In the sport of volleyball, a rally is just another term for the ongoing play throughout a match. When a team serves, the rally begins. Once a team commits an infraction or the ball hits the floor, the rally is over. In the rally scoring system, a point is scored every time a rally concludes.
If the team that served the ball wins the rally and gets a point, they continue to serve, whereas if the receiving teams wins the point, their lineup rotates and they serve. This system creates a fast-flowing, energetic style of play that has helped to make the sport more exciting and fan-friendly. Most rally-scored matches are played in a best-of-three games format, with the first two games going to 25 points, and the third and sometimes decisive game going only to 15 points. College and Olympic volleyball matches, while still scored in rally style, are played in a best-of-five format. It is important to note that at any level, each game must be won by two points, even if it requires going over the 25 or 15 point limit.
The rally scoring system is not the same as the traditional sideout method of scoring, and the differences between the two are important. In the sideout scoring system, only the team that serves is able to score a point. If the receiving team makes a kill or forces an infraction on the serving team, they are then awarded the ball and become the serving team. Given that there can be long stretches of play without any points being awarded, the reasoning behind the switch to rally scoring is obvious, as it speeds up play and makes the match more exciting for spectators.
In the early and mid-1990s, with the increasing pressure by television networks to make sports more "broadcast-friendly," the international governing body for volleyball, also known as FIVB, decided to begin the switch from the antiquated sideout scoring system to the more conducive rally system. In 1998, the FIVB officially changed the scoring of all sets within a match to rally scoring, effectively ending the run of the sideout scoring system.
The rally scoring system has generated a great amount of appeal for the sport of volleyball. The 2008 Beijing Olympics are perhaps the best example, as beach and indoor volleyball attracted large audiences from all over the world. By effectively shortening the length and increasing the tempo of matches, rally scoring has undoubtedly ushered the game of volleyball into the modern era of sports, while lending itself to an entirely new audience.