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Volleyball Rules & Regulations

Volleyball is an exciting, fast paced sport in which two teams (separated by an elevated net) compete to down the ball on the opponent’s side of the court. Formal volleyball matches must adhere to a set of rules that control the size of the court, the number of players, equipment specifications and game play. Though the rules governing most levels of volleyball are very similar, each official body has their own specific set of rules and regulations.

The information below is a general overview of basic volleyball policies. For more specific information regarding the particular rules of each governing body, please see the links at the bottom of the page.

Basic Principles of the Game

Knowing and understanding the basic tenets of volleyball can be helpful for volleyball newbies and veterans alike. That being said, here is an outline of fundamental rules of the game:

Don’t Let the Ball Hit the Floor on Your Side of the Net

The primary objective in volleyball is make the ball hit the floor on the opponent’s side of the court, while simultaneously preventing it from dropping on your side. Volleyball players go to great lengths to keep the ball from hitting the court—and they have the scrapes and bruises to prove it.

Three Contacts/Hits per Side

Each team is allowed a maximum of three contacts before it must send the ball back over the net. The preferred sequence is a dig (an underarm pass made with the forearms), followed by a set (an overhead pass with the hands), and then an attack (overhead one-handed hit directed over the net and towards the opponent).

Teams are also permitted to block the ball as it comes over the net. The resulting contact does not count towards the three contacts per side. In theory, this means that a team could technically contact the ball four times (with the first contact being a block) without penalty.

Players Must Rotate Clockwise

In volleyball, six players rotate clockwise through six different positions on their side of the net. There are three front row positions (left front, middle front, and right front) and three back row positions (left back, middle back, and right back). Teams rotate with each new server, and no person can serve more than once in succession.

No Player Can Hit the Ball Twice in Succession

The rules state that no player is allowed to hit the ball multiple times in row. While this principle appears to be straightforward, it can get a little confusing: If the double contact occurs on a team’s initial hit it is a legal play. However, the double becomes illegal if a player makes two separate attempts to hit the ball. In other words, you may “double the ball” (volleyball slang for hitting the ball twice) as long as it is on your team’s first contact and you made a single motion to contact the ball.

If you want to know more about the ramifications and applications of this rule, click here to check out the guide on ball handing.

A Player May Not Cause the Ball to Come to a Rest During Contact

Volleyball can be categorized as a “rebound” sport because the rules prevent participants from contacting the ball for a prolonged amount of time. Players are not allowed to carry, palm or throw the ball.

The Net is Off-Limits

No part of a player’s body or uniform is allowed to touch the net, but, participants are permitted to play the ball out of the net during a volley and a serve.

Game Play

Like tennis, volleyball matches are broken up into individual sets (also called games); a team must win a majority of the games in the series in order to win the match. Most matches are made up of either three or five games. Before the start of a match, the referee will conduct a captain’s meeting and a coin toss. The winner of the coin toss has the option of choosing to serve or to receive the serve. The privilege of the “first serve” will then alternate between teams in subsequent games.

The first team to 25 points wins the game, but play continues until one team wins by at least two points. For example, if the score is tied at 24-24 and team “A” scores point 25, the game is not yet done because neither team has gained a two point advantage.

Court & Equipment

Volleyball is played on a rectangular court measuring 18 x 9 meters. The court is divided into two equal parts by a center line and a net. The net resides over the center line and stands at a height of 2.43 m for men and 2.24 m for women.

For more information on court and equipment specifications, click here to check out the volleyball court dimensions guide on Isport.

Scoring

A point is awarded when play stops at the end of each rally. A team does not need to be serving to score points. This scoring method is called “the rally point system.”

Some common scoring tactic include: Setting up hits to aim at the weaker players on the team; aiming for vacant areas on the court; or spiking the ball close-in to the opponent''''s side of the net. Any rule infraction will also results in a point for the other team.

Substitutions

There are a set number of substitutions allotted per game (the specific amount differs according to league and/or level of play). A player may substitute into the game only during dead ball situations. To enter the game, a coach or player must request a substitution from the official, after which the substitute must enter the substitution zone and wait for the referee’s approval.

The Skills

There are five fundamental skills in the sport of volleyball: serving, passing, setting, blocking, and hitting. While it is natural to have a greater inclination towards certain skills and not others, a player should have a general grasp of all the basic skills.

Below is a brief description of the skills and the rules that pertain to each.

Serving

The serve initiates play. While there are several different serving techniques—the underhand serve, float serve, jump serve, and top spin serve to name a few—the objective is always the same: send the ball over the net and into the opponent’s court.

To complete a legal serve, and thus begin the rally, the server must contact the ball behind the end line and between the sidelines. Most governing bodies restrict the amount of time a server has to hit the ball. Once the server makes contact, he/she can then continue past the end line and onto the main court.

The serve may touch the net as long as it passes over to the opponent’s side. If the server misses the serve and the ball does not go over the net, a sideout is called and a point is awarded to the other team.

Passing

The pass is a method of receiving an opponent’s serve and/or overhand attack. There are two popular forms of this skill: the forearm pass and the overhand pass. Proper technique for the forearm pass requires the passer to join the forearms together at waist level to form a platform with which to direct the ball to the desired target. When executing an overhand pass, the player users the hands to direct the ball.

The rules that most affect this skill are those regarding legal contact of the ball. Because it is illegal to catch, palm, or throw the ball, the passer receiving a hard driven ball must be sure to keep contact brief and precise.

Setting

When setting the ball, the goal is to position the ball in the air so that a teammate is able to easily complete an overhand attack/hit. The overhand technique –contacting the ball above the head with two hands simultaneously—is the most common method of setting. A team generally executes the set during its second contact.

Blocking

A block is an attempt to halt an opponent’s attack by jumping with the hands overhead to create a barrier at the net. The most common blocking violation is touching the net. Good technique can help prevent mishaps, but sometimes, net violations are inevitable.

Hitting

The attack usually takes place on a team’s third and final contact. Because an attacker’s goal is to down the ball on the other team’s side of the court, players often jump when striking the ball to increase the difficulty of receiving the hit. While any player is allowed to jump and attack a ball, only front row players may do so in the front row zone (the area between the center line and the three meter line).

Hitters must also be conscious of the rules regulating prolonged contact with the ball.

More Resources

As mentioned previously, many volleyball associations and/or leagues have their own rules. For more specific information regarding the intricacies of each governing body, please see the links below.

National Federation of State High School Associations
National Collegiate Athletic Association
USA Volleyball
International Federation of Volleyball (FIVB)

This volleyball guide offers an overview of the most important rules and regulations of the game.
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