The Official Rules of Volleyball

Volleyball players hitting ball over net
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Like other sports, volleyball is governed by an international body that sets rules for competition matches and tournament games. The Fédération Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB), which oversees the sport, publishes these regulations in their 2017-2020 "Official Volleyball Rules." It contains more than 20 sections, covering everything from scoring to the hand signals that referees use, to the dimensions of the playing area.

Playing Area

This section outlines dimensions of the playing court, which must be 18 meters by 9 meters, and the bordering free zone, which is 3 meters wide. For competition matches, the free zone is expanded to 5 meters wide at the sidelines and 6.5 meters at the end zones. Other subsections outline playing court surfaces, the temperature of the playing area, and lighting standards.

Net and Posts

This section sets the standards for net height, width, as well as the height and positioning of the poles that support the net. For men's competition play, the top of the net must be 2.43 meters from the ground; for women, it's 2.24 meters. Nets must be 1 meter wide and between 9.5 and 10 meters in length.


This brief section outlines material, size, and inflation pressure standards for all volleyballs used in matches. According to FIVB, a ball must be between 65 and 67 cm in circumference and weigh no more than 280 grams.

Teams and Team Leaders

Rule 4 includes regulations governing the number of players a team may have (12, plus two support personnel), as well as how many players may be on the court, where they must sit, even where the number must be positioned on a player's jersey. Rule 5, which is related, sets duties for the team caption, who is the only person allowed to speak to the referee. Rule 6 outlines similar conduct for the coach and assistant coach.


This section outlines how points are scored and matches and games won. Points are scored when the serving team lands the ball in their opponent's court, or when the opponent commits a fault or a penalty. The first team to score 25 points (with a margin of 2 points) wins the game (also called a set). The team that wins three out of five sets wins the match.

Structure of Play

A coin toss determines which of the two teams will serve first. Other aspects of play governed by this regulation include where players must stand before and during play, as well as how they rotate in and out of the game, and related penalties.

States of Play

This is the meat of the game, with regulations governing when the ball is in and out of play, as well as how players may use it. Rule 8 outlines when the ball is in play and when it is not. Rule 9 describes how to handle the ball. For instance, no player may hit the ball more than once during a single volley of play. Rules 10 and 11 discuss how the ball must clear the net in order to be considered legal, as well as whether or not players may touch the net during play.

Rules 12, 13, and 14 outline the key plays of the gameserving, attacking, and blockingand the characteristics of each motion. These regulations also describe the various faults a player can make at each of these positions and what the penalties are.


Interruptions in play may be for either time-outs or substitutions. Teams have two time-outs and six substitutions each per match. This regulation outlines procedures for requesting an interruption, how long they last, how to substitute a player, and penalties for violating these regulations.

Game Delays

These two sections outline penalties for delaying the game, such as when a player makes an illegal substitution request or takes too long to change position. It also describes instances when exceptions may occur, such as in the case of illness or injury during gameplay.

Intervals and Change of Court

An interval, the period between sets, must last three minutes. Teams also switch sides between sets, except in the case of the deciding set.

The Libero Player

In FIVB play, each team can designate two of their teammates as special defensive players known as Liberos. This section dictates how a libero may enter the game, where he or she may stand, and what kinds of plays they can and cannot engage in.

Player Conduct

Rule 20 is very brief, requiring that all players be familiar with FIVB rules and promise to honor the spirit of good sportsmanship. Rule 21 outlines instances of minor and major misconduct, as well as penalties for each. Aggressive or rude behavior on the part of players or officials is considered minor until it escalates, at which point an official may impose penalties such as the loss of a point or expel the offending player. Extreme violations may result in disqualification or forfeiture of a set.

Additional Regulations

The official rules also include a chapter on refereeing. This section outlines guidelines for the two referees, four line judges, and scorer, including where each must stand during set play. The section also contains illustrations of the various hand signals that referees use to call plays.