How Is Volleyball Scored, Exactly? Here’s a Beginner’s Guide

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If you’re not on the women’s volleyball wave, it’s time to get acquainted. The sport is loaded with killer athleticism and the energy is undeniably electric. But if you’re Googling, “How is volleyball scored? mid-game, you’re not alone. Volleyball scoring can seem complex, but we’re here to serve up (pun intended, sorry!) everything you need to know about the game.

Before we dive into it, there are two types of volleyball you’ll typically see: team volleyball and beach volleyball. Team volleyball, also sometimes called indoor volleyball, has two teams of six players on a hard court, with different players occupying different positions or specialties, while beach volleyball is played in sand and only has two players per team.

Now that you’re primed on the basics, here’s the 411 on volleyball scoring and the volleyball scoring rules. First, we’ll go over the rules of indoor volleyball scoring; then, we’ll review the rules of beach volleyball scoring.

How Many Sets Are in Volleyball?

Indoor volleyball matches are best-of-five sets. In other words, a team must win three of the five sets to win the match. In the first four sets, the team that scores 25 points by at least a two-point margin of victory wins the set. If needed, fifth sets are played to 15 points, again, with a minimum lead of two points needed to end the match.

What Are the Two Types of Scoring in Volleyball?

There are two main types of scoring in volleyball: rally scoring and side-out scoring. That said, side-out scoring is rarely used, after rally scoring was officially adopted by the NCAA in the late 1990s/early 2000s.

Rally scoring is when a point is awarded to the team that wins the rally, regardless of which team has possession and serves the ball. So, a rally decides each point from the moment the ball is served until it’s out of play. If the serving team wins the rally, it scores a point and continues to serve, but if the receiving team wins a rally, it scores a point and gains the right to serve. Rally scoring is now used in most games, including the Olympics, and typically results in a faster-faced match since every point matters and there are no wasted serves.

Side-out scoring is when only the team that serves the ball can win a point. The receiving team is then attempting to win the rally so they can gain possession of the serve and begin to score points. In other words, the serving team is always playing to win the point, while the receiving team is always rallying to win the serve. This scoring method allows more of an opportunity for teams to make a comeback but, again, is rarely used anymore.

How Can a Team Score Points in Volleyball?

The object of the game is for a team to hit the ball over the net, landing it on the opponent’s court without letting them return it. Below are several other ways a team can score points in volleyball:

  • If the ball hits the floor, the opponent (the team that didn’t make the error that allowed the ball to touch the floor) scores a point.
  • If a service fault is made (for example, the ball is hit incorrectly, a player’s foot goes over the service line while attempting to serve, if a player uses their arms to obscure the receiving team’s ability to see the ball, etc.), the opponent scores a point.
  • If the ball goes out of bounds (boundary lines are determined by the lines on the court), the opponent scores a point.
  • If a player touches the net while making contact with the ball, the opponent scores a point.
  • If the ball is hit more than three times on a team’s side before getting it over the net, the opponent scores a point.

How Is Beach Volleyball Scored?

Beach volleyball uses rally scoring and pretty much follows the same scoring rules as its hard-court sibling. That said, there are some differences. Beach volleyball matches are three sets instead of five, with a best-of-three format (so a team must win two sets to win a match).

Each of the first two sets is played to 21 points, with at least a two-point advantage. If a third set is required to break a tie, the set is played to 15 points, with a minimum lead of two points needed to end the match.

Andi Breitowich is a Chicago-based freelance writer and graduate from Emory University and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Her work has appeared in PS, Women’s Health, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.

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