Rules of Volleyball

Did you know that, after football/soccer, volleyball is the second biggest participation sport in the world?

It’s estimated that as many as 800 million people play the sport at least once a week, figures which leave some other major sports, such as cricket, basketball and table tennis in their wake.

The game’s history dates back to 1895, when an American sports instructor working for the YMCA decided to formulate a set of rules for a game which could be played between two teams of men, but which would involve less physical contact than basketball.

He decided to use tennis as the basis for the game, but instead of it being placed on the ground, decided that the net separating the two halves of the court should be just higher than the top of an average man’s head, at 6 feet 6 inches (2 metres) off the ground.

The game got its name because during a demonstration, an observer commented to the game’s inventor, William G Morgan, that the two teams appeared to be volleying the ball back and forth over the net.

The rules of the modern game of volleyball are overseen by the international governing body, the Federation Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB).

Volleyball has been an Olympic sport since 1964.

How many players make up a volleyball team?

Volleyball matches are most often played between two teams of six players. A team may have up to 14 players, and teams are allowed to switch between the players on the court, subject to certain provisions. These include that a player who returns to the court having already played in a game must return to the action in the same position as they occupied previously.

Players take up set positions on the court, and unlike in many sports, they rotate these positions during the course of a game.

The players’ positions are highly specialised and strategic. So each player has a primary responsibility in each game, although they are by no means restricted to doing only these activities.

The positions on the court are as follows:
Setter: This player sets up high quality attacks and distributes the ball to his or her spikers or hitters. Also called the control tower, the setter is responsible for overseeing the delivery of the ball to the player most likely to score.
Outside Hitter/Open Hitter: These are the players at the front of the court who score most of the points. In a game of volleyball, outside hitters are primarily responsible for attacks while the opposite hitters help with blocking the opposing team’s outside hitter.
Players in these positions need good jumping ability, as well as good co-ordination and power to hit the ball as hard and accurately as possible. Volleyball is also a game in which both left- and right-handed players can play an equal part.

Middle Blocker/Middle Hitter: Middle blockers play in the centre of the court, and transition between blockers and hitters depending whether their team is on the defensive or offensive.

In both roles these players need to be able to judge the movement of the ball and be mobile enough to be in position to attack the ball as required.

Middle blockers or hitters tend to be the tallest players in a volleyball game. They use their height along with their leaping ability, agility and timing to attack and defend effectively.

Libero: This Italian word describes the position of defensive players who receive serves or attacks from the other team. They are usually the most mobile players on the team and those with the fastest reactions. The libero is the only position where height does not confer a particular advantage. 

The libero is the only player on the court who can replace a back row player. But after being substituted, they must wait for a point to be completed before they can return to the court. Because of this extra freedom, a libero wears a different-coloured kit from their team-mates, so they can be readily identified by the referee.

What equipment do you need to play volleyball?

A volleyball game is played on a rectangular playing area, known as a court, measuring 18 metres deep and nine metres wide. 

The surface must be flat, horizontal and uniform. For official matches, only a wooden or synthetic surface is allowed. On indoor courts the surface of the playing court must be of a light colour. Other colours, different from each other, are required for the playing court and the free zone. Two side lines and two end lines mark the playing court. Both side lines and end lines are drawn inside the dimensions of the playing court. The court is divided into two equal halves of 9 metres square by a centre line, across which is placed the net. This line extends beneath the net and across the length of the court between the two side lines. Each half of the court also has an attack line, whose rear edge is 3 metres behind the front line.

The net is one of the most important pieces of volleyball equipment, as it divides the court into two halves and either team can only score points once they have manoeuvred the ball over it and into their opponents’ half.

The ball used to play the game has a circumference of approximately 26 inches (65cm) and weighs about 10 ounces (280 grams). The pressure inside the ball should be between 4.26 and 4.61 psi. 

How do you start a game of volleyball?

Before the start of a game, the two teams will play a short set of points to decide who will serve first.

To start the game, the player hitting the serve must shoot from behind the end line and choose whether to serve underhand or overhand – that is, either by hitting the ball from about waist height, striking the ball from underneath it, or by throwing the ball up straight above their head, and bringing their other arm up to hit the ball while it is still above them. The ball must land on the other side of the court, but is allowed to graze the net on its way.

How do you score points in volleyball?

The object of volleyball is to hit the ball over the net, using only your hands, and trying to get it to bounce in your opponents’ half. The opposing team has to try to prevent the ball from bouncing before returning it over the net. 

A point is scored when a team wins a rally. Every rally begins with a serve and ends when a team wins a point. They do this either by sending the ball over the net so that the defending team fail to return it. 

A team can hit the ball to each other a maximum of three times before returning it to the other side of the court.

Every time a team wins a point, they will rotate their position in a clockwise direction around the court.

A team can hit the ball to each other a maximum of three times before returning it to the other side of the court.

What counts as a foul or penalty in volleyball?

