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Beach Volleyball vs Indoor Volleyball: What's The Difference?

May 5, 2023

Despite the obvious difference that beach volleyball is played on sand, beach volleyball and indoor volleyball have many factors that set them apart, and make them a very different game. Many of the aspects are the same, including serving and hitting, but some regulations are very different. Understanding both indoor and beach volleyball’s rules and regulations before playing is crucial to having a successful game.

The Court

While it may not be obvious to the naked eye, beach volleyball courts are slightly smaller. Specifically, they are two meters shorter, and one meter narrower. Indoor courts measure 18m (~60ft) in length, and 9m (~30ft) in width. Beach courts measure 16m (~52.4ft) long and 8m (~26.2ft) wide.

One aspect of the court that is also very different is the attack line. In indoor volleyball, the attack line is located about three meters (10ft) away from the net on each side. This line separates the front of the court from the back. Players in the back row are only permitted to hit the ball from behind this line. In beach volleyball, this line does not exist. Either player is permitted to hit from anywhere on the court.

Scoring System

Another main difference between beach and indoor volleyball is how they are scored and the length of the games. In professional volleyball, these games are played very differently.

Indoor games are won by playing up to five matches, and the first to three wins. The first four sets are played to 25 points. If a final fifth set is played, this set is up to 15 points.

Beach volleyball games differ in both the number of sets and the number of points needed to win. Beach games are won by playing up to three games. The team who wins two out of the three games is crowned the winner. The first two games are played to 21 instead of 25. However, the final set of a beach volleyball game is also played to 15.

Team Size

Indoor games are played with six players on each side of the court at all times. Three in front, three in back. In beach volleyball, there are only two on each side of the court. As the indoor volleyball courts are much larger, more players are needed to cover more area of the court. As beach courts are smaller, two players are able to adequately cover the area of the court.

In Indoor volleyball, each player has a different position and specialty. There are numerous positions, but the most popular are setter, outside hitter, middle, right side, and libero. In beach volleyball, there is usually one player dedicated to do most of the hitting, and one to do most of the passing. However, these are normally informal positions, and both players are seen passing, setting, and hitting during the entirety of the game.

There are also no substitutions in beach volleyball, and due to the nature of the small team size, no libero either. While in indoor volleyball, substitutions are allowed at any time of the game, with a limit of six substitutions per set in professional games. Liberos, in contrast, have free range to come and go as they please, so long as they only replace players in the backcourt.

Weather Conditions

While this may seem obvious, weather conditions play a huge role in beach volleyball games. In beach volleyball, in order to be able to play, the weather must not pose any physical risk to any players. Games have the potential to become delayed, or even cancelled if the weather is too severe to continue to game.

The wind can also affect the game drastically. Not only can it give an advantage to one team, but strong wins can also pick up the sand and spray it into a player's eyes.

Another factor of playing outside that indoor players are not affected by is the sun. Depending on the time of day, the sun's positioning can make it difficult for one team to see, drastically helping the other side. Not only that but sunburns and sunstroke are a huge problem for beach players. You will often see them reapply sunscreen multiple times and drink what seems like gallons of water to avoid these issues.

The weather, despite it being so important for beach volleyball games, is something indoor players may have never considered. Their games inside the air-conditioned gyms will never be disrupted by lightning or wind.

The Volleyball

While they may look alike and have the same function, beach volleyballs and indoor volleyballs are very different.

The indoor volleyballs are slightly heavier. They are made to move faster and be hit much harder. These volleyballs are designed to keep up with the fast-paced, high-intensity nature of indoor volleyball.

Beach volleyballs, on the other hand, are designed to be much lighter. While beach volleyball is still an intense sport, the small team sizes combined with the difficulty to maneuver in the sand court requires a ball that is slightly slower and lighter.

Rules Of The Game

Tipping

While tipping is an important and strategic component of indoor volleyball, it is universally banned in beach volleyball. Players are unable to tip the ball with an open hand. That said, there are other variations of tipping that are more common in beach volleyball. For example, rolling the ball (where your hand rolls over the top of the ball to put it down, rather than hitting the top of it) gives players more control, and allows them to put the ball short or long.

The “pokey” is also a common technique used in beach volleyball that is usually not seen in indoor volleyball. Players will curl their fingers inward, and “poke” the ball with the outside of their fingers. This, like the rolling technique, gives players free range to place the ball short or long.

Blocking

Blocking in both indoor and beach volleyball is a crucial skill of the game. It can slow down strong hitters, intimidate the other team, and score your team many points.

While the rules surrounding this aspect of the game have gone through several developments and changes throughout the history of the game, the rules that stand are as follows: in beach volleyball, a block is counted as one touch. As players are limited to three touches before the ball must be sent to the other side of the net, following a block the two players now only have two more hits to return the ball. In indoor volleyball, blocks are not counted toward their three hits. If the ball is hit off the block, that team is still able to utilize three hits to send the ball to the other side.

Conclusion

So, which do you prefer? Both indoor and beach volleyball are high-intensity sports that are competitive and fun to play. While the difference between the two might seem obvious, there is more that sets them apart than meets the eye.

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