Volleyball is a popular team sport in which two teams of six players are separated by a net. Each team tries to score points by grounding a ball on the other team's court under organized rules. It has been a part of the official program of the Summer Olympic Games since Tokyo 1964.
The complete set of rules are extensive, but play essentially proceeds as follows: a player on one of the teams begins a 'rally' by serving the ball (tossing or releasing it and then hitting it with a hand or arm), from behind the back boundary line of the court, over the net, and into the receiving team's court. The receiving team must not let the ball be grounded within their court. The team may touch the ball up to 3 times, but individual players may not touch the ball twice consecutively. Typically, the first two touches are used to set up for an attack, an attempt to direct the ball back over the net in such a way that the serving team is unable to prevent it from being grounded in their court.
The rally continues, with each team allowed as many as three consecutive touches, until either (1): a team makes a kill, grounding the ball on the opponent's court and winning the rally; or (2): a team commits a fault and loses the rally. The team that wins the rally is awarded a point and serves the ball to start the next rally. A few of the most common faults include:
- causing the ball to touch the ground or floor outside the opponents' court or without first passing over the net;
- catching and throwing the ball;
- double hit: two consecutive contacts with the ball made by the same player;
- four consecutive contacts with the ball made by the same team;
- net foul: touching the net during play;
- foot fault: the foot crosses over the boundary line when serving.
The ball is usually played with the hands or arms, but players can legally strike or push (short contact) the ball with any part of the body.
A number of consistent techniques have evolved in volleyball, including spiking and blocking (because these plays are made above the top of the net, the vertical jump is an athletic skill emphasized in the sport) as well as passing, setting, and specialized player positions and offensive and defensive structures.
In the winter of 1895, in Holyoke, Massachusetts (United States), William G. Morgan, a YMCA physical education director, created a new game called Mintonette, a name derived from the game of badminton, as a pastime to be played (preferably) indoors and by any number of players. The game took some of its characteristics from other sports such as tennis and handball. Another indoor sport, basketball, was catching on in the area, having been invented just ten miles (sixteen kilometers) away in the city of Springfield, Massachusetts, only four years before. Mintonette was designed to be an indoor sport, less rough than basketball, for older members of the YMCA, while still requiring a bit of athletic effort.
The first rules, written down by William G Morgan, called for a net 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m) high, a 25 ft × 50 ft (7.6 m × 15.2 m) court, and any number of players.
After an observer, Alfred Halstead, noticed the volleying nature of the game at its first exhibition match in 1896, played at the International YMCA Training School (now called Springfield College), the game quickly became known as volleyball (it was originally spelled as two words: "volley ball"). Volleyball rules were slightly modified by the International YMCA Training School and the game spread around the country to various YMCAs.
The first official ball used in volleyball is disputed; some sources say Spalding created the first official ball in 1896, while others claim it was created in 1900. The rules evolved over time: in 1916, in the Philippines, the skill and power of the set and spike had been introduced, and four years later a "three hits" rule and a rule against hitting from the back row were established. In 1917, the game was changed from requiring 21 points to win to a smaller 15 points to win. In 1919, about 16,000 volleyballs were distributed by the American Expeditionary Forces to their troops and allies, which sparked the growth of volleyball in new countries.
The first country outside the United States to adopt volleyball was Canada in 1900. An international federation, the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB), was founded in 1947, and the first World Championships were held in 1949 for men and 1952 for women. The sport is now popular in Brazil, in Europe (where especially Italy, the Netherlands, and countries from Eastern Europe have been major forces since the late 1980s), in Russia, and in other countries including China and the rest of Asia, as well as in the United States.
Beach volleyball, a variation of the game played on sand and with only two players per team, became a FIVB-endorsed variation in 1987 and was added to the Olympic program at the 1996 Summer Olympics. Volleyball is also a sport at the Paralympics managed by the World Organization Volleyball for Disabled.
Nudists were early adopters of the game with regular organized play in clubs as early as the late 1920s. By the 1960s, a volleyball court had become standard in almost all nudist/naturist clubs.
Volleyball has been part of the Summer Olympics program for both men and women consistently since 1964.
Rules of the game
A volleyball court is 9 m × 18 m (29.5 ft × 59.1 ft), divided into equal square halves by a net with a width of one meter (39.4 in). The top of the net is 2.43 m (7 ft 11 11⁄16 in) above the center of the court for men's competition, and 2.24 m (7 ft 4 3⁄16 in) for women's competition, varied for veterans and junior competitions.
