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Beach Volleyball 101: Rules and Regulations

written by: Finn Orfano • edited by: KJ Fitness,Ink • updated: 7/29/2009

Want to learn beach volleyball rules and regulations? The game’s pretty much the same as indoor volleyball—but with a few tweaks.

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    Beach Volleyball History

    As the popularity of the sandy summer sport grows, beach volleyball’s rules and regulations are becoming better-known.

    Originally designed as a pastime for bored surfers, beach volleyball has steadily grown in popularity since it first appeared on Hawaiian beaches in the early 1900s. While it was an island invention, Californians have made the sport what it is today. In the 1920s, construction of jetties on a Santa Monica beach created ideal space for the game, and soon beach clubs set up organized beach volleyball tournaments. It was there that two-man teams became the standard for the sport.

    Beach volleyball soon spread to Europe, and in the 1940s the Federation Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) professional governing association was born. By the late 1980s, beach volleyball experienced a surge in popularity and made its first appearance in the Olympic games in 1996.

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    Beach Volleyball Rules and Regulations

    Beach volleyball rules and regulations are similar to indoor volleyball rules. Just as in indoor volleyball, teams score points when the ball lands on the opposing team’s court or when the opposing team commits an error.

    While the basic playing rules are the same, there are a few ways that beach volleyball rules and regulations differ from indoor rules:

    • Court Size. At 26.25 feet by 52.5 feet, a beach volleyball court is smaller than an indoor court—but not by much.
    • Number of players. While you can play beach volleyball in teams of 2, 3, 4, or 6 players, the pros play with just two players per team. Indoor volleyball calls for six players.
    • Rotation. Indoor volleyball rules require players to rotate positions on the court. In beach volleyball, players don’t rotate; they just alternate serves. And there are never any player substitutions.
    • Switching sides. Beach volleyball teams switch courtsides whenever the set point total adds up to a multiple of seven.
    • Ball Size. Beach volleyballs are softer than indoor balls and slightly larger.
    • Contact rules. Overhand passes and tipping the ball over the net are refereed much more strictly in beach volleyball.
    • Sets. While indoor volleyball matches are made up of five sets, beach volleyball matches have just three sets. The first team to reach 21 points wins the set, but they must be ahead by two points.

    Beyond a difference in court type, beach volleyball also differs from its indoor countertype in the uniform department. Male athletes typically wear bathing suit trunks for play while bikinis are standard for female beach volleyball players—fitting for a sport that’s played in the heat of summer on hot sand. The FIVB officially sanctioned these uniform choices for professionals in 1999, making beach attire part of beach volleyball rules and regulations.