Rules of Volleyball
 What's Legal for Playing the Ball

Rules of volleyball can seem intimating to learn at first. Whether a beginning player, coach or fan, learn the rules and you'll make volleyball a much more enjoyable experience.

States of Play - Rules of Volleyball

In Play After the Referee’s whistle for service, the volleyball is “in play” wants the contact for serve has been made.

Out of Play The volleyball is “out of play” once a fault has occurred and is whistled by a referee.

If an inadvertent whistle occurs, the rally is ended and the referee must make a ruling that doesn’t penalize either team.

The Ball is In - Rules of Volleyball The volleyball is “In” once it touches the court. The courts boundary lines are part of the court and are “In”.

The Ball is Out The ball is “Out” when…

  • The volleyball contacts the floor completely outside the boundary lines.

  • The volleyball touches an object outside the court, the ceiling or person that is “out of play”.

  • The volleyball touches the ropes, antennae, posts, or net itself that is outside the antennae.

  • The volleyball crosses the vertical plane of the net either partially or totally outside the crossing space (above or completely outside the antennae).

  • The volleyball completely crosses the space under the net.

The volleyball remains “in play” if it contacts objects or the ceiling that is higher than 4.6 meters (15 feet) above the playing area.

The volleyball is “Out” and a playover is directed when…

  • The volleyball contacts an overhead object that is less than 4.6 meters (15 feet) above a playable area and would have remained playable if the object wasn’t present.

  • The volleyball comes to rest on an overhead object above a teams playing area and is still a playable ball.

  • If an official, media equipment, or spectator interferes with a players legal attempt to play the ball.
Rules of Volleyball

Playing the Ball - Rules of Volleyball

Each team must play within its own playing area. However, the ball may be played beyond the “free zone”.

The volleyball may be retrieved from beyond the free zone if…

  • The surface change is less than 1.25 centimeters (1/2 inch), the secondary surface is lower than the free zone, and the area is free of obstruction.

Playing a ball over a non-playable area - Rules of Volleyball The player retrieving a volleyball over a non-playable area must be in contact with the playing surface when contact with the ball is made.

In the rules of volleyball non-playable areas are defined as…

  • Walls, bleachers, or spectator seating areas

  • Team benches and any area behind the team benches

  • The area between the scorers table and team benches

  • Any other area outlined by the Referee in the pre-match conference

Contacting the Ball - Rules of Volleyball If a divider or net is separating courts, only the player making an attempt on the ball may move the divider or net to play the ball.

When competition is occurring or is scheduled on adjacent courts, it is a fault for a player to enter an adjacent court to make a play on a ball or after playing a ball.

The free zone and the service zone on adjacent courts is a playable area. 

Team Contacts - Rules of Volleyball A contact is any contact with the ball by a legal player.

A team is entitled to a maximum of 3 contacts.

If a team contacts the volleyball more than 3 times without returning the ball to the opposing team, a “4 hits” fault occurs.

Consecutive Contacts - Rules of Volleyball A player may not contact the ball two times consecutively.

Simultaneous Contacts - Rules of Volleyball Two or three players may touch the ball at the same moment.

When two or more teammates touch the ball simultaneously, it is counted as one contact. Any player may play the next ball if the simultaneous contact isn’t the third team contact.

If opposing opponents touch the volleyball simultaneously over the net and the ball remains in play, the team receiving the ball is entitled to another 3 hits. If such a ball goes “Out” it is the fault of the team on the opposite side.

A “joust” occurs when players of opposing teams cause the ball to come to rest above the net through simultaneous contact. A joust is not a fault and play continues as if play was instantaneous.

Assisting a Player - Rules of Volleyball A player is not permitted to take support from a teammate or any structure in order to make a play on the ball. However, a player that is about to commit a fault may be stopped or held back by a teammate.

Characteristics of Ball Contacts - Rules of Volleyball The volleyball may touch any part of the body.

The volleyball must be hit, not caught or thrown. The ball may rebound in any direction.

The volleyball may touch various parts of the body, provided the contacts happen simultaneously. 

"Ugly Play" or "bad form" isn't a fault. There are basically just two different kinds of playing faults when making a play on the ball, double contact or prolonged contact, that's it.

Exceptions for consecutive contacts…

  • When blocking, consecutive contacts may be made by one or more blockers, provided the contacts take place during one action.

  • During a first team contact, the volleyball may contact various parts of the body consecutively, as long as the contacts are made during one action.

