Which of the two major players in the beach volleyball scene produce the best ball? It’s a question that is being asked ever more frequently here in the UK, since Wilson’s partnership with the UK Beach Tour came into place earlier this year.
I’ve spent all year going between one and the other, as I went from domestic events to international events, and I’ve spoken to lots of people about it. Here are what I think are the advantages and disadvantages of each ball, and a final conclusion as to which ball I think is better!
The Mikasa VLS300 is the official FIVB ball, with Mikasa giving the FIVB a big wad of money every year to have the rights to make it the obligatory ball for all international volleyball events. Does that on its own make it a good ball? No. It does have its positives and negatives, however. Here are some of them:
- The banana ball. The Mikasa is a brilliant ball if you like to float serve. Maybe it’s something to do with its curved panel design, but the ball seems to move around a lot in the air off the hand, making the float serve a wicked weapon with this ball. Is that why we now see so many float servers on the world tour?
- Good to see. This ball is definitely pretty easy to pick out against most backgrounds.
- More water resistant. One thing I’ve definitely noticed with the Wilsons is that when they get wet, they get very, very heavy. This isn’t such a massive problem with the Mikasas, as they are naturally a lighter ball and the material doesn’t seem to absorb water as easily.
- Durability. If you manage to find a Mikasa that doesn’t have a valve problem, then they seem to last really well. Sure, they lose a bit of colour, but I’ve got and seen plenty that are several years old and are still soldiering on without any problems. They do lose their padding and get a bit of a plastic feel as they get older, though.
- Dodgy valves. Although the seams on the Mikasa seem (see what I did there…) to last pretty well, their valves can be very dodgy. I’ve known coaches who have bought large batches of balls and had half of them go flat within the first year. When you are spending £45 per ball, that’s really not ideal, and they aren’t easy to fix either!
- Passing-perhaps because they are so good for float serving, these balls can be devilish to pass, especially in humid conditions. Is that good for the game? Sure, it means players do have to be a bit more skilful, but does anyone turn up to watch a volleyball game and hope to see lots of people shanking the ball?
It’s the ball that starred in the hugely popular film Castaway and the official game ball for the AVP and the UKBT. It’s got a more traditional design, with the ‘honeycomb’ panel system. Wilson have brought out a new yellow and black colours scheme for the 2020 season, which is supposed to help see it more easily (see below). The ball underneath the new colours is exactly the same, though.
- Top spin serve. For some reason, perhaps because it is a slightly heavier ball, the Wilson seems to suit jump servers. It encourages you to produce some absolute rockets from the baseline, but the ball definitely does not respond as well to float serves; lots of people say they struggle to get any float movement from it.
- Easier to hand set. Again, maybe because it’s slightly heavier, the Wilson ball is definitely easier to hand set. It sits in your hands nicely, and really lends itself to being aggressive and using your hands all the time.
- Slightly cheaper. Priced in at about £40, compared to the Mikasa’s £45, the Wilson is slightly cheaper. Remember, too, that UKBT members can get a discount on a ball via the UKBT site.
- Seam splitting. The Wilsons definitely seem a little bit more likely to split along the seams as they age.
- Discolouring. If you play on a sand that is a bit grubby, don’t expect your Wilson to stay white for long! It goes a muddy brown very quickly if you aren’t precious about it.
Personally I train with Mikasas, because I think it is easier to transition from passing a Mikasa to passing a Wilson than the other way around. I think the better ball for beginners are Wilsons, because the padding makes them a bit easier for the arms, and easier to track. However, I think I would choose to coach better players with Mikasas, because it means you have to get your technique spot on, both when setting and passing. It’s a much less forgiving ball, meaning it will highlight any technical problems you have-perfect if you want to be pushing yourself to get better all the time.
For the spectator, though? Definitely a ball that encourages longer rallies and fewer passing and setting errors: the Wilson.
What do you think?
Overall I prefer Mikasas as they feel as though they are going to last longer and hence less plastic in landfills, etc. But I quite like drills where the balls are mixed as it makes one concentrate a little more to take into account which ball is coming at you.
Also I find Mikasas easier to pick up with one hand but that’s probably not pivotal to the quality of the game…
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