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