Isn’t it interesting how some countries are good at some sports for seemingly no reason?
For example, three Slavic countries are in the very top of the volleyball elite, although they don’t share any borders.
There’s also the case of Brazil being a volleyball superpower, despite there being no real competition for them in South America. Why is that so?
In this article, we’ll be exploring the backgrounds of the world’s best volleyball nations to answer the one question they all pose – why are they so good at it?!
Why Is Poland So Good at Volleyball?
According to the official rankings of the International Volleyball Federation, the Polish Men’s National Team is currently the best volleyball team in the world.
They won the Olympic Games volleyball tournament once, and they have three World Championship golden medals, as well as two silver medals. They won the European Championship once, while they came in second and third five and four times, respectively.
On top of that, they also have a few medals in the World Cup, the World League, and the Nations League. They won their first medal in 1965 (1st place in the World Championship), and their latest in 2022 (2nd place in the World Championship).
Combined, the Polish Men’s National Team has a stunning record of 6 golden, 11 silver, and 8 bronze medals across all competitions!
The Polish Women’s National Team is also very good, currently ranked as the 10th best volleyball team in the world with 18 honors across all competitions.
Why is Poland so good at volleyball, though?
Well, Poland’s volleyball story is deeply rooted in politics and history.
The sport was always popular as a pastime, and more-or-less every Polish person knows the basics of volleyball. This interest intensified in the 1970s as Poland won the World Championship in 1974, but even more importantly, they beat their bitter political rivals and former invaders, the USSR, in 1976, when they won the Olympic gold!
That match is specifically credited for lighting a bit of a fire in Polish hearts, but this boom in both quality and popularity was further fueled in the late nineties. Poland was then invited to play in the World League (later renamed to Nations League).
This didn’t only grant Poland quite a bit of money for participating (and winning), which they would use to improve their sport infrastructure and produce even more talent, but it also made Polish fans go nuts!
Both men’s and women’s teams have dominated the sport ever since, which only attracted more fans and brought in more money that Poland has used to improve their teams!
For the past two decades, Poland’s been caught in a very healthy cycle of good results and reinvesting the money earned by those results into further improvements.
Finally, the fact that Poland has a talent pool of almost 40 million people is definitely helpful!
Why Is Italy So Good at Volleyball?
If we combine the results of both men’s and women’s teams, someone might say that Italy is even better at volleyball than Poland. However, we must remember that Italy started competing much earlier than Poland because Poland was a poor, disorganized country prior to the Second World War.
The Italian Men’s National Team has 69 medals, including 31 gold medals from all competitions except for the Nations League. The Italian Women’s National Team has 36 medals from all competitions, including 18 gold medals.
Volleyball is deeply rooted in Italian history. It became insanely popular during the period between the First and the Second World War, which is why Italy may be called the World Capital of Volleyball.
As of 2022, the Italian Volleyball Federation reports that there are more than 300,000 registered members (playing on an amateur or professional level). This means that every 193rd person in Italy plays volleyball in amateur or professional leagues, while many more play in their own, unregistered teams.
There are also more than 4000 volleyball teams and societies all over Italy, which means that almost everyone can play the game, no matter where they live.
The Italian Volleyball Federation reported a boom of interest in volleyball in 2019, which they credit to the success of the National Teams and the investment into small courts, which can be found in every city, town, and village in Italy.
Why Is Brazil So Good at Volleyball?
Undoubtedly the most successful volleyball nation of South America, Brazil’s Men’s National Volleyball Team prides itself on a stunning 107 medals, including 67 gold medals, while the Women’s Team won 89 medals!
Before we start comparing them to European teams, we must point out that Brazil competes in the South American Championship, while European teams don’t.
You might be thinking “Why does that matter? European teams play in the European Championship!”. While that is true, European teams don’t win the competition every time they play it!
Here’s something amazing about Brazil – their Men’s Team has lost the South American Championship only once (in 1964)! That’s just crazy! Aside from that instance, they have won the competition every single time since 1951!
The Women’s Team holds a similar record, although they’ve come in second in the competition a dozen times.
While we must give credit where credit is due, we also have to point out that the competition in South America is virtually nonexistent. Aside from Argentina, which is currently the 8th best Men’s National Team, there are no South American teams on FIVB’s Top 20 list.
There are a few keys to Brazil’s success. The first one is that Brazil is generally a very active country! Brazilians love sports and they have achieved massive success in every sport. Since they’re so good at sports, the government isn’t afraid of investing into their infrastructure.
Secondly, Brazil has a beach volleyball tradition because of its numerous beaches, and as you might assume – they’re the best in the world at it!
Finally, Brazil has a massive talent pool! There are more than 200 million volleyball-hungry Brazilians, and when you have that kind of talent pool, building the world’s best team is much easier than it is for smaller countries.
