What’s the deal?

Teams of six players hit a ball back and forth over a net, each team trying to get the ball over in a way that’s impossible for the other team to return. If they’re successful, they get a point.

A volleyball game (or match) is made up of sets. These sets aren’t like sets in tennis, which is a collection of games. A volleyball set is one game played to 25 points, but teams have to win by a two-point margin. To win the overall game, a team has to win three out of five sets. If that fifth set is necessary, it’s only played to 15 points.

Teams get three tries to hit the ball over the net, and they usually do so in a combination of hits:

  • Bump/Dig – usually a hit when the ball is low to the ground and needs to be elevated so another team member can hit it
  • Set – a soft hit with two hands that sets up the player who will….
  • Spike – a crushing hit that aims the ball directly to the ground in hopes that the other team can’t return it (hence why players have to bump the ball)

Players can also try to block spikes, but if the ball bounces off their hands onto their side of the court, that doesn’t count as one of their three hits.

You’ll notice that one player on each team doesn’t look quite like the others. This is the Libero position, who’s solely on defense and has to stay in the back court.

Who’s competing?

Men and women each have their own tournament. Twelve countries are playing in each tournament.

Why should I watch?

Volleyball is high speed action that takes lots of jumping and some amazing agility to keep the ball in the air or spike it to the ground. Make sure you breathe–sometimes on long rallies it’s easy to hold your breath because you’re waiting to see which team will break.

Volleyball’s also a lot of fun to watch because of the camaraderie of the teams (since there’s usually a few seconds between the end of a point and the serve for the next point, there’s high-fiving and butt-slapping). Crowds also really get into the sport, so the atmosphere can be so electric that you feel it come through the TV waves.

Potential drinking game:

For every ace (unreturnable serve), take a sip. Be careful if it’s a team with especially good servers though!

The perfect snack:

Wafer cookies


The Fédération Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) is the governing body for the sport and has global news and information about the game at its website.

Referees are needed at all levels of the sport. The FIVB handles international officiating, but you’ll have to get your start at a more local level. In the US, the National Association of Sports Officials has a good guide for how to become a volleyball official, and USA Volleyball has online training materials.

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