Playing Faults - Rules of Volleyball

  1. FOUR HITS: A team contacts the volleyball 4 times before returning it.

  2. ASSISTED HIT: A player gets support from a teammate in order to make a play on a volleyball.

  3. CATCH: The volleyball is caught or thrown. It doesn’t rebound from the contact.

  4. DOUBLE CONTACT: A player contacts the volleyball twice (2 separate attempts) in succession or the ball contacts various parts of a player’s body in succession.

Ball at the Net - Rules of Volleyball

A ball sent to the opponents court must cross the net in the crossing space.

The crossing space is the part of the vertical plane of the net that is…

  • Below, by the top of the net to above, by the ceiling

  • At the sides by the antennae and its imaginary vertical extension

Ball and the Net - Rules of Volleyball The volleyball may touch the net while crossing it.

A volleyball driven into the net may be played within the limits of the 3 team hits.

If the ball rips the net or tears it down the rally must be replayed. 

Player at the Net - Rules of Volleyball

Player Reaching Across the Net…

  • A blocker may reach beyond the net provide they don’t interfere with the opponents play before or during the attack hit.

  • After an attack hit, the attacker is permitted to pass his or her hands beyond the net, provided the contact has been made within their own playing space.
Official volleyball rules allow players to reach over the net when blocking during any of these 4 situations...
  • After the opponent has made 3 contacts.

  • If in the referees judgement the ball is being attacked.

  • After the opponents 1st or 2nd contact and ball is coming over.

  • After the opponents 1st or 2nd contact and ball isn't coming over but the opponent couldn't have possibly made a play on the ball.

Player Under the Net - Rules of Volleyball A player can penetrate into the opponents space under the net provided that this doesn’t interfere with the opponents play.

When penetrating beyond the centerline…

  • To touch the opponents’ court with a foot (feet) or hand (hands) is permitted provided that some part of the penetrating foot or hand remains either in contact with or above the centerline.

  • To contact the body with any other part of the body is forbidden.

A player may enter the opponents’ court when the ball is “out of play”.

Players may penetrate into the opponents free zone provided they don’t interfere with opponents play. 

Player Contacting the Net - Rules of Volleyball Contact with the net by a player is not a fault unless it is made during the action of playing the ball or it interferes with play.

Some actions in playing the volleyball include actions where players don’t actually touch the volleyball.

Once the player has hit the volleyball, they may touch the post, rope, or any object outside the total length of the net as long as it doesn’t interfere with play.

When the ball is driven into the net and causes the net to touch an opponent, no fault is committed.

Playing Faults at the Net - Rules of Volleyball

  • A player touches the volleyball or an opponent in the opponents’ space before or during the opponents attack hit.

  • A player penetrates into the opponents’ space under the net, interfering with play.

  • A player penetrates into the opponents’ court.

  • A player touches the net or antennae during the action of playing the ball or interferes with play.

Service - Rules of Volleyball

The service is the act of put the volleyball into play from the service zone.

Serving Order - Rules of Volleyball The first service of the first set (game) and the deciding set is executed by the team determined by the toss.

The other sets will be started by the team that didn’t start the serve first in the previous set.

The players must follow the service order recorded on the line up sheet. After the first serve, the player to serve is determined as follows…

  • When the serving team wins the rally, the player (or substitute) who served before serves again.

  • When the receiving team wins the rally, it gains the right to serve and rotates before actually serving. The player that was “right front” is now in the “right back” position and will serve.

Authorizing a Serve - Rules of Volleyball The first referee authorizes the server to serve after have checked the teams are ready to play and the server is in possession of the volleyball. 
Executing a Serve - Rules of Volleyball The volleyball shall be hit with one hand or any part of one arm after being tossed or released from one hand or both hands.

Only one toss or release of the volleyball is allowed. Dribble or moving the ball around is permitted.

At the moment of the serve contact, or takeoff for a jump serve, the server must not touch the court or the ground outside the service zone.

After the contact for serve, the player may step or land outside the service zone, or inside the court.

The entire “service action” must take place within the playing area.

USAV Rule The server must contact the ball within 8 seconds after the referee whistles for serve. 

USAV Rule for 14 years and younger The server must contact the ball within 5 seconds after the referee whistles for serve. If the ball after being tossed or released by the server, lands without touching the player, it is considered a service tossing error. After the tossing error, the referee authorizes services again and the server must execute it within 5 seconds. One service tossing error is permitted for each service.

A serve executed before the referees whistle for serve is cancelled and repeated.

After the whistle for serve, no other actions requests for line-up check, time-out,substitution, etc.) may be considered until after the volleyball has been served and the rally completed. This is true even if a request has been made after a server has initiated service action and legally permitted the ball to fall to the floor.

