We’ve all been there. You’re on vacation, sitting on the beach, about to settle into a good book, when you’re distracted by a herd of beautiful people heading to the nearest Volleyball court.

Damn that looks fun! But also a bit tricky?!

No one wants to be that one guy or girl missing every ball, helplessly diving, with nothing to show for it but a face full of sand 😉

Perhaps an exaggeration, but if you want to be that person getting high-fives for that amazing spike, then you’re going to want to read on!

What to Expect From This Guide: We’re going to cover everything you need to learn to play Volleyball. From the rules of the game to the skills you need to master. We’ll also touch a bit on formations, strategies, what to wear and how to find a league or a pick up game!

So sit back and relax as we serve up (get it?) all the info you need to know before you venture out into the exciting world of this popular, Olympic sport.

But first, let’s take a look at it’s cool history…

The Origins of Volleyball

It’s no secret to anyone who has taken mandatory gym classes in high school, that volleyball is challenging, yet really fun. If you’re wondering how it all began, I am going to take you way back to 1895.

Way, way back.

I’ll start by introducing you to William G. Morgan. What he’s done here, is take a combination of games and turned them into one really fun game that he called “Mintonette”.

who invented volleyball William_G._Morgan

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Inspired by the creation of basketball just a few years prior, Morgan was searching for something physical in nature, but perhaps not as rough as a game of basketball.

A respected physical education director at the YMCA in Holyoke, Massachusetts, Morgan blended together the rules and regulations of badminton, baseball, handball and tennis.

Much like Bruce Springsteen, Volleyball was born in the USA.

Mintonette was changed to the descriptive title of Volleyball about a year after its invention, due to the volleying nature of the game. Simple enough.

Though the rules and regulations have changed over the years (upon creation, the game existed of nine innings), the basic physical rules and exertion of the game remain the same.

Over time, the National YMCA Training School absorbed Volleyball from Morgan, and modified the rules slightly to distribute it YMCA’s nationwide.

It wasn’t long before volleyball took hold in the USA, and the contagiously fun game spread rapidly to other countries. Volleyball climbed the popularity ladder quickly in Canada, Brazil, The Netherlands and Eastern Europe.

Reports of the first official white, man-made leather volleyball popping onto the scene are controversial. Some people argue that it was introduced by Spaulding in 1896, and others say heck no, it was 1900.

Regardless of when the game ball was introduced, volleyball itself became an official sport of the Summer Olympics almost 70 years later, gaining that recognition in 1964.

If volleyball is your hobby of choice, it’s solid foundation in the world of sports makes it safe for us to say that you’ll always have an outlet to play. There are plenty of places that encourage volleyball fanatics to get together, and they categorize those meetups locally.

More about that later. Now, let’s talk about why I (and hundreds of thousands of other people) love this sport so much.

The Benefits of Playing Volleyball

There are a ton of benefits to playing volleyball, both mental and physical! Everybody knows that exercising your body on a regular basis scientifically makes you a happier person.

Why?

Regular exercise helps you feel and look better physically. It can decrease your chances of developing health issues such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It’s good for your heart, lungs, muscles and complexion!

Regular exercise also reduces your odds of developing depression or anxiety.

Taking up volleyball as a hobby and partaking in it regularly just might be all the exercise you need to keep you on track and looking fabulous!

Let me wow you for a second here…

Playing 30 minutes of moderate intensity beach volleyball can burn up to 355 calories, depending on your weight and exertion!

That same intensity level on an elliptical machine will take you an hour or more to achieve that same amount of calorie burn.

Not to mention, volleyball is way more fun than the elliptical machine!

Burning calories and fat is one of the main components of losing or maintaining weight. Volleyball will definitely keep you where you want to be.

Let’s talk about toning. Everybody wants muscle definition, whether it be mild or extreme. I personally prefer it somewhere in the middle.

Anyway, volleyball is a fantastic way to add a little toning and muscle definition to your workout. Volleyball works the arms, core and legs pretty intensely in any setting – gym, beach or grass.

guys-playing-volleyball

Your cardiovascular and respiratory systems will improve right along with your muscle tone and fitness level. Do I have you convinced to try it out yet? I’ll keep going.

Volleyball encourages teamwork and cooperating with a group of other people. They might be people you know, or perhaps you’ve never laid eyes on them before. Either way. You’re growing your interpersonal skills. Look at you!

That type of networking carries over into other aspects of your life. Perhaps you’ll notice that you’re having a better and easier time working on group projects at work.

If you want to increase your aerobic ability and boost your mood, volleyball can do both of those things as well. Add agility, speed and balance to the benefit list too!You’re never too old to improve your hand-eye coordination.

