Volleyball Score Tie-Breaking Rules

Woman playing volleyball

What started as a fun diversion at a Massachusetts YMCA in the late 1800s is now a professional and Olympic sport, and one of the five most popular sports in the world, according to the Federation Internationale de Volleyball. While scoring is fairly straightforward in volleyball, there are some special considerations when there is a tie during a set or match, or a tie for the rankings in tournament play.


A match between two indoor teams consists of five sets, or three sets in beach volleyball, according to USA Volleyball rules. Teams serve and volley the ball back and forth, and a team wins a point when they hit a ball into the opponent's court and the opponents either let the ball hit the ground, hit the ball out of bounds on the opponent's side, or cannot hit the ball over the net within three hits. An indoor volleyball team wins the set when they reach 25 points. In beach volleyball, the winning team must reach 21 points.

Winning by Two

While the winner of the set is the team that reaches 25 -- or 21 points for beach volleyball -- they must win by a span of two points. In other words, if the score is 24 to 24 and one team wins an additional point, they must win yet another point to make the score 24 to 26, thus being in the lead by two points. The game continues until one team gets ahead by two points. Since the winner must win by a span, there are no ties during a regular set.

Winning a Match

If the teams each win two sets to make it a 2 to 2 tie, the fifth set is played differently than the preceding sets, though the way the fifth set is played may vary in different tournaments and leagues. In beach volleyball, the third set is played to 15 points when there is a 1 to 1 tie for the first two sets. In USA Volleyball rules, the fifth set is played until one team reaches 15 points, with a two point lead. As with the early sets, if the teams are tied at 14 to14 nearing the end of the set, the team that wins the next point must win yet another point to win the set by a two point margin.


It is also necessary to deal with ties between two teams during a seeded tournament. In the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, officials first look at the two teams' regular season records to determine who has won more games. If the teams are still tied, they look next at the "point differential" between the two teams, meaning the difference between the winning team's number of points and the losing team's number of points. If that still results in a tie, they look at the number of wins each team had against teams in the current tournament. If that still results in a tie, look at the point differential for each team against the teams in the current tournament. If all of that still results in a tie, officials can flip a coin to decide which is the higher-seeded team. These rules may be slightly different for your league or tournament, so check with your team's governing body for more detailed information.