The History of Volleyball Scoring Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

The History of Volleyball Scoring

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The game of volleyball was invented in 1895 by an American, William Morgan, in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and was first played at the town's Young Man's Christian Association (YMCA) venue. Morgan named his game 'mintonette' but the term volleyball soon took off as a more sensible way of describing a game in which the ball is volleyed over a net.

The Early Years 1895 - 1925

During this period, a match was played across nine innings with each player getting to serve at least once per inning. If the opposition managed to return the ball, the server was out and the next player would serve. If the opposition were unable to return the serve, the serving team scored a point. The team with the most points at the end of nine innings would win the match.

In 1900, the use of innings was removed and service changed between teams whenever the receiving team sided-out (which means winning a rally that was served by the opposition). Serving teams continued to score a point if they won a rally. The winning team were the first to reach 21 points.

In 1916, the number of points required to win a game was reduced to 15. This was also the year that the best of three sets1 format was introduced to decide who won a match.

In 1922, if teams became tied at 14-14, a set continued until a team won two consecutive points.

In 1925, the side-out scoring system was standardised2 with the winners being the first team to win three out of five sets. The two consecutive points rule was replaced by a two-point advantage.

The Wilderness Years 1926-1988

During the next 60 years nothing changed with the scoring system in volleyball.

The Demise of Side-out Scoring 1989 - 1999

With increased pressure to make sports attractive to television networks, volleyball bowed and changed the deciding fifth sets to use rally-point scoring (aka 'quickscore'). Where previously teams could only score a point on their own serve, teams now won a point if they won a rally. The first four sets continued to use side-out scoring.

In addition to the introduction of rally-point scoring, all the sets became capped at 17 points. This meant that while teams still only needed to score a minimum of 15 points by two clear points to win a set, if the score reached 16-16, the winner of the next point would win the set (ie, 17-16).

In 1992, following the Barcelona Olympic Games, the 17-point cap was removed from the deciding fifth set. It still remained in the first four.

At the beginning of 1998, the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball (the FIVB - the international controlling body for volleyball) introduced rally point scoring to all sets. The first four sets were to be played to a minimum of 25 points and two clear, while the fifth set remained at 15 and two clear. The era of side-out scoring had ended.

Scoring at the Beach

Beach volleyball began in the 1920s and, like indoor volleyball, it employed the side-out scoring system. As beach volleyball is usually played in pairs it is much easier to win the rally when receiving service and therefore points are harder to come by. For this reason matches tended to be played over one set, typically scored to 12 points. Sometimes to restrict the length of the game a time limit would be used. If neither team had won enough points the winners would be those ahead at a predetermined time.

In beach competitions, a double elimination format is often used; this is a type of knockout system where teams get a second chance. When they have been knocked out once they then go into a loser's bracket and can still reach the final via this route. Once they have lost a second match the tournament is over for them. If they can win all their games in the losers bracket they meet a team in the final who also won all their games this far.

In the final of the tournament you would expect the winner to be the team to win the set. However this isn't the case.

  • If the undefeated team win the set, they win the tournament.
  • If the previously defeated team win the set, another set is played to seven points. The winner of this set wins the tournament.

The explanation for this apparently pointless extra set is that in a double elimination tournament every team must lose twice to be knocked out. If the final were to end without a second set being played, both teams would only have lost once and justifiably the losers would feel hard done by.

Following the Sydney Olympics in 2000, with the Men's and Women's finals taking over an hour each for one set to be played, it was decided to bring beach volleyball into line with the indoor game and use rally-point scoring. Matches are now best of three sets with the first two being played to a minimum of 21 points and two clear; and a deciding set played to 15 by two clear.

1In the USA the term 'games' is used instead of 'sets', probably due to the way the game evolved.2Local variations can and do apply.

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