Wednesday, 22 May 2024

Simplified Youth Rules

USA Volleyball, in accordance with the rules set by the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB), annually updates its rulebook called Domestic Competition Regulations. This rulebook includes a section specifically for youth play, targeting athletes aged 3-11 years old who typically play in teams of two or four.


Teams can consist of two, three, or four players per side, with the option of having teams of all one gender or coed teams at any percentage. These rules can also be adapted to accommodate one-on-one play, where each player is allowed to hit the ball one to three times in a row before sending it back over the net.

The spirit of the rule emphasizes unlimited substitutions, often done through a “circulation” technique. Circulation involves players rotating from active play to waiting in a consistent pattern, even when the ball is in play.

Playing Area Options

When it comes to the playing area, courts should be consistent within the league and smaller than adult-sized courts. Here are some common options:

  1. Two youth courts on one regular adult court net: Each youth court is four meters wide, with a two-meter buffer between the sidelines. The net buffer area can be marked using antennas, tape, swim noodles, etc. The depth of each court can vary from four to nine meters, depending on the age group. It is crucial to have the two-meter buffer and avoid using a shared sideline for safety reasons.

  2. Four youth courts on two linked adult nets: Each youth court is four meters wide, and the depth can be either four and a half or six meters.

  3. Racquetball Courts: Volleyball nets can be installed in racquetball courts to provide a controlled environment where younger athletes don’t have to chase the ball. This environment also produces empowering noises when the ball is spiked. Additionally, racquetball courts can be used to teach sitting volleyball, a Paralympic sport.

  4. Tennis Courts: By leaving the net up as a divider, stringing ropes or nets down the center of the court and attaching them to the fence, and outlining court lines with chalk, tennis courts can be transformed into youth volleyball courts.

  5. Two youth courts on two linked adult nets: Each youth court is six meters wide, stretching from the adult end line to the adult three-meter line, with a depth of either four and a half or six meters.

Playing Surface Options

The rule book specifies that the playing surface must be flat, horizontal, and uniform. Youth volleyball games around the world are played on various surfaces, such as city streets, concrete, grass, wood, and beach or river sand. As long as the court is consistent for both teams, any suitable surface can be used. However, a buffer area of two meters is required around all sides of the court.

Nets and Balls

Whenever possible, a net should be used to allow players to learn how to play out of the net. To save money and create more nets, a simple rope can serve as a “net” for all levels of youth play.

The official ball for kids under 12 is a lighter version of the adult ball. These balls are constructed with lighter materials, making them easier for younger players to handle. The net height for a youth program can vary, usually ranging from five to seven feet based on the age group. Another option for youth courts is using a badminton net/court, either without extenders for younger players or with extenders for older kids.

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Uniforms must match and be numbered from 1 to 99. While having matching tops or shorts is not required for youth programs, it is encouraged for the team to look like a cohesive unit. Jewelry should be removed, except for medical alert and religious reasons.


The coach is responsible for calling timeouts, making substitutions, and determining the starting lineup order. However, having a coach is not a requirement to play the game. In the spirit of learning and growth, older players are encouraged to spend time coaching younger players in their program. As long as there is adult supervision around the activity area, valuable physical education moments can happen even with one teacher training a large class.

Warm Up

Warm-ups are optional for youth play, but if space allows, they are highly encouraged. Both teams should have an equal amount of time on the court for warm-up. The serve or side is determined either by a coin toss or a rock-paper-scissors game. The team winning the toss can choose to serve first or pick a side, leaving the other option to the opposing team. Warm-ups can be shared on the same court, or one team can warm up while the other team is off the court for a short set time, usually two to four minutes.

Playing Format

There are three ways to score a point in youth volleyball:

  1. The opponents make an error.
  2. The opponents receive a penalty for poor conduct.
  3. The team successfully puts the ball down on the opponent’s court.

If simultaneous errors occur, a replay is called. Otherwise, the first fault made is the one called, and subsequent errors do not matter unless it involves a conduct violation.

To win a set, teams typically play to 25 points, with the winning team needing to have a lead of at least two points. However, the game can be adjusted to accommodate shorter matches or starting each game above zero, such as playing to 10-10 and then playing to 25.

A match can consist of one game or be best two out of three, with the deciding third set (if needed) played to 15 points. If a match finishes before the scheduled time, it is encouraged to let the players continue playing until the next match begins.

Rotation and Position Faults

At the moment of the serve, all starting players must be on the court or court lines, not standing outside the court. Service rotation moves in a clockwise direction. Players are not allowed to touch any part of the opponent’s side of the court, except with their foot or feet. While there may not always be a center line on many courts, teaching players to stay away from the other team’s side by ensuring their feet are partially on their own side is essential. Accidentally touching the net poles and guy wires is acceptable.

Equal playing time is strongly encouraged, focusing on rotating through the lineup for players to serve and play in the front row. It is preferable to have a team with equal playing time rather than having dedicated starters and substitutes.

