Beach Volleyball Basics

By John Kessel, USA Volleyball Director of Sport Development

With Beach volleyball is a very popular and fast growing sport all over the world. At the same time it is a sport recognized by major international sport associations such as the International Olympic Committee and the International Volleyball Federation. Beach volleyball is a fun game that can help you accomplish your goals of becoming a world-class athlete. The doubles game can also be played on the grass, using the same portable net systems and rules.

In 1996 Beach volleyball was, for the first time, part of the Olympic Games. 24 Men’s Teams from 19 different nations and 18 Women’s Teams from 13 nations participated in the event. The American Men finished first and second in Atlanta. 1997 the U.S. hosted the 8th Beach Volleyball World Championships at the UCLA Tennis Center. In the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, with 48 teams from 23 nations, the USA team men took home the gold again, while the other men and women’s teams all tied with three 5th place finishes. USA women made history in 2004, while playing under the lights for the first time ever, bringing home both the gold and the bronze medals. Beijing in 2008 promises to be another great competition.

Beach volleyball is big! Especially in the United States where the AVP drives a professional volleyball circus bigger than in any other country. USA Volleyball, AVPNext, the California Beach Volleyball Association (CBVA) and the AAU have hosted thousands of major beach volleyball tournaments. For over a decade, the U.S. Junior Olympic Beach Volleyball Championships have been held for kids in the Under 18,17,16,15,14,13, and 12 age brackets for both genders. The International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) staged the first ever Junior World Championships in the summer of 2001 and added the Youth Worlds in 2002. Beach volleyball now has a World University Games Championships - USA Women won the gold medal in 2002 and in 2005 will be in the Deaflympics.

History of Beach Volleyball
Beach volleyball was played for the first time in the USA in the 1920s, but for decades it has been played only for fun and recreation. Only in the last decade, this discipline has received world-wide recognition under the leadership of the FIVB President Dr. Rubén Acosta. Thanks to the collaboration of 217 affiliated National Federations and the enthusiasm of more than 50 million players, Beach volleyball has become one of the most popular summer sports around the globe.

Beach volleyball should also be grateful to all the kings and queens of the beach who dedicated their lives to the sport and have preserved the legacy of a lifestyle imitated by players all over the world. The beach has always been their home, and the only prize they ever sought after was victory. The spirit born in the early 1920s, combining fair-play and enthusiasm has been kept alive to this day.

The U.S. Junior Olympic Beach Volleyball Championships are held in late July to early August for Under 21s, 18s, 17s, 16s, 15s, 14s, 13s and 12s - boys and girls. 

Today, we can admire one of the most spectacular sports ever, on the best beaches of the world. Names like Gene Selznick, Jim Menges, Ron Van Hagen, Jose Loiola, Sinjin Smith, Randy Stoklos, Mike Dodd, Karch Kiraly, Kent Steffes, Dain Blanton, Eric Foniomoana, Jenny Johnson Jordan, Annett Davis, Holly McPeak, Misty May, Kerry Walsh, Elaine Youngs, Kathy Gregory, Nina Matthews, Liz Masakayan, Jackie Silva, Sandra Pires and many others are part of a team that has maintained the sense of tradition of the former game, brilliantly paving the way to the Olympic Games.

Why Should you Play Beach Volleyball?
The beach game is GREAT for improving your indoor skills/game. Whatever your weaknesses are, you get to work on them a ton. Unlike the 6 person game, you touch the ball in every rally, and with just two of you covering the court, you learn to read and anticipate much better. Dealing with the sun and wind helps you be more adaptable. Player height is less important outdoors, ball control and skill is most important. You get to be outside in the sun, often in beautiful settings. It is a great way to improve your jump, as there are just two of you to block and hit every rally. Communicating effectively is essential in the sport, and the game helps you and your teammate to grow stronger together. Most top level coaches encourage their players to play as much as they can on the beach. Just refrain on the day of the match. Consider also applying to one of many RVA and National High Performance Beach Camps, held in the summer, for juniors, collegiate and recent college graduates.

"A lot of indoor players are specialists, but on the beach you need to play all phases well, and you need a lot of ball control." - Karch Kiraly

Rich McLaughlin, Loyola Marymount University men’s volleyball coach explains how the sand game benefits his players:

“I’ve always told my players to play in games at the beach during the off season. It helps in so many ways. First, there are fewer guys around that can bail out your mistakes. Playing at the beach works your ball control skills. It seems it’s always the beach player who steps in from the back row to set the ball after one of those inspirational digs by the setter. Those transition plays win matches. The sand also helps you work on your speed and agility. Indoors you’ll expand your digging range and be quicker in pursuit after balls. A player like Corin Bemus (AAA) really shows that he played a lot of beach ball. He can do it all out there – hit, set, block and coaches love to have those types of athletes. Staying focused during a beach game requires a big level of concentration. Deal with any distraction after the game. During the game, focus on jump serving and passing. Set personal goals. And, of course, I remind them of the LMU way, compete, don’t just play.”

USAV - USA Volleyball (National Governing Body of the Sport), USA; fax (719) 228-6899. 715. S. Circle Drive, Colorado Springs, CO 80910 

AVP (Association of Volleyball Professionals) & AVPNext - 6080 Center Dr. 6th Floor Los Angeles, CA 90045

CBVA (California Beach Volleyball Association), 2646 Palma Drive #325, Ventura, CA 93003-7741, USA; (805) 653-5385,  

FIVB (Fédération International de Volleyball - International Volleyball Federation), Switzerland;

2 players on each side on an 8 x 8 meter court; for 3, 4, and 6 person the court it regulation 9 meters per side with 3 meters of free play area beyond the court lines. Net heights same as indoors. Coed, Reverse Coed (net at women’s height) are also popular versions.

Specifically made to play outdoors, hand stitched, slightly larger and heavier, with a synthetic colored or white leather cover
Inside pressure is 0.175 to 0.225 Kg/cm2 (4.3 to 4.6 lb/sq in)

3-set rally match is played with sets to 21 points (maximum),but 3rd deciding set there is no upper limit
1-set sideout match is played to 15 points (maximum 17)
In Rally scoring either team can score a point; in side out scoring teams can only score points on their own service

Maximum 3 shots per side (contacts)
The block counts as a contact
The net cannot be touched, even after the ball has hit the ground (continuation rule)
Ball can be played with any part of the body (except to serve)
If the ball is attacked as a hard driven ball (not touching the net on the way over), the defending team may slightly hold their first shot in defense
The ball may be held by 2 players simultaneously at the net (joust)
The attack cannot be completed with use of open hand or fingers (tip)
If the ball is set over the net as an attack it must travel perpendicularly to the players shoulder line

4 timeouts of 30 seconds per team
No substitutions
Teams swap courts every multiple of a point points (eg: for 7 pts it is 6:1, 3:4, etc…)
No positional or rotational faults except service order

Players can go under the net as long as they do not interfere with their opponents.
Players cannot deliberately prevent the opposition from seeing the server (screening).
In the case of injury a once only 5 minute-rest (maximum) is allowed.
In rally scoring the served ball is allowed to touch the net but in side out scoring the serve may not.

At the simple level, the losing team refs the next match with one player being the only referee, while the players are to keep the score, calling it out with each service. At the highest level there is a first referee (overall in charge), second referee (assisting), scorer, lines persons (4), ball retrievers and sand levelers.