top of page

Let's Talk About: Player Actions

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

Player actions. It is basically, like, the overwhelming bulk of what a volleyball official judges, contact with the ball... prove me wrong. So I'm going to take this little rules book of mine |shakes rules book| and break down the player actions inside. NFHS rule 9.5. More specifically, article 1.

Disclaimer: I will be citing the rules book, extensively. Like... a lot. Basically, I'm going to reproduce it a lá high school essay style, but without the proper citations. Eat your heart out high school English teachers.

You ever read something (like a rules book) and get a little confused even though it should be pretty straightforward? Yeah, we've all been there. Then someone puts it in their own words and you're like, "oh, dang, why didn't they just write it that way in the first place?" It's like reading the governing documents of your HOA. Yeah, everyone hates those, no one reads them (except a very few of you... and me... cover to cover...). If you have then you know they are worded in a very specific way; kind of like a rules book: legalese.

So, without further ado, let's dig right in.

Each team is allowed 3 consecutive contacts with the ball (not including a completed block) prior to sending it to their opponent. All three contacts will fall into one of two broad categories for the purposes of this discussion. It's either a pass or an attack.

A pass is any contact a player makes that is intended to direct the ball to a TEAMMATE. Easy enough so far. An attack is any contact a player makes that is intended to send the ball to the OPPOSING TEAM with one "exception." NFHS 9.5.1.b reads:

...A team's third hit is always considered an attack...

Why is this little nuance so important? For starters, this affects the signal a referee gives depending on the situation.

Passes and attacks each have their own sub-types. Let's break it down paraphrasing the NFHS rules book (and the high school English teachers in the room cringe again...).

The Pass. It all begins with that "bump." Technically that fancy move is called a forearm pass: a player contacting the ball with BOTH forearms at the same time. Keep your eyes ahead of the ball. Although a rare occurrence, a basic forearm pass can result in a double contact which needs to be whistled if it's the second or third team contact. Remember: a player is allowed multiple contacts if it is the first team contract AND there is only one action to play the ball.

Moving on. Let's split some hairs for the second and third type of contacts. An overhead pass is a "two-hand finger action directing the ball." (NFHS 9.5.1a.2). A set is a "two (or one)-hand finger action directing the ball to an attacker." (NFHS 9.5.1a.3). I take this to mean that it depends on the intended recipient of the pass and whether it's the second or third team contact that dictates its type. Simply put: a finger action pass to an attacker is a set and finger action pass to anyone else (including the opponent) is an overhead pass. In either case, keep an eye on the player's hands (where the ball is going; not where it is, and definitely not where it was). Watching the hands of the player before the ball makes contact is the gold standard for judging the legality of that particular contact. This text isn't about how rigid or loose to judge contact as much as it's a reminder of best practices. Any multiple contacts on either an overhead pass or set (given it is not the first team contact) should be whistled dead, appropriate point awarded, and the proper signal given.

The final pass type is a dig, yah dig? Sorry, couldn't help myself. The dig is basically any defensive saving action played on the ball. The referee should offer a little flexibility here when judging the contact, but several events will always result in a whistle. The main thing to watch for in a dig attempt is if the ball contacts the floor, antenna, non-player, or any other illegal surface. Be sure to cover your overhead obstacles in your BANC inspection and how you will handle them with respect to play during your pre-match conference.

Now, moving on to the attack hit. The NFHS rules book basically defines an attack as any hit, other than a block or serve, that directs the ball to the opponent's court. That includes the overhead pass. Although this type of contact is a little more cut and dry the referee still has to be aware of

You already know that an overhead pass can be an attack. There are three other contacts noted in the rules book: spike, tip, dump.

A spike is a forcefully contacted ball aimed directly to the floor of the opponent's court. Nothing much to dress up here, so we will keep moving.

A tip, sometimes called a "dink," is a fingertip attack. Plain and simple. This type of contact usually results in a low speed, high angle, arcing, low velocity delivery of the ball designed to drop it directly behind the blocker or blockers. Referees need to watch out for how the ball was contacted here. Was there too much time touching the ball? This could result in the referee whistling a ball handling fault on the basis of prolonged contact. Was the ball redirected in a manner that would constitute a catch and throw? But more often than not, the referee will whistle the catch and throw classification of error on the dump.

Rookie and veteran officials alike will still hear it from the stands, "oh, come on, ref. That was a throw." The dump shot is commonly used by setters in an attempt to catch the opponent (and sometimes a referee) off guard and put the ball on the floor. I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention a couple things here if the setter takes advantage of a dump: was the setter a back row player? Where was the ball in relation to the height of the net when the ball was dumped? Be that as it may, the referee needs to consider one main thing here: was the contact legal. Be careful: the first time you judge this contact could set the tone for the remainder of the match. To whistle or not to whistle. Was that ball thrown? If that is the case, then you are obliged to blow your whistle, award the point to the appropriate team, and give the correct signal for the fault. Or did you hear the sonic boom that brought the thunder with a head-spinning snap of the wrist? In that case, be silently impressed, move past the moment, and let play continue. After all, are you not watching the greatest sport to ever grace this earth?

There you have it. Player actions. More specifically, Article 1 of Rule 9.5. A final thought: Don't let thw crowd sway you. Chances are, you know the rule book better than anyone in the crowd. That first call or first no-call inevitably, albiet understandibly, can set the tone for the remainder fo the the match (or even the day), so stand tall and steadfast.

See you on the court!

104 views2 comments


Great article. I have seen what I feel are many catch and throws go uncalled when I am calling lines. This needs to be rectified.

Michael Davis
Michael Davis
Oct 09, 2023
Replying to

Thank you. There is no real way to define a "catch and throw." Even the rules book is loose when it comes to judgement criteria. But, indeed, depending on the level of play, I am sure there is room to whistle faults a little more. The real key is consistancy. If a call is "missed," then whistled on a similar fault, then "missed," then called... you get the idea... it only serves to upset coaches, players, and spectators.

bottom of page