Apparently, volleyball can do everything except your laundry. It is a true friend to the physically active hobby seeker.

The Rules of Volleyball

When it comes to volleyball, rules were not meant to be broken. In fact, you have to follow them or else you can get in trouble, or worse, injure yourself or someone else.

The rules to all sports tend to change over time. This applies to everything from high school softball to major league football.

To start out, you don’t have to know every single last detail of the game. I sure didn’t. All I knew when I ventured out into the volleyball world 10 years ago, is that I thought volleyball was really fun and I wanted to play it.

That was the literal extent of my knowledge.

It is important to know the very basic rules as well as what you might be faulted for, before you venture out to discover your new hobby.

So, let’s break it down into rules and violations! Who’s ready?! Me!

Basic Rules

rules of volleyball

There are six players on every volleyball team. This means you might need five friends who also like volleyball, unless you join a league or team (which is recommended and we’ll talk more about later).

Your team set up will be two lines of three and three. Three in the front, three in the back!

When the volley begins, there is a maximum of three hits per team, or side. One player on a team may not hit the ball more than two times in a row. This rule does not include blocking.

You may not bounce the ball off of another player. This isn’t dodgeball, and it is an illegal move.

You may play the ball off the net, so don’t worry if you hit too low. One of your teammates can play it! This rule applies during volleying only.

If a ball bounces off or hits the boundary (out of bounds) line, it’s in!

A ball in volley is out if it hits the floor completely outside of the court. It’s also out if hits the referee stand or pole, or the ceiling above an area that is not in play. A ball that hits the antenna on either side is also out.

Basically, keep the ball on or directly above, the court.

The other team will kindly ask that you do not catch, hold or throw the ball. Again, that sort of behavior belongs on a dodgeball court!

What should you do if you and a teammate dive for the ball and hit it at the same time? This might seem like a predicament, but the YMCA in 1896 was more than prepared for this conundrum.

If you both hit the ball at the same time, either one of you may play it again as long as it isn’t the 4th hit for your team.

A player cannot block or attack a serve from inside of the ten foot line. The ten foot line is the place on the court that is approximately 10 feet back from the net.

Once the ball has been served and is in play, players on the front line may switch positions according to how it’s best to play the ball. Be sure to yell “I GOT IT”, to avoid dangerous collisions.

It’s basic volleyball manners.

Basic Violations

Before we get started, it’s important to point out that any violation results in a point for the opposite team. Tread carefully. Not only will violations give points to the other team, but your volleyball friends will be mad at you.

You need them.

When you’re serving, stepping on or across the serving line will gain you a violation and a point for your opponent. You’ll learn as you go, but keep a close eye on those toes! It won’t be long before you get a feel for it.

Failure to serve the ball over the net, as well as serving out of order, will get you in big trouble. Not like, jail time trouble, but you’ll hand over an easy point to your opponents. Don’t fret, learning how to serve will be a huge part of your volleyball education.

It’s relatively easy, and it just takes a little technique!

We briefly discussed during the basic rule section that there cannot be any illegal contact with the ball. This means no holding, throwing, kicking…so on and so forth. Doing so means, you guessed it, you’re giving up a point!

The net is also off limits. It’s illegal to touch while the ball is in play. The exception to this rule is when the ball hits the net, and as a result the net hits you. Clearly, that is not your fault and therefore a point will not be lost.

You cannot reach over the net to block the ball either. Well, you can, but not if:

  • The rival team has yet to reach their allotted contact with the ball
  • They have a player present to make a play on the ball that you intend to block
  • If the play is on a serve, you may not reach over the net to block it if the ball has not yet crossed the net

Stay on your side of the court! Any body part crossing the centerline is considered a violation.

Finally, it’s important to remember that there is no back row player blocking or attacking. When a back row player is near the net, in attempt to play the ball above the net.

Leave any back row player, playing a ball near the net, alone. Grab it on your own side instead.

Volleyball Positions & Formations

volleyball formations

Now that you know the rules, it’s time to talk tactics. There is so much that you’ll learn along the way, and volleyball is one of those things where it’s easier to understand when your hands are on the ball.

However, it doesn’t hurt for us to drop some knowledge, resulting in you walking into your first session and impressing everyone with your formation talk.

Before you get into strategy and formations, let’s talk a little bit about each rotational position and what it’s meant for.

Note: A rotational position means that everyone plays it. The players on a volleyball court rotate when the other team had the serve, but your team wins the point of that particular volley.

