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In general, beach volleyball parallels most of the rules of indoor in terms of ball play and scoring. There are several differences between the two, but you will benefit from knowing both. Whether you are an indoor player looking to add beach to your repertoire or a newbie who just lives near a beach, knowing the rules to beach volleyball is the first step in getting out to play.

Here is a chart we put together summarizing the key differences between beach and indoor:

The Court

The standard-sized court for a regulation indoor volleyball game is 18 x 9 meters with the net at the centerline. A professional beach volleyball court is smaller, only 16 x 9 meters in size. Despite the smaller court size, however, you will need more energy and power to engage the same movements and techniques in the sand for a beach competition.

Obviously, a major difference between indoor and beach volleyball is the court’s playing surface. To play well in the sand for an entire game, plyometrics and sprints will prepare you for the additional challenges on a beach court. You will jump, dig, and chase a ball back into play with enough endurance, energy and range of motion if you properly train to play in the sand.

The Positions

Usually an indoor team is divided up into six positions on the court. They are numbered one through six, with the serving position at number one and increasing clockwise. Positions one through three are receivers and four through six attack and protect the net. While you may not play with five teammates in a beach competition, knowing these numbers to indicate the various regions on the court will help you communicate defensive and offensive strategies.

An individual player on a doubles beach volleyball team must be prepared to be server, receiver, setter and spiker all in one, and those roles will vary from volley to volley. You must know how to cover each part of the court to keep the ball in play and under your team’s control. As though the sand court was not enough of a challenge in beach volleyball, you also must be more conditioned to handle all of the roles at the drop of a hat.

The Rules

Every rally begins with a serve. In official games, a coin toss generally determines the first serving team. In recreational games, you can play rock-paper-scissors or volley for serve, indicating that you will let the winner of a single rally begin serving. Positioned out of the rear boundaries of the court, the first server will hit the ball over the net, and the game begins.

Following the general “bump, set, spike” format, players will focus their offense on a controlled pass to the setter, who will send the ball up for an attack. If the initial pass is fumbled or out of control, most of the following plays will also be thrown off target. You must be ready to improvise with your partner to send the ball back over the net without exceeding three hits.

In beach volleyball, this means that you will handle the ball much more frequently than with an indoor team. The passer must immediately prepare to become the hitter and the setter must immediately protect the hitter against the oppositions’ defense. Since no player can touch the ball more than one time in a row (except directly after a block), you will be in constant ready position to receive the ball after your partner’s touch.


In beach volleyball, you will most likely play with a rally scoring system. If a ball hits the ground within the other team’s boundaries, your team scores a point. If the other team faults during play, the volley ends and results in a point for your team. If you miss your serve and it lands out of bounds or fails to clear the net, you opponents earn a point.

If you win a point on your opponent’s serve, this is a “side-out” and your team will also serve the ball to begin the next rally. Every side-out the players rotate positions. The teams continue to rotate, serve and side out until a team earns a certain amount of points.

Indoor games run to 25, but the winner of a beach game is determined at 21. Winning two out of three games determines a professional beach volleyball match, as opposed to the five-game matches of indoor. Between the sun, sand, heat and extra workout, winning a game of beach ball with one partner takes more energy than indoor with a team of six. The shorter match formats balance that intensity for beach volleyball.

In both sports, you only play the final game of the match to 15, and only if needed to break a tie. Teams must win by a margin of two points in all games and there is generally no cap to this rule, so play will continue past game point until a team earns that two-point advantage. Knowing the rules and how to win, you’re almost ready to play.

The Strategy

The basic “bump, set, spike” three-part passing strategy gives you the most aggressive offense in beach and indoor volleyball. The first pass is generally a forearm “bump,” in which you receive the ball underhand. Your goal is to send the ball to the setter, who should position themselves close to the net, their body squared in the direction of their set. The third contact is usually a spike, approaching the ball towards the net and attacking it with a full swing and strong hand.

If your spike hits the block, the setter should be in ready position to protect your attack. You as a hitter should also be prepared to receive the ball right back, returning to the ground in a ready position with your eyes on the ball. Hopefully your spike crosses the net and stays in bounds. In any case, once the spike is complete, you must immediately get into defense.

In beach ball, one player generally plays backcourt defense, ready to dig the spike or serve, while the other waits up front to defend against an attack with a block. If you are the blocker, you may touch the ball again after your own block to keep it off the ground, so always drop back into ready position after contact. Observe the opposing team’s movements carefully and communicate with your partner where you think the ball will go to set up an effective defense.

The Regulations

In all volleyball, there are certain ways you are not permitted to touch the ball that would result in a fault. In addition to hitting the ball twice in a row or more than three touches on one side, players may not “lift” the ball. This involves a prolonged contact with the ball, hence the term lift. In beach volleyball, rules for lifting are less strict than with indoor, although the rules for double-touches, particularly in serve receive, can be more rigid.

Knowing the net regulations will also help you avoid penalties during play. Just like with indoor ball, you may not touch the net nor reach over or under it to affect the ball still in play on your opponent’s side. Any ball off the net is playable in both sports. An opponent’s serve that touches the net and falls on your side is also in play.

Some differences between beach and indoor volleyball are more technical. In indoor volleyball, you can use “dinks” or “pushes”. These are essentially low-speed shots that dump the ball short over the net. Unlike indoor, which allows for an extra touch, your block counts as one of the three hits per side in beach ball. Serving will alternate between the two players, but otherwise beach volleyball has none of the specific positioning restrictions of indoor. At least one part of beach volleyball is simpler!

Come and Join Sunset Rec Sports Events

Only knowing the rules will take you so far, you also need to get out there and play! To become a competitive player, you need to train, eat right and practice, practice, practice. Now that you know how to play the game, get out there and work in the sand to improve your performance. Click here for upcoming events with Sunset Rec Sports!

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