoor version in three ways – it’s played on sand, a team is two instead of six, and it’s first to 21 in a best of three sets match, instead of 25 in a best of a five setter. Same court size, same net height.
As for indoor, due to the dynamics involved in team on team play, understanding an opposing teams style of play, their strengths and weaknesses, both physically and mentally, and working with these in mind, all form part of the game plan.
The physical demands of the beach game are however arguably much greater. With just two players to share responsibility for alternating three touches of the ball before it must go back over the net, the amount of ground/sand that has to be covered if passes aren’t perfect means players seldom spend a play entirely on their feet. If you’ve ever done burpees, let alone on sand, you will have some idea of how taxing this might be.
An article in The Psychology of Sport & Exercise showed just how fast the decision-making process needs to be in the game of beach volleyball with serves reaching close to 85km/hr and an unpredictability of play that requires accurate execution of a skill in a massive variety of body positions and movement patterns, and mostly while moving. Core strength and stability, balance, jumping and leg power, eye-hand coordination, flexibility and mobility, game sense and visual tracking against non-locatable areas such as sky are all included in the skill set needed of a top-class beach volleyball player. Not forgetting there are the elements of wind, sun and rain to compete against as well as the other team.
A comparative study of game play between men’s and women’s teams in 2015 showed the average game lasts between 46 and 53 minutes, and in that time involves between 396 and 405 jumps off the sand, with the latter being in the women’s game.
This same study also showed that the women’s game has longer rallies; has an average of more contacts per rally; has more “flying ball” time; has a higher percentage of rallies with three or more exchanges than the males’; has more long rallies in general; and that there are more defences, and consequently more counterattacks in the female than in the males’ game. Also, in the women’s game there are more ball contacts per game and rally, and consequently more exchanges and time spent under game pressure.
It might pay to remember this when watching the Kiwi female beach volleyball team in action at the Commonwealth Games this April, and it should be no surprise as to why there is athletic value in the women’s game.
Regular beach volleyball tournaments and training sessions are held at the Karapiro Sandcourts at Mighty River Domain every summer. For more information go to www.beachvolleyball.co.nz