What are the basic rules of indoor volleyball?

Most variations of volleyball (indoor, sand, sitting, etc.) share some of the same general rules.

These include:

  • A court with a marked boundary
  • A net separating the court into two sides
  • One team on each side
  • Play begins with one side trying to serve the ball over the net onto the opponent’s side of the court
  • The opponent then tries to return the ball back across the net and onto the other court within at most three contacts of the ball without allowing it to touch the ground
  • No player may contact the ball twice in a row within those three contacts
  • Teams continue trying to return the ball back to the opponents’ side of the court
  • A point is scored (for the opponent) when a team fails to serve/hit the ball back over the net and onto the other side of the court

Specific volleyball leagues have additional rules to more completely define legal play.

The basic rules of indoor volleyball (high school – NFHS, college – NCAA, club – USAV/AAU, and international – FIVB) include:

  • A court that is 9 meters by 9 meters (30 feet by 30 feet for high school) on each side of the net
  • A net that is 7 feet 4-1/8 inches for women (7 feet 11-5/8 inches for men) measured in the middle of the net
  • An attack line that is 3 meters (approximately 10 feet) from the centerline/net on each side
  • Six players per team on the court
  • Three players are considered front-row players (and are by the net) and three players are considered back-row players (and are behind the three front-row players)
  • Back-row players are only allowed to attack the ball (i.e., contact the ball above the height of the net) if they start behind the attack line and contact the ball before they step on or across that line
  • Back-row players are not allowed to block a ball
  • The six players must start the play (before the server contacts the ball) in the proper rotational order. This means they must start to the left, right and front/back of the person who is in the rotational position to their right, left, and behind/front, respectively.
  • The team winning the point will rotate one position clockwise (looking down on the court) when the ball was served by the opponent (aka a side out). The player that then occupies the back-right position (on the team’s side when they are looking at the net) will then serve the next ball.
  • Each server must start behind the end line of the court and must contact the ball before they step onto or across that line
  • No blocking of the serve is allowed
  • Each side is then allowed at most a block and three contacts before returning it to the opponent’s side or until it touches an opponent.
  • No person is allowed to contact/touch the ball twice in a row unless the first contact is a block (as blocks do not count as one of the three touches allowed to the team).
  • Players are not allowed to touch the net or cross the centerline under the net, in most cases
  • Players are not allowed to catch/lift the ball but must contact/hit the ball
  • Players should contact the ball with a single connected body part (e.g., bumping the ball with hands together) or the hands should contact the ball simultaneously (e.g., overhand setting the ball)
  • The ball may be played off the net on the serve or during a volley
  • The antennae attached to the net on either side are considered out of bounds
  • The line defining the court is considered “in”.
  • Usually the ceiling directly overhead is playable if the ball stays on the same side of the court, otherwise, it is considered out of bounds if the ball contacts the ceiling then lands on the other side of the court.
  • Players may be substituted between serves. The player leaving the court must only return to that exact spot in the rotation when they return. Players who have yet to play may go in for any player, but once in may only play in that same rotational position (i.e., the same spot they would have been in had they remained in the game and rotated with their teammates).
  • The side that reaches 25 points (or 15 points in the last set) wins the game/set unless the margin is only 1 point, in which case play continues until a 2 point margin is achieved (or a scoring cap is achieved if there is one). In other words, the game is played to 25, win by 2.
  • The match is usually best 2 out of 3 (usually for JV and under and club matches) or best 3 out of 5 games/sets (usually for varsity, college, and international matches)
  • Each team is usually allowed 2 timeouts per set
  • The number of substitutions allowed per set varies between leagues (e.g., international – 6, club – 12, high school – 18)

As in most sports, there are entire rulebooks drafted to detail these and additional rules in detail. Those additional rules are often also dependent on what set of rules the league you are playing in are based on (e.g., NFHS, NCAA, USAV, FIVB). Often the league you are playing will follow the rules for one (e.g., AAU uses USAV rules) with perhaps a few differences that they add on their own.

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