I remember playing against legendary volleyball coach, Arnie Ball, and watching as play was stopped so that he could be escorted from the gym for waving his backside at the Head referee.
It was very entertaining.
But it was also one of the first times I’d seen a penalty card in volleyball actually mean something.
So I thought I would put our VolleyPedia resources to the test, and help answer this question:
What is a yellow card in volleyball and what do the card penalties actually mean? In volleyball, a yellow card is NOT a sanction. It is actually Stage 2 in the official warning system--once a yellow card has been shown, your team has now approached what is called the ‘Sanctioning Level’. In this phase, penalties can range from losing a point to being expelled from the stadium.
Even as someone who has made a living playing volleyball, I was never fully aware of the exact rules behind yellow cards, red cards and sanctions in volleyball.
So, I decided to do my research, and share with the the VolleyPedia community.
These are 6 things I’ll cover, which you may not have known about card penalties in volleyball:
#1: What a yellow card means in volleyball;
#2 What is a ‘minor misconduct’?
#3 How and why players can legally be carded;
#4 What leads to a 'sanction'?
#5 What does a red card mean in volleyball (and what about a red card and yellow card combined?!)
#6 How bad can the sanctions get?
I can honestly say that, from everything we have found freely available online, this post is the most complete guide to Card Penalties in Volleyball.
So strap in, and prepare yourself with what to say and do for your next on-court altercation.
#1: What is a yellow card in volleyball?
Much like soccer, volleyball relies on a colored card system to control its penalty signals.
A simple token system, you might think, but in volleyball circles…
No one seems to really know what they mean.
Head referees are given a set of yellow and red cards--along with instructions for proper use, we all hope--and these are kept in the referee’s stand for heated situations.
The penalties in volleyball can be quite severe. From being asked to leave the court to being disqualified from the tournament for particularly violent outbursts.
Fortunately, volleyball is a gentleman’s (and ladies’) sport, and there is a generously long system leading up to those most severe charges.
Yellow cards are still a part of this ‘warming up’ phase.
In fact, there are two stages even before players or teams begin to enter what is known as the ‘Sanctioning’ phase.
Let’s take a look at those, now.
#2: What is a Minor Misconduct in volleyball?
Minor misconducts occupy a full section in the FIVB official rulebook:
But they’re not so serious, really.
In fact, minor misconducts are offenses for which sanctions are not enforced, but will encourage a strong warning.
The first warning will be a simple reminder from the referee.
You see this most often in volleyball.
Some kind of intense play will bring out the fire in players on court, and suddenly the referee is wrangling the captains in for a private word.
Usually, these warnings will just be a friendly reminder not to take things too far.
In fact, as the FIVB sees things, that’s a part of the Head Referee’s job description:
“Minor misconduct offences are not subject to sanctions. It is the 1st referee’s duty to prevent the teams from approaching the sanctioning level.”
- FIVB-Volleyball Rules 2017-2020
Sometimes, however, the situation warrants something a little less friendly and it’s time to start pulling out the cards.
What does a yellow card actually mean in volleyball?
Stage 2 of the minor misconduct section involves the presentation of a yellow card.
Always a dramatic moment in volleyball, but somewhat anticlimactic when nothing really happens.
In fact, for the first yellow card, all that will happen is play will pause to give the scorer time to record the occasion in the score-sheet.
For more details on How to Fill out the Volleyball Score-sheet, stay tuned for our Volley-Pedia Guide to Scoring.
That individual player will also be under closer scrutiny for future outbursts, but if you just make a mistake and find yourself on the end of a yellow card:
Don’t worry. As long as you don’t repeat the offense, nothing bad will happen to you or your team.
#3: How and why are players carded in volleyball?
You can think of volleyball as having two big phases in its penalty system:
The Minor Misconduct stage. And
The sanctioning phase.
Naturally, different behaviors can land you in either category (or potentially both).
Examples of minor misconducts are aplenty in your average intense volleyball competition, and depending on your referee you may or may not be called on each individual outburst.
Swearing or using unsavory language;
Directing negative attention (such as shouting) through the net to your opponent (yes, even when celebrating a massive kill block); and
Delaying the game, intentionally or illegally--such as calling for a substitution after the serving whistle has already been blown.