The minimum height clearance for indoor volleyball courts is 7 m (23.0 ft), although a clearance of 8 m (26.2 ft) is recommended.
A line 3 m (9.8 ft) from and parallel to the net is considered the "attack line".
After a team gains the serve (also known as siding out), its members must rotate in a clockwise direction, with the player previously in area "2" moving to area "1" and so on, with the player from area "1" moving to area "6". Each player rotates only one time after the team gains possession of the serve; the next time each player rotates will be after the other team wins possession of the ball and loses the point.
The team courts are surrounded by an area called the free zone which is a minimum of 3 meters wide and which the players may enter and play within after the service of the ball. All lines denoting the boundaries of the team court and the attack zone are drawn or painted within the dimensions of the area and are therefore a part of the court or zone.
FIVB regulations state that the ball must be spherical, made of leather or synthetic leather, have a circumference of 65–67 cm, a weight of 260–280 g and an inside pressure of 0.30–0.325 kg/cm2. Other governing bodies have similar regulations.
Each team consists of six players. To get play started, a team is chosen to serve by coin toss. A player from the serving team throws the ball into the air and attempts to hit the ball so it passes over the net on a course such that it will land in the opposing team's court (the serve). The opposing team must use a combination of no more than three contacts with the volleyball to return the ball to the opponent's side of the net. These contacts usually consist first of the bump or pass so that the ball's trajectory is aimed towards the player designated as the setter; second of the set (usually an over-hand pass using wrists to push finger-tips at the ball) by the setter so that the ball's trajectory is aimed towards a spot where one of the players designated as an attacker can hit it, and third by the attacker who spikes (jumping, raising one arm above the head and hitting the ball so it will move quickly down to the ground on the opponent's court) to return the ball over the net. The team with possession of the ball that is trying to attack the ball as described is said to be on offense.
The team on defense attempts to prevent the attacker from directing the ball into their court: players at the net jump and reach above the top (and if possible, across the plane) of the net to block the attacked ball. If the ball is hit around, above, or through the block, the defensive players arranged in the rest of the court attempt to control the ball with a dig (usually a fore-arm pass of a hard-driven ball). After a successful dig, the team transitions to offense.
The game continues in this manner, rallying back and forth, until the ball touches the court within the boundaries or until an error is made. The most frequent errors that are made are either to fail to return the ball over the net within the allowed three touches, or to cause the ball to land outside the court. A ball is "in" if any part of it touches the inside of a team's court or a sideline or end-line, and a strong spike may compress the ball enough when it lands that a ball which at first appears to be going out may actually be in. Players may travel well outside the court to play a ball that has gone over a sideline or end-line in the air.
Other common errors include a player touching the ball twice in succession, a player "catching" the ball, a player touching the net while attempting to play the ball, or a player penetrating under the net into the opponent's court.
A point is scored when the ball contacts the floor within the court boundaries or when an error is made: when the ball strikes one team's side of the court, the other team gains a point; and when an error is made, the team that did not make the error is awarded a point, in either case paying no regard to whether they served the ball or not.
Before 1999, points could be scored only when a team had the serve (side-out scoring) and all sets went up to only 15 points. The FIVB changed the rules in 1999 (with the changes being compulsory in 2000) to use the current scoring system (formerly known as rally point system), primarily to make the length of the match more predictable and to make the game more spectator- and television-friendly.
The final year of side-out scoring at the NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship was 2000. Rally point scoring debuted in 2001, and games were played to 30 points through 2007. For the 2008 season, games were renamed "sets" and reduced to 25 points to win. Most high schools in the U.S. changed to rally scoring in 2003, and several states implemented it the previous year on an experimental basis.
The libero player was introduced internationally in 1998, and made its debut for NCAA competition in 2002. The libero is a player specialized in defensive skills: the libero must wear a contrasting jersey color from their teammates and cannot block or attack the ball when it is entirely above net height. When the ball is not in play, the libero can replace any back-row player, without prior notice to the officials. This replacement does not count against the substitution limit each team is allowed per set, although the libero may be replaced only by the player whom he or she replaced. Most U.S. high schools added the libero position from 2003 to 2005.
The modern day libero often takes on the role of a second setter.
The libero is, generally, the most skilled defensive player on the team.
Furthermore, a libero is not allowed to serve, according to international rules.
