Member of Team USA Competes in Paralympic Sitting volleyballMember of Team USA Competes in Paralympic Sitting volleyball

Sitting volleyball

Sitting volleyball was introduced to the world in 1965 by the Dutch Sports Committee, and the first international competition was held two years later in Flensburg, Germany. Since then, sitting volleyball has spread across the world and is currently one of the most popular sports among athletes with physical impairments as well as able-bodied volleyball players with a short-term injury of the ankle or knee. Indeed, at non-international levels of competition, sitting volleyball presents a rare opportunity in team sports to integrate able-bodied athletes with those with an impairment.

The fast-paced, electrifying sport of sitting volleyball has been a part of the Paralympic Games program since the men’s competition debuted at the Arnhem 1980 Games. In fact, both sitting and standing men’s volleyball were part of every Paralympic Games from 1980 to 2000. After the 2000 Paralympics, men’s standing volleyball was eliminated from the program and women’s sitting volleyball was added.

The object of sitting volleyball is the same as other forms of volleyball: hit the ball over the net and land it in the opposing team’s half of the court. The twist, of course, is that all twelve athletes—six on each team—are sitting on the court. As such, sitting volleyball requires a smaller court and a lower net. As in Olympic volleyball, each team may touch the ball up to three times before it must be hit back over the net to the other team. Service blocks—meaning blocking a ball when it’s served—are allowed in sitting volleyball (but not in most other forms of volleyball).



Sitting volleyball invented in the Netherlands

First international sitting volleyball competition held in Germany

Sitting volleyball debuts as a demonstration sport at the Toronto Paralympic Games

Men’s sitting volleyball debuts as a medal sport at the Arnhem Paralympic Games

Women’s sitting volleyball debuts at the Athens Paralympic Games



Paralympic sitting volleyball competition includes two tournaments—one for men and one for women. Each game is played by two teams of six players each.

Sitting volleyball matches are played to the best of five sets. In the first four sets, the team that reaches 25 points first with a two-point lead wins. To win the match, a team must win three of five sets. If a fifth set is played, the first team to reach 15 points with a two-point lead wins.


Sitting volleyball equipment includes a standard volleyball, a court (10 meters long by 6 meters wide, or approximately 33 feet by 20 feet) and a net. In men’s competition, the net is 1.15 meters (3.77 feet) high, while in women’s competition the net is 1.05 meters (3.44 feet).


Game play: A volleyball is put in play when it’s hit by the server over the net to the opposing team. The rally continues until the ball is grounded or goes out of bounds, or when a team fails to return it properly. When a team wins a rally, it scores a point and the right to serve, and its players rotate one position clockwise.

Stay seated: Some part of an athlete’s upper body, from buttocks to shoulders, must be in contact with the floor when he or she is in contact with the ball. The athlete does not have to be in contact with the floor at all times.

USA! USA! The U.S. Women’s Sitting Team has medaled in every Paralympics since women’s sitting volleyball was introduced in 2004.

On the edge: If the ball lands on the boundary line, it is considered to be in-bounds. The opposing side is awarded a point and the serve.

Athlete Spotlight:

Katie Holloway

Two-time Paralympian Katie Holloway is the face of Team USA's sitting volleyball team and a strong believer in the power of both able-bodied and adaptive sports. Holloway was born without a fibula (calf bone) in her right leg, and before she turned two years old doctors had amputated her right foot and ankle. Proving that you don't need two legs to be an outstanding athlete, the six-foot, three-inch teenager excelled in both volleyball and basketball at Lake Stevens High School in Lake Stevens, Washington. She was recruited to play Division 1 basketball at Cal State Northridge, making her the first and only woman with a prostheticDefinition: An artificial body part, such as a leg or arm. limb to play NCAA basketball. That experience helped teach Holloway the work ethic of competition at some of the highest levels of sport—a lesson that would help carry her to the Paralympic Games.

While Holloway was in college, the U.S. Sitting Volleyball Team came to Northridge to practice, and Holloway had the opportunity to watch practice and meet the coach, who invited her to a training camp. She joined the U.S. Women's Sitting Volleyball Team and quickly proved her mettle, scoring the most points for her team in her Paralympic debut at the Beijing 2008 Games on their way to winning silver.

In 2009, 2010 and 2011, Holloway helped Team USA bring home four gold medals from the Parapan American Championships, Parapan American Zonal Championships (twice) and World Organization Volleyball for Disabled (WOVD) World Cup. She returned to the Paralympic Games with Team USA in London in 2012, again taking home silver. That same year, she was named USA Volleyball's Female Athlete of the Year for sitting volleyball. Headed into the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, Holloway and Team USA are bolstered by the confidence of a second-place finish in the 2014 World Championships.

Althete Spotlight Katie Holloway


Paralympic sitting volleyball competition is open to male and female athletes with physical impairments.

Note: The models presented below are examples. A classification evaluation must be performed to determine an athlete’s sport class(es).

Physical Impairment

Visual Impairment

Intellectual Impairment

Each player on a team is allocated one of two sport classes: D (for “disabled”) and MD (for “minimally disabled). To ensure a fair competition between two teams, a team may have only two MD players on the roster and one on the court at any time. The other five players on the court must be in sport class D.




Sitting volleyball athletes with the mildest physical impairments—though still severe enough to qualify for the Paralympic Games—are assigned sport class MD (minimally disabled). Impairments may include a foot or finger amputationDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body..

Impairment Severity Scale



Sitting volleyball sport class D (disabled) includes athletes with a range of impairments, including amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body..

Impairment Severity Scale