A re-serve is considered part of a single effort to serve and must be completed before any requests may be considered. 

Screening - Rules of Volleyball The players on the serving team must not prevent their opponent, through individual or collective screening, from seeing the server or the flight path of the volleyball.

A player or group of players on the serving team make a screen by waving their arms, jumping or moving sideways, or by standing grouped together to hide the flight path of the volleyball during the execution of the serve.

The factors to be weighed when judging whether a screen is being committed are…

  • Relative position of the players on the serving team

  • Path of the serve

  • Speed of the serve

  • Trajectory of the serve

If the players of the serving team are positioned close to each other, the serve passes over these players, is fast and has a low trajectory; the probability is greater that a screen has been committed.

The probability of a screen occurring is less if…

  • Players of the serving team aren’t positioned closed to each other or are attempting to prevent a screen

  • Path of the served ball is not over the players

  • Speed of the serve is slow

  • Trajectory of the serve is high

Service Faults - Rules of Volleyball The following are serving faults even if the opponent is out of position…

  • The server violates the service order

  • The server doesn’t execute the service properly

Faults After the Serve - Rules of Volleyball After the ball has been correctly contacted, the service becomes a fault (assuming there’s no position fault) if the ball…

  • Touches a player of the serving team or fails to completely cross the vertical plane of the net through the crossing space

  • Goes “out of play”

  • Passes over a screen

Faults after Service and Positioning Faults - Rules of Volleyball If the server makes a fault at the moment of service contact, and the opponent is out of position, it is the serving fault which is sanctioned.

However, if the execution of service is done correctly, but the serve becomes faulty (ball goes out, volleyball goes over a screen, etc.) the positional fault has taken place first and is sanctioned. 

Attack Hit - Rules of Volleyball

All actions which direct the volleyball toward the opponent, with the exception of a serve or block, are considered an attack hits.

During an attack hit, tipping the volleyball is permitted only if the ball is cleanly hit, not caught or thrown.

An attack hit is completed the moment it completely crosses the vertical plane of the net or is touched by an opponent.

Restrictions - Rules of Volleyball A front row player may complete an attack hit at any height, provide the contact is made within the players own playing space.

A back row player may complete an attack hit at any height from beyond the front zone…

  • At the moment of takeoff, the players foot (or feet) can’t touch or cross over the attack line.

  • After contact with the volleyball, the player may land in the front zone.

A back row player may also complete an attack hit from the front zone if at moment of contact with the volleyball, the “entire ball” isn’t higher than the top of the net.

No player is permitted to complete an attack hit on the opponents serve when the ball is in the front zone and the “entire ball” is higher than the top of the net.

Faults of the attack hit…

  • A player hits the ball within the opponents playing space

  • A player hits the ball “out of play”

  • A back row player completes an attack hit from the front zone when at moment of contact with the ball; the “entire ball” is higher than the top of the net.

  • A player completes an attack hit on the opponents serve when the ball is in the front zone and at the moment of contact the “entire ball” is higher than the top of the net.

  • A libero completes an attack hit and at the moment of contact the “entire ball” is higher than the top of the net. 
Rules in volleyball allow the libero to attack from anywhere on the court as long as at the moment on contact the ball or part of the ball is below the top of the net.
  • A player completes an attack hit and at the moment of contact the “entire ball” is higher than the top of the net when the ball is coming from an overhand finger pass by a libero that is in the front zone. In this situation, iff an attack hit fault is completed simultaneously with a blocking fault by the opponent, a double fault is committed.

Block - Rules of Volleyball

Blocking - Rules of Volleyball Blocking is the action of a player close to the net intercepting a volleyball coming from the opponent by reaching higher than the top of the net. Only front row players are permitted to complete a block.

block attempt is the action of trying to block without touching the volleyball.

A block is completed whenever a volleyball is touched by a blocker.

collective block is executed by 2 or 3 players close to each other and is completed when one of them touches the volleyball.

Consecutive contacts of the volleyball may be made by one or more blockers provided the contacts are during one action.

When blocking, a player may place hands beyond the net, provided this action doesn’t interfere with the opponents play. Thus, a blocker can’t touch a volleyball beyond the net until the attacker has executed the attack hit.

Blocking beyond the net is permitted provided…

  • The block is made after the opponents have hit the volleyball in such a manner that the ball would clearly cross the net if not touched by a player and no member of the attacking team is in position to make a play on the volleyball.

  • The ball is falling near the net and no member of the attacking team could make a play on the volleyball.

A block contact is not counted as a team contact. Therefore, after a block, a team is entitled to three contacts to return the volleyball.

