Watch all the action from the 2022 AVP Season HERE

AVP 101: The Basics Of Beach Volleyball


New to beach volleyball? Avid fan of the AVP? Need a review on the basics of the sport? Here is a beach volleyball primer to give you the inside scoop.

Maybe you caught one of the live telecasts of an AVP tournament on Amazon Prime Video, attended one of the AVP tournaments during the 2019 AVP Tour, or are planning on watching beach volleyball at an upcoming event, or the next Olympic Games. Chances are you have some questions about the game. To help you understand beach volleyball and its iconic history dating back almost 100 years a bit more, we present AVP 101: The Basics Of Beach Volleyball.


Born on the beaches of Santa Monica, California in the 1920s when families would gather at the beach to play volleyball, beach volleyball rapidly gained popularity and truly hit its stride in the United States in the 1980s. Authorized by the International Volleyball Federation in 1987, the first world Championship took place in Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro — just blocks away from world famous Copacabana Beach which hosted the Olympic Summer Games back in 2016.

Beach Volleyball History

Wowing fans with highly technical and physically astonishing matches, beach volleyball was introduced to the world at the 1992 Summer games in Barcelona as a demonstration event and officially debuted at the 1996 Atlanta summer games as an official sport. Since those games over 20 years ago, at which Sinjin Smith/Randy Stoklos won the men’s tournament, and Karolyn Kirby/Nancy Reno won the women’s, two countries have proven to be masters of the sport — the United States of America and Brazil. Since the sport’s debut in 1996, the United States has won a gold medal at every Summer games in either the men’s or the women’s competition, while Brazil has won gold or silver in every men’s or women’s tournament.

At each Summer games, a total of 24 teams take part in beach volleyball. Teams qualify on the basis of their performance in FIVB events over the course of about 18 months before the games begin. There is a limit of two teams per country, and one spot apiece is reserved for the host country and a randomly chosen wild-card country. In the event that any region is not represented, the highest ranked team from that continent qualifies for the tournament.

Basic Principles of the Game

Knowing and understanding the fundamentals of beach volleyball can be helpful for beach newbies and veterans alike. The following is an outline of the key principles of the sport:

Don’t Let the Ball Hit the Floor on Your Side of the Net. The object of the game is to send the ball over the net and to ground it on the opponent’s’ court. Simultaneously, teams must prevent the same effort by the opponent.

Rally Scoring. Games are determined by the best of three sets — the first two of which are played to 21 points, and the third, if necessary, to 15. In each set, a team needs a difference of 2 points to win. As such, if the set is tied at 21-21, play continues until one team leads by 2 (e.g., 23-21).

3 Contacts Per Side / No Player Can Hit the Ball Twice in Succession. Teams are allowed up to three touches to return the ball across the net. The ball is put in play when one player serves the ball from behind the rear court boundary over the net to the opponents. Play, or as it’s called on the sand, the rally, continues until the ball is grounded on the playing court, goes out of bounds, or is not returned properly. The team that wins the rally scores a point and serves to start the following rally.

The rules state that no player is allowed to hit the ball multiple times in a row. While this principle appears to be straightforward, it can get a little confusing: If the double contact occurs on a team’s initial hit it is a legal play. However, the double becomes illegal if a player makes two separate attempts to hit the ball. In other words, you may “double the ball” (volleyball slang for hitting the ball twice) as long as it is on your team’s first contact and you made a single motion to contact the ball.

Two Players on a Team. In beach volleyball, teams are comprised of two players. The responsibility for serving alternates between the two teammates. Since two people are responsible for covering the court, players usually choose a partner with a complementary but opposite skill set. For example, a player who is an excellent hitter but sub-par passer would want to choose a teammate who is an above average passer.

The players change sides every seven points, or every five in the third set.

A rally scoring system makes for not only a fast game, but also a heated one. Since a point is awarded for every play and a team doesn’t need to be serving to get the point, matches can be very close and there is more opportunity for upsets.

The Net is Off-Limits. No part of a player’s body or uniform is allowed to touch the net. Participants are permitted however to play the ball off or out of the net during a volley and a serve. Also, it is perfectly legal to cross under the net as long it does not interfere with an opponent’s attempt to play the ball.