In that case, the rotation will happen clockwise, with the player in the front row on the right moving back to serve, and the server moving left.

Outside Hitter

Also referred to as the left side wing spiker, the outside hitter is responsible for attacking any ball that travels to the outside left of the court.

Outside hitters can play both the front and the back row, but will find themselves in the front more often than not. This is due to the fact that they are responsible for counteracting any move made by the setter on the left hand side. The outside hitter will keep the ball in play on the left side.

Multitasking skills and great hand eye coordination is required to take the position of the outside hitter. Since they play the front and back row, judgement and ball placement prediction is important.

Often, outside hitters score the most points in any given game, other than the opposite hitter. They are also responsible for deciding to volley the ball or pass to a teammate.

Right Side Hitter

The role of a right side hitter, or wing spiker, is similar to that of the outside hitter. Obviously, they are placed on the opposite side of the court.

The right side hitter is responsible for front row and back row defense and scoring. While they are able to play the back row, it is common for the right side hitter to place themselves in the front row while the ball is in play.

A right side hitter should always be ready to attack on the front line, while keeping within the confines of the rules of any volleyball attack.

Opposite Hitter

Beating the outside hitter when it comes to the points game, the opposite hitter is the player on the team that is most often the top scorer of any given game.

Opposite hitters do not having any passing responsibility. They stand behind the passers and typically receive the most sets in a game in addition to points.

If you’re playing opposite hitter, you’d better have spot on blocking skills. You’ll be positioned across from the Outside Hitter, another top point scorer in most given matches. Get ready to block, block, block!

If you work on those defensive and blocking skills until you’re the best opposite hitter in your league, maybe you should consider going pro. The word on the volleyball street is that the Opposite Hitter is the highest paid position on a professional team.

No pressure, it’s just something to consider.

Setter

Think of your team setter as your volleyball quarterback. It is the job of the setter to build a strong offense, calculating plays, sets and points. The setter is a mover and shaker.

If you take on the role of setter, know that you’ll be playing the front and the back row, blocking, attacking and scoring. You’ll do it all, while being sure to stay in the front right or back right of the court.

Middle Blocker

In this role, you’ll be known by a few different names. The middle blocker is also referred to as the middle, center, and middle hitter.

Your job as a middle blocker is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. You are there to block the other team’s offense from scoring a point. If this sounds like a position you’d love, you’ll have to have fantastic attacking skills, in addition to serving.

Libero

Last, but definitely not least, let’s discuss the newest position to grace volleyball courts near and wide.

Typically a replacement for middle blockers, it’s common for the Libero to wear a different color shirt that his/her teammates. The Libero can leave and enter a game at will and without substitution.

It’s also volleyball regulation for the Libero to replace any team member without explanation or reason. However, a Libero is not allowed to serve the ball, which is the only limitation thus far.

When you find yourself labeled a Libero, you will play the back left position often, and you’ll be expected to receive serves from the other team like a champ. The Libero plays a wide area, so get ready to move and return that serve as far as your Setter or over the net.

The Libero is sometimes referred to as a Defensive Specialist, but there is an in depth difference between the two. The positions have the same idea, with a few twists, turns and privileges that make them different.

Volleyball Skills to Master

A good skill set is something that you will collect as you become more and more engrossed in your new hobby. Once you catch the volleyball bug, it’s hard to kick.

There’s no doubt that every time you play, you’ll get better. It’s not typical to start off with a high skill set, so let’s chat a bit about what your teammates will be expecting from you when you step onto the court.

Serving

Serving begins a game, lights up a good offensive volley and may even score you a point.

When you are serving the ball, try and serve it to score points. Yes, you want to hit it over the net and drive the ball into the opponent’s court, but if you can score on a serve consistently, you have a great advantage.

Serving a well-placed ball is a wonderful skill to perfect.

Passing (Underhand)

Also known as a bump pass, this skill is vital to partaking in a decent volley.

When you can keep your passing consistent with spot on accuracy, then you’ve got yourself a potentially fantastic defensive attack. Your eyes should stay on the ball and your arms ready to complete the pass.

Keep your arms together, and ideally the ball will bounce off of your forearms and toward the target/opponent. Point your body in the direction of the target to ensure the ball goes where you want it to.

I like to pop up with my entire body the second after I make contact with my forearms. That way, my whole body is deciding where the ball goes…not just my forearms.

Passing (Overhand)

Setting, or overhead passing, is a very important factor in a successful pass-set-spike set up to score. To successfully set a pass, form a triangle with you fingers and thumbs on both hands.

