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Scoring The court
Serving Officials
Playing positions Faults
Substitutions Equipment
Ball rules Glossary

The volleyball court

The volleyball court


History of the game

Objective: Two teams of six players attempt to get the ball across the net using any part of the body above the waist, so that the opposing team cannot return it. A team is allowed to hit the ball three times (in addition to the block contact) to return it to the opponent's court. A player is not allowed to hit the ball twice in a row, except when attempting a block. The rally continues until the ball touches the ground/floor, goes "out" or a team fails to return it to the opponent's court or commits a fault.

Volleyball is usually played indoors. There is no time limit on a game of volleyball, but there are sets. A team will usually have to win two of three sets, or for international and tournament games, usually three of five sets to win the game. There is a break of three minutes between sets, and coaches may call two 30-second (maximum) time-outs in each set. Players can be called to the side of the court for instruction.

The winning team is the first to score 25 points, and be ahead by at least two points.



There are two types of scoring in volleyball.

Rally point scoring
The team winning a rally scores a point. When the receiving team wins a rally, they gain a point and the right to serve, and its players rotate one position clockwise.

The best of three or best of five games will win matches. Each non-deciding game will be won by the team that first scores 25 points with a minimum two-point advantage. If there is a deciding game, it will be won by the team that first scores 15 points with a minimum two-point advantage.

This system is used for major competitions.

Sideout scoring
Only the serving team may score a point, except in the deciding game when rally-point scoring is used. When the receiving team wins a rally, it gains the right to serve (also scoring a point in the deciding game), and its players rotate one position clockwise. Rotatation ensures that players play at both the net and the back zone of the court.

A team wins a game by scoring 15 points with a two-point advantage and wins the match by winning the best of three or five games. In the event of a 16-16 tie, the team scoring the 17th point wins a non-deciding game with only a one-point advantage. In a deciding game play continues until one team is two points ahead.


The ball is served by the back right hand player (see diagram) across the net.

Volleyball playing positions

The blue arrow marks the spot where the serve would be made from. The player would serve and return to the court. The ball is served with one hand (open or closed) and has to go across the net. The ball is thrown into the air with both hands, and hit with either one hand or arm. Only one attempt at serve is allowed.

The team with the right to serve first serves at the start of set 1 and 3. The opposing team will serve at the start of sets 2 and 4. In a five set match, a coin will be tossed to decide which team serves first, and for the right to choose ends.

The server may move around within the service area, and jump to make the serve. As long as the server stays off the court. For major matches, there is a 'free zone' around the court, extending from between 2 to 5 metres (6 feet 6 to 16 feet) from the sides, and 2 to 8 (6 feet 6 to 26 feet) metres from the ends, and the server is also not allowed to step into this zone while making the serve. The service area extends back to the limit of the free zone.

However, the serving player can land inside either the court or the free zone after releasing the ball. Once the referee has signalled for the match to begin, the server has five seconds to make the serve.

Any player can receive the serve, and one player can theoretically serve for all 25 points. The serving would continue until that team lost service. If a player serves out of rotation order, all points gained in that sequence are lost, and the team lose possession of the ball. The team must be back in rotational order before play restarts.

The receiving team must be able to see the server and the ball at all times. The serving team must not block the view of either the server or the ball.

Let serve
The ball is allowed to contact the net during the serve. If the ball travels over the net, between the antennas, and ends up the opponents court, it is legal.

Playing positions

The team to serve first is decided by a toss of a coin. The captain of the team which wins the toss can choose either to serve, or which side of court to play on. In the diagram above the numbers mark where the receiving team could be positioned, although the diagram is a guide only.

At the moment that the ball is hit by the server, the players must be in their own court, and in lines, not necessarily straight, but two distinct lines. The back row players must be further from the net than the front row players.

Players on both sides remain in playing positions at each service until a side-out. When the team who is serving changes between sets, it is the serving team who rotate players, as according to the black arrows on the diagram above, one place clockwise. The team which lost the service does not rotate.

The rotation order remains the same through a set, and can only be changed at the start of a new set. Once the ball has been served, the players can move around their own side of the court and play in any position.

The reason that teams rotate is so that every member of the team has a chance to play in every position on the court.


