Volleyball utilizes a unique and complex scoring system that differs from most other sports. At first glance, keeping track of volleyball scoring can seem confusing. This comprehensive guide breaks down how scoring works in volleyball at all levels of the game. We’ll explain the basics of earning points, winning sets and matches, typical scoring formats, special rules to know, and much more. Whether you’re a casual player learning to keep score or a devoted fan seeking to better understand this great sport, this volleyball scoring guide will teach you how it works.

The Basics of Earning Points

The fundamental way to score points in volleyball is for your team to successfully ground the ball on the opponent’s court. Here are the basics:

  • Your team must cleanly return the ball over the net into the opponent’s court
  • The ball must contact the court within the legal boundaries (inbounds)
  • The opposing team cannot successfully return the ball back before it hits their court

This results in your team scoring a point. Other scoring events like blocks and fouls can also award points. But grounding the ball on the opponent’s side of the net is the primary method of scoring.

How to Win Volleyball Sets

Volleyball matches are divided into sets. Let’s look at how sets are structured and won:

  • Teams compete to win sets
  • First team to 25 points in a set wins
  • But they must win by 2 points

So if the score reaches 24-24, play continues until one team goes up by 2 (e.g. 26-24).

  • Sets have no point cap and continue on indefinitely until a 2-point margin
  • If a set is tied at 29-29, the first team to score the 30th point wins

Winning sets is the key to winning matches. Now let’s explore common volleyball scoring formats using sets.

Volleyball Scoring Formats

There are several popular scoring formats defined by how many total sets are needed to win a match:

Best of 3

  • First team to win 2 sets wins the match
  • Most common format for recreational play

Best of 5

  • First team to win 3 sets wins
  • Used in high school, college, Olympics, World Championships
  • Allows more sets for teams to battle

Best of 7

  • Uncommon today but was once the international standard
  • First to 4 set wins takes the match

The best of 5 set format is considered ideal for competitive play, allowing one team to assert dominance to win the match. Let’s look closer at typical scoring within a set.

Typical Set Scoring Flow and Strategy

While one team could hypothetically win a set 25-0, that is extremely rare. Sets typically follow this general scoring flow and strategy:

  • Teams trade points scoring back and forth early on
  • One team pulls ahead by 2-3 points in the middle
  • The leading team aims to hold onto their small advantage as the set progresses
  • Late in the set the trailing team tries closing the gap
  • The end of the set involves exciting back-and-forth points
  • The winning team hits 25 while up by 2 to close out the set

Volleyball scoring strategy centers around holding small leads, maximizing runs, and surviving the opponent’s surges. Momentum swings are common. Now let’s look at special scoring plays.

Special Volleyball Scoring Plays

In addition to grounding the ball, volleyball features special scoring plays:


  • When a front row player(s) blocks an attack back to the opponent’s court
  • Results in a point if the ball immediately hits the floor

Attack Error

  • When a player attempts an attack that fails, sending the ball out of bounds or into the net
  • Results in a point for the opponent

Service Ace

  • When a serve hits the opponent’s court untouched
  • One of the most exciting scoring plays

Understanding how blocks, errors, and aces can score points provides a fuller picture of volleyball scoring.

Winning the Match

Now that you understand set and point scoring, here is how matches are won at varying levels:

High School

  • First to 3 set wins clinches the match


  • Match winner is first to take 3 sets

International, Olympics, Pros

  • Play until one team has won 3 sets
  • But teams must win by 2 sets once they reach match point at 3-2

So for example, if Team A leads 3 sets to 2 over Team B, Team A must win the 6th set to clinch the match. If Team B wins to force a 5th set, the winner of that final set takes the match. This prevents matches from ending on a sweep after trailing 2-0. The international tiebreaker rule adds drama!

Keeping Score as a Volleyball Referee

Volleyball referees have the important job of keeping score. Here are some tips:

  • Use hand signals to denote scoring events to players and fans
  • Announce score before each serve so players know the game status
  • Keep careful track of which team has serve each rotation
  • Confer with line judges and your partner to confirm points
  • Don’t allow play to continue if there is score confusion. Stop play, confirm the proper score, and resume
  • Keep score visible on a flip scoreboard so both teams can see it

Accuracy is critical, so pay close attention, especially at the end of close sets and matches!

Volleyball Rotation and Positions

Volleyball requires teams to rotate positions clockwise each time they win serve. This affects volleyball scoring strategy and flow. Teams must score points and sideout to keep their strongest players in the serving and front row positions as much as possible. Scoring also allows teams the chance to substitute specialist defensive and offensive players depending on the rotation. Understanding volleyball rotations helps decipher the scoring strategies at work.

