USA Volleyball Significant Rules Differences
How outdoor rules differ from indoor

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This document attempts to capture the most important differences between USA Volleyball outdoor and indoor rules. This list is not intended to substitute for reading the official USA Volleyball rule book, but should help to highlight important differences between the two separate rules sets.

This document is written from the perspective of a player who is familiar with indoor rules and curious about rules for beach doubles. Each difference includes a reference to the applicable outdoor (O) and/or indoor (I) USAV rules from the current rule books (the original being the 1997-98 version). Note that there are other sanctioning bodies for outdoor volleyball including the AVP and the FIVB. As always, it's important to know which rules you are using before getting into a rules discussion. :) This is especially important on the beach since the USAV beach ruleset isn't a commonly known/embraced by beach tournament directors as the USAV indoor rulebook is by indoor TD's. Local/homer rules tend to be very common, and sadly cause a large number of disputes.

Last updated: September 2004. And boy did it need it!

If you have any comments or suggestions on situations that should be added to this list, please drop me a line.

For a definitive interpretation of any USA Volleyball beach rule, however, contact the current USAV Beach Rules Interpreter, Patty Salvatore at

USA Volleyball Beach/Outdoor Rules differences from USA Volleyball Indoor rules

  1. USAV has sanctioned the international FIVB smaller 8mx8m court as an experimental rule. Not many folks state-side are using the new smaller court though.

  2. You switch sides within games. Wind, sun, and variable lighting on outdoor courts at night all point to the need for switching sides within games. Side out scoring (SOS) games to 15 switch when the sum of the teams' scores is a multiple of 5. SOS-11 games switch on multiples of 4. Rally games to 21 points or more switch on multiples of 7. Rally games to 15 switch on multiples of 5.

  3. You're likely to see any number of game formats The advent of rally point scoring (RPS) has hit the beach, so get ready for anything! USAV includes provisions for many permutations-- RPS-30,21,15 or SOS 15 or 11. This isn't that different from indoors, really, though people seem to be using rally scoring indoors fairly uniformly now. Now that the AVP is using RPS-21,21,15 matches now, rally is being used increasingly on the beach as well.

  4. Block counts as a team contact in outdoors doubles and triples. This rule was changed for 1997-98. O13.1.3 states For doubles and triples competition only: Blocking does constitute a team contact, and any player may make the second contact of the ball after the block. Indoors, the block is never considered one of the team's three allowable contacts. Caveat: this rule is frequently ignored in grassroots play.

  5. Stricter calling of sets on the first ball. Outdoors, it is illegal to double contact the first ball if the ball is not hard-driven and if "finger action" is used. This is similar to the way the indoor rules read prior to 1995. Indoors, it's now legal to double contact any first team contact, which has led to some ugly, yet legal handling of free balls and serves. To legally double a first ball when using finger action (i.e. setting), you have to be defending a hard-driven attack. That means, you're not receiving a serve. It also means you're defending an opponent's attack on a ball that's moving fast enough such that the referee can judge that you didn't have time to play the ball any other way.
    Outdoors, it is conceivable (but unlikely) that a serve could legally be "set" by the receiving team, however, this contact is judged with the same scrutiny as a normal set (not double contacted, etc.). Applicable rules: O13.4.2, I14.4.3.2. In fact, it better be absolute nectar, or except to get called!
  6. Restriction on setting the ball over the net. Indoors, there are no restrictions on this action. In fact, the term "set" is not even defined in the indoor rules. However, outdoor rules (doubles and triples only) require a "set-over" to be perpendicular to your body. An exception is made for sets to a teammate that happen to get blown over the net:
  7. O13.4.5 If the ball is intentionally set into the opponent's court, the player must contact the ball with two hands above his/her shoulders and set it directly forward or directly backward with relation to his/her body.

    O13.4.5 Commentary: A legal set directed toward a teammate that crosses the net because of the elements is not a fault, regardless of the player's body position.

  8. No open hand tips/dinks. In doubles, triples, and 4's, this is a no-no outdoors. Alternatives include palms, heel of the hand, locked straight fingers, knurled fingers, or the back of the hand. O13.4.6, I14.4
  9. Legal to lift/push/carry a hard-driven ball (click here for a full page describing this oft-misunderstood rule) . Outdoors (used to be doubles and triples competition only but for 97-98, extended to 4's and 6's too), it is legal to momentarily lift or push a "hard-driven ball" on the first team contact. This type of contact allows for overhand "beach digs" that would be ruled as lifts indoors. "Hard-driven ball" is defined as "an attack-hit or blocked ball traveling at a high rate of speed, as judged by the referee). Outdoor rule states "In that case, the ball may be momentarily lifted or pushed, provided the attempt is one continuous motion and the player does not change the direction of that motion while contacting the ball." As of 2004-05 and beyond, it is also legal to double contact such a hard-driven ball.
  10. The spirit of this rule is to keep the ball in play longer. In doubles, obviously there is a lot of court to cover, so the rules give some leniency to allow for longer rallies.

