Rising above the net to perform fierce attacks.
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 on a 18m x 9m court divided by a net (2.43m high for men, 2.24m for women). Each team at the Olympic Games is allowed up to 12 players, but only 6 play on court. The game starts with a serve that sends the ball over the net to the opponent’s side. Teams are allowed to touch the ball three times before it must cross over the net into the opponent’s court.
Teams try to send the ball over the net in order to ground it on the opponent's court, while also trying to prevent their opponent from doing the same. Rallies are a regular feature of the match and continue until the ball lands on the court or is hit out of bounds, in which case that team loses the point.
Players require amazing power and reactions, with the ball able to reach speeds in excess of 130km/h.
This is in sharp contrast to when the sport was first introduced as ‘mintonette’ by William G Morgan for older members of his YMCA gym in Massachusetts, USA in 1895.
Eventually, the sport spread globally when the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) was established in 1947. The first men’s World Championship took place the following year, while the first World Championship for women was held in 1952.
Volleyball for both men and women became an official Olympic sport at the Olympic Games Tokyo 1964. At Tokyo 2020, teams are divided into two pools of six teams with each pool playing a round-robin. The top four teams of each pool advance to the quarterfinals and the final round is played under a knock-out system.
- 12-team tournament (Men/Women)
Essence of the sport
Speed, height and power are the highlight of the game
Volleyball matches are played to the best of five sets. Each set is played to 25 points with a team needing a two-point advantage to win the set. When a team wins a point they serve next. The first team to three sets wins the match but when the match is tied at two sets each, the final set is played to 15 points.
Teams employ three players at the net and three at the back of the court. If a player is in the backcourt, they are not allowed to move to the net to block or spike. The player in the specialist ‘libero’ position performs an exclusively defensive role and can replace any of the back players. They are easily spotted since they must wear a different coloured uniform. Each time the team wins back the serve, players must rotate a position clockwise and this rotation system is a major factor in a team’s strategy.
Highlights of the game include the powerful spikes and blocks performed by players at the net. There is also an exchange of tactics at the net, and each team has a unique strategy based on their players’ skills and playing style.
In recent times, offensive action has become faster while team tactics are starting to vary. Powerful jump serves send the ball speeding over the net, while players who are more than 2m tall can reach heights of up to 3.5m when smashing the ball into the opposing team's court. You may also see players diving full-length to retrieve a ball moments before it hits the floor.
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.
Outlook for the Tokyo 2020 Games
Brazil leads the way in the men’s game and People’s Republic of China in the women’s, so both are favourites to defend their gold medals from Rio 2016.
Brazil’s men’s team were undefeated throughout the 2019 FIVB World Cup, eventually being crowned champions. In addition to winning the championship, they had Alan Souza named as the most valuable player and two-time Olympian Lucas Saatkamp selected as best middle blocker in the World Cup Dream Team.
Meanwhile, Poland’s Wilfredo Leon is another player to watch having been named the best outside spiker in the 2019 FIVB World Cup Dream Team. Leon previously won silver for Cuba at the 2010 world championships, before going on to represent Poland.
The People’s Republic of China lead the women’s game as the back-to-back FIVB World Cup champions. Four of their players received individual awards, with star player Zhu Ting winning her second MVP award in a row.
Serbia are current holders of the FIVB volleyball women's world championship, with Tijana Boskovic named the tournament's MVP in 2018.
Italy have many up-and-coming players who are driving the team forward. Paola Egonu caught fans' attention when she topped the scoring charts at the 2018 women’s world championship with an astonishing 324 points.
However, it is Russia (including the USSR) who have earned the most Olympic gold medals in volleyball — four each for both men and women. In an effort to counter European dominance, other countries have developed quick attacks and feints, adding to the complexity and excitement of the game.
It was the first time that People’s Republic of China had participated in an Olympic Games volleyball tournament.
The victory was a huge triumph for the nation, with star player Lang Ping acquiring heroic status in her home country.