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Volleyball is a popular sport where teams separated by a high net hit a ball back and forth between the teams using the hands and arms. It was created in Holyoke, Massachusetts, United States, and is now played around the world. It is particularly popular in East Asia, including China and Japan, and in Brazil.

Volleyball game
Volleyball game



Volleyball was invented on February 9, 1895 by William G. Morgan at a YMCA in Holyoke, Massachusetts, United States. He took as his basis the then popular German game called "Faustball" but reworked the rules considerably to give the new sport tighter competitive values. Originally called 'Mintonette', the game was Morgan's attempt to create a non-contact indoor team sport with a low risk of injury. After an observer noticed the volleying nature of the game at its first exhibition match, the game quickly became known as volleyball.

An international federation, the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB), was founded in 1947, and the first World Championships was held in 1952. Volleyball was added to the program of the Olympic Games in 1964, and has been part ever since. Beach Volleyball became a FIVB-endorsed variation in 1986 and was added to the Olympic program at the 1996 Summer Olympics.

The game is popular with both male and female participants of all ages however in the United States almost all high schools and colleges have female volleyball teams and few have male teams. Some claim this is due in part to the provisions of Title IX requiring institutions to fund mens and womens sports equally overall but not necessarily equally for an individual sport.

As a professional sport, volleyball has had limited success. Numerous attempts have been made in the United States to start professional indoor women's volleyball leagues. In 1987, the latest attempt went bankrupt due to lack of fan interest thus advertiser interest. Two-man and two-woman professional beach volleyball leagues have done better, but none have gained a wide following that would get them coverage by the major television networks. It is thought one of the reasons for this failure is the small stadium audiences that beach volleyball has. Small stadium audiences convey a level of unpopularity to television audiences. Part of the reason for such small stadium audiences is the difficulty of erecting high stands on loose sand. Those trying to make beach volley succeed as a professional sport are trying to pattern it after professional tennis. Those seeking to make indoor volleyball a professional sport are trying to pattern itself after professional basketball. Some think a possible break through for professional indoor volleyball will come with the new emergence of indoor sand volleyball (see section on it below).



The game is played on indoor courts 18 metres long and 9 metres wide, divided into two 9 x 9 metre "team courts" by a one-metre wide net placed such that its highest point is 2.43 metres above the ground in men's competition, and 2.24 metres for women's competition (these heights are varied for veterans and junior competitions). There is a line 3 metres from and parallel to the net in each team court termed the "attack line". The team courts are surrounded by an area called the free zone which is a minimum of 2 metres wide and which the players may enter and play within after the service of the ball. All lines denoting the boundaries of the team court and the attack zone are drawn or painted within the dimensions of the area and are therefore a part of the court or zone and a ball touching the line is considered in. An antenna is placed on each side of the net perpendicular to the sideline and is a vertical extension of the side boundary of the court. A ball passing over the net must pass completely between the antennae (or their theoretical extensions to the ceiling) without contacting them.

The ball, also called a volleyball, is made of leather or synthetic leather and inflated with compressed air. It is round, about the size of a soccer ball (football), but softer and lighter.

Game play

Each of the two teams consist of six players, three located in front of the attack line and three behind.

To get play started, a player from a team chosen by a coin toss (the server) throws the ball into the air and attempts to hit the ball so it passes over the net on a course such that it will land in the opposing team's court (the serve). The opposing team must use a combination of no more than three contacts with the volleyball to return the ball to the opponent's side of the net. These contacts usually consist first of the bump or pass so that the ball's trajectory is aimed towards the player designated as the setter; second of the set (an over-hand pass using finger-tip action) by the setter so that the ball's trajectory is aimed towards one or more players designated as the attacker and third by the attacker who spikes (jumping, raising one arm above the head and hitting the ball so it will move quickly down to the ground on the opponent's court) to return the ball over the net. The team with possession of the ball and that is trying to attack the ball as described is said to be on offense.

The team on defense attempts to prevent the attacker from directing the ball into their court by having players at the net jump and reach above the top (and if possible, across the plane) of the net in order to block the attacked ball. If the ball is hit around, above or through the block, the defensive players arranged in the rest of the court attempt to control the ball with a dig (a fore-arm pass of a hard-driven ball). After a successful dig, the team transitions to offense.

The game continues in this manner until the ball touches the court within the boundaries or until an error is made.

