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Beach Volleyball Rules & Regulations

Beach volleyball is an exciting, fast paced sport in which two teams, separated by an elevated net, compete to down the ball on the opponent’s side of the court. Beach volleyball can be a fun leisurely beach activity, but formal volleyball matches adhere to a set of rules that control the size of the court, the number of players, equipment specifications and game play.

The information below is a general overview of basic beach volleyball rule and regulations. For more specific information regarding the particular policies of each governing body, please see the links at the bottom of the page.

Basic Principles of the Game

Knowing and understanding the basic tenets of beach volleyball can be helpful for beach newbies and veterans alike. That being said, here is an outline of the principles of the sport:

Don't Let the Ball Hit the Floor on Your Side of the Net

The primary objective in volleyball is make the ball hit the floor on the opponent’s side of the court, while simultaneously preventing it from dropping on your side. Beach players go to great lengths to keep the ball from hitting the sand—and they have the scrapes and bruises to prove it.

3 Contacts/Hits per Side

Each team is allowed a maximum of three contacts before it must send the ball back over the net. The preferred sequence is a dig (an underarm pass made with the forearms), followed by a set (an overhead pass with the hands), and then an attack (overhead one-handed hit directed over the net and towards the opponent).

Teams are also permitted to block the ball as it comes over the net. The resulting contact does not count towards the three contacts per side. In theory, this means that a team could technically contact the ball four times (with the first contact being a block) without penalty.

Two Players on a Team

In beach volleyball, teams are comprised of two players. The responsibility for serving alternates between the two teammates. Because two people are responsible for covering the court, players usually choose a partner with a complementary but opposite skill set. For example, a player who is an excellent hitter but sub-par passer would want to choose a teammate who was an above average passer.

No Player Can Hit the Ball Twice in Succession

The rules state that no player is allowed to hit the ball multiple times in row. While this principle appears to be straightforward, it can get a little confusing: If the double contact occurs on a team’s initial hit it is a legal play. However, the double becomes illegal if a player makes two separate attempts to hit the ball. In other words, you may “double the ball” (volleyball slang for hitting the ball twice) as long as it is on your team’s first contact and you made a single motion to contact the ball.

If you want to know more about the ramifications and applications of this rule, check out the guide on ball handing.

A Player May Not Cause the Ball to Come to a Rest During Contact

Volleyball can be categorized as a “rebound” sport because the rules prevent participants from contacting the ball for a prolonged amount of time. Players are not allowed to carry, palm or throw the ball.

The Net is Off-Limits

No part of a player’s body or uniform is allowed to touch the net, but, participants are permitted to play the ball out of the net during a volley and a serve. Also, in beach volleyball it is perfectly legal to cross under the net as long it does not interfere with an opponent’s attempt to play the ball.

Game Play

Like tennis, volleyball matches are broken up into individual sets (also called games). Matches are made up of three games and a team must win two of the games in the series in order to win the match. Before the start of a match, the referee will conduct a captain’s meeting and a coin toss. The winner of the coin toss has the option of choosing to serve or to receive the serve. The privilege of the “first serve” will then alternate between teams in subsequent games.

The first team to 21 points wins the game, but play continues until one team wins by at least two points. For example, if the score is tied at 20-20 and team “A” scores point 21, the game is not yet done because neither team has gained a two point advantage. The third game—which always acts as a tie breaker—is played to 15 points. Like the first two games of the match, a team must acquire at least a two point advantage to win the tie breaker.

It is also customary for teams to switch sides of the court whenever the combined score of the two teams is a multiple of 7. For example, if Team A has six points and Team B has seven points the teams will switch sides after the next point is scored because the total score will then equal 14 (a multiple of seven). In the third game, teams change sides when the total score is a multiple of five.

Court and Equipment

Beach volleyball is played on a rectangular court measuring 16 x 8 meters. The court is divided into two equal parts by a center line and a net. The net resides over the center line and stands at a height of 2.43 m for men and 2.24 m for women.

For more information on court and equipment specifications, check out the beach volleyball court dimensions guide on Isport.

Scoring

A point is awarded when play stops at the end of each rally. A team does not need to be serving to score points. This scoring method is called “the rally point system.”

Some common scoring tactic include: Setting up hits to aim at the weaker players on the team; aiming for vacant areas on the court; or spiking the ball close-in to the opponent's side of the net. Any rule infraction will also results in a point for the other team.

Substitutions

Unlike indoor volleyball, beach volleyball rules do not allow substitutions. If a player is injured during a match and unable to play, his/her team must forfeit the contest.

The Skills

There are five fundamental skills in the sport of volleyball: serving, passing, setting, blocking, and hitting. While it is natural to have a greater inclination towards certain skills and not others, a player should have a general grasp of all the basic skills.

Below is a brief description of the skills and the rules that pertain to each.

Serving

The serve initiates play. While there are several different serving techniques—the underhand serve, float serve, jump serve, and top spin serve to name a few—the objective is always the same: send the ball over the net and into the opponent’s court.

To complete a legal serve, and thus begin the rally, the server must contact the ball behind the end line and between the sidelines. Most governing bodies restrict the amount of time a server has to hit the ball. Once the server makes contact, he/she can then continue past the end line and onto the main court.

The serve may touch the net as long as it passes over to the opponent’s side. If the server misses the serve and the ball does not go over the net, a sideout is called and a point is awarded to the other team.

Passing

The pass is a method of receiving an opponent’s serve and/or overhand attack. There are two popular forms of this skill: the forearm pass and the overhand pass. Proper technique for the forearm pass requires the passer to join the forearms together at waist level to form a platform with which to direct the ball to the desired target. When executing an overhand pass, the player users the hands to direct the ball.

In beach volleyball the overhand pass is judged more strictly than in traditional volleyball. The rules that most affect this skill are those regarding legal contact of the ball. Because it is illegal to catch, palm, or throw the ball, the passer receiving a hard driven ball must be sure to keep contact brief and precise.

Setting

When setting the ball, the goal is to position the ball in the air so that a teammate is able to easily complete an overhand attack/hit. The overhand technique –contacting the ball above the head with two hands simultaneously—is the most common method of setting. A team generally executes the set during its second contact.

Blocking

A block is an attempt to halt an opponent’s attack by jumping with the hands overhead to create a barrier at the net. The most common blocking violation is touching the net. Good technique can help prevent mishaps, but sometimes, net violations are inevitable.

Hitting

The attack usually takes place on a team’s third and final contact. Because an attacker’s goal is to down the ball on the other team’s side of the court, players often jump when striking the ball to increase the difficulty of receiving the hit.

Hitters must also be conscious of the rules regulating prolonged contact with the ball.

Rule Differences

As mentioned previously, many volleyball associations and/or leagues have their own rules. For more specific information regarding the intricacies of each governing body, please see the links below.

US Open Beach Volleyball

FIVB

The basics of beach volleyball might be the same as its sister sport on the hard wood, but read this guide to find out the rules that make beach volleyball unique.
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