Basic Volleyball Rules

Here are the basic volleyball rules to help you organize your own game.

These volleyball basics will provide a general understanding of the game so you can enjoy participating as a player or a fan.

Object

Volleyball is a game played by two 6-player teams.

The teams line up on opposite sides of a net, and the object is to send the volleyball over the net within the court boundary lines so that the opposing team is unable to return it before it hits the ground.

Any part of the body above the waist can be used to hit the ball.

Playing Area

The court is rectangular in shape with boundary lines marked.

The ball must be completely outside of the line to be considered out of bounds.

The net itself is 1 m high (3’ 3”) and 9.5 m long. The top of the net is 2.43 m (7’11”) above the ground.

For specific details about the volleyball court size and layout, see volleyball court dimensions.

If you need volleyball court pictures, check out our free, downloadable volleyball court diagrams

Equipment

All you really need is a volleyball and a volleyball net.

Wilson Official AVP Outdoor Game Volleyball

Volleyball

Gold Medal Pro Power 2 Volleyball Net

Volleyball net

Positions

basic volleyball rules

When the ball is served, players must line up in two rows with 3 players in each row.

Once the ball is served, players may move anywhere on their own side of the net.

When there is a change of service, team members on the serving team rotate one position clockwise before serving.

The order of rotation must stay constant for each set, but it may be changed before a new set begins.

Basic Volleyball Rules

Duration

In international and collegiate competition, a match is the best of 5 sets. For high school teams and younger, matches are often the best out of 3 sets.

Ends of the Court

Before play begins, the team captains toss a coin to determine who will serve first and what side of the net each team will start on. Teams change ends after each set unless the next game will decide the winner. In that case, there’s a new coin toss to choose ends and service. In a deciding set, the teams change ends after one side has reached 8 points.

Basic Volleyball Rules

Serve

The referee blows a whistle to signal the time to serve. The serve may be either underhanded or overhanded.

volleyball overhand serve

Overhand Serve



volleyball underhand serve

Underhand Serve

The player in the back right-hand corner of the serving team puts the ball into play by standing in the service area (anywhere behind the end line) and striking the ball with her hand or any part of her arm to send it over the net into the opponent’s court.

A service fault occurs if the ball:

  • touches a member of the serving team.
  • lands outside of the opponent’s court.
  • fails to go over the net.

A player keeps serving until her team commits a fault and a "side-out" is called. Then the other team gets to serve.

Basic Volleyball Rules

Scoring

If a team fails to return the ball correctly over the net, a fault is recorded against it. If the team is serving, it loses the service. This is called “side-out.”

In rally point scoring, points can be scored by either team and points are awarded after every fault.

A set is won when a team reaches 25 points, but the team has to win by at least 2 points. If the game is tied at 24-24, play continues until one team has a 2-point lead.

A match is the best-of-five sets. (Usually, if a fifth set is necessary, it’s usually played to 15 points.) High school teams and younger often play the best-of-three sets to 25.

Basic Volleyball Rules

Playing the Ball

Each team may touch the ball a maximum of 3 times before hitting it back over the net. Contact is allowed with any part of the body above the waist as long as the hit is clean and the ball is not held, scooped, or carried in any way. If 2 players contact the ball at the same time, it counts as 2 hits.

A hit is good if the ball touches the net and drops inbounds in the opponent’s court.

The ball is out of play if it touches the ground or any object outside of the court boundary lines.

There are basically 4 ways to hit a ball that has crossed over the net:

Forearm Pass (Bump)

volleyball forearm pass

Used to hit a ball that's below the head.

It's typically the best way to return a serve.

The hands are clasped in front with the thumbs together, side by side, with one hand wrapped around the fist of the other.

The arms are held out straight with the elbows locked and the knees bent.

The arms should contact the ball about a third of the way between the wrists and the elbows (closer to the wrists.)

Set

volleyball set

Used when a player tries to place the ball up high in the air near the net, so that a teammate can spike the ball.

It's used when the ball is above the head, and it's hit with the pads of the fingers. 

Spike

volleyball spike

Striking the ball over the net with such force and downward angle that it's difficult to return.

Dink

volleyball dink

Contacting a ball that's above the net with the fingertips and tipping it over the net in a controlled fashion.

Basic Volleyball Rules

Fouls

A team loses the serve or a point if:

  • a player hits the ball while reaching over the top of the net on the opponent’s side.
  • a player crosses the vertical plane of the net (either above or below it) and touches the court or an opponent while play is in progress.
  • a player interferes with an opponent’s play.
  • the ball touches the ground.
  • a team hits the ball more than 3 times before it goes over the net.
  • the ball touches a player below the waist.
  • a player touches the ball 2 times in a row before another player touches it.
  • a team is out of position when the serve begins.
  • the ball is held or pushed.
  • a player touches the net.
  • a player on the back row returns the ball from above net height.
  • the ball doesn’t go over the net in between the vertical rods.
  • the ball touches the ground outside the court.
  • the ball is returned with the use of a teammate as a support.
  • a player reaches under the net and touches the ball or an opponent while the ball is on the opponent’s side.
  • a substitute enters the game illegally.
  • a block is illegal.
  • a serve is illegal.

Basic Volleyball Rules

Blocking

volleyball block

Blocking is an attempt to stop the ball from coming over the net with any part of the body.

One or more players on the front row can try to block the ball as long as they indicate their intent by raising a hand above the top of the net.

If a player blocks a ball, she may hit it a second time (but this will count as the team’s second hit.)

If the ball touches more than one of the blocking teammates, even if it doesn’t hit them at the same time, it only counts as one hit.

Substitutions

Each team may make up to 6 substitutions in each set, but only when the ball is dead. Anyone playing at the start of a set may be replaced only once. The original player may go back during the same set, but she has to return to her previous rotational position. A substitute who leaves the game cannot return in the same set. A sub may be replaced only by the player whose place she took.

Basic Volleyball Rules

Modifications

Depending on the number of players, skill level, available equipment, or the size of your playing area, you can modify the basic volleyball rules to fit your needs.

How about a little volleyball...

...on the beach?

...in the pool?

...in the mud?

beach volleyball
Intex Recreation Pool Volleyball Game

mud volleyball

Here are some modifications you can make to get a game going:

  • Use a lower net.
  • Use a bigger, lighter ball like a beach ball or balloon.
Giant Beach Ball 42
Featherlite Volleyball
Giant Inflatable Volleyball 48
  • Play with several balls at the same time.
  • Have either more or less players on a team.
  • Use a larger court if you have a lot of players, and a smaller court if you have fewer players.
  • For an indoor activity, have players sit down either on the floor or in chairs.
  • With a beach ball or balloon and a low net, lie down on the floor and hit the ball with your feet.
  • Throw the ball over and catch it before it hits the floor instead of hitting it.
  • Don't set a limit on the number of hits a team can have before returning the ball over the net.
  • Play in the dark.
LED Lighted, Full-size, Glow in the Dark Light-up Volleyball

These are just a few ways to tweak the basic volleyball rules to fit your needs. Maybe they’ll give you some ideas for adapting the game to make it more fun for your group. 

To find some fun kids sports activities that include modified volleyball games, check out our list of free kids games

In addition to basic volleyball rules, find simple rules for other popular sports

>> >> Basic Volleyball Rules
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volleyball poster

Volleyball Balls

Pool Volleyball Net