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Beach Volleyball

How NCAA beach volleyball works: Rules, format and complete history

2023 NCAA beach volleyball championship

Volleyball is a sport that can be played virtually on any surface, whether on grass, hardwood, sand or even in the pool. Beach volleyball was introduced to the Olympics as a demonstration sport in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and was officially added as a sport at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Twenty years later, the NCAA sanctioned beach volleyball for the 2016 season.

But what exactly is beach volleyball at the college level, and how does it differ from its indoor counterpart? Here’s a short explanation of the rules, the composition of teams and what makes the sport unique.

Team composition

NCAA beach volleyball competition is played in duals, with 10 student-athletes split into five pairs. NCAA programs can have up to three coaches (two coaches and one volunteer).

Instead of six players occupying the court like in indoor volleyball, beach volleyball is a 2 vs. 2 matchup, which means that every athlete must be a utility player — they could serve, dig, block and hit a ball in one rally. The pair must also play the match in its entirety; no substitutions are allowed in beach volleyball.

As for the coaches, it’s a rule that they must remain seated except for timeouts and between sets; they are only allowed to coach their athletes during breaks in the game (side changes, timeouts and between sets or matches). And because there might be five matches happening at once, there might not even be a coach present at every court, similar to tennis doubles and singles. 

Athletes are much more autonomous in beach volleyball, communicating amongst themselves to coach their pair through the match.

Rules of the game

The dual meet match is formatted in five best-of-three sets, pairs matches, with each pairs match being worth one point (similar to tennis singles).

UCLA-Southern Cal volleyball championship box score 2023The box score from Southern California’s 3-2 victory over UCLA in the 2023 beach volleyball National Championship.

Each pairs match is won by the team that wins two sets. Each set is played first to 21 points (instead of 25 for indoor), and a team must win by at least two points. If the sets are tied 1-1, the decisive third set is played to 15, where the winner must again win by at least two points. Beach volleyball uses rally scoring, which gives both teams — whether serving or not — a chance to score points on each given rally. 

📝 Learn more about rally scoring and how it impacts the record books

Conditions, courts

Unlike indoor…

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