No Substitutions. Unlike indoor volleyball, beach volleyball rules do not allow for substitutions. If a player becomes injured during a match and unable to play, his/her team must forfeit the contest.

Only the Strong Survive

In most AVP tournaments, teams can play as many as four matches in a day each of which lasts 35 to 60 minutes. While continually diving, blocking and spiking, getting a point can feel like an eternity. Since it’s played on the beach people think it’s not a serious game. While athletes might be in bikinis and boardshorts on the beach, they put in five and a half hours plus of training a day and put on what is definitely an athletic performance on the court.

You Call That a Uniform?

A typical uniform is matching bikinis for women and shorts for men. Players are barefoot, unless authorized by referee, in which case athletes wear sand socks to protect their feet from the hot sand which can often reach temperatures of 100°F and up.

Environmental Stress

Hats and sunglasses are the best way for players to manage the piercing sun, but it is always a factor on the court. The sand can also be a merciless obstacle when chasing down a ball and can often reach temperatures above 100º F. One of the worst environmental factors to play in is wind — the wind affects not only ball speed, but also placement. If you talk to most any AVP Pro you’ll learn that if you can successfully play in the wind, you can play in any type of environment.

By the Book

The AVP follows the Rule Book of the FIVB. Here is your own quick reference need-to-know beach volleyball cheat sheet:

  • The Court: A sand court is 26’3” by 52’6”.
  • The Net: A 28’ long net stands 8’ high for men and 7’4” high for women. It is forbidden to touch the net. A blocker may reach beyond the net as long as he/she does not interfere with the opponent’s attack. A ball can be played off the net as along as it within the limits of a team’s three hits.
  • The Ball: The Wilson AVP Official Game Ball measures 64.5 cm in circumference versus the heavier FIVB-regulation Mikasa ball at 68.5 cm.
  • Refs: Typically there are two referees, two line judges and a scorer for each match.
  • Points: When a team wins a rally (the ball is grounded, hit out, or a team fails to return the ball properly) they are awarded a point and serve.
  • Set: The first two are to 21 points and the third is to 15 points. Teams must have a two-point advantage to win set and there will be no caps used
  • Match: The best of three sets.
  • Tie Breaker: In the case of a 1-1 tie, a third set is played.
  • Timeouts: There are two 30-second timeouts per set.
  • Injury: Only one injury timeout per player per match is allowed.
  • Side Out: A side change will occur every seven points in the first two sets and every five points in the third set.
  • The Serve: The team that wins the point serves, with servers alternating between the two players. A serve is executed in the service zone, outside of the parameters of the court. The server’s foot may not touch the court end line. The ball can be hit by only one hand or arm. The serve in the AVP varies between a jump serve and a standing serve.
  • Hit: A team has three hits (including blocks) to return the ball. The ball may touch any part of the body but cannot be caught or thrown.
  • Block: An interception at the net of an opponent’s return by reaching higher than the net.
  • Attack (Or Spike): Anything directed at an opponent that is not a block or a serve.
  • Fault: If a team hits the ball four times before returning it over the net, or a player hits the ball twice in succession, or holds the ball.
  • Penalty: Any signs of aggression or unsportsmanlike conduct can result in a warning, penalty (loss of rally) or more seriously a disqualification depending on the severity of the offense.

About The AVP

The AVP (Association of Volleyball Professionals), born in 1983, is the United States’ premier beach volleyball tour, headquartered in Newport Beach, California. Every U.S. beach volleyball Summer game medalist has toured with the AVP throughout their career, including gold medalists Karch Kiraly, Kent Steffes, Misty May-Treanor, Kerri Walsh Jennings, Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser. 

The AVP is America’s Tour. We are American Made — American Driven. Our Athletes are a dominating force in the USA and around the world. We are making history with each new season, coming to more locations around the country, and building heroes on the beach with every city we compete in.

This is America. This is our Sport. This is the AVP.

Category: Beach Volleyball 101

More Trending Articles for You

See All Articles