Errors or faults

  • The ball lands out of the court, in the same court as the team that touched it last, or the ball touches the net "antennas" The ball also may not pass over or outside the antennas even if it lands in the opponents court
  • The ball is touched more than three times before being returned to the other team's court*
  • The same player touches the ball twice in succession**
  • A player "lifts" or "carries" the ball (the ball remains in contact with the player's body for too long)
  • A player touches the net with any part of the body or clothing while making a play on the ball (with the exception of the hair)
  • The players of one team do not manage to touch the ball before the ball lands in their half of the court
  • A back-row player spikes the ball while it is completely above the top of the net, unless he or she jumped from behind the attack line (the player is allowed to land in front of the attack line)
  • A back-row player attempts to block an opposing teams attack by reaching above the top of the net
  • The libero, a defensive specialist who can only play in the back row, makes an "attacking hit", defined as any shot struck while the ball is entirely above the top of the net
  • A Player completes an attack hit from higher than the top of the net when the ball is coming from an overhand finger pas (set) by a Libero in the front zone.

* Except if a player blocks (touches a ball sent over the net by the opposing team, while reaching above the top of the net) a ball that stays in the blocker's side of the net. In such an instance the blocker may play the ball another time without violating the rule against playing the ball twice in succession. Also, contacts as part of a block do not count against the three allowed touches.

** At the first hit of the team, the ball may be contact various parts of the body consecutively provided that the contacts occur during one action.


When the ball contacts the floor within the court boundaries or an error is made, the team that did not make the error is awarded a point, whether or not it served the ball. The team that won the point is awarded the right to serve for the next point. If the team that won the point served the previous point, the same player serves again. If the team that won the point did not serve the previous point, the players of the team rotate their position on the court in a clockwise manner. The game continues, with the first team to score 25 points (and be two points ahead) awarded the set. Matches are best-of-five sets and the fifth set (if necessary) is usually played to 15 points.

Before 2000, points could be scored only when a team had the service (side-out scoring) and all sets went up to only 15 points. In, 2000, this rule was changed to the current scoring (formerly known as rally point system), primarily to make the length of the match more predictable and to make the game more spectator- and television-friendly.

Player specialization

Players generally specialize in one of three positions: attacker/blocker, setter or defensive specialist. In 1998 the Libero player was introduced. Generally, tall players with the ability to jump high are selected as attackers/blockers, where they attempt to block or spike opponents initial hits and return the ball at high speed on steep trajectories so that the ball lands before the other team has time to react. Setters are responsible for coordinating the offense and taking the second contact in an attempt to place the ball in the air where an attacker can hit the ball into the opponent's court. Defensive specialists, especially the libero are responsible for receiving the attack (the dig) and are usually the players on the court with the quick reaction time and best passing skills. The Libero must wear a different colored jersey, cannot block, attempt to block or serve and has special rules for substitution.


Other rule changes enacted in 2000 included the introduction of the net serve which allows play to continue even if a served ball touches the net as long as it continues into the opponent's court. The libero was introduced as the sport's first rule-defined specialist position and allows shorter players to participate and compete in a sport dominated by height. The libero can be recognised by the fact that they must wear a different coloured jersey to the rest of their team. Also, the service area was expanded and now players may serve from anywhere behind the end line but still within the theoretical extension of the side-lines.

Until 1998, it was a foul if the ball contacted any part of the body below the waist. However, modern rules allow any part of the body to hit the ball, including the legs and feet. Kick volleyball, where the ball is primarily contacted with the feet, is a popular variant, particular in South American countries.


Beach volleyball

A newer variation of the game, beach volleyball, has evolved from the popular social games of volleyball played on many beaches around the world. This version, rather than played on indoor hard courts, is played on sand courts which may either be formed naturally or built specifically for the purpose. Instead of a team of six, each team consists of only two players, but otherwise the rules are almost identical with some exceptions including:

  • The size of the court
  • The block always counts as the first contact
  • The disallowance of the dink play where a player uses their finger tips to redirect the ball into the opponent's court instead of a hard spike
  • Stricter rules around double-contacts during hand setting

Indoor Sand Volleyball

This is an even newer variation than beach volleyball. As beach volleyball took volleyball outdoors, indoor sand volleyball takes beach volleyball indoors. In the United States, a growing number of colleges are now considering switching from hard court indoor volleyball to sand court indoor volleyball. The biggest reason for the possible change is the reduced rate of injury of players. Secondary reasons are 1) bad weather doesn't cancel play as what commonly happens with beach volleyball and 2) it enable the game to be more appealing to spectators since sand courts do not need players to wear nobbing elbow and knee pads nor shoes. Still another reason for the expected success is the assumption that indoor teams will wear bikinis as beach volleyball teams do and thus increasing the sex appeal of the sport to male audiences. Indoor sand volleyball teams vary from two to six members, with college teams being six.

