The Ultimate Guide To Beach Volleyball – Rules, Techniques, Tips & Tricks
For the last 20 years beach volleyball has gained tremendous popularity. Growing numbers of active players, more beach courts, more tournaments and higher prizes are the result. More and more people are interested in learning beach volleyball even if they have never played either beach or indoor volleyball before. Getting introduced to the game and the beach volleyball experience requires to quickly have access to the relevant information.
The Ultimate Guide to Beach Volleyball addresses all folks interested in the basics of beach volleyball. It has been written to provide players that just have started to play or players that are looking for a quick but comprehensive overview of beach volleyball basics. The Ultimate Guide guide cannot teach you playing beach volleyball since beach volleyball is a practical skill that has to be learned on the court.
Nevertheless, it can give the necessary background on rules and techniques and at the same time provide some easy to implement hints on how to get started. In order to limit the size of the guide and to prevent information overflow, the content is presented in a straightforward way focusing on the most relevant information.
Rules and Regulations
Let’s start with the basics. Beach volleyball is based on volleyball rules. Nevertheless, there are several differences to indoor volleyball. Here are the most important beach volleyball rules:
Every team has two players. The court is 8×8 meters compared to 9×9 meters with indoor volleyball. Net height is 2.43 m for men and 2.24 m for women. Distance between the posts is 10 m. The goal is to hit the ball back and forth over a net and try to make it land inside the court on the opponent’s side.
Every team can touch the ball three times before playing it to the opponent’s side. Ideally, the three touches are passing, setting and hitting. Passing is receiving the ball and playing it in direction to the net. Setting is playing the ball to a point close to the net. Hitting is the attack. The player passing is usually the one attacking.
Every rally begins with a serve. To begin the serving player serves the ball with his hand or arm over the net into the opponent’s court. The receiving team can touch the ball up to three times to get it back over the net. If it is not successful, the serving player continues serving. Otherwise serving right changes. Every ball rally results in a point.
The serve can hit the net and is valid if it reaches the opponent’s court (between the antennas). It is prohibited to touch the net during play. Touching the net results in a point for the other team.
Entering the opponent’s side of the court is only allowed if doesn’t interfere with the opponent’s play. Touching the opponent on his side is definitely an interference and is not allowed.
There are no fixed positions. Every player can move as desired. Only serving requires rotation. If one team continuously wins the rallies, it is always the same player serving. If the team loses a rally, the second player will serve after having won the next rally.
Players can use any part of their bodies to play the ball. Kicking is also allowed. Only serving needs to be done by hand or arm.
The ball must be hit or struck, never caught or thrown. Receiving the ball with open hands is not allowed. Playing a ball with open hand to attack is also not allowed in beach volleyball.
The block counts as first touch. After blocking only two more touches are allowed.
Matches are best-of-three games. The first two sets are to 21 points, the third set to 15 points with at least two points difference. Teams switch sides every 7 respectively every 5 points.
All beginners need to quickly learn the basic techniques that are similar to indoor volleyball. Like with rules, there are also some differences in terms of techniques.
The technique for passing (“the dig”) is needed for receiving the ball as well as for setting the ball close to the net. When passing, hands are put together in a way that lower arms are in parallel and at the same height and form the so-called “platform”.
The body position can be described as following:
Shoulders: either relaxed position or shrug toward your ears (as convenient)
Arms: straight with elbows close together and away from torso facing direction where the ball should go. Arms close to the body prevent proper passing
Hands: position is not important as long as the arms form a solid platform and the configuration can be changed easily
Hips: low. If hips are high, lifting the ball is harder and gives less time to receive a serve.
Feet: need to provide a good balance, meaning a passing position can be hold also after passing a ball
There are two types of setting. The dig (or bump setting: same technique as just described above) and hand–setting. Hand-setting is done by receiving the ball overhead with hands forming a bowl in front of the forehead. The player lets the ball land and immediately pushes the ball out and upwards high into the air aiming the ball close to the net for their partner. Hand wrists are quite flexible and only the front part of the fingers touch the ball. Fingers almost act like a trampoline. Holding or catching the ball is not permitted.
Both techniques share some characteristics:
- Setters should face in the direction where the ball needs to go (presumably the net)
- Setters need to keep balance
- Setters should follow through with their movement, i.e. consistently moving their body in the direction where the ball needs to go
Hand-setting needs to be practiced frequently. It is very easy to do so with a partner playing one-on-one or even by yourself. Just throwing a ball in the air and then virtually setting it, already helps a long way.
3. Hitting (incl. Cut, Poke)
Hitting is done by jumping high in the air and hitting the ball hard with the flat hand.
