Beach volleyball: the basic rules about the match, net, blocking, and setting

Beach volleyball has different rules than indoor volleyball. Official matches are played with only 2 players. This means that players have to attack and defend a lot. The matches are very fast-paced so you don’t have a lot of time to think about what you are going to do next. Knowing these can give you an edge over the other players. Let’s take a look at the nuances of these rules. We will use the rules of the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) as these are used in big tournaments such as the Olympics.

Can you touch the net in beach volleyball?

No, you are not allowed to touch the net in beach volleyball. This will result in a point for the other team and should be avoided at all costs. In fact, the FIVB (the organizers of most tournaments) states that:

A player who is about to commit a fault (touch the net or interfere with an opponent, etc.) may be stopped or held back by a team-mate.

FIVB rulebook

If you see that your teammate is about to touch the net, you can pull him or her back. This can be a small nudge or you can hold him or her at their jersey. Just be careful that you don’t hurt the other player.

Players are often focussing on the ball and they might not notice that they are heading towards the net. They can be warned by the other player on their team or even pushed away from it.

Sometimes players fall towards the net and there is nothing they can do about it. This is part of playing beach volleyball so it can happen from time to time. Professional beach volleyball players are able to avoid this during most matches.

The sun can also blind players and therefore most beach volleyball players wear sunglasses so that they can clearly see the net during the match.

What is unique about beach volleyball, is that you can go under the net to retrieve the ball if you don’t hinder the other team and it is your team’s turn to pass. Let’s take at a demonstration below:

When do you switch sides in beach volleyball?

According to FIVB rules, the teams switch after every 7 points (in Set 1 and 2) and 5 points (during Set 3). Beach volleyball players switch more often than indoor volleyball players. This keeps the game fair as the direction of the wind and sun can change during a match. The teams can’t complain about this given that they both can play on each side of the court. It also compensates if one part is uneven. Some local competitions can have other rules but in most competitions, these rules are followed.

The referee uses a hand signal to indicate that it is time to switch sides. There are no pauses and the teams must change immediately. This can be hard when the players are tired but is part of the rule. They can only rest during the official pauses. If players take too long, they can get a warning from the referee. In general, it should take less than 20 seconds to switch sides as players can just walk under the net or next to it. They don’t have any gear that they have to pick up.

If there was an error and teams didn’t switch on time they will change as soon as the error is noticed. This should only happen in exceptional situations as the referee and the players should pay attention to this. Sometimes the match gets heated and it is forgotten about. In this situation, the score remains the same, teams just switch sides. There are no further compensations for any of the teams.

During the last set, players switch more often to make sure that everyone is able to stand on both sides of the net as there are fewer points needed to win the last set. This makes sure that the matches don’t last too long.

Can you reach over the net in beach volleyball?

Yes, players can reach his or her hands and arms over the net as long as this action does not affect the players on the other team. This can only be done after the other team has completed their attack.

It is also possible that players work together to create a block. This makes it wider and harder to pass. Once you can pass it though, it can be quite difficult for the defenders to keep up as they are standing close to the net. Therefore a double block is often an all-or-nothing proposition. Therefore it doesn’t happen too often that players do this. Blocking is also quite difficult as your timing has to be right. If attackers can evade it, they can score quite easily. Therefore it won’t be used every time. Defenders will try it a few times and see if it intimidates the attackers or not.

It has to be noted that a block counts as a touch when the ball gets in contact with the hands or arms of the players that are executing the block. This leaves only two touches for this attack.

As we discussed before, players are not allowed to touch the net. This means that it is essential that you get your arms and hands down quite fast. After a block, players have to be ready immediately to start attacking again. Beach volleyball is very high-paced and you have to switch between attack and defense very rapidly.

Often the tallest player of the two specializes in blocking. You need to be able to jump quite high (or be quite tall) if you want to reach over the net as it is hanging quite high. For shorter players, it can be a challenge to jump high enough.

Can you block a serve in beach volleyball?

No. It is forbidden to block the serve of the other team under FIVB rules.

Blocking is jumping with the arms up in the air just behind the net to stop the ball. The other team will get a point when you do this. The correct way to defend against a serve of the other team is using a dig or dive. This allows players to slow down the ball and control it. This is quite challenging to do but is quite similar to indoor volleyball. Liberos are typically great at this and are therefore often fantastic beach volleyball players.

Serving (or a service) is restarting the game behind the court line. This is generally done after a team has scored a point. The goal is to push the ball over the net and inside the court of the other team. To make sure that the servers get a fair chance, it is not allowed to block this ball. The player has to make sure that the ball goes over the net and inside the court of the other team. It is possible to score a lot of points in a short period of time if the other team is not able to defend well. This can be frustrating for the defending team but the only thing that they can do is dig better. A great block won’t help them in this instance.

The same rules apply in indoor volleyball as you are not allowed to block a serve there either.

Can you set in beach volleyball?

Yes, you can set in beach volleyball. Setting is passing to the other player before an attack. It is also called giving an assist. There are only three touches per attack in beach volleyball. Players can pass to each other. Typically the first touch will be to control the ball. The second touch will be used to pass to the attacker. This is called setting. This is most commonly done with an overhand pass.

Some players are experts at hitting the ball and therefore they want to receive an assist. They need to receive the ball at the right height and with the right effect. Setters have to make sure that the pass arrives where the attacker wants it. Beach volleyball teams often work together for a long time. This allows the players to get to know each other’s preferences.

This part of the game is similar to indoor volleyball. Players that are used to setting in indoor volleyball are therefore very capable to do this in beach volleyball as well. The ball is slightly bigger and heavier in beach volleyball but it is quite easy to get used to this.

A good setter can make or break a beach volleyball team. If the attacker has to get the ball in an unexpected position, it is challenging to add a lot of power to the ball.

To conclude, we can state that beach volleyball has some unique rules. It can take some time to get used to them. It is essential that you study these rules and know them by heart. Making an unforced error can result in a lost match.