Volleyball is a widely popular team sport played on a rectangular court divided evenly by a standing net. Two opposing teams, one on each side of the net, use primarily their hands to hit a spherical ball back and forth over an approximate 8 ft (2.4 m) net. The main types of volleyball are those played indoors on a hard floor, those played outside on grass, dirt, or other material, and those played outside on sand, what is commonly called beach volleyball. Because volleyball is an actively played sport, it helps to provide a healthy workout for all parts of the body.


The object of volleyball is to score more points than the opposing team. This is done by sending the ball over the net and grounding it inside the opposing team's court before its players are able to hit it back over the net and ground it inside their opposition's court. However, whether one wins or loses, each player's strenuous and constant activities during the play of volleyball results in a physically fit body and good cardiovascular health.


People of all ages play volleyball around the world. The international governing body for volleyball—the International Federation of Volleyball (FIVB), headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland—estimates that about 800 million people annually play the game.


Volleyball was invented in 1895, by William G. Morgan, an American physical education director at the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Morgan's new game, called Mintonette, was invented based on rules found in handball and tennis. The first volleyball championship in the United States was held in 1922. Six years later, the U.S. Volleyball Association was formed. Today, it is known as USA Volleyball. In 1947, the FIVB was organized. The Olympic Games include volleyball as one of their competitions. Indoor volleyball was first played at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. Beach volleyball made its debut at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. Today, national championships are held in the United States for players of different age groups, with each championship play geared to a particular five-year age increment.


A player for the Russian team Dinamo-Kazan prepares to spike the ball to the waiting Dynamo Moscow team during a Superleague matchup in Moscow, Russia, November 2016.

A player for the Russian team Dinamo-Kazan prepares to spike the ball to the waiting Dynamo Moscow team during a Superleague matchup in Moscow, Russia, November 2016. Volleyball is a widely popular team sport than can be enjoyed both indoors and outdoors.
Playing surface

The rectangular playing surface for volleyball is called a court. For indoor volleyball, this area is 59 ft (18 m) by 29.5 ft (9 m). The ceiling of the building used for indoor volleyball should be at least 23 ft (7 m) in height, and preferably even higher. When played outdoors on sand, the surface area is slightly smaller.

The two sides of the longer dimension of a volleyball court are called the sidelines, one on each side of the court. One center line that is directly below the net divides the longer dimension in half. Thus, each half of the volleyball court consists of a square area 29.5 ft (9 m) by 29.5 ft (9 m). The shorter dimension contains two back lines that are the boundary lines at the furthest points from the center line.

For indoor volleyball, two attack lines are drawn parallel to the center line—with one line 10 ft (3 m) from the centerline on each side of the court. The attack line separates each side into a back row (back court) area and a front row (front court) area. Each of these is further (loosely) divided into three areas (positions). The position of the serving player is called number “1,” the right-side front row person is number “2,” and so forth, counterclockwise to the number “6,” which is positioned next to and to the left of the server.

The service line encompasses the entire back line; however, the ball must be contacted within the confines of the sidelines and the serving player must not touch any part of the back line with their foot. When jump serving, the player's feet typically leave the floor behind the back line and may cross over the back line landing inside the court after contact of the ball.


The ball is an inflated sphere that is about the same size as a soccer ball. According to the FIVB, its circumference must be between 25 and 27 in. (65 and 67 cm), weigh from 9–10 oz (260–280 g), and have a pressure of 4.267–4.623 lb./sq. in. (0.300–0.325 kg/sq cm). The material used to make the ball's cover is natural leather or a synthetic material made to look like leather.


When a team consists of six players, such as for indoor play, three players play in a row near the front of the net and another three players stand in a row further away from the net. The game begins by deciding who serves first. A server initiates a game by standing behind the end line and serving the ball over the net into the court of the receiving team. The serve may be done by throwing the ball up and hitting it while in the air or holding the ball with one hand while hitting it with the other hand. Only one serve try is allowed. This serve is called the “start of a rally.”

The receiving team must hit the ball over the net before it hits the ground. These players can hit the ball up to three times (in addition to the block contact), but an individual player can only hit it once in a row. Typically, the first hit is called a “bump” (or a pass). It is used to position the ball so its flight is directed toward the player called the “setter.” The second hit (by the setter) is usually an overhand pass using the player's wrists to push the fingertips toward the ball so the ball's trajectory is directed in the general area of the attacker. Consequently, the third hit is oftentimes a spike. This consists of the attacker jumping up in the air while raising one arm over the head to hit the ball so it moves in a downward angle toward the opposing team's court while still going above the net. These actions are called the offensive part of the game, while the other players are defending themselves against the return of the ball to their side of the court.

At the same time, the players on defense try to prevent the other team from getting the ball grounded on their side of the court. Players in the front court typically jump up and extend their hands above the top of the net to try to block the ball coming from the offensive team. If the ball is not able to be blocked by them, then the back court players try to prevent the ball from hitting the floor by using a “dig” play that consists of using the forearm to hit the ball upward. If one of the players is able to successfully dig the ball and the ball goes flying over the net, then this side becomes the defensive team and the other side becomes the offensive team. If the ball remains on their side, the opposite occurs.

Players cannot hold onto the ball while it is in play. Any part of the body may be used to hit the ball, but the hands are used most often. The rally continues as long as each team does not allow the ball to be grounded on their side and they hit the ball only up to three times before it returns to the other side.