Up to six substitutes may be played in one set. Any player who joins the game as a substitute can only be substituted themselves by the player they replaced originally. Substitutes can only be made during breaks in play (time-outs, between set breaks, or when the ball is out of play), and with the permission of the referee.

The libero
This player wears a different coloured uniform from the rest of the team and can be substituted in backcourt for any player on the team. The libero (free) cannot serve, spike the ball over the net, or rotate into the front-line positions, but recieves serves and defends the backcourt. There must be at least one point played between a libero substituting off for a player and going back on the court for another player - hence they cannot be on the court for the whole game.

Ball rules

Each team is allowed up to three contacts with the ball to get it over the net. If a front player jumps to block the ball before it comes over the net, and it remains in the opposing teams court, that does not count as a contact.

What does count as a contact is when the ball is passed between members of the same team, and every time a player hits the ball. Players cannot touch the ball twice in a row, unless as part of a block, but they can touch it as part of the same play, for example, first and third contact.

The ball is not supposed to stop in the players hands. If it does, it is a 'held ball' and this counts as a fault.

Front row players can play an attacking hit from anywhere in their own side of the court. Back row players must not step on or in front of the attack line when they play an attacking shot, or a block. However, back row players CAN play from in front of the attack line, if the ball is below the level of the top of the net.

If the ball hits the net from a service and does not go over, it is a fault against the serving side, and they would lose possession. The ball is allowed to hit the net during a serve if it goes over the net. If the ball hits the net and goes over during the course of a rally, play continues.

The ball can be hit from off the court, providing it has not hit the ground before the player hits it. The ball must always be played with a part of the body above and including the knees.

If two players on opposing teams both touch the ball at the same time, and the ball stays in play, the receiving team are allowed three more contacts, however, if the ball goes out of play then the serving team have played a 'ball out' fault.

A team can hit the ball into the net and still play it, as long as they stop the ball from hitting the ground, and they have enough contacts left to play it.

The volleyball court

Volleyball court diagram

The net is 2.43 metres (8 feet) high for men, 2.24 metres (7 feet 4 inches) high for women.

If games go to a deciding set in a match, the teams change ends when one team has reached eight points. Then player who was serving continues to serve, unless, of course, the team lost the previous service.


To make sure that the rules are followed, there are a number of official people present at volleyball games. The first referee sits in a high chair on a level with the top of the net, so there is a clear view across the top of the net and the court.

The second referee stands opposite the first referee, close to the scorer's table and substitute benches. There may also be four line officials (linesmen is sometimes used) at each corner of the court, and they say whether a ball is in or out, and whether a player touched the ball. Sometimes there may only be two line officials, one at a corner, facing each other diagonally.

The scorer usually sits at a table on the opposite side of court from the first referee. The scorer's responsibility is to keep a record of the scores, names and numbers of team members, the team coach, and time-outs, substitutions, and makes sure that the order of rotation is followed correctly.


Faults can lead to a loss of point to the opposing team, or a side-out.

The following rules apply:

- if the ball touches the ground

- if the ball does not go over the net, between the net posts

- if the ball crosses centre line underneath the net

- if the ball hits the net posts, or the imaginary upward extensions of the posts

- if the ball is played more than three times in a row by one team

- two opposing players hold the ball at the same time

- if the ball is held or rests in someone's hands

- if the ball is played twice in a row by one player (double contact)

- if the ball lands outside the court lines, or touches a player or object outside the court without first touching an opponent (ball out)

- a player touches the net or the net posts

- a player deliberately touches an opponent

- if the ball touches a member of the same team from the serve

- if the ball touches the net or net posts

- if the ball does not go over the net from the serve

- player(s) illegally screen (stand in front of) the serving player so that the receiving team cannot see the server or the ball

- positional fault, player in wrong position

- rotational fault, team rotation not done correctly

- illegal substitution

- delayed substitution after second time-out

- interfering with the ball while it is in the opponents half of court

- going onto the opponents side of the court

- leaving the court without permission of the referee

- playing an attacking hit while the ball is in the opponents half of court

- back line player plays attacking hit from inside attack line, unless the ball is below the level of the top of the net

- blocking the ball either side of the net posts

- blocking a service

- blocking by a back line player

- player receives a misconduct penalty, for arguing, unsporting behaviour, and so on

If a player is guilty of misconduct, the team will be penalized as above. If it happens again, there will be a warning from the referee about behaviour, and players can be dismissed from the game for repeated infractions of the misconduct rule, or instantly for showing any aggression towards another player of official. If a team cannot bring on a substitute and keep the numbers on court at six, they lose the match automatically.

