Volleyball Rules & Violations

Woman playing volleyball

Volleyball is a fast-paced, high-energy sport that can be played indoors or outdoors. Given the intensity of play and speed of player interaction, it can be difficult to tell what constitutes a violation of volleyball rules. Rules might vary slightly depending on the tournament, type of volleyball played or age of participants.

Playing Area Rules

Indoor volleyball courts are 18 by 9 meters, according to Volleyball.org. Beach volleyball courts are slightly smaller at 16 by 8 meters. Net height depends on gender; in men’s volleyball, the net must be 2.43 meters high while it's 2.24 meters high in women’s volleyball. Net heights for children and seniors are lower, ranging from 1.98 meters for females under 10 to 2.43 meters for male teenagers.

Basic Play

Teams of six players each must return a volleyball with three or fewer hits, although it’s not permissible to block or spike a served ball. Beach volleyball teams involve two players. A single player can't hit the ball twice in succession, but she may hit the ball twice during a play if another teammate also hits the ball. During co-ed matches, both genders must hit the ball if three players are involved in a given play. All plays begin with a serve, with one team sending the ball over the net to the other side. Players can serve underhand or overhand. Between serves, the players must rotate clockwise, or change their starting positions.

Scoring Breakdown

Volleyball points basically come down to you forcing the other team to make a mistake. The ultimate mistake is to let the ball hit the floor. A point is awarded to one team or the other on every serve. Most volleyball matches follow a best three-out-of five format, and the winning team in each game must have a two-point lead. For example, most matches are played until one team has 25 points. That changes if the score is 25-24. The game goes on until one side has a two-point advantage. The exception to the 25-point rule comes in game five, when the winning team has to hit 15. The two-point advantage rule still applies.

Hitting and Blocking Violations

Only one player can hit the ball at a time. Players attempting a spike, or kill, have to keep the ball inbounds. Catching or throwing the ball isn't allowed, and a referee can call carrying if the ball appears to be in a player's hands too long. During a serve, it’s a “foot fault” if players step outside the service zone. Reaching under the net isn’t permissible, and judges take that rotation thing seriously -- a team with players out of rotation will lose a point.

Back Row, Front Row

The court is divided by a line 10 feet from the net. Players in the back row due to the rotation can't block or attack at the net. Players in the libero position, which is in play to emphasize defense, never rotate to the front. They're limited to receiving, digging, passing and setting. The only time a libero will ever score a kill is if the other team simply misses a ball she sends over the net.

The Question of Reaching

Reaching over the net is sometimes, but not always, a violation. It's not allowed if the player interferes with the opponent's play. It's acceptable if the opponent has had the chance to make contact with the ball. If the ball would have crossed the net without additional help from the opponent, reaching is also acceptable. The net also can lead to points for the other side if a player runs into it during play or hits a ball outside of its antennas.