Mostly they play for the pure fun of it.
“You’re playing around with your friends,” said volleyball player Charlotte Carver.
“It’s fun to dive all over the floor,” said Carla Globerson-Lamb, one of the team captains.
The popular game, invented in 1895 by a physical education director at the Holyoke, Mass., YMCA, is played by pick-up teams in the park and in the Olympics. When a team plays sloppily, coaches call it “family reunion volleyball.”
A lot of the game is taken up with touching and bonding rituals. When players score—hit the ball into the floor on the opponent’s side—they make a circle with their arms around one another. When they lose a point—hit the ball into the net or out of bounds—they make a circle anyway.
“It’s part of team chemistry,” said Coach Brenda Bertram. “If they did something well, they celebrate. If they did something wrong, they talk about it.”
She says men aren’t the same. “There are a few huggers, but mostly it’s high-fives and hand slapping. In American culture it’s considered taboo for men to hug each other.”
Globerson-Lamb said the lost-a-point huddle is devoted to encouragements such as “‘That’s O.K., we got the next one.’ We always support each other, no matter what.”
Often the players are long-time friends, playing together
in clubs in the spring and summer, giving Berkeley a big advantage.
“Some people are more privileged,” Globerson-Lamb said, referring to Berkeley’s relative affluence. “If you have money, you can play out of school.”
Berkeley rarely loses and usually is the league champion. At a recent game, Berkeley players huddled 20 or 30 times. Their opponents never did. Energy accumulated on the Berkeley side until it was palpable. You didn’t have to know the score or what the game was about to know they would win.
Coach Bertram said she saw it too. It’s hard to understand—that people can gather, each with a portion of energy, and then ungather, each with a greater portion.