Other rule changes enacted in 2000 include allowing serves in which the ball touches the net, as long as it goes over the net into the opponents' court.
In 2008, the NCAA changed the minimum number of points needed to win any of the first four sets from 30 to 25 for women's volleyball (men's volleyball remained at 30 for another 3 years, switching to 25 in 2011.) If a fifth (deciding) set is reached, the minimum required score remains at 15.
The Official Volleyball Rules are prepared and updated every few years by the FIVB's Rules of the Game and Refereeing Commission. The latest edition is usually available on the FIVB's website.
Competitive teams master six basic skills: serve, pass, set, attack, block and dig. Each of these skills comprises a number of specific techniques that have been introduced over the years and are now considered standard practice in high-level volleyball.
A player stands behind the inline and serves the ball, in an attempt to drive it into the opponent's court.
In contemporary volleyball, many types of serves are employed:
- Underhand: a serve in which the player strikes the ball below the waist instead of tossing it up and striking it with an overhand throwing motion.
- Sky ball serve: a specific type of underhand serve occasionally used in beach volleyball, where the ball is hit so high it comes down almost in a straight line. This serve was invented and employed almost exclusively by the Brazilian team in the early 1980s and is now considered outdated. During the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, however, the sky ball serve was extensively played by Italian beach volleyball player Adrian Carambula. In Brazil, this serve is called Jornada nas Estrelas (Star Trek)
- Topspin: an overhand serve where the player tosses the ball high and hits it with a wrist snap, giving it topspin which causes it to drop faster than it would otherwise and helps maintain a straight flight path.
- Float: an overhand serve where the ball is hit with no spin so that its path becomes unpredictable, akin to a knuckleball in baseball.
- Jump serve: an overhand serve where the ball is first tossed high in the air, then the player makes a timed approach and jumps to make contact with the ball, hitting it with much pace and topspin.
- Jump float: an overhand serve where the ball is tossed high enough that the player may jump before hitting it similarly to a standing float serve.
Also called reception, the pass is the attempt by a team to properly handle the opponent's serve, or any form of attack.
The skill of passing involves fundamentally two specific techniques: underarm pass, or bump, where the ball touches the inside part of the joined forearms or platform, at waist line; and overhand pass, where it is handled with the fingertips, like a set, above the head. Either are acceptable in professional and beach volleyball; however, there are much tighter regulations on the overhand pass in beach volleyball.
The set is usually the second contact that a team makes with the ball. The main goal of setting is to put the ball in the air in such a way that it can be driven by an attack into the opponent's court. The setter coordinates the offensive movements of a team, and is the player who ultimately decides which player will actually attack the ball.
As with passing, one may distinguish between an overhand and a bump set.
Sometimes a setter refrains from raising the ball for a teammate to perform an attack and tries to play it directly onto the opponent's court.
As with a set or an overhand pass, the setter/passer must be careful to touch the ball with both hands at the same time. If one hand is noticeably late to touch the ball this could result in a less effective set, as well as the referee calling a 'double hit' and giving the point to the opposing team.
The attack, also known as the spike, is usually the third contact a team makes with the ball. The object of attacking is to handle the ball so that it lands on the opponent's court and cannot be defended. A player makes a series of steps (the "approach"), jumps, and swings at the ball.
Ideally the contact with the ball is made at the apex of the hitter's jump.
Contemporary volleyball comprises a number of attacking techniques:
- Backcourt (or backrow)/pipe attack: an attack performed by a back row player.
- Line and Cross-court Shot: refers to whether the ball flies in a straight trajectory parallel to the side lines, or crosses through the court in an angle.
- Dip/Dink/Tip/Cheat/Dump: the player does not try to make a hit, but touches the ball lightly, so that it lands on an area of the opponent's court that is not being covered by the defense.
- Tool/Wipe/Block-abuse: the player does not try to make a hard spike, but hits the ball so that it touches the opponent's block and then bounces off-court.
- Off-speed hit: the player does not hit the ball hard, reducing its speed and thus confusing the opponent's defense.
- Quick hit/"One": an attack (usually by the middle blocker) where the approach and jump begin before the setter contacts the ball.
- Slide: a variation of the quick hit that uses a low back set.
- Double quick hit/"Stack"/"Tandem": a variation of quick hit where two hitters, one in front and one behind the setter or both in front of the setter, jump to perform a quick hit at the same time.
Blocking refers to the actions taken by players standing at the net to stop or alter an opponent's attack.
