Volleyball Basic Rules

To help you understand the basic rules of volleyball, here is the essential guide for volleyball beginners.

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Most of the basic rules of volleyball are the same in both beach and indoor volleyball – with the main areas where they differ being the size of playing area, the number of players on each side, and the length of matches.

Serving in volleyball

A serve starts each point and must be served from behind the back line. The idea when serving is to deliver the ball into the opponent’s court in a way that makes it difficult to return. Many types of serve are employed, each with a varying degree of speed, spin and trajectory. Serves are usually overarm, but it is legal to serve underarm as well. After the ball is in play, the players will use the following moves to deal with the ball:

  • Digs. Digging is the ability to prevent the volleyball touching the court, and often involves the player having to dive and play the ball with two hands to enable a teammate to continue the action.  
  • Sets. The set is usually the second contact a team makes with the volleyball, and is the shot that sets the volleyball up in the air so a teammate can hit it back over the net.  
  • Spikes. The spike is usually the third contact a team makes with the volleyball. The object of the spike is to hit the volleyball downward so that it lands on the opponent’s court and cannot be returned.  
  • Blocks. The block is an attempt to stop the opponent’s attacking shot (spike) by either deflecting the volleyball back into the opponent’s court, or taking the pace off it so the player’s team can deal with it more effectively.

Rules for indoor volleyball

  • A volleyball court should measure 18m (59.06ft) x 9m (29.53ft), with the net bisecting the playing area at a height of 2.43m (7.97ft) for men / 2.24m (7.35ft) for women.
  • Men’s and women’s volleyball teams compete in best-of-five-set matches.
  • A set is won by the first team to reach 25 points (15 in the fifth set) – although the winning team must also be two points clear of their opponents.
  • A point is won when a team manages to land the volleyball in the opposition’s half of the court, and a point is lost when the volleyball is hit out of bounds or when a team does not return it legally.
  • Points are won irrespective of whether a team is serving or receiving. If they win a rally while defending, they win the right to serve.
  • The players begin the match in a fixed position – the three front-row players close to the net and the three back-row players at the baseline – although when a team wins a service point they rotate their positions clockwise.
  • A volleyball team may hit the ball three times in trying to manipulate a point-winning play. In doing so they are not permitted to hold the volleyball, however briefly, and cannot hit it twice without a teammate touching it in between.

Rules for beach volleyball

  • The rules and practices for this version of volleyball are the same as for indoor volleyball, with the following exceptions:
  • Beach players need to be more versatile, since there are only two players on a team and no substitutions are allowed, unlike in indoor volleyball.
  • The volleyball is the same size as the one used in indoor volleyball, but is heavier so that it is stable in the wind.
  • The court area is slightly smaller than an indoor court, measuring 16m (52.49ft) x 8m (26.25ft).
  • The players have no fixed position and can attack from anywhere on their side of the court.
  • Matches are the best of three sets, with the first two being the first to 21 points and the third being the first to 15 – although teams have to win by a two-point margin.