By Mindith Rahmat
I went to a private all-girls high school where softball and volleyball players were the elite athletes. Although other sports were also popular, the volleyball and softball players were usually the ones receiving scholarships and setting records. They were the crème de la crème. Many of them went on to play at the collegiate level, and I know a few who went even further.
Today, women's sports at the college level are more popular than ever, and softball and volleyball remain among the most popular of them. According to "Women in Collegiate Sport," a long-term study conducted by Professors Acosta and Carpenter of Brooklyn College, volleyball and softball rank second and fifth in the top 5 list of women's varsity sports, respectively. Though gender roles are always debatable, there's just something about these two sports that seems to draw the best of the best female athletes.
In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that female Division 1 softball and volleyball players were stronger and more powerful than Division III and Division I field hockey athletes. Researchers tested and evaluated body composition, agility, power, and vertical jump in female volleyball, softball, and field hockey players.
At the end of the study, researchers assessed overall strength by comparing max bench press and max squat. Not surprisingly, the study found that D-I softball and volleyball athletes were stronger, faster, and more powerful than D-III athletes. Female D-I softball and volleyball players had a higher bench press, vertical jump, and squat than D-I and D-III field hockey players.
Of course, like any study, this research has its limitations. For example, the study didn't test other factors, such as endurance. The movements the researchers did test were much more closely related to explosiveness, strength, and speed. It makes sense that volleyball and softball players would test higher in these areas, if you think about the common movements in both sports. Sports like field hockey, soccer, and basketball have a larger field with more running required, whereas softball and volleyball emphasize explosive movements like sprinting, jumping, and diving.
The study also made an interesting discovery regarding the relation between body composition and athleticism. Interestingly, researchers noted that both D-I and D-III female volleyball players had similar body composition across the board, which may stem from training styles and programs. There was much more variation in body composition with the softball and field hockey athletes. According to the study, "The sport of volleyball requires players to execute similar skills with quick, reactive, multi-directional movements in a relatively small court." Understanding the relationship between body composition and performance may help normalize future research in other female sports.
Can we conclude that female volleyball and softball athletes are the strongest, fastest, and most powerful ladies in sports? That would be too swift a conclusion, of course. But it does seem that (besides the fact that they both smack balls), softball and volleyball players possess some common athletic traits. These characteristics make them some of the strongest, fastest, and most powerful ladies in collegiate sports.
Mindith Rahmat is the Co-Founder of BreakingMuscle.com,a site for fitness enthusiasts, elite athletes, their trainers and coaches. She is a health enthusiast and has extensive knowledge in mind/body wellness. Mindith has been practicing and teaching yoga for over 17 years.