The first team contact after a block may be executed by any player, include who touched the volleyball during the block.

Blocking an opponent’s serve is forbidden.

If a blocking fault is completed simultaneously with an opponents attack hit fault, a double fault is committed and the rally is replayed.

Blocking Faults - Rules of Volleyball The following are blocking faults…

  • The blocker touches the ball in the opponents space either before or simultaneously with the opponents attack hit.

  • A back row player or libero completes a block or participates in a collective block. Blocking the opponents serve.

  • The ball is deflected “out of play” off a block.

  • Blocking the ball in the opponents space outside the antennae.

Kenda S. Lenberg. 2005-2006: USA Volleyball Domestic Competition Regulations: pp. 27–41.

Rules of Volleyball Related Pages

Refereeing Volleyball
A Coaches Guide to Officiating. Important tips for officiating junior olympic volleyball. Knowing the rules and calling a consistent game goes a long way.

Referee Training
Volleyball referee training and the art of officiating. Is officiating volleyball an art or a science? Learn about the stages a volleyball referee goes through to become successful... 

Junior Official Duties
Junior referee for volleyball. Duties for a second referee. The R2 or down ref is the second official in volleyball. Responsibilities include, calling subs, timeouts, nets, centerline faults... 

Second Official Techniques
Second referee techniques. The second official is referred to as R2 or down ref. The R2 has unique responsibilities. Hand signals and duties of the second ref include nets, substitutions, time outs, line ups... 

Volleyball Signals
Volleyball hand signals. Learn the hand signals for officiating volleyball. The signal sequence is blow the whistle, show which team wins the point, then the fault. Common mistakes include late whistle, double whistling... 

Hand Signals
Hand signals volleyball. Correct techniques and sequences for referee signals. USA volleyball signals and officiating tactics. Good refereeing involves blowing the whistle first... 

USAV Signals
Hand signals for volleyball referees. Learn the proper signals and sequence for signaling. Some officiating techniques are different for the second referee. Always blow the whistle first... 

Hand Techniques
Hand signal techniques. Officials use a whistle along with signals to indicate infractions of playing rules, stopping play when necessary. Signals help coaches, spectators, and participants... 

Line Judge Training
Volleyball line judge training. Learn techniques and responsibilities for line judging volleyball. Calling lines is an important part of officiating. It's important to watch the lines for in and out, touches off the block... 

Tracker Duties
Libero tracker duties. How to use the libero control sheet. The assistant scorer identifies the libero on the line ups. Record the information on the libero control sheet. When a libero exits the court... 

Assistant Scorekeeping Techniques
Assistant scorer responsibilities. How to use the libero control sheet. The assistant scorer identifies the libero on the line up sheet. Keep track of substitutions and replacements. If two liberos are used... 

Substitution Rules
Volleyball substitution rules. Tips, procedures, and techniques for subbing in volleyball. How a coach requests a sub. Down ref method for whistling and signaling subs. For administering multiple subs... 

Substitution Procedures
Substitution volleyball procedures and techniques. Learn officiating tips for subbing in volleyball. The second referee is responsible for whistling time outs and subs... 

Substitution Tips
Volleyball substitution rules. Tips, procedures, and techniques for subbing in volleyball. A substitution request is defined as a player entering the substitution zone. A verbal request isn't... 

Net Rule
Net rule in USA volleyball. In usav, it's not a net fault unless the player interfere's with play. Touching the top band, creating an advantage, taking support, and making actions that hinder the opponent... 

Scorekeeping Tips
Scorekeeping volleyball tips. Learn how to keep score in volleyball. The official scoring method for USAV. Learn how to fill out the scoresheet and score each set. Use this scorekeeping guide... 

Scorekeeping Guide
Volleyball scorekeeping guide. Use the following tips to score keep volleyball. Learn the correct way to keep score and all the ins and outs of scoring usav. Know how to... 

USAV Scoring
USAV scorekeeping. How to record substitutions, time outs, and sanctions in USAV. Finish filling out the volleyball scoresheet after the last point is scored. In the results section, be sure to fill in... 

Scorekeeping in volleyball. Tips for scoring a usav volleyball match. How to score a deciding set. What to do when teams switch sides in the deciding set. Key points to keeping score... 

Timeout Procedures
Volleyball time outs procedures for skills for calling timeouts. Managing timeout situations. Proper technique and mechanics for administering team timeouts. When to whistle and how to signal... 

Ground Rules
Ground rules for officiating volleyball. It's important to go over the court rules before the start of the match. The head referee should discuss all the rules before the start of the match. The officiating team and team captains should... 

› Rules of Volleyball

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