If a player on the other team commits a fault, it’s also possible for your team to win a point, or to be allowed the chance to serve the ball to re-start the game. When this occurs after an offence is committed, it’s called a side-out.

Here is a list of faults that can be called during a game and their consequences.

At the Line-up

  • If a player is not in the correct line-up position after a set starts, they must go back to their line-up position. Play re-starts with a side-out to the other team.
  • If a player enters the court when not on the team roster. A revised line-up must be submitted and a new registered player has to be sent onto the court. Penalty: The team at fault loses all points and sets from the moment the unregistered player entered the court (even if this leads to a 0:25 score) plus a side-out.
  • A player is illegally substituted. Penalty: offending team loses all points and sets from the moment the unregistered player entered the court (even if this leads to a 0:25 score) plus a side-out.

Faults When Playing The Ball

  • Four Hits: If a team has more than three contacts with the ball on their own side of the court in any play – discounting any blocking hit – they concede a side-out
  • Assisted Hit: A player is lifted or supported by a team-mate or other object/structure in reaching the ball within the playing area. Penalty: side-out
  • Catch: Catching then throwing a ball rather than it rebounding off a player’s body. Penalty: side-out
  • Double Contact: If any part of a player’s body strikes the ball more than once in succession. Penalty: side-out
  • Ball Out: The ball lands completely outside the playing court. Penalty: side-out

Faults at the Net

  • A player contacts the ball in the opponent’s playing space before or during their opponent’s attack hit. Penalty: side-out
  • A player interferes with the opponent’s play by standing in or moving into the space under the net. Penalty: side-out
  • A player’s foot completely crosses over the centre line and goes into the opponent’s court. Penalty: side-out
  • A player touches the net or net posts. Penalty: side-out

Service Faults

  • A player serves out of their team’s line-up order. Penalty: side-out
  • A player steps on the end line when serving. Penalty: side-out
  • The served ball fails to completely clear the space above the net. Penalty: side-out
  • Screen: players in front of the server obscure the view of the server and the path of the ball. Penalty: side-out

Attack Hit Faults

  • A player hits the ball while it is still on the opponent’s side of the net. Penalty: side-out
  • A back-row player contacts the ball from the front zone when it is above the height of the net. Penalty: side-out
  • A player completes an attack hit or contacts the ball above the height of the net directly on the opponent’s serve. Penalty: side-out
  • A Libero hits the ball while it is above the height of the net. Penalty: side-out
  • A player completes an attack hit from an overhead finger pass from a Libero in the front zone. Penalty: side-out

Blocking Faults

  • The blocker makes contact with the ball in the opponent’s space before or during the opponent’s attack hit. Penalty: side-out
  • A back-row player or Libero participates in a completed block. Penalty: side-out
  • A player blocks the opponent’s service. Penalty: side-out
  • A ball lands “out” off a player’s block. Penalty: side-out
  • The Libero attempts to perform a solo or team block. Penalty: side-out

How is the result in a game of volleyball decided?

A team wins a set of volleyball by being the first to score 25 points, and also having a lead of at least two points over their opponents. A match is usually played as the best of three sets – so the first team to win two sets wins the match. Each set is separated by an interval of three minutes.

But, as described in the section below, in each set, one team must win by at least two points, so the sets continue beyond one team reaching 25 points if they are only one point in front, until there is a two-point margin between them. 

How long does a game of volleyball last?

Unlike many other sports, a game of volleyball is not played over a set amount of time. Instead, the length of a game is decided largely by how well matched the two teams are. 

So if the two teams in a game of volleyball are very closely matched, and the score in a set reaches 24-24, a game  can continue over the 25-point maximum. The final deciding game of a match is won by the first team to reach 15 points, but the two-point difference rule still applies. 

What variations exist in the game of volleyball?

There are two main different types of game based on the regular game of volleyball:

Beach volleyball: Rather than consisting of six players per side, there are just two players in each team for beach volleyball.

The game’s rules are set by the FIVB, the same body as with the original version of volleyball.

As in the indoor game, each team has three hits on its side of the court before the ball must be returned over the net.

The court is smaller, at 16 metres long by eight metres wide (as opposed to 18m x 9m for the indoor game).

The team which wins a rally scores a point. When the team receiving the serve wins a rally, it gains a point and the right to serve. The serving player is alternated after every point.

A beach volleyball game is decided on a best-of-21-points basis, rather than the 25 points competed for in the regular game.

Sitting volleyball: This is a variant of the game specifically designed for players with limited or no mobility in their legs.

The sport is open to players with any of the following impairments: amputations, spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, brain injuries and stroke.

Sitting volleyball is played on a 10 metre by six metre court between teams of six players, as with the principal sport. However, because the players are closer to the ground than if they were standing, the top of the net is accordingly lower, at 1.15 metres from the ground in a men’s game, and 1.05 metres high for women.

The rules regarding scoring points, game time and fouls are the same as in the able-bodied version, and the only variation made to the rules to take account of players’ mobility is that they must always have one buttock in contact with the floor of the court.