Volleyball Serve Rules 

Learn the rules of serving along with the most common fouls and service faults committed in competition. 

According to the volleyball serve rules each rally begins with the serve.

This makes the volleyball serve the first opportunity for a player to score a point. 

Technically, if you cant serve the ball, you can't play the game, since throwing the ball over the net isn't allowed.

This is why the serve is often the first offensive skill a player usually learns.

Each official match must begin with a serve from one team which is sent into the opposing team's court with the intent on starting the rally and possibly scoring a point. 

Before I get too technical  let's review, exactly what a serve really is. 

Volleyball Serve Rules 
What is a serve?
Who is the server?
What is the service?

During the course of the game this player, while standing behind the service line, tosses the ball to herself with one hand and contacts the ball with the other hand to send it across the net into the court of the team that's in serve receive. 

  • Who's the server?

If you are the server, then at the beginning of the rally, just after the referee blows the whistle, you are the player standing behind the end line in the service zone, and within 8 seconds after the ref has blown the whistle, you serve the ball over the net.

Volleyball Serve Rules:
How does a player serve a ball?

By any means necessary. Ha! Just kidding. 

There are three types of service in volleyball most commonly used in advanced competition like high school games, college games, beach tournaments and national and international matches.

The Underhand Serve in Volleyball

The underhand serve in volleyball is used by beginners because its easier to control the ball. 

The sidearm serve is another form of underhand serve but when performed correctly can add more speed and pace to the ball making it harder for the receiving team to pass it to their setter. 

The Overhand Serve in Volleyball

The overhand serve in volleyball requires you to toss the ball higher in the air before contacting it with an open hand above your head, like a tennis player uses a racket to contact the ball above their head. 

The standing floater serve is the most popular of all overhand serves and it requires

  1. a consistent toss, 
  2. a quick rotation of the body, 
  3. a flat-handed wide-fingered contact with the middle of the hand contacting the middle of the ball while keeping the elbow above the level of your ear. 

The Top Spin Serve in Volleyball

The standing topspin serve requires a high toss, a high reach and quick armswing of the dominant arm with the hand contacting the top third of the ball, very similar to the spike contact. 

Contacting the top third of the ball creates the forward motion which launches the ball with alot of spin, pace and speed from your service line to the opposing court.

This high paced fast traveling serve is used to make it extremely difficult for the passers to receive the serve and get it to the target. 

The Jump Serve in Volleyball

The jump serve has two versions of the overhand serve, the jump float and jump topspin serve.

The jump float and the jump spin serves can be described essentially as spike attacks taken from behind the service line into the opposing team's court. 

Basically before serving you

  • back up 4-5 feet behind the service line and once the referee blows the whistle 
  • you toss the ball up 8-10 feet in the air and once it reaches its highest height 
  • you take a three-step spike approach before 
  • contacting the top third of the ball above your head with open hand and strong fingers that guide the ball to your target

Right handed players will place the ball in their left hand so they can toss it in the air, then step towards it, as they then contact the ball with an

  1. overhand 
  2. underhand
  3. sidearm 
  4. jump serve swing action.

The ball is contacted with your dominant hand or any part of your arm with the intent of creating enough force to send the ball over the net and inside the opposing team's court. 

Left handers do the opposite. 

How you contact the ball to send it over the net depends on the type of serve you decide to use.

Want to learn how to serve a volleyball like a pro or just how to improve your serve? 

Check these pages out for more serving instructions and info. 

Volleyball Serve Rules
The Important Volleyball Serve Toss

No matter your serving style, the toss is a fundamental part of the serve in volleyball.

You can't serve a ball without tossing it up in some way shape or form. 

  • With that being the case, the volleyball serve rules state that when you serve, only one toss is allowed once the referee has blown their whistle.

Once a player tosses the ball up for their serve, if they catch the ball without completing their service action, that is a fault and the referee will blow their whistle and award the opposing team the ball.  

The serve doesn't always go as planned.

Check out this compilation of funny volleyball serve moments during top women's matches.

See you aren't the only one who serves the ball in the back of your teammates head. 

If you are a server and you realize you've given yourself a bad toss, according to volleyball serve rules you can let the tossed ball drop.

Once the ball drops, you can catch the ball.

After its been dropped, the referee will blow their whistle indicating that the complete service action will begin again and will give you, the server a second opportunity to serve within 5 seconds time . 

Many times a server will toss a ball up to serve it and then can't get out of the way fast enough before the tossed ball hits them on the way down.

If this happens, then the referee will blow their whistle and award the ball to the opposing team. 

Don't you hate when that happens? 

Volleyball Serve Rules:
Can A Player Serve From Anywhere on the Court?

The service zone is parallel to the endlines and centerlines of the court and is located behind the end line on each team's court.

(See the area in red in the diagram.)

  • The server can serve the ball from anywhere behind the service line within that 29 foot 6 inch area marked as the service zone. 

Volleyball Serve Rules
When Can A Player Serve The Ball?

Once a player is ready to serve, they are standing in their team's service zone and they must wait for the referee to blow the whistle before beginning any service playing action. 

The server has 8 seconds from when the referee blows the whistle to complete their service action, whether they choose to use an under hand serve, overhand serve or jump serve and to get the ball over the net and into the opposing court to start the rally. 

They must start their pre-serve routine and contact the ball behind their service line within that red zone and cannot enter the court until after they've contacted the ball.

Basic volleyball rules: Young players learning how to serve at camp.Basic volleyball rules: Young players learning how to serve at camp.

More Volleyball Serve Rules 

What team gets to serve first? And how are they chosen?

Once finished the referee will produce a coin and ask one of the team captains "who wants to choose?" and then will ask "what do they want "heads" or "tails"?. 

The team captain who wins the toss will choose either "side" or "serve". 

If they pick "serve" then they will be "awarded" the opportunity to serve first during the first set of the match.  

For the subsequent sets, teams will alternate who serves first. So if Team A won the coin toss and served first the first set, then Team B will automatically begin the second set with the serve. 

  • If a server does not hear the whistle and serves the ball they will have to re-serve the ball. The service cannot start a rally without the referee first blowing their whistle to indicate the service can begin.

WATCH! Jorge Filho's video

"Top 13 Best Powerful Serves in Women's Volleyball"

Volleyball Rules: Where Do You Go From Here?

Where do you need to go now?

Here are three options: 

  1. Learn more about Volleyball History
  2. Follow the suggested reading on our Sitemap page   Learning How To Play (Sitemap)
  3. Or visit the pages in the Rules section in the drop down menu at the top of the page

Recent Links: 

Rules of Volleyball

Rules for Dummies

Court Size

Court Dimensions

Court Lines

Net Height


Game Rules

Basic Rules 

Block Rules

Serve Rules

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