Get Prepped For the Tokyo Olympics With This Complete Guide to How Volleyball Is Scored

Getty / Phil Walter

Volleyball is one of the marquee events at the Summer Olympics, but if you only watch the sport every four years, you might have some questions about how the game works and how it’s scored. Never fear: we’ve got you covered, with an easy-to-follow guide that will help you watch the Tokyo Games like a pro. First, let’s start with a quick refresher on the Olympic event itself.

There are two types of volleyball you’ll typically see, including at the Olympics: beach volleyball and team volleyball, often just called “volleyball” or “indoor volleyball.” Team volleyball is the kind you probably played in high school: two teams of six players on a hard court, with different players occupying different “positions” or specialties. Beach volleyball, as its name suggests, is played in sand, and it only has two players per team. In both types, both men and women play, frequently in gender-segregated tournaments (as is the case at the Olympics) but occasionally in mixed teams.

For both the indoor and beach tournaments, Olympic athletes first compete in a preliminary round, playing each of the teams in their pool in hopes of earning enough points to move on to elimination rounds. Eventually, the winners of the two semifinal games compete for gold (the loser of that match gets silver), and the losers of the semifinal games play each other to determine the bronze medal.

How Is Team Volleyball Scored?

Volleyball has a pretty complex set of rules, but the basics of gameplay aren’t too hard to follow. Points are scored whenever one of two things happens:

  1. The ball hits the ground on one team’s side. This earns a point for the other team (that is, not the team whose side the ball hit the ground on).
  2. A team commits a “fault.” These can include not getting the ball over the net within three tries, allowing the same player to touch the ball twice in a row, stepping on the line during a serve, palming or “carrying” the ball, touching the net, hitting the ball out of bounds, and other no-gos. In these cases, the team that did not commit the fault earns the point.

A set ends when a team scores 25 points by at least a two-point margin. Olympic matches are best-of-five, with the final set (if needed) only going to 15 points.

How Is Beach Volleyball Scored?

Beach volleyball pretty much follows the scoring rules as its hard-court sibling. The biggest difference is in the score that must be reached to win a set and the number of sets required to win a match. Here, teams win a set when they score 21 points with at least a two-point advantage, and the winner of the match is the first team to win two sets, not three.

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