The hit is introduced with a three-step combination followed by the hit. For right-handers this three-step combination looks like in the drawing. For left-handers the other way round.
- (long) step
- (short) step
By doing so it is ensured that players rather jump high instead of long.
When hitting, the player aims to jump and hit the ball above their hitting shoulder with a straight arm, letting the wrist snap, adding top spin and speed to the ball.
With step 2 both arms move backward (picture 1 below) and with step 3 both move forward while jumping high in the air (picture 2 below). This double-arm swing continues into the arm swing of the hitting arm (picture B and C below). The body basically forms an arc (picture C), the hitting arm swings and the ball is hit at the highest point with open hand (picture D). The ball should be contacted as high as possible while keeping it slightly in front in order to still be able to see the other side of the court and the opponent. The movement follows through in the target direction (picture E). The non-hitting arm can be used as visual orientation when to start the arm swing with hitting arm.
A special hitting technique is the „Cut“. It is being played either from the left or right hand side of the net in an extreme angle diagonally along the net. For this technique shoulder and wrist need to be rotated strongly.
Another alternative is the “Poke”. Initiation, jump and arm swing is the same as when hitting. The hitting itself does not occur with open hand but using the first two fingers, bent at the knuckles using the flat face. It is used to play a long ball over the defending block and it replaces the indoor tip, which isn’t allowed in beach volleyball.
4. Blocking & Defense (incl. Tomahawk, Beachdig, Gatordig, Chickenwing)
In professional beach volleyball 2/3 of defense tactics include a block. A block covers a defined area of the court in order to optimize cooperative playing between block and defense. Block and defense are tightly linked to each other and alignment between block and defense player is essential for team tactics. In 1/3 of actions a block is either faked or does not occur at all. In these cases, the attacker is faced with two defending opponents. The “Fake block” aims to confuse the attacker and to counter Poke and Cut shots.
Blocking means jumping up with two hands to get the hands over the net to rebound it back quickly into the opponent’s court. Successful blocking can change the dynamics of a match significantly. It can lead to easy and quick scoring and can have major psychological impact on the attacking team. Blocking is a very technical skill with several important aspects:
- The combination of body height and jumping skills define the prerequisites of a blocker.
- Positioning and footwork are vital. A blocker needs to follow “ball, setter, ball, hitter”. The pass and the set need to be watched to make sure that the ball doesn’t go over the net. As soon as the set is in the air, the blocker needs to shift his position accordingly. If the set is far away from the net, a blocker can decide to move backward and play defense. After knowing the rough position of the set, focus should be on the hitter.
- Before jumping it is essential to get low in a squat-like position. Getting low helps to jump higher and at the same time gets the blocker out of attacker’s sight.
- Up in the air, hands and arms should be on the other side of the net as far as possible. It takes away options for the attack and helps the defender to focus on smaller areas of the court.
- When blocking, hands should face toward the middle of the court in order to not have a ball land outside of the court after the block.
- The blocker should jump after the hitter does. By doing so, the blocker is not on his way down when the attacker hits the ball.
Good positioning is also key for defending. Best position is in the middle of the area that has not been taken away by the blocker. So if the blocker blocks “line”, the defender should position himself in the middle of the “cross” area that is not “shaded” by the blocker. By doing so the hitter’s options are reduced and there is good chance to reach hits played diagonally and even some cut shots.
The attention focus should be on the hitter’s arm which is more consistent with the ball’s speed after the hit than only focusing on the ball. After a hit the defender moves quickly and receives the ball in a well-balanced position with arms in front. For receiving techniques go back to the chapter on passing.
Additionally, several techniques beyond the ones for passing are widespread.
The “Tomahawk” defense technique which involves both hands above the head to defend shots and serves that arrive close to the body. Hands form a shell with thumbs crossed and facing back. The ball is received with the edge of the hand and pinky. After hard shots similar to a block.
The “Beachdig” occurs with both hands as done for hand-setting. Hands are open and form a trampoline. Only allowed as defense after hard shots.
The „Gatordig“ is to defend hard shots above hip with short reaction time. These are received close to the body with both hands open forming a basket or a crocodile mouth.
To defend hard shots arriving close to the body on breast height the „Chickenwing” is used. This involves bending upper and lower arms or elbows. Lifting arms and shoulders provide the impulse for the ball.
In beach volleyball 4 types of serves can be distinguished.
The underhand serve is executed by holding the ball in one hand and then swinging the other (hitting) hand at the ball in an underhand motion. It is very easy to do but also very easy for the opponent to receive.
