Guide to Disabled Volleyball

By John Kessel, USA Volleyball Director of Sport Development

Standing Volleyball
Standing volleyball is played by regular volleyball rules with one exception: on-court point disability point totals. Each player is classified according to their disability on a point system, which allows a maximum of 26 points per team on the court during play. At the 1992, 1996 and 2000 Paralympics, the USA men's standing team made the medal round but took fourth each time. They finished in 5th place at the 2004 World Championships in Germany. Disabled Sports/USA annually holds the National Amputee & Les Autres Games, including the Standing and Sitting Volleyball National Championships. If you are interested in playing in the volleyball component or in attending the USA Coaching Accreditation Program (CAP) coaches course or the WOVD officiating clinic, all held at the same time and place, please contact USA Volleyball. 

U.S. Paralympics and the United States Olympic Committee are working with Blaze Sports Clubs of America, the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) in San Antonio, Texas, Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) in Washington, D.C., Balboa Naval Medical Center in San Diego and other partner organizations across the nation to establish ongoing Paralympic sport opportunities for severely injured service members to enhance their rehabilitation, readiness and lifestyle. The program includes Sitting and Wheelchair Volleyball and serves as a way of bringing Paralympic sport back to its roots. Its origins can be traced back to the time after World War II, when it was used as a way of rehabilitating wounded soldiers. 

Volleyball has been a Paralympic discipline for more than 20 years. The USA Sitting Women's team took home a BRONZE medal and the men finished their highest level ever at 8th place in the Athens 2004 Games. The USA Women then took the SILVER in the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing. USA Volleyball continues to need to identify and train the top American athletes for men's and women's sitting, and men's standing volleyball, and both teams are training year round at University of Central Oklahoma, host to the National Sitting Teams program in Edmond, OK, to qualify for the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London. 

Material regarding coaching and playing volleyball is available from the USAV in the education section of the website, and AVCA at If you would like to play, organize, or coach a disabled volleyball team, including establishing a volleyball program in your area, please check out the web sites of and or contact one of the following:

Disabled Sports USA
451 Hungerford Drive, Suite 100
Rockville, MD 20850 
  USA Volleyball
4065 Sinton, Suite 200
Colorado Springs, CO 80907 
  USA Paralympics
1 Olympic Plaza
Colorado Springs, CO

NOTE: In 2009, the USA won the silver in the Deaflympics. If you are interested in playing or working with Deaf Volleyball, or competing in the 2013 Deaflympics, please contact: Deaf Sports Federation USA the Volleyball Director is John Kentzger - 2625 E. Shorewood Blvd. Milwaukee, WI 53211-2457. If you are interested in volleyball for the blind, please contact John Kessel, at for information.

From minimal disability to major handicaps, statistics indicate seven percent of any population is disabled. This guide gives you the opportunity to promote volleyball to those with whom you may cross paths who are disabled and want to play our great game! Volleyball easily fits with the motto, below, of Disabled Sports/ USA.

Along with wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball has become one of the most widely played and most popular sports in the disabled society. In some parts of the world the matches are televised. Disabled and in wheelchairs, the newest addition to disabled volleyball. The sport allows for participation by amputees, as well as cerebral palsy athletes. We urge you to take the time to teach anyone how to play the sitting version, even if over a rope in a classroom on a night you might have lost the main gym. Please take time to find those athletes aspiring to play volleyball and join with them in training, either in standing or sitting versions. you'll be amazed. If you lose your gym training time, just take over a classroom or other area and play sitting volleyball, it is FUN! And help coach disabled kids in the sport as well, it is easy to set up three sitting courts on one regular court by just splitting the court lengthwise with a rope, end line to end line. And families can play with even the smallest of kids, just let them stand and play as you sit.

Volleyball is a team sport which can be played by disabled and able-bodied. It can be played by youth, juniors, adults and seniors in any combination. Unlike many sports, volleyball can be played at all levels co-educationally, creating a gregarious and integrating atmosphere that is appreciated by all involved. 

Volleyball is a uniquely universal sport, as it includes persons of minor disability, as well as people who are more severely handicapped. Top international sitting teams use setters who are double leg amputees and these athletes are much faster in on-court movement. 

Volleyball practice is economical, especially for sitting volleyball, since no expensive prostheses or wheelchairs and no special sport equipment is needed. All that is needed is floor space, a rope or net, and a ball.

The need for sports disabled people can compete in arose during and after World War II. The rehabilitation process for disabled veterans progressed at a quicker pace when a sporting activity was involved in stimulating the recovery process. 

After the war, sitting volleyball was invented in the Netherlands. The first competitive international match was played in 1957. Volleyball was a charter sport in the first Paralympics; in the 1996 Atlanta Games, 20 nations competed, including two USA teams. Europeans won five of the six medals awarded, while the USA standing national team lost in the bronze medal match and the USA sitting national team competed at the highest level. 

Disabled Sports/USA (DS/USA), founded in 1976, is a national organization chartered to provide access to year-round sports and recreation programs for children and adults with disabilities. The organization supports the vertical integration of disabled athletes into the National Governing Bodies (NGBs) of the United States Paralympics (USP), on an equivalent basis.

The court size and height of the net are modified for sitting volleyball. Modifications to gym space are acceptable for local play, as long as both courts are equal in size. Most programs use a normal net that is 1m wide and 10m long, attached to the standards of a 9 x 18m court. 

The regulation sitting court size is 6 x 10m. Boundary lines are included in the court. The centerline divides the court into two courts, 6 x 5m each. The net is 1.15m for men and 1m for women. 

Regarding the zone lines, the attack lines are drawn parallel to the centerline and 2m from the middle of the centerline. The service zone is marked with two lines, each 15cm long and placed inside the service zone at the end of each court, 20cm behind and perpendicular to the end line. Both are drawn as an extension of each sideline.

The position of each player is determined and controlled by the position of their bottoms. This means that the hand(s) and/or leg(s) may lie in the attack or free zone outside the court. 

“Bottom” is defined as the upper part of the body, from shoulder to one‟s buttocks. 

Touching the opponent's court beyond the center line with a hand is permitted, if some part of the penetrating hand remains either in contact with or directly above the center line. To contact the opponent‟s court with any other part of the body is forbidden. The player may penetrate into the opponent's space under the net, provided there is no interference with the opponent. 

The player is not allowed to lift his/her bottom from the court when executing any type of attack-hit. The back-row player may perform any type of attack-hit from any height, if at the time of the hit the bottom does not touch or cross over to the attack line. 

The player must have contact with the court with some part of the upper part of the body at all times when playing the ball, except when making a defensive free zone play. In such defensive play, a loss of contact with the court is permitted for a moment. 

The referee's official hand signal of “lifting from the court” is raising the upper hand and forearm positioned parallel to the floor and mirror imaging the lower hand and forearm. 

Referees in sitting volleyball must stand to the sides of the court because of the height of the net and the fact that the players are in a seated position.