With your eyes on the prize and your thumbs not touching, cradle the ball in the triangle to begin the set. Use your elbows and knees to extend the pass. A good overhead pass will set your team up for a spike and point!

Attack

Attacking the ball, also known as hitting the ball, is how you’ll score your points in a game of volleyball. From serving to setting, you can’t score a point if you’re not touching the ball.

In any game of volleyball, whether it’s a pick-up game at your local YMCA or a professional game, there are a few different options for attack.

A good attacker should be able to hit anything from high and low sets, to balls off the net, spiking and tipping. Basically, you want to be able to return any ball that comes  your way, and your attack should result in a point.

The most popular form of attack during a game is spiking. I find it to also be the most fun. It relieves stress.

Practice makes perfect, so if you’re hell bent on becoming the best defensive attacker the game of volleyball has ever seen, you better log those hours on the court!

Blocking

During a game of volleyball, you are in a constant state of defense. You’ve got to defensively play a ball volleyed back from your opponent, and then try and make an offensive score.

You’ll always be switching up that mindset, and honestly I find it to be one of my favorite things about the sport.

During a game of volleyball, you’re looking to stop a defensive attack in its tracks. You need the proper blocking skills. A good blocker is near the net, hands up and ready to move into position quickly and efficiently.

Focus on the ball, but do not make contact with it until it is above the net. Prepare by jumping, keeping the ball in your line of site. When you make contact, aim downward for the rebound.

Bend your knees when you land, to prevent injury and absorb shock.

Defensive Skills

Other than blocking, to help your team come out on top, you’ll want to practice a few other defensive skills as well! Rolling and sliding might be a bit much for a true beginner, but honestly you never know until you try.

The bottom line here, is that it’s impossible to play the ball from a regular standing position if it isn’t coming directly at you. When this is the case, and you really want to win, focus on the ball and take a step toward it.

Planning a slide will only happen in the event that the ball is low, therefore your body will be extremely low when you’re playing the ball. To make sure that you don’t get hurt, hit the ball mid-slide and continue the momentum throughout the rest of the move.

You want to complete your slide, kind of like hitting the ball was just a stop along the way. This is where I get it wrong, but I have good faith that many of you will be able to continue with your momentum and roll to stand up.

It’s an advanced move, but it’s definitely possible!

Volleyball Equipment

The Ball

wilson tom hanks

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Obviously, in order to play volleyball…you’ll need a ball to volley. Personally, nothing beats a traditional Wilson, but the brand doesn’t really matter as long as it’s regulation, which is 65-70 cm around.

Volleyballs are typically made of a flexible synthetic material or leather. A professional ball is likely to be brightly colored. A beach volleyball, or gym volleyball will likely be white.

Knee Pads

volleyball knee pads

If you’re serious about volleyball, then you might want to get your hands on some knee pads before you start practicing that slide.

Not only will knee pads protect your knees from physical impact, but they will also keep you knee sturdy and safe from strain or injury. If you’re going to play beach volleyball, knee pads are an requirement to keep you from bending your knee the wrong way on such an unsteady surface.

Footwear

volleyball-shoes

Unless you’re playing beach volleyball or a casual grass game, chances are you’re going to need some decent, supportive, light footwear.

The right fit of a volleyball shoe is important in order to maximize comfort during play while minimizing the chances of injury. When you’re out and about trying on shoes, keep in mind that a volleyball shoe should live up to the following expectations:

  • The shoe should move comfortably with your foot
  • The shoe should not be stiff or rigid
  • Your foot should be able to move inside the shoe…no blisters!
  • There should be less than a finger width between your longest toe and the tip of the shoe

Clearly you plan on spending a lot of time with your feet in your new volleyball shoes, and it really is important to choose a reputable brand. My favorites are the Crazyflights by Adidas. They are super lightweight, and I can only describe them as what I think it might be like to walk on clouds.

Shorts

You can wear any type of athletic short and t-shirt and still succeed at picking up volleyball as a hobby. I constantly wear old tees and tanks whenever I hit the court.

Though not necessary to start, you can’t go wrong with a pair of great volleyball shorts. They’ll move with you, help you look the part, build confidence… and they are so comfy!

Go with your gut on this one, but if you do decide to make the recommended investment, Give these simple Nike shorts a whirl. They’ll go with everything, including your new shoes!

Water Bottle

Use whatever kind you’d like, just don’t forget to bring it with you!

Volleyball Variations

foot volley

You don’t have to play volleyball on the beach, or even on the court in a gym or YMCA setting. There are a few different variations to the game of volleyball. Since all it really requires is a ball and a net, you can play it anywhere.

