images of Volleyball

Olympic Sports


Originally devised as a gentle alternative to basketball, modern volleyball is anything but gentle - few sports on the Olympic programme offer such fast, furious and exhilarating action.

Tokyo 2020 competition animation "One Minute, One Sport"

We will show you the rules and highlights of volleyball in one minute. Whether you are familiar with volleyball or want to know more about it, "One Minute, One Sport" explains the sport and how it works. Watch the video below.


Volleyball is played by two teams of six on an 18m x 9m indoor court divided by a net (2.43m high for men, 2.24m for women). The object of the game is to land the ball in the opposition's half of the court.

Each team is allowed three touches of the ball before it must cross over the net. The key attacking move is the set and spike, in which a player feeds the ball (set) for a teammate to power it into the opposition's court (spike). The teams continue to rally the ball back and forth until one or the other allows the ball to bounce on the court or hits it out of bounds. Players require amazing power and reactions: in men's matches, the ball can reach speeds in excess of 130km/h.

This is in sharp contrast to the sedate game called ‘mintonette’, which was invented in 1895 by William G Morgan for older members of his YMCA gym in Massachusetts, USA.

Volleyball for both men and women became an official Olympic sport at the Tokyo 1964 Games.

Beach volleyball is similar to the indoor game but with three main differences. The court is slightly smaller, measuring 16m x 8m; it is covered in sand and situated outdoors; and the game is played by teams of two instead of teams of six.

The discipline came of age on the sun-soaked beaches of Santa Monica, California, during the 1920s and the event now regarded as the first Beach Volleyball World Championships was held in the state in 1976. Beach volleyball made its Olympic debut for men and women at Atlanta 1996 and quickly became one of the most popular spectator sports at the Games.
International Federation:Fédération Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB)(Open in a new window)

Event Programme

Beach Volleyball

  • 24-team tournament (Men/Women)


  • 12-team tournament (Men/Women)


Blocks, spikes and astonishing athleticism

Volleyball players

Volleyball matches are played to the best of five sets. The first four are played to 25 points, with the final set played to 15 points. A team must win a set by two points. Each set continues until one of the teams gains a two-point advantage.

The six-person teams employ three players at the net and three at the back of the court. The player in the specialist ‘libero’ position performs an exclusively defensive role and can replace any of the back three players. This player is easily spotted as they must wear a different coloured shirt.

Powerful jump serves send the ball speeding across the net, while players who are more than 2m tall can reach heights of up to 3.5m when smashing the ball with all their strength into the opposing team's court. Also expect to see players diving full-length to retrieve a ball moments before it hits the floor.

While it's useful for players to have height and long reach for spikes and blocks, physique alone does not determine success. Pay attention to the setter who orchestrates gameplay and communicates tactics to teammates. Getting the ball to the setter is key for teams to set up and execute attacks.

In beach volleyball, matches are the best of three sets, with 21 points needed to win a set (15 in the third and deciding set). With just two players per team and the added variables of sand, sun and wind, beach volleyball is gruelling to play but spectacular to watch. Look out for players signalling to each another with their fingers behind their backs so that the other team can't see their strategy.


Powerhouse nations and rising stars

Volleyball players

Today, the top-ranking men's volleyball teams are Brazil, the USA, Italy, Poland and the Russian Federation, while Serbia, China, the USA, Brazil and the Russian Federation lead the way in the women's game.

The Russian Federation has earned the most Olympic gold medals - four each for both men and women. In an effort to counter the height and power of Russian athletes, other countries developed quick attacks and feints, adding to the complexity and excitement of the gameplay. In recent years, Brazil and the USA have upped their game to compete with the European countries that have traditionally been the powerhouses of the sport.

Beach volleyball is relatively new on the Olympic stage but in a short amount of time it has increased its visibility and created its share of stars. The USA and Brazil are the leading nations, the former having won three gold medals in both men's and women's events since Atlanta 1996. However, it was Brazil's men who triumphed on the home sand of Copacabana at Rio 2016. In recent competitions, Norway, Latvia, Poland, Germany and Canada are closing the gap.



The balls used in beach volleyball move through the air more slowly. How?


A: Although the balls used in Beach Volleyball are the same size as those used in Volleyball, they're inflated to a 30 per cent lower air pressure. This means they are softer and move more slowly.

As of 1 Dec. 2018

Competition Venues

  • Ariake Arena
  • Shiokaze Park

Olympic Sports

Paralympic Sports