Volleyball Scoring 101: The Ultimate Guide to Keeping Score

An outdoor beach volleyball game.

Volleyball is fast-paced and action-packed. Look away for a split second, miss the play, and you may wonder what just happened. However, it is a popular game for individuals of all ages because its scoring system can be scaled to match the skill and ability levels of players.

So, how do you keep score in volleyball?

Volleyball games are scored in one-point increments. A team wins a point when they successfully hit the ball over the net and into the other team’s court. The last team to successfully hit the ball over the net wins a point toward winning a set.

Points are accumulated to win a set and a certain number of sets are needed to win the overall match. There are several different ways to score points and two distinct playing structures to keep track of points. Please read on to learn more.

How Does Volleyball Scoring Work?

Volleyball scoring is a race to a certain number of points within a number of sets.

Think of the points as a means to win one full point for a set. A new set is played after the first set, starting back at zero points, and is repeated. The first team that reaches the target points within the set will win. Once the team has won a certain number of sets, they win the overall match.

The number of points needed to win a set mostly depends on the level of play. Youth volleyball games will require smaller amounts of sets to win the match; while also requiring fewer points be scored in order to win a set.

For example, a youth volleyball match may consist of three total sets, each played to a total of 10 points to win the set. The number of points and sets can be adjusted as needed.

Also, keep in mind that youth players are new to the game, have less developed skills compared to older professionals, and need more time to practice and play at a slower pace. It makes a lot of sense to play shorter sets and requires fewer sets to win in order to stay in line with the overall duration of a game.

On the other hand, higher-level play (college, professional and Olympic) will often feature five total sets with 25 points needed in order to win a set.

Points are awarded, typically, to the team that wins the rally. A rally is an individual play, beginning with a serve, with both teams vying to send the ball over the net into the opposing team’s half of the court.

The team that wins the point is the last team that successfully returned the ball over the net. At some point, the opposing team is unable to return the ball over the net. This results in one point being scored and applied toward the points needed to win the set.

For example, in the first set:

  • Team A serves the ball over the net to Team B.
  • Team B bumps, sets, and spikes the ball back over the net to Team A.
  • Team A’s player attempts to bump the ball and their bump travels out of bounds.
  • Team B would win one point in this situation.

There are many sequences in which a team can win a point in a rally. But ultimately, the winning team is the one that returns the ball over the net successfully. This is the simplest way to understand volleyball scoring.

How Do You Score a Point in Volleyball?

The volleyball team in black celebrates after scoring a point.

As mentioned, one team scores a point if they are the last team to successfully send or return the ball over the net into the opposing team’s half of the court. This would be followed by the opposing team’s inability to return the ball back over the net successfully into the first team’s half of the court.

There are many ways this can happen. One way a team scores is if the opposing team bumps, sets, spikes or hits the ball more than three times on their own side without returning the ball over the net.

Teams can return the ball over the net in less than three touches.

For instance, let’s assume Team A has sent the ball over the net to Team B. Team B bumps the ball once (1), twice (2), sets once (3 touches), and then spikes the ball over the net (4 touches). The play would be ruled “dead” on the fourth touch and Team A would be awarded one point in the set.

Here is another common play:

A player on Team A touches the ball two times in a row. This play is also not allowed and Team B would receive one point for the player’s error on Team A.

Teams can even successfully send the ball over the net but the ball goes outside the boundary lines on the other team’s half of the court. If Team A serves to Team B, Team B sends the ball back over the net and it lands out of bounds, Team A scores the point.

The last common way to score points is on an unsuccessful serve. Team A is serving to Team B. The server on Team A serves but the ball hits the net on their side and hits the ground. This would be Team B’s point without even having to try to return the ball.

Last, a team that touches the net with their hands or body lends a point to the other team for this infraction.

There are plenty of more complex ways, based upon game rules, that points may be scored. But use the basic principles we discussed will help you understand volleyball scoring.