States of Play

  • Ball In: The ball touches the surface of the playing court, including the boundary lines. If the ball bounces off the line, it is considered good.
  • Ball Out: The ball touches completely outside the playing court, passes completely under the net, or touches the support lines, antennas, posts, or the net outside of the antennas. The ball can touch the ceiling, but play continues unless the ball is banked in from one team to the other team’s side.
  • Playing the Ball: The ball may not be thrown or carried. Double hits are not allowed, except on the first contact of the three possible hits. Unintentional double hits are allowed. The ball must be hit over the net within a maximum of three contacts. Players can use any part of their body, including their feet, to hit the ball. It is important to focus on the performance rather than the outcome of the contact or play. Long rallies are encouraged, but teams should aim for all three contacts whenever possible.
  • Ball Handling Faults: Hitting the ball more than four times or lifting/carrying/throwing the ball are considered faults. However, when players are first learning, more leniency is allowed to ensure rallies continue, and blatant ball carrying is called.
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Net Play

Players are not allowed to touch the net, unless the ball drives the net into them. The ball can hit the net and continue over at any time, as long as it passes fully between the antennas. Safety should be emphasized when playing near the net, ensuring players jump further back and stay out of the net.

Skill-Specific Play

  • Service: Players can serve using various techniques, such as overhead action, jump/spike action, underhanded, or windmill (roundhouse) motion. Youth players are allowed to hit the ball out of their hand, but should work towards developing a low and consistent toss. A youth player gets two chances at serve tossing and can let the ball drop to the ground if the first toss is not good. Serves can take place anywhere on the end line of the court, and up to five meters behind the end line if space permits. The server must hit the ball before stepping on the end line or into the court. Kicking the ball for a serve is not permitted.
  • Reception/Defense: Normal ball handling rules apply for the first contact, which can be made using an overhead set or a forearm pass. The ball can rebound off any surface of the player’s body, allowing for maneuvers like heading the ball or kicking up a save. The ball can be touched with one or two hands.
  • Setting: The second contact, predominantly used to set the ball for a spike, can be executed with two hands, a back set, or a forearm pass/dig. The main objective is to make the ball optimal for hitting.
  • Attacking: Players can direct the ball towards the opponent’s side through various methods, including spiking, tipping, standing and setting it over, forearm passing it over, etc. Tip actions cannot be caught or thrown over. Any one of the two to four players on a youth team may jump and attack the ball from above the top of the net.
  • Blocking: A ball blocked counts as a touch but doesn’t count as one of the team’s three hits. It can be played by a blocker without being called for a double hit. Blocking a serve or a ball entirely on the opponent’s side of the net is not allowed. Youth volleyball encourages only one player to jump and block.


If an injury occurs during the game, it is crucial to stop the game immediately and tend to the injured player. A replay is called. Players with hard casts should not be allowed to play volleyball, even with padding. Only small finger splints or casts, padded and not providing an advantage in contacting the ball, are permitted. Safety should always be prioritized in youth volleyball.

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A referee stands by one of the net supports and oversees the match from start to finish, with their decisions being final. The referee blows the whistle for each new serve and makes calls related to ball handling, in-and-out calls, and other judgment decisions. While a referee is not required, both teams should be willing to call their own faults, including net contact fouls. When there is no referee, it is essential to quickly agree on play overs in case of a disagreement, ensuring that the game can continue. Players are not allowed to contact the net when there is no referee present.

Parental Conduct

In youth volleyball, the focus should be on the athletes first and winning second. Parents should praise their children in public and provide constructive criticism in private. Being the most encouraging parent can greatly contribute to creating a positive and supportive environment.

Paralympic, Deaflympic, and Special Olympic Players

Parents and coaches should support and encourage talented youth players who may have potential in Paralympic, Deaflympic, and Special Olympic Teams. Volleyball is played in both unified and standard forms for Special Olympians. Special Olympics provides a comprehensive program and training manual for these athletes. Hearing-impaired athletes can consider trying out for the USA Deaf National teams, which compete every four years in the Deaflympics. Additionally, there are men’s and women’s sitting and beach ParaVolley teams that offer opportunities for athletes with disabilities.

The Spirit of Coaching Youth Volleyball Resources

  1. Catch them Doing it Right: Punishment is not necessary in youth volleyball. Instead of focusing on punishment, always choose encouragement and praise to inspire and motivate young athletes.
  2. I Hear & I Forget – I See & I Remember – I DO & I Understand: Kids learn best through hands-on experience. Prioritize practical learning over lectures or explanations. Keep introductory information brief and get the players involved with the ball as quickly as possible.
  3. Reward Performance over Outcome: Emphasize the effort made to learn a skill or incorporate a strategy rather than solely focusing on the outcome. Encouraging players to try new things helps develop lifelong learning and improves their overall volleyball skills.
  4. Mistakes are Simply Opportunities to Teach: Mistakes are a natural part of the learning process. Instead of seeing mistakes as personal failures, view them as opportunities for growth and use them as teaching moments. Maintain a positive and supportive environment.
  5. Teach Positive Errors over Negative Errors: Emphasize positive errors that encourage learning and longer rallies, rather than dwelling on negative errors that focus on what went wrong. Encourage players to take risks and learn from their mistakes.
  6. Be Consistent: Consistency is key in coaching. Players need to rely on you, whether they are winning, losing, succeeding, or making mistakes.
  7. FeedForward Works Better than Feedback: Instead of pointing out past errors, use “FeedForward” coaching to provide guidance on what players are about to do. Focus on their future success and encourage players to control their own destiny. By providing positive reminders and guidance, players can become their own coaches.
  8. Be a Talent Scout for Paralympic, Deaflympic, and Special Olympic Players: Support and encourage young athletes with disabilities, and introduce them to opportunities in Paralympic, Deaflympic, and Special Olympic teams.