With AVP tournaments spanning the country from SoCal to NYC, beach volleyball is gaining new fans every day. And while a lot of people know the basics and have joined a quick game of pick-up volleyball at some point in their lives, new fans to our version of the sport may not know that the differences between beach and indoor volleyball go beyond bikinis and board shorts. 

As we prepare to kick off the second half of AVP’s 2019 tournament schedule, we’re offering this guide to rule differences for our new fans who might be kicking back on the beach for the first time, rather than sitting on the bleachers in the gym.

Court Size 

To the average Joe, the obvious difference in courts between indoor and beach volleyball is that the court on the beach is covered with sand (duh!). But players, especially those snipers looking to sneak a shot past the opposition, know that the beach volleyball court is 2 meters shorter and 1 meter narrower than an indoor court. That extra 3 feet missing from each end of the court on the beach means less real estate to cover for the two players per side, but it’s also less room for those carefully placed shots to stay inbounds and score. 


Scoring is another big difference between both sports. In indoor volleyball, a set is won by the first team to score 25 points. Beach volleyball is played to 21. In indoor volleyball, a team must win 3 sets to win the game, and on the sand, the game is won by the first team to win 2 sets. In both versions of the sport, if a tie-breaking set is to be played, that set is only played to 15 points, and in all cases, the winning team has to win a set by a minimum of 2 points. So that’s really just a long-winded way of saying, you have to score more points to take home a win on the indoor courts versus on the beach.


File this one under, “Should be obvious but you probably didn’t think of it.” Indoor volleyball doesn’t have weather to contend with. You’ve got four walls, a roof, and air conditioning to keep each match climate-controlled for players and fans. On the beach, playing conditions are up to Mother Nature to decide. That doesn’t mean AVP athletes will suit up during a hurricane, though. Weather conditions need to present no risks of injury to the players, and shouldn’t have an impact on the results of the match. There’s a lot of reasons the sport calls beautiful Southern California home, and those picture-perfect beach days are definitely one of them. 

The Volleyball

Sure, they’re both round and they’re filled with air, but indoor and beach volleyballs are different by design. Indoor balls are heavier, allowing them to move faster and harder. Beach volleyballs are softer, lighter, and marginally bigger. With 4 fewer players per side on the beach, that bigger, floatier ball allows for those players to close distances and make the crazy diving plays that are hallmarks of AVP sets. 

Team Size

Aside from taking place on the sand, the most obvious difference between indoor and beach volleyball are the number of players on a team. Beach volleyball teams consist of two players. There’s no bench and there are no substitutions. Indoor volleyball has six players per team on the court, and they can substitute players up to 6 times per set. Both groups of athletes definitely work up a sweat, but on the beach, once you step onto the court, you don’t get to leave until the game is decided.


Hardcore fans of indoor volleyball may notice a few technical differences during play versus beach volleyball that casuals may miss. On the beach, players aren’t allowed to “dink”, or tip, the ball over the net. Beach players have to use their palm, or straight locked or curled fingers to hit a short shot over the net. No soft fingers can tip the ball over, which is allowed indoors. Also, double touching is much stricter in beach play than indoor, so you’ll see far fewer instances of a player double touching their initial contact with the ball after a serve on the sand. 

Once the ball is in play, both beach and indoor volleyball fall into an exciting and familiar cadence of play that casual and rabid fans alike will be able to follow and enjoy. And if you’re a total newbie to either version of the sport, there’s no better way to learn the rules than sitting under the sun, feet in the sand, at an official AVP tournament.


Category: Beach Volleyball 101

10 Reasons Your Kid And You Will Love Beach Volleyball

Join our list and download this free PDF.
Written by Patty Dodd.