Why Is Serbia So Good at Volleyball?
Serbia’s Women’s National Volleyball Team is arguably the best in the world! They won 21 medals, including 8 golden medals, across all major competitions. The Men’s Team isn’t far behind with 28 medals, half of which are bronze.
In comparison to other countries, Serbia’s success is very recent. Aside from the 9 medals won in the 20th century, the remaining 40 medals were all won in the 21st century, including the most recent 2022 World Championship gold medal.
There is, honestly, no clear explanation as to why Serbia is so good at volleyball. Similar to Croatia’s unprecedented success in soccer despite being a very small country, it’s possible that Serbs are just naturally talented at volleyball and sports in general.
Aside from volleyball, they have great basketball and water polo players and a decent soccer team, which supports the idea that they’re simply naturally talented at sports.
Furthermore, all ex-Yugoslavian countries have a sports culture – almost everyone from these countries has trained a sport, be it for a while or for a lifetime, and this definitely aids Serbia in their volleyball success!
Why Is France So Good at Volleyball?
The French are holders of 16 medals, including 5 gold medals, while their Women’s National Team has, contrastingly, never won a medal in a major competition.
Similar to Serbia, their biggest successes are recent, starting with 2015, when they won two gold medals (European Championship and the World League), announcing themselves to the world in a big way. Before that, France had never won a major competition.
The results are no different now, as France has won the 2022 Nations League in Bologna.
While soccer is the most popular sport in France by far, this fresh resurgence of volleyball may be credited to a few things. Firstly, the National Team’s successes have certainly had an impact on the French, making volleyball more popular.
Another thing that we need to take into account is the level of competition in soccer, which may push some talented children into choosing volleyball, making the sport even more popular.
Finally, it’s clear to everyone that France has a golden generation on their hands, which is bound to rule Europe for at least a few more years, and the government will want to prolong this success by investing more in volleyball.
All in all, France is just now starting to build a volleyball dynasty, and we’ll only be able to determine the true cause of this boom in the future.
Why Are The United States So Good at Volleyball?
The United States are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to volleyball! The Men’s Team is currently 5th on FIVB’s rankings (and they rarely drop out of the Top 5), while the Women’s Team is 2nd.
The men earned this status by winning 45 medals across all competitions, while the Women’s Team won 58 medals across all competitions.
This makes them, historically, one of the best volleyball nations in the world, and it can all be credited to the brilliant sport infrastructure.
On top of the professional volleyball league, the United States has college, high school, and junior levels of volleyball. A lot of amateurs start playing the sport in school or in various organizations as children, and once they figure out they’re talented at it, they start training with a club.
Thanks to the collegiate programs that offer stipends and scholarships, many players get to play under great coaches and get a university degree while they’re mastering their craft, before they move onto the big leagues.
On top of all that, we can’t forget that the United States of America is a massive country with more than 330 million inhabitants. You can always find a few incredibly skilled individuals in a talent pool of that size, and the USA Volleyball (the official sport association) has made great use of it!
Why Is Russia So Good at Volleyball?
Finally, we have Russia – their Men’s Team is currently the 3rd best in the world, while the Women’s Team has a firm grip on the 9th spot.
The Russian Men’s National Volleyball Team won a total of 86 medals, including 41 gold medals, across all competitions, while the Women’s Team won 71 medals!
Some critics dispute these results, given that the majority of those medals were won under the USSR flag, and during that time period, many non-Russian athletes competed for the USSR. After the fall of the USSR, all sport achievements were credited to Russia, and that may be unfair as the athletes who won the medals weren’t Russian, but that is a topic for another time.
Volleyball is so popular in Russia because it’s one of the oldest team sports played there. You can find volleyball sports literally everywhere, as the government built them in the mid-20th century to promote good health and to keep the people entertained.
Interestingly, volleyball was also big among Red Army soldiers, and it was heavily promoted among the civilian population as well. Finally, we can’t forget that Russia, just like Brazil and the USA, is a big country with a population of almost 150 million.
This provides them with a great talent roster, and that roster was even bigger in the Soviet Union, which had a population of almost 300 million.
Russia is currently banned from all competitions due to the Russia-Ukraine War, which leaves the future of this beautiful sport uncertain. However, up until very recently, they were winning medals left and right!
A Combination of Talent, Popularity, and Investment Is Key
By this point, we’ve picked up on a pattern. All of these countries have a good talent pool – some of them have a large population, some have just an incredibly talented population, while Brazil has both!
Even more importantly, they have a developed sports infrastructure and sound investment plans for the future, ensuring that they keep producing magnificent players.
Finally, popularity is a quality they all share – volleyball is a popular sport in all of these countries, which is undoubtedly the most important factor when we’re answering the titular question!