The float serve is very widespread and is done by throwing the ball up with one hand, the arm draws back and then the elbow comes forward and then catapults the wrist towards the ball, contacting the back of the ball with a flat hand. The float serve travels without spin, therefore it has to be hit directly without any wrist snapping. It can also be done while jumping which improves the angle to the opponent’s side of the court.
A float serve can be quite hard to receive, especially in windy conditions. On the other hand, it is usually slow enough for the defenders to get into the right position. Moreover, serving hard and precise is not easy to be done.
The jump serve is the most advanced type. It is similar to hitting, only executed from the back line. The ball is hit at its highest point and by wrist snapping top-spin is added. This is the fastest and most precise serve which is usually very challenging for the receiver. Nevertheless, variations in speed are not as easy as with the float serve. The jump serve is based on a rather complex body movement and therefore technically challenging to execute.
The skyball is rare and can rather be thought of as a trick serve. It is similar to the underhand serve but the ball is directed high into the air. Additionally, the server can add side spin by turning at an angle while serving. Since it is a rare serve, receivers usually don’t have lots of practice controlling and passing it. On the other hand, the skyball is hard to consistently keep in the court. Since it has a long travel time, both opponents will be able to receive it.
It I very easy to practice serving since it can be done completely by oneself.
How to get started
1. Who to play with
To get started you need a group of like-minded people interested in beach volleyball that play roughly on the same level as you do (i.e. beginners). It usually makes sense to attend some beginners’ training courses (see chapter “Who to learn from”) to learn the basic techniques before starting with the above-mentioned group. Once you have done that, you should look out for a beginners’ group in your area. There are several options:
- Many universities and schools offer courts and playing options to students and non-students. Check out the extra-curricular activities of these institutions in your area.
- In many cities/regions Facebook groups have been established that organize regular events for beginners.
- Most major cities have active Meetup communities that connect beach volleyball enthusiasts. Check out Meetup.com.
Once you took some training classes and found your group to regularly play, you might consider finding a fixed partner to regularly train and play with. When it comes to (long-term) partner selection you should have in mind that there are different main types of players to differentiate based on their offense and defense preferences.
On offense, there are players rather playing on the right side of the court when they pass, set and hit (right-side players). Left-side players rather play on the left side of the court. On defense, there are defenders and blockers. Some players can do both, but especially in more professional teams there are clear roles. Based on these differentiations, four groups can be distinguished (see below). The most compatible combinations are the exact opposite ones. Others are possible but in these cases players have to be flexible in their preferences and/or diverse in their skills. Therefore, players being able to play on both sides of the court on the offense and play blocker or defender in the defense are the most compatible ones. Especially for beginners it is recommended not to focus on one specific skill set but to learn all aspects of the game and keep options open.
2. Who to learn from
When it comes to learning beach volleyball, you should consider training courses, beach camps and (personal) coaches.
In contrast to indoor volleyball there are still only few beach volleyball clubs which can be addressed to get started with beach volleyball on club level and with professional support. Often beach volleyball is a part/subdivision of a regular indoor volleyball club.
To get started with (professional) training, the first option is to address a regular indoor volleyball club in your region. This will probably also provide the opportunity to play beach volleyball.
A second option is to attend training courses offered by universities and schools as mentioned above. This is even for non-students a convenient and often inexpensive way to get involved in regular training.
Finally, beach court operators have also started to fill the gap and provide training classes with certified trainers. Some operators even offer indoor courts and training classes for continuous playing during the winter season. For listings of beach court operators please refer to the online resources.
A great way to get started and to combine beach volleyball with a taste of vacation are beach volleyball camps. These camps offer professional training courses in attractive beach locations with other motivated players for a certain amount of time. Beach volleyball camps vary widely by duration, level, location and of course training and trainer quality. For more information, refer to the online resources.
A coach is a great way to receive individual, professional support. When looking for a coach to get started, several aspects have to be kept in mind:
Check what the coach has done before and who he has coached. What was his focus and which “schools” does he recommend?
- Teaching style and philosophy
Make sure that the coach’s teaching and communication style fits your requirements. If you need someone to take you by your hand, you shouldn’t go for a beach volleyball professor. Also make sure to know and trust your coaches training philosophy.
- Required attention
Make sure your potential coach has enough time and attention for you. If he is dealing with a big number of players, getting his full attention might prove difficult.
To limit cost and to have a motivating group experience it is recommended to have a group of like-minded beginners and to look for a coach together.
For more information on coaches refer to the online resources.
3. Where to play
Depending on where you live, looking for a beach volleyball court may be a challenge. Major cities usually offer decent options but in small cities and in the countryside it is a different story. In principle there are three options for finding a court: indoor, outdoor and “bring your own net”.
