A geek’s guide to Beach Volleyball

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Seen as an opportunity to gawk at semi-naked athletes playing sport in the sun, beach volleyball has a reputation for not taking itself seriously. Over the last 20 years, beach volleyball has gained tremendous popularity. Growing numbers of active players, more beach courts, more tournaments and higher prizes are the result of this highly tactical and physically demanding game.

The basic rules of beach volleyball

Based on indoor volleyball rules, beach volleyball is very similar but has several differences.

Volleyball court

The opposing teams have only two players, playing on a court that is 8x8m compared to 9x9m for indoor volleyball. The net height also varies, for men it is 2.43 m and for women 2.24 m with a 10m difference between the posts.

General view of match action from the main arena General view of match action from the main arena

The goal of beach volleyball is to strike the ball back and forth over the net and score points by the ball hitting the opponent’s courtside.

Team players can touch the ball three times before it must be played to their opponent. The three touches typically include a pass, set and hit - passing is receiving the ball and playing it towards your teammate, who then sets, before being struck over the net.

Serving in volleyball

To begin play, a player must serve the ball over the net into the opposing team's court. It is prohibited to touch the net during games. Touching the net results in a point for the other team. If the ball is returned, then a rally has been created until a point is scored when one side fails to return the ball over the net.

Cuba right defender Nivaldo Nadhir Diaz Gomez (1) serves in a men's preliminary - Pool D match against Canada Cuba right defender Nivaldo Nadhir Diaz Gomez (1) serves in a men's preliminary - Pool D match against Canada

Entering the opponent’s side of the court is only allowed if doesn’t interfere with the opponent’s play. Touching the opponent on their side is interference and is not permitted.

Volleyball rallies and point-scoring

Unlike indoor volleyball, there are no fixed positions. Each player can move around their court as they need to. Only the serving player requires rotation. If one team continuously wins the rallies, it is always the same player serving. If one side loses a rally, then the opposing team’s second player will serve next.

Only the serve must be carried out by either the servers hand or arm. Once the ball is part of a rally, then players can use their other body limbs including kicking the ball to return to the opposition.

The ball can never be thrown or caught; it either has to be struck or hit. Furthermore, receiving the ball with open hands is also not permitted, nor is playing the ball with an open hand to attack.

Blocking the ball also counts towards a touch, so if a player has blocked the shot, then he or she is only permitted two more touches before the ball must be returned across the net.

Spain's Javier Huerta Pastor (L)/Alejandro Huerta Pastor celebrate a score during the Men's Qualification Round 2 match Spain's Javier Huerta Pastor (L)/Alejandro Huerta Pastor celebrate a score during the Men's Qualification Round 2 match

Beach volleyball matches are won when one side has one at least two out of three games. The first two games are decided when a team has reached 21 points (but winning by a two-point margin) with the third and final one game at 15 points if required.

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Tactics of Beach Volleyball

Beach volleyball playing techniques are again similar to indoor volleyball. As per beach volleyball rules, there are a few differences.

The dig

The technique for passing is known as the "dig" - a technique for receiving the ball that also doubles up as a "set."

USA's Kerri Walsh Jennings digs the ball in the second set en route to the gold medal in women's beach volleyball USA's Kerri Walsh Jennings digs the ball in the second set en route to the gold medal in women's beach volleyball

The hand-set

If players do not utilise the dig, then they can use the hand-set, when players 'cup' their hands lifting the ball high into the air so that their teammate can obtain enough time to strike the ball across the net.

Brazil; Robert Meeuwsen (NED) sets the ball to Alexander Brouwer (NED) as they compete against Reinder Nummerdor (NED) and Christiaan Varenhorst (NED) Brazil; Robert Meeuwsen (NED) sets the ball to Alexander Brouwer (NED) as they compete against Reinder Nummerdor (NED) and Christiaan Varenhorst (NED)

Hitting/striking the ball

Hitting the ball is done more effectively when players jump high in the air and strike the ball hard with their flat hand, adding topspin and speed to the ball, aiming to beat the opposing player's block.

Kira Walkenhorst (GER) hits the ball against Agatha Bednerczuk (BRA) during the women's gold medal match in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games Kira Walkenhorst (GER) hits the ball against Agatha Bednerczuk (BRA) during the women's gold medal match in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games

The cut

A unique hitting technique is the "cut". It is being played either from the left or right-hand side of the net in an extreme angle diagonally along the net, aiming to use placement instead of speed to beat the opposition.

The poke

Another alternative is the “poke”. Rather than using their flat hands to strike the ball, players use their first two fingers, poking the ball over the net from a defensive block.

Blocking

Blocking is when players jump up with two hands over the net to rebound the shot back into the opponent's court. Successful blocking can change significantly change the outcome of a match. Not only is it a way to obtain quick and easy points but can have a significant psychological impact on the attacking team, if all their offensive shots result in points conceded.

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‘Fake block’

In beach volleyball block and defence are tightly aligned, and the best players do well because they master each other's tactics. This includes a "fake block" that aims to confuse attacking opposing players and counters poke and cut shots.

Blocking hand signals

You'll notice in beach volleyball that the players use specific hand signals to communicate in secret to each other. In these cases, hand signals are generally made behind the back to hide them from the opposing team, establishing what type of serve or block they should initiate on the next rally.

Kira Walkenhorst (GER) signals against Larissa Franca Maestrini (BRA) and Talita Rocha (BRA) during the women's semifinals in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Kira Walkenhorst (GER) signals against Larissa Franca Maestrini (BRA) and Talita Rocha (BRA) during the women's semifinals in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games

Popular beach volleyball terms

Cross Court Shot: an attacking short that is played from one end of the team’s court over the net to the oppositions at a diagonal angle, aiming to beat the opponent with a placement shot. Similar to a tennis cross court shot.

Cut: similar to cross court shot, but a shorter and more extreme diagonal short played close to the net.

Fake Block: a "faked" block is when the blocking player pulls away from the net when the offensive player strikes the ball. A “drop” is when a player decides against a “faked” block, leaving the net early.

Joust: two opposing players both aiming to play the ball just above the net.

Kill: an attack that finishes a rally resulting in an immediate point or side out.

Poke Shot: a ball struck with the knuckles of the index and middle finger.

Sideout: winning both a point and the serve right after receiving the ball.

Spike: ball struck with force by an offensive player who intends to beat the opposite's blocker and score a point on their courtside.

Timeout: 30-second interruption. Both teams can request a timeout once per set (game).

With this geeks guide to beach volleyball, you should have enough to get started watching and betting on your first beach volleyball match. If you grasp these basics, you'll understand that the game is much more than athletes in their beachwear!

Words: David Bailey-Lauring

Images: PA

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