Basic Volleyball Rules

Volleyball has been around as a sport for more than 100 years. Though it's popular and most people have played in the backyard, basic volleyball rules can be difficult to understand for the average enthusiast. While it's hands only and shots inbound no matter where you play, there are some differences between beach volleyball and the indoor game. Learning the rules for both will make watching and playing volleyball even more enjoyable.

Indoor Volleyball Rules
In indoor volleyball, each team is made up of six players. The game starts when one team wins the coin toss.  The player who is going to serve the ball stands behind the end line and hits the ball over the net and into the other team's area.  The other team then has to get the ball back across the net, but here's where it gets difficult. 

A team can only have contact with the ball a maximum of three times to get it across the net.  If there is contact with the ball more than three times, then the opposing team wins the point. A point is also scored if the ball hits the ground or if the returning team touches the net or reaches over the top of it. 

The team that wins the point gets to serve the ball as well. The first team to get 25 points wins the set.  The first team to win three sets wins the game.

Hitting the Volleyball
You'd think hitting the ball would be the easy part, right?  It's more difficult than you'd think, but these basic rules will help.

  1. Even though a team is allowed three contacts with the ball, the same player cannot hit the ball twice in succession.  To make it more complicated, blocking, or standing at the net and trying to stop the opposing team's attack, is not considered one of the three contacts.
  2. If two players hit the ball at the same time, neither of them are allowed to hit it again while it's in play until it has been hit by another player on the same team or on the opposing team.
  3. A player can't accept help from a teammate in trying to reach a ball in play; this is called an assist.  If two players participate in an assist, the point is automatically awarded to the other team.
  4. There are only four ways to hit a volleyball legally: with the heel or palm of the hand; with straight fingertips; with the back of the hand, but only from the knuckles to the wrist, or with curled fingers. Any other method of hitting the ball awards a point to the opposite team.

Indoor Volleyball Errors
There are many ways you can have an error called on you, but these are some of the most common.

  1. Holding the ball
  2. Touching the net with body or clothing
  3. Taking more than eight seconds to serve
  4. Blocking a serve
  5. Serving when it's not your turn in the rotation.

Beach Volleyball Rules
In beach volleyball, the game is played on sand with only two players per team, although more are often allowed in recreational beach volleyball. The ball is also a bit bigger, the court is slightly smaller and the players usually play barefoot.

In beach volleyball, the team that wins two sets wins the game, unlike team volleyball in which the three sets must be won.  Beach volleyball is more strenuous because there are only two players on each side.

Hitting the Ball in Beach Volleyball
In beach volleyball, there are some minor differences in gameplay compared with the indoor game.

  1. The soft dink (an open-handed hit from the fingertips) is not allowed.
  2. A block is counted as one of a team's three allowable contacts with the ball.
  3. A let serve, where the ball hits the top of the net but still falls into play on the opposite side, is not permitted.
  4. A player only gets one chance to serve. If the serve fails to clear the net or goes out of bounds, the opposing team wins the serve.

Beach Volleyball Errors
Many of the errors you can incur in beach volleyball are the same as with indoor volleyball, though there are a couple of minor differences.

  1. You can go under the net as long as you don't affect your opponent's game play. 
  2. There is no penalty for serving the ball when it's not your turn.
  3. It's legal to lift or push the ball during the first contact after a serve or volley across the net.

Apart from these exceptions, most of the same basic volleyball rules apply in beach volleyball. 

Beach volleyball is often more difficult, as you're facing the elements and participating in more of the plays. You flounder more in the sand, the sun gets in your eyes and the heat can also be a factor. This makes the game a fun challenge for those who like to play.

Indoor volleyball has a hard, consistent surface, no glare and a well-controlled temperature. For the control freak, this is probably the best option, although you'll still be chasing and diving for the ball. Both games are fun and offer a great workout. 

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