Considering the exponential growth of sand volleyball in recent years, and the 29 colleges across the country suiting up for the second official season of NCAA sand volleyball, one of the most valuable resources is undoubtedly a how-to article on building a quality sand court. Over the years, tutorials on how to build your own sand court have proven to be some of the most popular articles we have run in Volleyball magazine. The how-to article “Court Cents: Build Your Own Sand Volleyball Court” that ran in the August 1995 issue is consistently one of the most popular hits on our website. (Yes, we had to recreate the article in digital form since it pre-dated our website.)
Sand volleyball has changed dramatically in recent years with the addition of collegiate level play, so we revisited the topic and directed this article toward those that are looking to build a legitimate court for official competition. If you are looking to build a sand court for your own personal backyard use, or are simply curious about the “behind the scenes” of sand courts, read on. You will likely find many useful tips and pointers.
As the NCAA authorizes new programs across the country, colleges, high schools, and recreation centers are building official sand volleyball courts. Sand courts offer a low-maintenance, multi-use facility that brings the beach to any region.
“Sand courts are relatively affordable facilities that have campus-wide uses,” said Kathy DeBoer, executive director of the AVCA. “If you invest in proper drainage, good sand, and a safe and reliable net system, your courts require minimal maintenance and could be used virtually 24 hours a day.”
The process described below and the materials recommended for building a sand court are guided by the NCAA sand volleyball.
Locate Your Courts
To be eligible to conduct an NCAA team match, two courts are required and three recommended, so make sure the space you select can accommodate two to three courts with enough free space in between. NCAA sand volleyball courts for doubles play measure 52'6" by 26'3". The space between side-by-side courts should be roughly 20 feet, and the space between end-to-end courts roughly 30 feet.
After selecting a location that supports this size, it is typically suggested that the court orientation be set so that the net runs east to west. That will help avoid morning and evening sun falling directly in the eyes of one team. You may also factor in how nearby buildings and shadows impact play. “We had to consider wind, sand erosion, the sun, shadows, and if those things create an advantage for one side,” said Tami Audia, head sand volleyball coach at Georgia State, about her recently built sand facility at the university. “To avoid all potential advantages, we went with three tiered courts all facing the same direction.”
Dig, Frame, and Drain Your Courts
The next step is to choose a material to frame the court area. Consider investing in concrete to surround your courts. Some facilities stack rows of 2" by 6" treated lumber to create a perimeter to contain the court foundation and sand layers. Wood is less expensive, but it must be replaced on a more frequent basis.
The NCAA doesn’t specifically address regulations on digging and framing courts or facilities, but Sports Imports, the official net system of the AVCA, offers guidelines and other resources on sand court design and construction. Due to the layers of substrate required to achieve proper drainage and a safe court, digging roughly 3'6" to install a drainage system under the court is recommended.
Once you’ve dug your hole and framed your courts, lay out your drainage pipe (our experts recommend an 8" perforated pipe) so it leads away from the court. Be sure to wrap all pipe with two layers of landscaping fabric to avoid clogging by sand.
Anchor Your Nets
For permanent NCAA court setups, the poles anchoring the nets must be padded and free from guy wires (tensioned cables designed to add stability, which can also create a safety hazard for players). To achieve upright supports that can withstand net tension, Sports Imports suggests installing removable sand anchors, which bolt directly into cement piers set safely below the sand. Removable anchors offer the ability to change location of the courts if the need arises. Anchors provide a solid base, which eliminates upright deflection and reduces movement caused by seasonal temperature changes. Piers and anchors should be set so that uprights are at least 42" outside each sideline to provide an appropriate safety barrier.
For easy adjustment and multi-use, consider a net system that has a solid anchoring system and multiple net heights – not only to switch between men’s and women’s heights, but also to adjust for gradual sand loss.
When the upright supports have been constructed, it is recommended that a layer of gravel be installed as a base material. Gravel helps with drainage and maintains a solid, stable foundation for the sand. Explain to your gravel supplier that it will be used for drainage, and he or she can recommend the size for your needs.
Next, add a layer of landscaping fabric, installed over the gravel. This allows the court to drain and prevents stones from mixing with the volleyball sand, thereby maintaining a soft, playable surface.
Get THE Sand
Once your court is framed and drained, and your net supports anchored, it’s time to add the sand. Sand is the defining aspect of the sand volleyball court, but not all sand is alike. Contractor sand may be less expensive, but you may find that the decreased cost does not compensate for a compacted playing surface.
Reputable volleyball-sand providers will explain the best sand options for your location and climate. Light-colored sands are suggested because they absorb minimal heat. The NCAA recommends the sand be washed, screened and clean; round, sub-round, or angular in shape; and intermediate in sizing. The sand should be at least 18" deep on the court and at least 12" deep in the free space.
Attach Your Net and Place Your Boundary Markers
The final step of building a sand volleyball court is installing the equipment. Boundary markers should contrast with the color of the sand and boundary anchors should be buried to prevent injury.
Uprights and nets should be installed and adjusted to the same height settings as indoor volleyball. The NCAA calls for a net 27'10.5" long and 39" wide when hung taut. The net should be made of mesh, partitioned in 4" by 4" squares. Sewn along its full length on the top and bottom should be 2" to 4" wide horizontal bands made of two-fold, bright-colored canvas.
Despite the depth and detail of this how-to, it is best to hire a contractor or architect if you are unfamiliar with the excavating and construction required for this project. Other costs include materials such as sand, gravel, and net systems.
Depending on your distance from the nearest coast, quality sand can cost anywhere from $35 to $79 a ton, including delivery. You can calculate how much sand you’ll need using the following formula: (length x width x depth in feet divided by 27 to calculate the volume in yardage) x 1.6 gives you total tonnage.
Like sand, gravel costs can vary based on your location. The formula for calculating tonnage is the same as for sand, but since there is less gravel needed than sand, your gravel cost should be less than your sand cost.
If your intention is to follow NCAA regulations, it’s best to get a safe net system without guy wires that offers easy height adjustment in case of sand loss or for switching between men’s and women’s play. It is important to invest in quality uprights, nets, and boundary markers since this equipment has to withstand the elements, and the potential use of other campus organizations.
“We do share our courts with intramurals, club, and occasionally others,” said Tim Loesch, head sand volleyball coach at Stetson University. “I like that they’re accessible to other groups. It helps our marketability and gets people to come out and support us because we share it. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
Deciding to share your sand facility may also help when looking for funding. Since sand workouts are known to improve strength and quickness without stressing joints, almost any team or group can benefit from utilizing sand courts. Providing these benefits for a larger community might therefore make it easier for you to receive funding.
With such widespread benefits and minimal facility upkeep, it’s easy to see why the number of collegiate sand volleyball programs has nearly doubled in the last year. At this rate, we hope to look forward to an NCAA Championship in 2015-16.
Originally published in June 2013