If two opposing players commit faults at the same time, they cancel each other out, and the ball is replayed from the last serve.


The ball

The ball is round and covered in leather with a rubber or similar inside. It is a light colour, often white, and the circumference is between 65 and 67 centimetres (25 and a half to 26 inches), and must weigh between 260 and 280 grammes (10 and 10 and a half ounces). It is inflated to a pressure of 0.40 to 0.45 kilograms per square centimetre.

The net

The net is stretched across the court, 1 metre (3 feet) deep and 9.5 metres (31 feet 6 inches long). There is a flexible cable through the canvas fold at the top, and at the bottom. As the net goes beyond the distance of the court, two white canvas tapes are placed vertically up and down the net above where the sidelines are.

Extending up from the tapes are flexible poles 10 millimetres in diameter and 1.8 metres (6 feet) long. They extend from the top of the net by 80 centimetres (31 inches). They are part of the net, and count as the side limits. These antennae should be painted in red and white stripes so they are clearly visible.

The net height is 2.43 metres (8 feet) high for men, 2.24 metres (7 feet 4 inches) high for women. There is a slight difference for beach volleyball (see below).

The net is supported by two posts (often adjustable), each 2.55 metres (8 feet 3 inches) high. The posts are between 0.6 to 1 metre (1 foot 6 inches to 3 feet 3 inches) from the side-lines and must not be attached to the floor with cables or wires.


Beach volleyball is a variation of volleyball, played on a beach. The court size is 16 metres by 8 metres, and rules are the same as standard volleyball, but there are only two players per side.

For beach volleyball, matches are played best of three sets using the rally point system. The first two sets are played to 21 points, with the final set being played to 15 points. A team must win a set by two points. There is no point limit, so a set continues until one of the teams gains a two-point advantage.


Ace - a serve that hits the ground before the receiving team have had a chance to hit it back

Aerials - another name for the antennae, the upward extensions of the net posts by 80 centimetres (2.6 feet) to act as a guide for serving

Attacking block - a block which attempts to hit the ball straight into the opponents court

Back court - the area of court between the attack line and the base line

Back-court spike - a spike or smash by a back court player

Block - stopping a ball

Dead ball - when the ball is out of play

Dig - playing the ball from below waist height with one or both hands

Follow-through - completing the movements of a play

Foot fault - a server causes a foot fault of one of the feet touches or passes over the back line while serving, any other player has a foot fault called if their foot or feet crosses the centre line into the opposing side of court

Front court - the area of court between the attack line and the net

Hard block - when the blockers attack a smashed ball

Jump pass - a set made by player while in the air

Lob pass - a ball passed in a high curve

Multiple attack / block - when two or three players take part in an attack / block

Multiple contact - when a player contacts the ball more than once in a play. This is allowed as long the player does not touch it twice in a row

Net ball - a ball which touches the net (except on the service) is a net ball. It is allowed to go into the opponents side of court

Net fault - contact with the net is only a fault when the ball is being played into the attack zone

Net serve - if a service touches the net, antennae or imaginary extension of the antennae, it is a net service, and the serve goes to the other team

Out of bounds - the ball is out (of bounds) if it bounces outside the court

Pass - when the ball is sent from one player to another through the air

Recovery - when the ball is hit from an awkward position, like from hitting the net

Set - this can be one game in a match, or also a high pass to another member of the same team so that they can smash or spike

Set pass - passing the ball to the player who is to spike or smash it

Side-out - when the team wins a rally and they did not serve, they rotate.

Soft block - when the receiving player plays the ball off themselves to another player on their team

Smash / Spike - a powerful shot hit with the open hand directed into the opponents side of the court. Front line players can spike from anywhere on the court, back line players must be behind the attack line

Switch - after the serve, player move around on court to the favoured positions

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