  11. No center line. There is no center-line in outdoor volleyball. You can penetrate under the net provided you do not interfere with your opponent. O15.2,I16.3
  12. Lower ball pressure. Outdoor ball pressure is 2.5-3.2psi. Indoor balls are much harder at 4.3-4.6psi.
  13. No penalty for serving out of order (doubles only). If an out-of-order server is discovered, no penalty is charged. The offending player continues serving, and that team's service order is simply reversed such that no one player serves 3 times in a row. O16.3.1.1
  14. No antennas. Indoor rules strictly stipulate the use of antennas to define the crossing space over the net. Outdoors, however, antennas are rarely used except in pro competition. In the absence of antennas, the posts act as antennas for all purposes except player contact. O2.5, I2.3
  15. No position or back-row faults (doubles, triples, 4's). In 2's, 3's, and 4's competition, players can start and play anywhere. Only the service order must be obeyed. This conveniently removes all concern about back row attacks/blocks. In 6's competition, however, the indoor rules apply. O10.1.2, I10.1
  16. Stricter screening rule (2's and 3's). Unlike the indoor rule (17.7) which prohibits only groups of 2 or more passive players from screening, the outdoor rule prohibits individual player screening as well. O16.7.1 states "On an opponent's request, a player must move sideways or bend over or down [to prevent screening]." In the pros, you will often hear the receiving team request that the blocker move left or right so they can have a clear view of the server. Of course, it's illegal for a single players to wave their arms, jump, or move with the server in both outdoor and indoor rules. Prior to 2000-2001, this stricter rule applied to all outdoor competition. In 2000-2001, however, the rules were modified to make screening in 4's and 6's identical to the indoor rules.
  17. Can retrieve a ball from opponent's side of the net Indoors, once you've hit the ball completely across the net (either inside or outside the crossing space), your team can no longer play it. Outdoors, however, your partner may be able to bail you out of a shamefully shanked pass that crosses the net outside of the crossing space:
      14.1.2 A ball completely crossing the net below the net or entirely
      outside the antennas (posts) may be recovered within the limits of the
      three team contacts [Rule 15.1.3 and 15.1.4].
      14.1.3 A ball completely crossing the net above the net and within or
      over the antennas (posts) may not be recovered.
  18. No "girl rule" in co-ed play Indoor mixed-six rules stipulate that a female must play the ball if "a team contacts the ball more than one time during an offensive action." No such stipulations exist in USAV Beach rules for mixed-six play.

  19. Switch courts every 5 points (15 point games), every 7 points (for rally scoring 21 point games) or even 4 points (11 point sideout games). Unlike indoors, wind and sun conditions play a constant role. Being on the "good side" for an entire game is a bit too much of an advantage for a decision of a coin toss.

  20. Match format. Currently (2004-05), USAV beach rules dictate a best of 3 match where the first two games are played to 21 points rally scoring switching every 7 points, and a deciding game if needed is played to 15 points rally scoring, switch every 5 points. No point cap, win by two. In 1999-2000, the USAV beach rules played a side-out scoring game to 15 while indoor rules were (and still are in 2004-05) a 25-point rally scoring format for non-deciding games.

  21. Multiple Misconduct Warnings Possible (2's) In doubles competition only, a player may be issued multiple misconduct warnings in a game. In 3's 4's and 6's, the rule is the same as indoor--once a warning is issued, the next step within that game must progress to a misconduct penalty (loss of rally).

  22. Service tossing error (no longer a difference). This was new for 1997-98--no service tossing errors are allowed under outdoor rules. USAV made this change to come into line with FIVB rules. USAV Indoor rules adopt this change for 1998-99.

O16.6 If the server releases the ball for service and does not complete the service, the team will be penalized with a loss of rally.

  • If you have any suggestions on situations that should be added to this list, or spot anything that is out of date, please drop me a line.
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Copyright 1997-2004. Todd Haverkos. Unauthorized duplication is expressly prohibited.