Especially during the summer playing outdoor is supposedly the best option. There is a good amount of outdoor court operators that offer professional courts often combined with beach and even party atmosphere. Playing outdoor represents the original spirit of beach volleyball because it is closest to experiencing a beach atmosphere. This usually compensates for some disturbances by wind and weather.
In bad weather conditions and during winter time, playing indoor is a wide-spread option as well. There are way less indoor beach volleyball court operators than outdoor, but a quick research usually provides sufficient options. Playing indoor can be fun as well, especially since you are not prone to wind and weather. On the other hand, it is usually associated with higher cost and longer travel times.
Finally, you can buy your own net and play where you want. Parks, public green areas and beaches provide dedicated sandboxes / sand areas where you can set up your own net. Buying your own net might prove beneficial in the mid- and long-term. A net of average quality costs between 70-200 $ and after the initial investment you can save significantly because no more court fees are incurred. However, these savings come along with making sure to secure the rare public space spots that are usually available in most areas.
For court listings refer to the online resources.
Beach Volleyball Tips & Tricks
This section provides beginners with the most important vocabulary and hand signals.
Beach volleyball has its own language. Here is the most important beach volleyball vocabulary:
Cross Court Shot: individual attack directed at an angle from one end of the offensive team’s side to the opposite sideline of the defensive team’s court
Cut: short and extremely diagonal ball along the net
Double Elimination: Tournament mode in which a team is eliminated after their second defeat
Fake Block: „faked“ block where the blocker pulls off the net when the opposing team hits the ball. If a block is not faked but the blocker leaves the net early it is called a “Drop”
Joust: two opposing players simultaneously attempting to play a ball above the net
Kill: attack that terminates a rally and results in an immediate point or sideout
Let serve: serve that contacts the net and continues over to the opposing side; now a legal play.
Line Shot: “longline” ball over or outside the block
One-Two-Barbecue: means losing two games in a row in a double elimination tournament
Poke Shot: a ball played with the knuckles of the index and middle finger
Roll Shot: when the attacker does not swing all the way through the ball, but still snaps causing the ball to roll forward over the net and drop quickly
Sideout: winning the point and the serving right after receiving
Spike: ball contacted with force by an offense player who intends to end play on the opponent’s floor or off the opponent’s blocker; also called a hit or attack
Timeout: 30 second interruption both teams can request once per set
2. Hand Signals
Communication between players from the same team is key. There is of course verbal communication but sometimes the exchanges between partners have to be more discreet. For example, it probably isn’t in a team’s best interest to openly communicate where the ball will be served, but that’s definitely useful information. In those cases, hand signals are used. The signals are generally made behind the back to hide them from the opposing team and are given with both hands by the serving player’s partner prior to the serve. They can be distinguished in blocking and serving hand signals.
Especially at more advanced levels one player blocks and the other one defends. In order to non-verbally communicate how the blocker intends to block there are blocking hand signals. In beach volleyball only one player blocks since otherwise it would be easy to simply play over the block. The blocker can only block a certain part of the court, therefore it is key to let his teammate know where he plans to block and where the ball could still go. Prior to serving it is agreed upon which part of the court is blocked. The signals are generally made behind the back to hide them from the opposing team and are given with both hands by the non-serving player prior to the serve. Each hand refers to the block type that the players will set on the corresponding side of the court. For example, if the non-serving player signals two fingers on the left side of his body, that means he plans to block “angle” on the left side of the court. In that case the defender knows that „longline“ is open for hard shots and that only soft tactical attacks can come over the block.
These are the most common blocking signals:
One finger: The blocker plans to block the opponent’s line attack. The defender needs to defend hard “angle” shots and “longline” attacks over the block.
Two fingers: The blocker plans to block an opponent’s “angle” attack, the defender needs to block hard „longline“ shots and „angle“ attacks over the block.
Open hand: The blocker plans to fully match up with the hitter, deciding where to block based on and the hitter’s approach and arm swing.
Closed fist (Fake Block): No block should be attempted for the opponent on that side of the court. The player at the net has no intention of putting up any sort of block, instead they pull off the net when the opposing team hits the ball and will attempt to play defensive.
Pinky and index (Spread-Block): The blocker tries to block both „line“ and „angle“ by spreading both arms.
Drawings: © beach-volleyball.de
At more advanced levels also serving hand signals are used to provide information about the serve. When the non-serving partner wants to indicate a location for the server, he will wiggle or flash a signal on the side of the court to which he would like their partner to serve. For example, if the blocker wants the serve to go to the right side of the court, then he will put the flashing signal on the right side of his body. By adjusting the height of the hand signals, very individual information on the length of a serve can be communicated. This type of communication helps both partners to be prepared for the upcoming rally.