#4: What leads to a 'sanction'?
The more serious offenses will begin entering the Sanctioning stage.
These are, in turn, broken down into three types of behaviors, which are ordered by how seriously the referee is supposed to treat them:
Rude Conduct: This is any action deemed to be ‘contrary to good manners or moral principles.
Offensive Conduct: This is the more vulgar, defamatory or insulting behavior directed toward officials. Things like swearing or making obscene gestures as a sign of contempt.
Aggression: Kind of what it sounds like. This is the most severe category, and it involves physical aggression toward referees, players or officials. This can be a physical attack, or behavior that threatens an attack (Kubiak might be in trouble for this one).
While the categories make sense in terms of severity, you can probably see that there’s plenty of room for interpretation.
Who’s to say what is a sign of threatening aggression, and what’s simply a celebration that’s contrary to good manners.
Well, according to the FIVB, this decision rests in the humble hands of the Head Referee.
Decisions on sanctions and penalties are left to the discretion of first referees--so it pays to be nice before the coin toss.
These categories aren’t actually sanctions, though. They’re just descriptions which help to place behaviors into certain sanction levels.
So let’s talk about what the consequences of the above behaviors will actually look like, and which cards are assigned to each behavior.
#5: What does a red card mean in volleyball?
A red card, alone, is the symbol for what is known in volleyball as a ‘penalty’.
That’s the first stage of a three-stage process in volleyball sanctions.
I know, volleyball officials love breaking things down into three categories.
A penalty means the immediate loss of a point for the offending team.
While a player or coach who receives a red card will be allowed to continue play, any new offenses will be dealt with in the sanctions phase.
In fact, the red card is the lightest offense you can receive once getting yourself into the sanctions phase.
Let’s take a quick look at the full sanctioning breakdown, which cards represent what, and the normal progressions:
Then we’ll talk about which behaviors will get you in trouble, and which card you’re likely to see.
*Does it need to be said that VolleyPedia doesn’t advocate the use of any of these behaviors? Well, if it does--we don’t! Although, we understand that it can be a part of the game and we won’t hold it against you. If you have a controversial yellow or red card story, share it below and there’s a chance we’ll feature it as our official example case.
#6: How bad can it get?
Levels of Sanctions in Volleyball
These are the official sanctions, as laid out by the FIVB:
Level 1 - Penalty: As we mentioned above, this means losing a point, with the offending player or coach being shown a red card.
Level 2 - Expulsion: A player or coach that is expelled is not allowed to play or contribute for the remainder of the set. For coaches, this also means moving away from the bench and sitting in the penalty area.
An expulsion is signaled by a red and yellow card held side-by-side in the first referees hand.
Level 3 - Disqualification: Any player that is disqualified must be substituted from the match immediately and leave the court. Not just that, though. They’re required to leave the Competition-Control Area for the remainder of the match.
Interestingly enough, there are a few ways that you can find yourself in the disqualification category.
By committing one single act from the ‘Aggressive’ category;
By committing two offenses in the ‘Offensive conduct’ category; or
By displaying three separate instances of ‘Rude conduct’.
A disqualification is signaled by the first referee showing a Red card + a Yellow card separately.
If you see that one, it’s time to start moving toward the bench and exiting the court area.
This is what our friend Arnie Ball must have been shown during our conference-play match:
The sly devil worked his way back into the stands without the referee’s noticing, and managed to watch the remainder of the match from the comfort of the home-side stands.
Next time you or a teammate are faced with a yellow card on court, take a breath and relax.
Volleyball isn’t an aggressive sport by nature, and we tend to give people the benefit of the doubt.
If all of those categories and levels of sanctions seem like a mouthful, I’ve put together an infographic which might make things a little clearer to understand.
In fact, this is probably the most intuitive way for people to understand the different levels of sanctions in volleyball, and I’m surprised there isn’t another resource out there showing the same thing.
If you or a teammate are having trouble understanding what the cards mean, or if you just find these kinds of things interesting, share this post with your friend.
Otherwise, pin the infographic to your timeline and share it around:
It would be awesome if you gave Volley-Pedia.com a shout-out when doing so, too!
Stay calm out there, and keep spreading knowledge on our great sport.