Common Volleyball Scoring Mistakes to Avoid

Even experienced players make scoring mistakes. Here are some to look out for:

  • Forgetting to add a point after a successful rally
  • Awarding a point after a service error
  • Giving two points for a block or ace
  • Allowing saves of serve/attacks that contacted the net
  • Confusing which team has serve
  • Granting points to the wrong team
  • Ending sets/matches too early before reaching point thresholds

Staying vigilant and actively keeping track of the score is the only way to avoid such mistakes.

Uncommon Volleyball Scoring Situations

Some complex scoring situations can arise in rare cases:

  • If both teams commit faults simultaneously, a double fault is called and the rally is replayed.
  • If an injured player cannot continue and the team has no remaining legal substitutes, the opponent is awarded a point.
  • If external interference occurs mid-rally, the referee will call for a replay.
  • If a team is discovered having an illegal player on-court, the opponent can be awarded a point.

Make sure to consult the rule book if unique scoring situations like these occur!

Frequently Asked Volleyball Scoring Questions

Let’s review answers to some of the top volleyball scoring questions:

How many points does it take to win a volleyball set?

To win a set, a team must be the first to score 25 points while holding a lead of at least 2 points. So scores like 25-23 or 27-25 are common set-winning scores.

Can you score on your own serve in volleyball?

No, you cannot score a point on your own serve, as this would count as a service fault. Your opponent must successfully return the ball before either team can score a point.

What is a sideout in volleyball scoring?

A sideout occurs when your team successfully returns the ball after the other team served, allowing you to gain serve and the chance to score. Sideouts are an important part of scoring flow.

What are some ways to score a point in volleyball besides grounding the ball?

You can also score on opponent attack errors, blocks at the net that drop straight down, and aces when your serve touches the floor untouched.

How does scoring work when sets are tied?

If sets are tied at 25, 24, 23, etc. the set continues until one team wins by 2 points. At 29-29, the 30th point wins.

How many sets does it take to win a high school volleyball match?

In standard high school volleyball, the first team to win 3 sets clinches the match. Matches are best of 5 sets.

Why might a team lose a set 25-0?

While extremely rare, this can happen if a team is severely overmatched or experiences injuries, illnesses, or disqualifications leaving them unable to continue playing before forfeiting.

This covers some of the most frequently asked scoring questions. Please reach out if you need any clarification or have additional questions!

Volleyball Scoring Lingo and Terminology

Here are some key volleyball scoring terms to know:

Ace – A serve that directly results in a point without being touched

Attack – An attempt by a player to hit the ball over the net to score

Attack error – An unsuccessful attack that results in a point for the opponent

Back-row attack – When a back-row player jumps and attacks from behind the 3-meter line

Ball in – The referee’s signal that a rally should continue

Ball out – Signal that a rally ends due to an error,boundary violation, or fault

Block – Preventing the ball from crossing the net resulting in a point

Block assist – Multiple players participate in a successful block

Block error – Unsuccessful block attempt that results in a point for opponent

Double fault – When both teams commit faults simultaneously, resulting in a replay

Fault – Any rule violation that results in a point for the opponent

Kill – A successful attack that directly leads to a point

Reception error – Failed pass of a served ball

Serve – One of the 6 basic playing actions where the ball is put into play

Service ace – A serve that is not touch and scores directly

Service error – An illegal serve that results in loss of rally

Side out – When receiving team successfully returns the serve and gains the right to serve

Final Volleyball Scoring Tips

Here are some useful tips to improve your volleyball scoring knowledge:

  • Actively focus on the scorekeeper and referees to understand their calls.
  • Ask questions if you are unsure about a scoring decision.
  • Review the rulebook sections on scoring procedures.
  • Study scoring flow by watching matches in detail.
  • Practice keeping score during scrimmages to improve.
  • Remember common mistakes and watch out for them.
  • Learn scoring lingo like side out, kill, ace etc.
  • Teach others about volleyball scoring to reinforce your knowledge.

Mastering this essential part of the game will heighten your enjoyment and strategy as both player and spectator!


Hopefully this guide provided you with a full understanding of volleyball scoring. While the unique volleyball scoring system takes some learning at first, like most skills it becomes intuitive with repetition. Points, sets, and matches make up an exciting structure for competitive play. Scoring dynamics like runs and side outs create fascinating strategy. Volleyball’s prolific rallies are made even more thrilling by the context of which team is ahead. So next time you watch or play volleyball, you can appreciate each point’s significance in the broader scoring system that builds to ultimately crown a victor.


Categories: Volleyball


  • Tom Eddy

    Tom Eddy is the founder and CEO of Poll Position, a leading sports news and opinion website. Eddy founded Poll Position driven by a vision of creating an innovative digital media brand focused exclusively on sports journalism. Under Eddy's leadership, Poll Position has grown from a solo blog into one of the most visited online destinations for sports coverage.

    https://pollposition.com/ Eddy Tom


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