Beach Volleyball

Beach volleyball is crazy popular. Not only is it a fantastic workout, but the sand, surf and overall setting make it an incredibly enjoyable experience.

Chasing after the ball as your feet dig into the sand will give your legs a run for their money. It’s not for everyone, but if you try it and you love it…it’s the only kind you’ll ever want to play!

Sepak Takraw

I’m not making up words, stop it. Wildly popular in Asia, Sepak Takraw translates to kick ball. In this crazy competitive version of volleyball, players are allowed to use only their heads, torsos and legs to volley the ball back and forth.

It’s a mental AND physical workout!

Blind Volleyball

I haven’t played blind volleyball since I was little, and writing this guide brought back a whole slew of nostalgic memories!

Blind volleyball is SO FUN, and all you need is a net, a ball and some sheets! Use clothespins to clip the sheets to the net so you can’t see the players on the opposing team. Volley the ball back and forth, and whoever allows the ball to drop scores a point for the other team.

There will be laughter.

Footvolley Ball

A little bit of volleyball sprinkled with a touch of soccer. Footvolley is actually really fun and very challenging.

Footvolley takes away your hands, your head and your torso and allows each team to volley the ball with only their feet. The scoring rules and regulations are the same as beach volleyball, and it is played on the beach, but you’ll use a soccer ball instead.

It’s a perfect mashup of each sport, and it is super fun!

Biribol

A version of volleyball that originated in Brazil as a way to teach aquatics, Biribol can be a great workout.

The ball is heavier than a regulation volleyball, and is designed with an anti-slip surface to keep it from skidding out of the players hands and smacking them in the face.

You can touch the ball with any part of your body in Biribol, preferably parts that are above the water. I mean, for the sake of the other players.

Joking aside, this sport is incredibly popular and competitive in Brazil. The rules differ a bit from your run of the mill American volleyball, but once you get the hang of it, you can see why it’s so addictive.

Finding a Volleyball Team or Club

Well, you now know everything you need to get your feet wet in the world of volleyball. So where will you play it?

You didn’t envision yourself alone, practicing drills and waiting around the local community center to join a pick up game.

Don’t worry. I would never bring you this far and then leave you hanging. There are resources available that will help you meet some new people, find a league and get yourself into a game!

YMCA

ymca_volleyball

Volleyball and the YMCA go way back. They’re old friends. A great place to find a volleyball league or class is your local Y. You can find the schedule on the website, or simply head on into the front desk and grab a paper copy!

I have been playing volleyball at the YMCA for as long as I’ve wanted to play it. The people I’ve met through that program are wonderful. Make the Y your first informational stop.

MeetUp

meet_up_volleyball

MeetUp is a web platform that encourages volleyball gatherings in person. You can browse leagues, games and other events specific to your area to give you an idea about when and where you’ll be able to play.

It’s a really cool concept, and has opened the door for many new players to join up and get in on the volleyball action. A social site like this is a wonderful outlet for newbies, because you can tailor your meetup to your comfort level.

To give you an idea of how the site works, here is the New York, NY page.

USA Volleyball

The self-appointed ruler of all things volleyball in the United States of America, USA Volleyball has in depth info on their website involving events at a national level.

Before you keep scrolling…they also offer local information! They’ve got the lowdown on what’s going on volleyball wise in your area. They’ll cover all events from games to USAV approved events and programs.

It may not be the best source, but it doesn’t hurt to look!

Social Sites

Meetup is not the only social site out there that encourages volleyball players of all ages and experience levels to get together and make it happen. You can find similar platforms on the following sites:

  • Active – Find local events and things you love to do
  • Facebook – Search for local groups and clubs focused on volleyball and organizing games
  • Local Gyms: Always check for fliers up front of any local gym
  • Library: It sounds weird, but local libraries often host sports leagues in one of their reserved rooms. You’ll walk away with a ton of information, including where you can go to get in on a game!

Conclusion

Getting started with any sport that you’re not 100% familiar with is nerve racking. Volleyball is fun and beneficial to your health, but not knowing where or how to start can stop you from reaping those benefits.

I hope this guide has given you everything you need to get started, and the rest you’re sure to find along the way.

Volleyball is best learned on the court, with your head in the game and your hands on the ball. You will be shocked at how quickly your body adapts, leaving any uncertainty behind and paving the way for a lifelong addiction to something that is so fun.

You’ll make friends, your body will change and you’ll feel good.  

I hope that you find nothing but love for this incredible game. I wish you the best of luck as you embark on your volleyball journey. Picking up volleyball as a hobby is one of the best decisions you’ll ever make.

Happy spiking!