A block that is aimed at completely stopping an attack, thus making the ball remain in the opponent's court, is called offensive.
The jump should be timed so as to intercept the ball's trajectory prior to it crossing over the net.
By contrast, it is called a defensive, or "soft" block if the goal is to control and deflect the hard-driven ball up so that it slows down and becomes easier to defend.
Blocking is also classified according to the number of players involved.
Successful blocking does not always result in a "roof" and many times does not even touch the ball.
At the same time, the block position influences the positions where other defenders place themselves while opponent hitters are spiking.
Digging is the ability to prevent the ball from touching one's court after a spike or attack, particularly a ball that is nearly touching the ground. In many aspects, this skill is similar to passing, or bumping: overhand dig and bump are also used to distinguish between defensive actions taken with fingertips or with joined arms. It varies from passing however in that is it a much more reflex based skill, especially at the higher levels. It is especially important while digging for players to stay on their toes; several players choose to employ a split step to make sure they're ready to move in any direction.
Some specific techniques are more common in digging than in passing.
Sometimes a player may also be forced to drop their body quickly to the floor to save the ball.
Volleyball is essentially a game of transition from one of the above skills to the next, with choreographed team movement between plays on the ball.
The serve-receive system is the formation used by the receiving team to attempt to pass the ball to the designated setter.
Offensive systems are the formations used by the offense to attempt to ground the ball into the opposing court (or otherwise score points).
Coverage systems are the formations used by the offense to protect their court in the case of a blocked attack.
Defensive systems are the formations used by the defense to protect against the ball being grounded into their court by the opposing team.
When one player is ready to serve, some teams will line up their other five players in a screen to obscure the view of the receiving team.
There are 5 positions filled on every volleyball team at the elite level.
- Setters have the task for orchestrating the offense of the team. They aim for second touch and their main responsibility is to place the ball in the air where the attackers can place the ball into the opponents' court for a point. They have to be able to operate with the hitters, manage the tempo of their side of the court and choose the right attackers to set. Setters need to have swift and skillful appraisal and tactical accuracy, and must be quick at moving around the court.
- Liberos are defensive players who are responsible for receiving the attack or serve. They are usually the players on the court with the quickest reaction time and best passing skills. Libero means 'free' in Italian—they receive this name as they have the ability to substitute for any other player on the court during each play. They do not necessarily need to be tall, as they never play at the net, which allows shorter players with strong passing and defensive skills to excel in the position and play an important role in the team's success. A player designated as a libero for a match may not play other roles during that match. Liberos wear a different color jersey than their teammates.
- Middle blockers or Middle hitters are players that can perform very fast attacks that usually take place near the setter. They are specialized in blocking, since they must attempt to stop equally fast plays from their opponents and then quickly set up a double block at the sides of the court. In non-beginners play, every team will have two middle hitters.
- Outside hitters or Left side hitters attack from near the left antenna. The outside hitter is usually the most consistent hitter on the team and gets the most sets. Inaccurate first passes usually result in a set to the outside hitter rather than middle or opposite. Since most sets to the outside are high, the outside hitter may take a longer approach, always starting from outside the court sideline. In non-beginners play, there are again two outside hitters on every team in every match.
- Opposite hitters or Right-side hitters carry the defensive workload for a volleyball team in the front row. Their primary responsibilities are to put up a well formed block against the opponents' Outside Hitters and serve as a backup setter. Sets to the opposite usually go to the right side of the antennae.
At some levels where substitutions are unlimited, teams will make use of a Defensive Specialist in place of or in addition to a Libero. This position does not have unique rules like the libero position, instead, these players are used to substitute out a poor back row defender using regular substitution rules. A defensive specialist is often used if you have a particularly poor back court defender in right side or left side, but your team is already using a libero to take out your middles. Most often, the situation involves a team using a right side player with a big block who must be subbed out in the back row because they aren't able to effectively play back court defense. Similarly, teams might use a Serving Specialist to sub out a poor server.
The three standard volleyball formations are known as "4–2", "6–2" and "5–1", which refers to the number of hitters and setters respectively.
The 4–2 formation has four hitters and two setters.
The setters line up opposite each other in the rotation.
The clear disadvantage to this offensive formation is that there are only two attackers, leaving a team with fewer offensive weapons.
Another aspect is to see the setter as an attacking force, albeit a weakened force, because when the setter is in the front court they are able to 'tip' or 'dump', so when the ball is close to the net on the second touch, the setter may opt to hit the ball over with one hand.
