How to play volleyball

The basics, the moves, the top tips. It's all here!

Packed with thrills, bumps, sets and spikes, volleyball is a brilliant spectator sport – but it’s even better when you get stuck in yourself. This high-speed game requires athleticism, endurance and power.

If you’re a beginner, there are plenty of ways to build up your skills and learn how to play volleyball – both indoor and beach. Say goodbye to the sidelines and hello to the adrenaline-packed court with this handy guide. We’ll take you through the basics, cover the key moves to learn and give you top tips on how to develop your prowess on the court.

What are the basics of volleyball?

If you’re thinking about taking up this exhilarating sport or just want to learn more, read through our basic rules on how to play volleyball. From team formations to how to score a point, we’ll help you pick up the essential rules before you get started.

An indoor volleyball match is the best of five games. The team who takes the majority (three games) is the overall winner of the match. For beach volleyball, it’s best of three.

To win a game, a team must score 25 points with a two-point difference. If they’re too closely matched, the game can continue over the 25-point maximum. On the final deciding game of the match it’s only played until 15 points, but the two-point difference still applies. In beach volleyball, a game is played to 21 points, with the same final round and tiebreak rule. You can find out more in our video guide to beach volleyball.

Each indoor volleyball team consists of six players, whereas beach volleyball is played in teams of two. For indoor volleyball, there are a number of positions. Usually, there are three players at the front near the net and another three towards the back of the court.

Volleyball at Rio 2016
Volleyball at Rio 2016Volleyball at Rio 2016

For the first game, the teams will play a short volley to decide who will serve. Then the loser of the previous game will serve for the duration of that game.

A rally begins with a serve. The server must take their shot from behind the end line and choose between an underhand or overhand shot. It’s fine for the ball to graze the net, as long as the ball falls into the other side of the court.

A point is scored when a team wins a rally. Every rally begins with a serve and ends when a team wins a point. They do this in one of two ways. If your team sends the ball over the net and the defending team fail to return the ball, you score a point. You can also win a point if the other team hit the ball out of the designated court boundary. If a player on the other team makes a fault, it’s also possible for your team to win a point.

Every time a team wins a point, they will rotate their position in a clockwise direction around the court.

A team can hit the ball to each other a maximum of three times before returning it to the other side of the court.

Beach volleyball at Rio 2016
Beach volleyball at Rio 2016Beach volleyball at Rio 2016

What are the positions in volleyball?

For beach volleyball, there are only two players per team. However, indoor volleyball is a little bit more complicated. Each team has six players, with three at the front in the attack zone and three in the back in the defence zone. Here’s some information on who does what when playing volleyball:

Outside hitter: As you face the net, this player stands at the front-left of the court in the attack zone. Sometimes called the wing spiker, they often attack the ball a setter has prepared for them. While the ball is in play they can often work across the front and back row.

Right side hitter: This player has similar responsibilities to the outside hitter, but they focus on the right-hand side of the court.

Opposite hitter: This is the player who scores the most points in the game. Their position is usually in the back left corner of the court. Not only do they need to score points, but, because they play against the other team’s opposite hitter, they need defensive skills too.

Setter: Often called the playmaker, this player is like the quarterback of the team. They run the offensive strategies and set the ball up for the attackers to score. They’re often in the right-back of the court and can work both rows.

Middle blocker: Sitting in the middle, right in front of the net, this player’s main responsibility is to block attacks from the other team. They’re also a key passer who helps get the ball to the setter.

Libero: This is a back row player, who can only work at the rear of the court. They usually wear a different colour top to the rest of the team and can enter and exit the game without substitution. They also can replace any other player and often swaps places with the middle blocker.

You can find out more in our video, Sport Guide: Examining Volleyball.

What are the rules of indoor and beach volleyball?

Here are a few things you need to know to ensure you don’t violate any rules or give the other team a point. You must not:

  • Step on or over the end line when taking a serve
  • Hit or serve the ball into the net
  • Touch the net while the ball is in play
  • Reach over the net to get the ball. You may reach over to execute a follow-through or block a returning ball
  • Reach under the net
Spike!
Spike!Spike!

How to play volleyball: what are the moves?

There are a few ways you can play the ball in volleyball. Here are the main moves you can play to help you get started and understand what you can do to develop your game.

Beginners: When you first start off, it’s a good idea to begin by catching and tossing the ball so to get a feel for the rules while keeping the ball in play for longer. Once you’ve mastered the rules and the flow, it’s time to start bringing hits into the game. For an expert opinion, see what three-time gold medallist Karch Kiraly thinks are the qualities needed for volleyball success.

Passing: This is where a player receives the ball from the server and passes it to the playmaker. This is usually done with an underhand bump in a short, controlled manner, with minimal arm swing. It’s quite literally a bump, rather than a hit.

Setting: The setter is the playmaker in volleyball. They prepare the ball so it’s well-placed for an attacker to shoot and score a point for their team. Overhead setting is when a player places both their hands above their forehead, creating a triangle shape with their thumbs and index fingers. They push the ball up with their fingers, with the attacker ready to take their shot.

Spiking: This is one of the most impressive-looking moves in the game. A spike is generally when a player runs, jumps and hits the ball over the net with a powerful swing. Usually this is a move for an attacker or shooter, as these big hits usually win points. If you’re a beginner, try to avoid spiking until you can maintain a long rally.

Blocking: A block is a defensive move used at the net. When an attacker moves to shoot, a maximum of three players on the other team come close to the net and jump just after the attacker with their arms up. When the ball comes over the net, it’ll be blocked by the players and either move into their side or back towards the opposing team.

Digging: When the ball is heading towards the floor after an attack, a defender from the back row can run or dive forward to bump the ball back up and pass it to another team member.

Whether you want to be competitive or not, just give it a go. And if you really enjoy it, see what the Czech women’s beach volleyball team does to train.

Catch the latest indoor volleyball and beach volleyball news and videos on the Olympic Channel.

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