Basic Rules

Basic Rules for Beginners

Volleyball is one of the most popular sports in the world. It’s a fun game that people of all ages and skill levels can enjoy – whether you’re new to the game or you’ve been playing for years.

Some rules may vary depending on the style of game level of play, or by country, but the fundamentals are the same no matter where you are. Let’s take a look at some of the basic rules and vocabulary.

  • Number of players on each side of the court must be equal: Teams can be 9 (called 9-man), 6 (most common), 4 (specialty events, learning situations), or 2 players (beach).
  • Players may not touch the ball twice in a row. (a block touch does not count)
  • The ball may be played after hitting the net (as long as it is inside the antenna).
  • If the ball hits a boundary line, it’s considered to be in the court.
  • If the ball hits the floor outside of the court, the referee stand, or the ceiling above an area outside of the court, it’s called out.
  • A point is earned on every serve for the team that wins that rally.
  • Players cannot hold, catch, or throw the ball.
  • Players can switch positions after the serve.
  • Players can hit the ball with any part of their body without penalty.

A typical volleyball game requires two teams with six players each. The teams are separated by a net that the ball is required to go over. Every player on the court has a position: setter, outside hitter, middle blocker, libero, opposite hitter, or serving specialist.

A coin is flipped to determine which team serves the ball first. The winner of the coin toss may choose to serve first or which side of the court they want to receive serve on. Once the ball is served, the teams hit the ball back and forth over the net until a fault occurs. Each team is allowed to hit the ball a maximum of three times before it goes over the net. A typical rally involves serving the ball over the net, the opposing team then passes the serve up to the setter, who then sets the ball to a hitter, who tries to hit the ball to the floor on the other side.

The goal of volleyball is to hit the ball over the net into the opponent’s court so that it hits the ground or the opposing team can’t return it over the net. Each time a team does this, they earn a point. Typically, teams will play a match that consists of 3 or five sets (or ‘games’). Whichever team is first to win the majority of sets, wins the match. The first sets are played to 25 or more points, while the last set, if needed, is played to at least 15 points. Sets must be won by at least two points unless the tournament rules say otherwise.

If a player commits any of these rule violations, the opposing team automatically gets a point.

  • Stepping on or across the service line while making contact with the ball during the serve
  • Being unable to serve the ball over the net
  • Blocking a serve
  • Hitting the ball twice in a row (or carrying, catching, or throwing the ball).
  • Crossing the center-line of the court. Exceptions may be made if parts of a hand or foot cross the line, but if a whole hand or foot crosses the center line, it’s an automatic violation.
  • Touching the net with any part of the body while the ball is in play
  • Reaching over the net to hit or block the ball if the opponent has a player in position to play the ball
  • Touching the ball if it has not yet begun to cross over the top of the net onto your side of the court
  • Rotation errors
  • Attacking or blocking from the front row when you’re playing a back-row position


There are a lot of terms that come up in volleyball that can be confusing for beginners. Here are a few popular terms to know that might make learning the game a little easier.

Ace: A serve that results in a point immediately for the team

Approach: A fast stride toward the net, usually by a spiker before they jump into the air

Attack: The act of hitting the ball offensively

Attacker: The hitter or spiker who offensively hits the ball, intending to get the ball over the net

Block: A defensive play that can be done by one player or multiple players to keep a spiked ball from hitting the court

Bump: Hitting the ball with the forearms, also known as a “pass”

Center Line: The border that divides the court in half. It runs directly under the net to create even sides for both teams.

Dig: Passing a ball to another teammate, especially when it’s close to the floor

Double Hit: An illegal play where the same player makes multiple hits in succession

Forearm Pass: Joining your arms from the elbow to the wrist to pass the ball underhand

Held Ball: A ball that comes to rest during contact

Hit: Jumping and hitting the ball with a forceful overhand shot, also known as a spike

Jump Serve: A serve that starts by tossing the ball up high, jumping, and hitting it in a downward motion over the net

Kill: A quick attack that leads to a point by the attacking team

Line: The boundary of the court

Line Shot: When the ball is spiked down the opponent’s sideline nearest to the hitter

Net Serve: A serve that hits the net. The ball is still in play if it dribbles over to the opponent’s side, but it’s considered dead if it fails to clear the net.

Overhand Pass: A pass where the player has both hands open and plays just above their forehead

Overhand Serve: Serving the ball and hitting it when the hand is above the shoulder

Ready Position: The posture the player takes before moving to make contact with the ball

Roof: A spiked ball that is blocked by a defensive player and is deflected to the floor of the attacker’s side

Serve: The basic skill used to put the ball into play

Server: The person who puts the ball into play and starts the game

Spike: A hit or attack

Underhand Serve: A serve where the ball is tossed from underhand at about waist height and then is struck with the opposite hand in a closed fist

Wipe: When a player pushes the ball off the blocker’s hands so it lands out of bounds