Volleyball Rules

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the basics of the game of volleyball and the rules which must be followed in order to serve, set, and spike your way to victory in a match.

Rules of Volleyball

'What in the world is this?!' you exclaim, as you walk into a gymnasium to see a round white ball being pummeled over a net and off the forehead of a spandex-clad high-schooler. Surely, that was illegal - some form of assault, or at the very least the act of a very mean bully, right?

Not at all! What you just witnessed was the scoring of a point in the game of volleyball. In this lesson, we'll go over the basic rules of volleyball and explore what made that 'spike' you just witnessed a perfectly legal - even objective - part of the game!

Note that the version of volleyball we will be covering today is the original 6-person version played indoors on a court. However, many of these rules also apply to the 2-person version often played outside in the sand.

The Basics

Volleyball is played on a court with a net dividing the two teams. The height of the net varies according to gender. Generally, for men, nets should be 7 feet, 11.625 inches, while for women nets should set 7.5 inches lower at 7 feet, 4.125 inches. On either side of the net are two rectangles where the players for each team stand. Each team has six players, three in the front row and three in the back. There is only one ball in play at any time, the volleyball. A volleyball is slightly softer and slightly smaller than a regulation soccer ball.

The object of the game is to score more points than the other team. Teams score points by forcing the other team to allow the ball to hit the ground on their own side. Therefore, each team has two main objectives: 1) keep the volleyball up in the air while it is on their own side, and 2) hit the ball over the net to the other team in such a way that they cannot return the ball.

Matches and Points

A typical volleyball match consists of a best of 5-game series; the first team to win 3 games wins the match. The first four games are played to 25 points. If these are split 2-2, the fifth match only goes to 15 points. In order to win any game, a team must reach either 25 or 15 points and maintain a two-point advantage on the other team. For example, if one team scores a point to go up 25-24, the game will continue to be played until either team establishes a two-point lead. Not all matches are like this of course; point total and match length differs depending on league or tournament.

The out of bounds lines which mark the field of play are considered in bounds if any part of the ball strikes them; the entire ball must land completely out of bounds to be considered out. Regardless of where the ball lands out of bounds, the last team to touch the ball loses that point and the point is awarded to the other team.


All players on the volleyball court are not created equal. If a player from the backrow wants to 'attack' the ball - meaning strike the ball when it is in the front row and above the height of the net - he/she must jump from behind the line that separates the back row from the front. Players may go out of bounds to strike a ball and attempt to return it back into play.

Players rotate through positions and with the substitutes on their bench regularly. One notable exception is the libero. This is a specially designated player that is usually one of the team's defensive specialists and wears a different color shirt. He or she is, by rule, only allowed to play in the back row, but is exempt from regular rules concerning rotation and substitution. In fact, he or she can play every point of every game!

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