Futevôlei is a blend of soccer and volleyball and (according to legend) was invented in Rio de Janeiro. In lieu of using your hands or arms like in volleyball, the players’ chest and head are turned into the primary surfaces of play. Futevôlei is a 2 vs 2 game played on a regulation sized volleyball space. Most public courts in Rio de Janeiro are in the sand along the beach. All of the courts in Rio come with picturesque backdrops worthy of sitting back and relaxing to take in the view. But if the vistas aren’t enough for you, don’t worry, because you will be amazed by the grace and skill of the futevôlei jogadores.
Futevôlei is played up to 18 points. The serve switches sides after one team has made 6 serves; sides rotate after both teams have completed their set of services. Got it? It is like volleyball…well kind of, but not really. Futevôlei is the pinnacle of soccer-related sports. You need to have impeccable control of the ball with your feet, thighs, shoulders, head, and most importantly, your chest! Much in the same way a volleyball player “sets” the ball with their hands, futevôlei jogadores can do the same with millimeter precision using their chests, heads, thighs, shoulders, and even a foot stretched behind their back.
Futevôlei is not a game where you can expect instant success. It’s extremely difficult. Even if you have played soccer your entire life and can juggle a ball 100 times with ease, futevôlei is still a game with game-specific techniques and skills that need to be honed over months or years. I hope that I am not deterring you from playing; I’m just giving you some words of warning so that you’re not too hard on yourself when you start training. The first thing that is strange for 11 vs 11 soccer players is the way in which one uses their chest. Usually, a soccer player is taught to trap the ball with their chest. Coaches have probably taught you how to bring a ball under control by concaving your chest to cushion the ball and place it in front of your feet on the ground. Futevôlei demands the complete opposite. You need to be able to bend at the knees, lean back and pop out your chest in a manner that accurately propels the ball to your teammate. It will take your brain a little while to rewire your instincts and then a whole lot longer to perfect the timing, force, and accuracy of the pass. Practice till your chest turns the glowing red color of a Brazilian sunset.
Using your head is a lot easier to adapt to as you just need to head the ball upwards instead of downwards. However, the foot pass is a little different from the technique you learned in soccer. The best control is with the inside of your foot, but not your instep. Have you seen hacky-sackers? Well that is the technique you want to emulate. You lean back a little, and in a smooth upward motion, stroke through the middle of the ball. The thigh is pretty easy to adapt to also. Some players throw their foot out instead of tucking it under them. You are basically smoothly swinging through the ball and trying to loft it to your teammate with accuracy to their chest or head. The gameplay is identical to volleyball with 3 touches, alternating between players before the ball is returned. It is similar to bump-set-spike in volleyball. However there is no stigma attached to returning the ball on the first or second touch if you find your opponent poorly positioned. Players cannot touch the ball more than once, without the ball touching another player. The net does not reset your touch and unlike volleyball or tennis, if the ball touches the net on the serve it is still in play! Serves are done with as little spin as possible so that the wind can more effectively mess with the ball’s flightpath. Perhaps counterintuitively, spinning the ball on the serve actually makes it easier for your opponent to predict its path.
Well, there you have it. Now you know the basics of futevôlei. Next time you are in Copacabana, Ipanema, Botofogo, or Flamengo, cruise down to the water on a beautiful day and keep an eye out for the old men wearing speedos (sungas). They will be dark as leather and rippling with muscle from years of playing on the sunny beaches of Brazil. Take some time to watch, get a feel for the game, and learn from the masters. Then, when you’re feeling ready, go out there and join in on this classic of Brazilian sport culture.