Volleyball basic terms explained: side-out, utility player, and switching sides (EXPLAINED!)

Volleyball has a lot of words and terminations that are being used during the training. Let’s go over some of the more common ones to get an idea of what they mean and unravel the mystery.

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What does side out mean in volleyball?

The word side-out was used in the rules a few decades ago but is not used anymore. The scoring system was different back then and only the team that served could score a point during that rally. If the other team was able to score, they didn’t get a point.

What they did get was the right to serve and this would allow them to score points. This was called side-out scoring as the scoring team had the right to serve and try to score a point. 

Since 1999 we have had a new scoring system and the team that is not serving can also score points when they drop the ball in the court of the other team. This is called “rally scoring” as one team scores a point during every rally. This makes the game more engaging as both teams have to be on point all the time if they don’t want to lose points. 

Some people still use the term side-out as they are so used to it. Volleyball coaches can be active for a long time and they might find it difficult to adjust to new rules.

  It indicates that the other team can serve. While they already scored a point, being allowed to serve still gives an advantage as it can lead to more points in rapid succession if you have a great server. Therefore side out is still be used to indicate that your team has the right to serve. 

There are other (and clearer) ways to indicate this though. Sometimes people are confused by this term as it is not part of the regulations anymore and therefore it can be hard to find out what it means. Now you know. 

What is a utility player in volleyball?

A utility player is a player that can play in different positions on the court. Let’s take a look at the basic positions on the court:

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Middle blocker: This is often a taller player. The goal is to block the ball at the net to stop the attack immediately.

Right side (or opposite) hitter: This player attacks from the front row.

Left side (or outside) hitter: This player attacks from the back row. This can be quite challenging but if the player can add some effect to the ball, they can surprise the defense.

Libero: this player can substitute the middle blocker (or another player) on the last row at any time. They have to catch the ball after the other team has attacked and pass it to the setter.

Defensive specialist: this is quite similar to a libero but this player has to be substituted before he or she can go on the court. It is also possible that this player goes to the first row.

Setter: A setter has to give an assist to the hitter. This means that they coordinate the attack as they pick the best way to attack.

Server: This player has to push the ball over the net once the game restarts after a rally. Every player has to do this and there are several techniques (for example a jump serve) to do this. Players often spend a lot of time improving their serve as it is a great way to score points.

Not a lot of players are able to play in multiple positions as they specialize. Some players can be active in multiple defensive or offensive positions. Very few players can play both offense and defense but this is very rare. An example of this is  Regla Torres. She is part of the volleyball Hall of Fame because she was able to perform at a very high level in multiple positions.

Coaches sometimes designate a player as a utility player if it is unclear what position the player is best at. Another reason is that the coach is struggling with balancing out the team and needs a player to pick up multiple roles.

When do teams switch sides in volleyball? Can you go to the other side in volleyball?

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Teams switch sides on every side after every set is done in indoor volleyball. Other than this, it is not allowed to go to the other side of the net during a set. It is not allowed to go under or next to the net during a rally. You can go over the net during a rally in certain situations. It is not allowed to touch the net (except in lower competitions).

Teams switches sides to keep it fair. For example, the lights can work differently on one side or there can be less space after the court on the other side (this can make it harder to initiate a serve). To keep everything balanced, teams just switch. In this way, there are no discussions about the game being unfair.

What is unique about volleyball is that the benches also switch. This makes the substitutions easier as the whole team is on one side of the net. It is expected that you have respect for each other and keep the benches clean so that the other team doesn’t have to sit in a wet or dirty environment.

The fans stay in most instances in the same place. This is to avoid too much noise and confusion during the match. Teams don’t have a lot of time to switch sides as they have to drink and listen to the coach. Players are used to switching sides and keeping all their gear in a backpack so that it is easy to pick everything up and get going.

In beach volleyball, teams switch sides more often. Teams switch sides after 7 points have been scored in sets of 21 points and every 5 points in sets to 15 points. The goal is to keep it fair for both teams as the sun and wind can change when you play outdoors. It is important to remember that players don’t get any pause during this and have to switch sides immediately. If they wait too long, they can get a penalty.

Teams rotate over their own court after they are have won the right to serve. This is done by scoring a pint when the other team was serving.

We have discussed more volleyball terms here.