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Volleyball 101

Welcome to the informational page for understanding Volleyball. This sport is continually making refinements and modifications on the rules of the game. There are some of you who probably remember when teams could only score a point if the team was serving, a “let serve” was a violation (ball hits the net and still goes over), and before the “Libero” was added to the game! With all these changes this page provides a place for educating one’s self for basic key terms, court dimensions, and other fun facts about the sport of volleyball.
*Please note that there are slight differences between high school, club volleyball, intercollegiate, and international rules.

Key Terms

ANTENNA - Vertical rods (white and red) mounted near edges of the net. The volleyball antennas are mounted above the sidelines and are not in play. Antennas are not usually used on outdoor nets.

APPROACH - Fast steps toward the net by a spiker before jumping in the air.

ASSIST - Passing or setting ball to a teammate who attacks the ball for a kill.

ATTACK - The offensive action of hitting the volleyball. The attempt by one team to terminate the play by hitting the ball to the floor on the opponent's side.

ATTACKER - Also "hitter" or "spiker" (older terms) A player who attempts to hit a ball offensively with the purpose of terminating play in his or her team's favor.

ATTACK LINE - A line 3m from the net that separates the front row players from the back row players. Commonly referred to as the "10-foot line."

BACK ROW ATTACK - When a back row player attacks the ball by jumping from behind the 3m line before hitting the ball. If the back row player steps on or past the 3m line during take-off, the attack is illegal.

BLOCK - A defensive play by one or more players meant to deflect a spiked ball back to the court. It may be a combination of one, two, or three players jumping in front of the opposing spiker and contacting the spiked ball with the hands.

BUMP – Older term for forearm passing (now just called forearm passing).

DIG - Passing a spiked or rapidly hit ball. Slang for the art of passing an attacked ball close to the floor.

DOUBLE HIT - Successive hits or contacts by the same player. Not legal.

DOWN BALL - A ball the blockers elect not to attempt to block because it has been set too far from the net or the hitter is not under control. A "down ball" is hit overhand and driven over the net with topspin while the player remains standing. "Down Ball" is usually called aloud by the defense when it becomes apparent the attacker has no chance of hitting a powerful spike.

DUMP - A strategic move by an opponent where a soft hit is used near the net rather than a spike to catch the other team off guard.

FLOATER - A serve that does not spin or rotate and therefore moves in an erratic path. This is similar to a "knuckle ball" pitch in baseball.

FOREARM PASS - A pass by which you join your arms from the elbows to the wrists and strike the ball with the fleshy part of your forearms in an underhand motion.

FREE BALL - A ball that will be returned by a pass rather than a spike. This is usually called aloud by the defense instructing players to move into serve/receive positions.

HIT - To jump and strike the ball with an overhand, forceful shot.

HITTER - Also "spiker" (older term) or "attacker"

JUMP SERVE - A serve that is started by the server tossing the ball into the air and jumping into and hitting the ball in its downward motion.

JOUST - When two opposing players are simultaneously attempting to play a ball above the net.

KILL - An attack that results in an immediate point or side out.

MINTONETTE - The original name of the game of volleyball, created by William Morgan.

OVERHAND PASS - A pass executed with both hands open, controlled by the fingers and thumbs, played just above the forehead.

OVERHAND SERVE - Serving the ball and striking it with the hand above the shoulder.

PANCAKE - A one-handed defensive technique where the hand is extended and the palm is slid along the floor as the player dives or extension rolls, and timed so that the ball bounces off the back of the hand.

PASS - see "Forearm Pass."

READY POSITION - The flexed, yet comfortable, posture a player assumes before moving to contact the ball.

ROTATION - The clockwise movement of players around the court and through the serving position following a side out.

SERVE - One of the six basic skills; used to put the ball into play. It is the only skill controlled exclusively by one player.

SERVER - The player who puts the ball into play.

SERVICE ERROR - An unsuccessful serve in which one or more of the following occurs: 1) the ball hits the net or fails to clear the net, 2) the ball lands out of bounds, or 3) the server commits a foot fault.

SET - The tactical skill in which a ball is directed to a point where a player can spike it into the opponent's court.

SETTER - The player who has the second of three contacts of the ball who "sets" the ball with an "Overhand Pass" for a teammate to hit. The setter normally runs the offense.

SIDE OUT - Occurs when the receiving team successfully puts the ball away against the serving team, or when the serving team commits an unforced error, and the receiving team thus gains the right to serve.


Outside Hitter: The player that hits from the outside of the court. Primarily the term is used for the player in front, left side of the court, but can also be used for the right side hitter as well.

Middle Hitter/Blocker: The player that hits from the middle front of the court. The term Middle Blocker is sometimes used because the primary purpose of the player is to block first, hit second.

Right Side Hitter: The player hits from the front, right position (they can also be called an Outside Hitter.

Libero: The player in a different color jersey that has unlimited amount of substitutions for any player in the back row. This player is limited to the back row and may not attack the ball at any time above the net, or set the ball in front of the 10ft line for an attacker to hit.

Defensive Specialist: A player who is not the libero, but specializes in defense only (usually substitutes for a player who is weaker in defense and passing).

Setter: The player who plays the second ball, preferably with their hands to an attacker who is ultimately looking to hit the ball for a kill.

Types of Rotations

A 5-1 means that there is only 1 setter on the court and the other 5 are hitters. The setter typically starts in the right back position and rotates all the way around. When the setter is in the back row, there are 3 hitters in the front row. When the setter rotates to the front row, there will only be 2 hitters in the front row. A serve receive diagram is below.
A 6-2 means that there are 2 setters and 6 hitters. The setter always comes from the back row so that there are always three hitters in the front row. When the first setter rotates to the front row, there is a substitution made. A hitter from the bench substitutes in for the first setter, and another setter from the bench substitutes for a hitter that has just rotated to the back row (opposite of the first setter). Again, this type of rotation ensures that there are always 3 hitters in the front row and the setter coming out of the back row.