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Volleyball Rules

Equipment
The game is played on indoor courts 18 metres long and 9 metres wide, divided into two 9 x 9 metre "team courts" by a one-metre wide net placed such that its highest point is 2.43 metres above the ground in men's competition, and 2.24 metres for women's competition (these heights are varied for veterans and junior competitions). There is a line 3 metres from and parallel to the net in each team court termed the "attack line". The team courts are surrounded by an area called the free zone which is a minimum of 2 metres 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 and a ball touching the line is considered in. An antenna is placed on each side of the net perpendicular to the sideline and is a vertical extension of the side boundary of the court. A ball passing over the net must pass completely between the antennae (or their theoretical extensions to the ceiling) without contacting them.

The ball (a volleyball), is made of leather or synthetic leather and inflated with compressed air. It is round, almost the size of a soccer ball, but softer and lighter.

Game play
Each of the two teams consist of six players, three located in front of the attack line and three behind.

To get play started, a team is chosen to serve by coin toss. A player from the serving team (the server) 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 (an over-hand pass using finger-tip action) by the setter so that the ball's trajectory is aimed towards one or more players designated as the attacker 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 and 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 by having players at the net jump and reach above the top (and if possible, across the plane) of the net in order 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 (a fore-arm pass of a hard-driven ball). After a successful dig, the team transitions to offense.

The game continues in this manner until the ball touches the court within the boundaries or until an error is made.

Errors or Faults

  • The ball lands out of the court, in the same court as the team that touched it last, or the ball touches the net "antennas". The ball also may not pass over or outside the antennas even if it lands in the opponents court.1
  • The ball is touched more than three times before being returned to the other team's court.2
  • The same player touches the ball twice in succession.3
  • A player "lifts" or "carries" the ball (the ball remains in contact with the player's body for too long).
  • A player touches the net with any part of the body or clothing while making a play on the ball (with the exception of the hair).
  • The players of one team do not manage to touch the ball before the ball lands in their half of the court.
  • A back-row player spikes the ball while it is completely above the top of the net, unless he or she jumped from behind the attack line (the player is allowed to land in front of the attack line).
  • A back-row player attempts to block an opposing teams attack by reaching above the top of the net.
  • The libero, a defensive specialist who can only play in the back row, makes an "attacking hit", defined as any shot struck while the ball is entirely above the top of the net.
  • A player completes an attack hit from higher than the top of the net when the ball is coming from an overhand finger pass (set) by a libero in the front zone.
  • A player is not in his right position at the moment of serve, or serves out of turn.
  • When hitting, a player makes contact with the ball in the space above the opponent's court (in blocking this is allowed).
  • A player touches the opponent's court below the center line with any part of his body except his feet or his hands.4
  • When serving, a player steps on the court or the endline before making contact with the ball.
  • A player takes more than 8 seconds to serve.
  • At the moment of serve, one or more players jump, raise their arms or stand together at the net in an attempt to block the sight of the ball from the opponent (screening).5

1 If the ball passes outside the antennas at the first hit of team, e.g. as the result of a bad pass or dig, a player is allowed to go after the ball if he does not touch the opponent's court and if the ball travels back to his court also outside the antennas.

2 Except if a player blocks (touches a ball sent over the net by the opposing team, while reaching above the top of the net) a ball that stays in the blocker's side of the net. In such an instance the blocker may play the ball another time without violating the rule against playing the ball twice in succession. Also, contacts as part of a block do not count against the three allowed touches.

3 At the first hit of the team, the ball may be contact various parts of the body consecutively provided that the contacts occur during one action.

4 Penetration under the net with hands or feet is allowed only if a portion of the penetrating hands or feet remains in contact with the player's court or the center line.

5 Screening is only a fault if the players stand directly next to each other in a way that clearly impedes vision, and the serve is a low line drive over their heads. (This is a judgement call by the referee.)

Scoring
When the ball contacts the floor within the court boundaries or an error is made, the team that did not make the error is awarded a point, whether or not it served the ball. The team that won the point is awarded the right to serve for the next point. If the team that won the point served the previous point, the same player serves again. If the team that won the point did not serve the previous point, the players of the team rotate their position on the court in a clockwise manner. The game continues, with the first team to score 25 points (and be two points ahead) awarded the set. Matches are best-of-five sets and the fifth set (if necessary) is usually played to 15 points. (Scoring differs between leagues, tournaments, and levels; high schools sometimes play best-of-three to 30.)

Before 2000, points could be scored only when a team had the service (side-out scoring) and all sets went up to only 15 points. In 2000 this rule was changed to the current scoring (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 Libero
In 1998 the libero player was introduced. The libero is a player specialized in defensive skills: he must wear a different colored jersey and cannot block or attack. When the ball is not in play, the libero can replace any other player without prior notice to the referees. His substitutions also do not count against the 12-substitution limit each team is allowed per set.

The libero may function as a setter only under certain restrictions. If he makes an overhand set, he must be standing behind (and not stepping on) the 3-meter line; otherwise, the ball cannot be attacked. A bump set is allowed from any part of the court.

Furthermore, a libero is not allowed to serve, according to the official rules. An exception is the NCAA women's volleyball competition, where a 2004 rule change does allow the libero to serve.

Other Recent Rule Changes
Other rule changes enacted in 2000 include the introduction of the net serve which allows play to continue even if a served ball touches the net as long as it continues into the opponents' court. Also, the service area was expanded to allow players to serve from anywhere behind the end line but still within the theoretical extension of the sidelines. Other changes were made to lighten up calls on faults for carries and double-touches, such as allowing a "hard-driven ball" to be slightly carried.

Until 1998, it was a foul if the ball contacted any part of the body below the waist. However, modern rules allow any part of the body to hit the ball, including the legs and feet. Kick volleyball, where the ball is primarily contacted with the feet, is a popular variant, particularly in South American countries.

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