Can You Reach Over the Net in Volleyball? (3 Illegal Plays & One That's Okay)
This is probably the most controversial rule in volleyball:
And something that many people are quick to misunderstand.
Can you reach over the net in volleyball? Yes, in many situations reaching over the net is perfectly legal. The problems arise when you play or try to play the ball while reaching over the net. This will most often result in the loss of a point immediately.
Playing closely contested balls at the net is just a part of volleyball.
Jousting the ball.
Swiping off hands.
Making a stuff block.
*If you don’t know what these terms are, feel free to check out our post Volley-Pedia Guide to Volleyball Jargon and Terminology. (Coming Soon!)
But it’s also a major point of confusion for many players (and referees!).
So, in this post we’ll clear things up once and for all.
I’ll walk you through each situation where playing the ball on, near or over the net is legal or illegal.
We’ll talk about:
Playing the ball when the setter is contacting it;
Blocking the ball;
Hitting overpasses; and
What happens when you reach over the net but don’t actually play the ball.
To start with, though...
What do we mean by reaching over the net?
For those of you who are still new to volleyball, let’s start with the basics.
As you’ll know, the game of volleyball revolves around that tall, two-posted pattern of stringed-squares and tape:
You may also know that, while touching this net is not allowed, there are plenty of situations when you’ll be coming all-too-close to it.
When you spike.
When you block.
When you set in the front row.
And sometimes, you’ll be tempted to reach over onto the other side of the net to play the ball.
For most of this post, when we talk about reaching over the net, we mean:
Playing the ball when the whole ball is on the other side of the net.
This will make more sense when we take a look at how the rules are stated in the official guidelines, but for now just know that we’re really talking about reaching far over to the other side of the net and touching the ball while it's still in play.
Before we look at some illegal plays, let’s first find out:
When is it okay to reach over the net in volleyball?
If you’ve read our 3 Ways to Improve Your Blocking Today, you’ll know that U.S. professional middle blocker has one simple piece of advice for all blockers:
Make sure you reach over the net while blocking.
In fact, reaching as far into the opponent’s space is one of the best ways that you can increase how much court you are covering with your block.
When you see the top level volleyball athletes blocking, have you ever noticed that ‘piking’ shape they make in the air?
Well, they do this as they engage their core and reach far into the opposing court’s airspace.
In this way, blocking is a situation where reaching over the net isn’t just legal, it’s essential.
And the reason that blocking is an exception to the rule is that you aren’t playing the ball in an effort to interrupt the opponent’s 3 contacts.
Let’s list the rule as it stands in the FIVB rulebook, and it should make a little more sense why this rule applies in some situations:
And why it actually makes sense.
“3 BLOCKING WITHIN THE OPPONENT’S SPACE In blocking, the player may place his/her hands and arms beyond the net, provided that this action does not interfere with the opponent’s play. Thus, it is not permitted to touch the ball beyond the net until an opponent has executed an attack hit.”
The block can be thought of as a preparation.
You can’t interfere with the attacker until the opponent has used up their 3 contacts.
But, once they do use them up, you can set yourself up in the right position to make it less effective.
Hence blocking by reaching over the net and into the opponent’s space.
Okay, so when is it illegal to reach over the net in volleyball?
Pretty much any other time that you reach over the net to play the ball will result in the loss of a point.
Here are 3 common examples.
#1 - Playing the ball when the setter is contacting it
One of the most common situations at the net happens when the setter is reaching up to play a ball with their fingers.
Often, when the pass is tight to the net, it can be hard to know which side it’s going to land on.
In fact, when you start getting up to the higher levels:
Many setters are contacting the ball well above the height of the net. So if they really were to let it by, there’s a good chance it would drop over on your side of the net.
As a blocker, it can be difficult to know how to handle these situations, but there’s one simple rule to live by:
Playing the ball before your opponents has the chance to make a play (when it’s on their side of the net) will always lose you the point.
Even if it’s clear that the setter wants to tip, dump or outright attack: you have to wait until they make the play before making contact with the ball.
And if you’re wondering about a much simpler question:
No. You can’t reach over and block the ball as the setter is making a play!
#2 Hitting overpasses
This is another situation that often gets volleyball players into some strife.
We all dream of the perfect overpass kill.
The receiver makes a slight miscalculation and sends the ball right into that sweet zone where the ball is 50% yours and 100% destined to be planted straight down in the opponent’s court.
But when can you contact it?
You’ve probably seen it happen before.
A long rally is battled out. Both teams are making spectacular defensive and offensive plays, and then finally the ball sits up close to the net and one plays tips it straight down to finish the rally.
In these situations, it’s about 50/50 that you’ll be called ‘over’ by the referee. But there is rule for this.
And again, it has to do with whether or not the ball is completely on the other side of the net or not.
Once it is in the plane of the net, it’s fair game for you to throw it down. But until then, if you go reaching all the way over to finish the point prematurely--you might just get called out by the head referee.
#3: What about reaching over the net WITHOUT playing the ball?
I've seen this question receive some attention, so I thought I’d give it a quick answer.
It all has to do with the situation. If it’s clear that you are reaching over the net to interfere with the opponent’s ability to play the ball:
Then no. You can’t do that.
Just like you can't run around the net and block the hitter’s approach or tickle their armpits.
But let’s say you really are trying to play the ball, but just happen to miss it. What then?
So long as this miss-swing doesn’t interfere with the play, then it’s no harm done and play goes on.
Reaching over the net in volleyball is a natural part of good blocking technique, but that’s about it.
The simplest way to remember this rule is: if you’re interfering with the opponent’s ability to play the ball, you’re probably doing something wrong.
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