In the 6–2 formation, a player always comes forward from the back row to set.
The 6–2 lineup thus requires two setters, who line up opposite to each other in the rotation.
The advantage of the 6–2 is that there are always three front-row hitters available, maximizing the offensive possibilities.
The 5–1 formation has only one player who assumes setting responsibilities regardless of their position in the rotation.
The player opposite the setter in a 5–1 rotation is called the opposite hitter. In general, opposite hitters do not pass; they stand behind their teammates when the opponent is serving. The opposite hitter may be used as a third attack option (back-row attack) when the setter is in the front row: this is the normal option used to increase the attack capabilities of modern volleyball teams. Normally the opposite hitter is the most technically skilled hitter of the team. Back-row attacks generally come from the back-right position, known as zone 1, but are increasingly performed from back-center in high-level play.
The big advantage of this system is that the setter always has 3 hitters to vary sets with.
There is another advantage, the same as that of a 4–2 formation: when the setter is a front-row player, he or she is allowed to jump and "dump" the ball onto the opponent's side.
The 5–1 offense is actually a mix of 6–2 and 4–2: when the setter is in the front row, the offense looks like a 4–2; when the setter is in the back row, the offense looks like a 6–2.
In 2017, a new volleyball union was formed in response to dissatisfaction with the organization and structure of professional beach volleyball tournaments. The union is named the International Beach Volleyball Players Association, and it consists of almost 100 professional players. IBVPA claims its goal is to help athletes and provide them with the means to enjoy playing volleyball by improving the way the sport is run.
Another controversy within the sport is the issue of the inclusion of transgender players. With transgender athletes such as Tifanny Abreu joining professional volleyball teams alongside other non-transgender teammates, many professionals, sports analysts, and fans of volleyball are either expressing concerns about the legitimacy and fairness of having transgender players on a team or expressing support for the transgender people's efforts.
- Side Out (1999): A law student goes to California and ends up playing professional volleyball.
- Air Bud: Spikes Back (2003): A sequel in the Air Bud series that shows the titular golden retriever playing volleyball.
- All You've Got (2006); A TV movie starring hip hop artist Ciara.
- The Miracle Season (2018): A team comes together after the death of their star player in hopes of winning the state championship.
Variations and related games
There are many variations on the basic rules of volleyball.
Some games related to volleyball include:
- Beachball volleyball: A game of indoor volleyball played with a beach ball instead of a volleyball.
- Biribol: an aquatic variant, played in shallow swimming pools. The name comes from the Brazilian city where it was invented, Birigui. It is similar to Water volleyball.
- Ecua-volley: A variant invented in Ecuador, with some significant variants, such as number of players, and a heavier ball.
- Footvolley: A sport from Brazil in which the hands and arms are not used, but it is otherwise similar to beach volleyball.
- Handball: A sport in which teams have to throw a ball using hands inside a goal.
- Hooverball: Popularized by President Herbert Hoover, it is played with a volleyball net and a medicine ball; it is scored like tennis, but the ball is caught and then thrown back. The weight of the medicine ball can make the sport physically demanding for players; annual championship tournaments are held in West Branch, Iowa.
- Newcomb ball (sometimes spelled "Nuke 'Em"): In this game, the ball is caught and thrown instead of hit; it rivaled volleyball in popularity until the 1920s. Prisoner Ball: Also played with volleyball court and a volleyball, prisoner ball is a variation of Newcomb ball where players are "taken prisoner" or released from "prison" instead of scoring points. This version is usually played by young children.
- Sepak Takraw: Played in Southeast Asia using a rattan ball and allowing only players' feet, knees, chests, and heads to touch the ball.
- Snow volleyball: a variant of beach volleyball that is played on snow. The Fédération Internationale de Volleyball has announced its plans to make snow volleyball part of the future Winter Olympic Games programme.
- Throwball: became popular with female players at the YMCA College of Physical Education in Chennai (India) in the 1940s.
- Towel volleyball: towel volleyball is a popular form of outdoor entertainment.
- Wallyball: A variation of volleyball played in a racquetball court with a rubber ball.
- 9-man: A variant invented by Chinese immigrants to the United States in the 1930s. 9-man is still played in Asian countries and North America, being recognized for its historic and cultural significance. In 2014, an award-winning documentary was produced for the sport of 9-man, and a YouTube documentary  was made for the sport in 2017.