A rally is stopped under three circumstances: (1) a team grounds the ball inside the boundary of the opponent's court (they make a “kill”), (2) a team loses the rally (make a “fault”), or (3) an illegal play or fault occurs on either side of the court. Some of the more frequently seen faults include the following:

Points are awarded to the serving team if the opposing team does not get the ball over the net, such as if the ball hits the ground within the playing area, or if the ball does not go over the net. The server continues to serve as long as points are scored by this person's team. If the point is not awarded to the serving team, then the other team begins to serve. After a team wins back a serve, then a new server is used, with a circular rotation method.

Traditionally, a point was scored by a team only when it serves. When using these rules, if the point is won by the nonserving team, then they get the ball back for serving. In most competitions now, points are scored whether the team is serving or not. This is called “rally scoring.”

The first team to score 15 points (in a traditional volleyball game) wins the game. When rally scoring is used, then 25 points are required to win. An indoor volleyball match consists of winning two out of three games or three out of five games—whichever is decided before match play. Beach volleyball usually consists of one game from traditional scoring or two out of three when using rally scoring.

There are many standard plays in volleyball. Some of them are:

For serving, players rotate one position clockwise every time their team wins a volley and is allowed to serve again. Only the three players in the front row are allowed to block, jump, and spike the ball near the net. The back-row players are only allowed to hit the ball over the net if they jump from behind the attack line.


Officials are used during competitive matches in volleyball. They usually include an up-referee, down-referee, scorer, and line judges.


Warming up before playing volleyball is critical so muscles can be best prepared for all of the physical activities involved in the game. Five or so minutes of light exercise will prepare the body for the physical actions found within volleyball. Stretching exercises are also recommended. However, stretching should be done after other exercises so muscles are not injured. After playing volleyball, spend another five minutes to cool down. Light exercises or walking helps to return the body to its resting state. Stretching afterward is also recommended.

Relating to the muscles in the abdomen.
A unit of energy.
Related to the heart and blood vessels.

To play volleyball at the utmost level of competition, certain exercises should be performed. When performed on a regular basis, they will provide more agility, endurance, and strength while playing volleyball.

These physical attributes are needed because volleyball players need (1) agility for quick reaction during fast-paced games; (2) endurance to maintain a high level of energy throughout games, and (3) strength for spiking, serving, and all of the other moves used in volleyball games. Endurance is especially important because volleyball is a game of near-constant action involving long or short rallies, followed by a very short break, followed by another rally and so forth throughout the game.

Almost all of the muscles of the body are used in volleyball. Some of the more important muscle groups to increase strength for better serving, spiking, blocking, and jumping include the abdominal muscles, leg muscles, and arm muscles. For instance, to improve upper body strength, volleyball players will do bench presses, pull-ups, pull-downs, and medicine ball throws. To decrease risk of shoulder injuries, players will do upper back exercises such as rows and rotator cuff muscle strengthening exercises.


Volleyball is a highly competitive sport. Consequently, injuries will happen. Some of the more common injuries are sprains and strains, especially to the ankle. In addition, injuries to the hand and finger, knee, and shoulder also occur. When playing volleyball, the actions of attacking (hitting or spiking) cause the most injuries. Blocking injuries often result in injuries to the finger or ankle, while spiking injuries occur frequently to the shoulder, knee, and ankle.



Playing volleyball helps to lose weight when done together with a proper diet. About 45 minutes of volleyball expends (burns) up to 600 calories, resulting in weight loss over a long period. By losing weight, one has a reduced risk from diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), and heart disease.

Volleyball also helps to improve aerobic endurance, what is often called cardiovascular fitness. It also helps with stamina because one plays volleyball almost continuously for extended periods. Besides improving physical attributes, mental alertness is also improved because players must analyze, evaluate, and react to quick situations and strategies set before them. Players must also have motivation and self-confidence in themselves to play at their best, along with being able to cope with pressure situations.

Strength and power are also important because volleyball players need to exert a large amount of force in a short period, such as when they spike the ball. Speed and quickness are necessary because the ability to move quickly around the volleyball court is essential for scoring points and defending against the other team. Flexibility and dexterity are also improved, as is hand and eye coordination and balance.



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May-Treanor, Misty, and Jill Lieber Steeg. Misty: Digging Deep in Volleyball and Life. New York: Scribner, 2010.

Reynaud, Cecile. Coaching Volleyball Technical and Tactical Skills. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2011.

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Waite, Pete. Aggressive Volleyball. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2009.


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Chew, Norma. “What Are the Health Benefits of Volleyball?” LiveStrong.com . August 18, 2013. http://www.livestrong.com/article/407232-what-are-the-health-benefits-of-volleyball (accessed January 24, 2017).

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International Federation of Volleyball, Chateau Les Tourelles; Edouard-Sandoz 2-4, Lausanne, 1006, France, 41 21 345-3535, Fax: 41 21 (345-3545), info@fivb.org, http://www.fivb.org .

USA Volleyball, 4065 Sinton Rd., Ste. 200, Colorado Springs, CO, 80907, (719) 228-6800, Fax: (719) 228-6899, postmaster@usav.org, http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Volleyball .

William A. Atkins, BB, BS, MBA

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.