An indoor sand volleyball court normally doesn't have its own special arena, but uses an indoor basketball court. A protective tarp covers the floor of the basketball court and then "soft" sand is brought in and laid a foot deep over the tarp. The boundries are commonly marked off with lines in the sand. However, a recent innovation uses colored lasers that illuminate the lines in the sand.

Sitting volleyball

Sitting volleyball for locomotor-disabled individuals was first introduced in 1956 by the Dutch Sports Committee. International competition began in 1967, but it would be 1978 before the International Sports Organisation for the Disabled (ISOD) sanctioned the sport and sponsored an official international tournament in 1979 at Haarlem, Netherlands.

Players in this variation typically are amputees or paraplegics. The game is played on a smaller 10 x 6 meter court and with a .8 meter-wide net set to a height of 1.15 meters for men and 1.05 meters for women. When hitting or attacking the ball, players may not lift or raise the buttocks from the floor surface.

Men's sitting volleyball was introduced to the Paralympic Games in 1980 and has grown to be one of the more popular Paralympic sports due to the fast and exciting action. Women's sitting volleyball was added to the program for Athens 2004. The international governing body for the sport is The World Organisation Volleyball for Disabled (WOVD).

Another attraction of sitting volleyball is how it eliminates the height of the players as a determining factor for team success. Blocks, spikes and overhand serves are easier to do for tall people thus they have a major advantage over short people during a normal volleyball game. Making all players sit removes this advantage.

Blind Volleyball

Another variation that tries to remove height of players as a determining factor in team success is blind volleyball. Ad-hoc blind volleyball is where sheets are draped over the net so one side cannot see the other side. A more formal type of blind volleyball removes the traditional volleyball net and replaces it with a thick tarp. The tarp being thick enough that shadows cast on it cannot be seen from the other side. Blocks, spikes, and overhand serves are prohibited. Blocks are almost impossible to do since it is difficult to know where the ball is going to come over the net. Spikes and overhand serves are prohibited because it is already very difficult for the receiving team to react to any incoming ball that to increase the speed of it would make returning it almost impossible.

An additional attraction for blind volleyball is that the spectators have an advantage over the players as they see what is taking place on both sides. It creates a higher level of suspence for spectators that no other variation of volleyball can.

Another unique feature of blind volleyball is how it can make the back row the row that hits the ball over the net. In regular volleyball, the back row tends to receive the volleyball and then move it to the front row. In blind volleyball, moving the ball to the back row makes it harder for the other team to see where the ball is and by hitting the ball on a more flat trajectory, the back row can more surprise the receiving team on where the ball will be coming over the net.

However, this variatin of volleyball is unknown to most people.

Nine-man volleyball

A variation of volleyball utilizing nine players and a slightly larger court originated in Asia in the 1920s when American missionaries introduced the game there in China. The variant became popular within the Chinese-American communities in large US cities (Chinatown) and continues with a rotating popular tournaments called the North American Chinese Invitational Tournament.

Co-ed teams

Most competitive volleyball is played with same-sex teams (exclusively so at the elite levels). Mixed teams for indoor play with both male and female players operate under co-ed rules requiring alternating male and female players in the rotation or service order. Additionally, at least one contact of a team's possible three contacts must be made by a female player. Based on this rule, strategically, the setter on a co-ed team is usually a female player.

External links

  • Volleyball.ORG, information on amateur, professional, collegiate, and olympic variations of the sport.


  • International volleyball
  • Beach volleyball
  • Professional beach volleyball
  • Nine Man Chinese Volleyball
  • The World Organisation Volleyball for Disabled
  • Official Website of the Tours Volley Ball, French champion 2004

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Last updated: 02-04-2005 11:38:08
Last updated: 02-22-2005 02:26:39