How Do You Win in Volleyball?

You win in volleyball when your team secures the required number of sets needed to win the game. This is often three sets or five sets.

Points are scored in increments of 1 within a set. A team is required to reach a certain number of points to win the first set. After that, the points are set back to 0 and the second match is played.

More skilled, competitive games will play five sets requiring 25 points to be won in each set. Lower levels of play may only require three sets of games played to 15 points. In structured play, these numbers are consistent.

The sets and points can be adjusted at the lower levels in order to accommodate the length of the game and the skill of the players. Games that take too long can become boring or exhausting for players and fans alike.

So let’s take a look at an Olympic volleyball match between two nations. Team A and Team B play their first set. Team A wins set 1 with a score of 25-15. Team B wins set 2 25-15. At this point, both teams have won a set each and it’s 1-1.

In a match consisting of five sets, one team needs to reach three sets in order to be declared the winner.

What if two teams are tied 24-24? Well, in order to win this situation, one team must “win by 2” points to win the set. This means Team A would need to get to 26 points while Team B stays at 24 points.

If the game were to continue to, say, 29-29, then one team would need to reach 31 points to win the set.

Now, what if both teams are tied with 2 sets won a piece? The fifth set is played to a shorter amount. In a match consisting of sets played to 25 points, the fifth set would only be played to 15 points in order to save time in determining a winner.

What Is Rally Scoring in Volleyball?

Rally scoring is the most common points system and is arguably the simplest to understand, especially for young or new players. Volleyball is inherently logical. The net represents the barrier. The action of returning the ball back and forth over the net is also easy to understand.

It is clear, then, why even the most novice viewer would be able to identify which team scores a point – when one team is unsuccessful in returning the ball back over the net.

So in the rally system, a point is scored every time a rally ends, regardless of which team began the rally with the serve.

Sometimes it may be difficult for teams to serve the ball over the net. If Team A is serving and hits the serve out of bounds, then Team B receives a point. This is encouraging to Team B because they have a chance to score each time even if they do not touch the ball.

So when the ball is returned over the net, especially for young players, it creates a lot of excitement for those playing and watching.

Rally scoring has a higher pace compared to other scoring systems, such as side-out serving, because a point is awarded every single time regardless of the serve. Keep this in mind for the next section of the article.

What Is Side-Out Scoring in Volleyball?

A volleyball player makes an excellent dig.

Side-out scoring is logical but its main difference is important to understand. Only the serving team can score a point if they win that rally. If the opposing team wins the rally but does not serve, they win the chance to serve on the next rally.

For example, Team A is serving to Team B. Team A serves the ball over the net, Team B takes three touches on their side, returns the ball over, and Team A hits the ball once but it goes out of bounds. In this instance, neither team scores a point, but Team B now gets to serve the ball.

The score is still 0-0 at this point.

Having won the serve, team B serves to Team A. Team A, once again, hits the ball out of bounds and is unsuccessful in returning the ball over the net. Team B wins a point because they won a rally in which they were serving.

Now, the score is 1-0.

As long as you pay attention to who serves at the start of each rally with side-out scoring, you will be able to follow and understand the scoring system.

Obviously, this scoring system lends itself to taking longer for teams to reach a certain number of points. The points needed to win a set can be shortened, the number of sets to win the match can be shortened, or the game can be played as long as any other rally-scoring match.

Higher skilled professionals could play this type of game successfully and probably only take a bit longer compared to rally scoring. But younger players may take a substantially longer time than if they played a rally scoring structure.

What Is Olympic Volleyball scoring?

The rally scoring system is used in Olympic volleyball play. As discussed, both teams can win a point on any given rally. Sets are played to 25 points and a team must win by 2 points in order to be declared the winner.

Playing five sets is typical and a team needs to win three sets to win the overall match.

If teams are tied with 2 sets each, a fifth set is played to a shorter number of points (15).

Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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