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Beach volleyball basics explained

Arguably the most glamorous Olympic sport, beach volleyball has grown from being played by a handful of families in Santa Monica, California in the 1920s to now being the sport of choice for 800 million people throughout the world.

International tournaments have been played in the mountains, deserts, town squares and indoors. At London 2012 it will be staged at Horse Guards Parade, normally reserved for the Queen's birthday celebrations.

Beach volleyball has been as well known for its competitors' attire as its elite sport status, but the outfit worn by Denise Lewis when she won heptathlon gold in 2000 was actually smaller than the costumes worn by female beach volleyballers.

As hosts of the 2012 Olympics, Great Britain are guaranteed a place for one male and one female beach volleyball team.

The other 15 places in each competition will be decided at qualifying events, with the United States, Brazil and China set to be the leading medal contenders.

Why is it good for you?

Beach volleyball is an excellent way to stay fit as exercise on sand can be up to 30% more strenuous than exercise on concrete surfaces.

It also helps improve balance, endurance and lower body muscle, with an hour's play burning approximately 526 calories.

As it is harder to gain height springing up from sand, beach volleyball relies more on technique than size and strength, making it an inclusive sport. Players also touch the ball more often than in indoor volleyball as there are just two players per team.

As beach volleyball is played in pairs, it is an excellent way to develop communication skills and learn to work effectively with other people. Clubs also offer a variety of social events beyond simply taking part in the sport.

Get involved

Beach volleyball is an exciting, competitive team game that forces you to think tactically.

You can get a casual game going almost anywhere, be it the park, the beach, your back garden, university or even a swimming pool; all that is needed is a net and a ball.

For more regulated play, clubs throughout the United Kingdom run training sessions and leagues for players of all abilities.

Volleyball England's Go Spike campaign is currently putting on taster sessions for the sport which anyone from complete beginners to experienced players can take part in. Visit the Go Spike website to find out when events are being run close to you.

For people outside of England, visit the Northern Ireland Volleyball,Scottish Volleyball Association and Volleyball Wales websites to find out what schemes are available in your country.

More on the British Volleyball website

Want to get involved with sport in your local community? Why not Join In ?

'Join In Local Sport' aims to get as many people as possible to turn up and take part in activities at their local sports facilities on 18/19 August, 2012 - the first weekend between the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The aim of the initiative is for every sports club and community group in the UK to put on a special event in a bid to encourage more people to get involved as members, supporters or volunteers.

More than 4,000 local sports clubs will be opening their doors to host events and show people just how they can get involved.

As well as tips on playing sport there will be information on coaching, supporting and how to help out.

Find an event near you.

The competition format at London 2012

  • From Saturday 28 July to Thursday 9 August, 96 athletes (48 men, 48 women) will compete at Horse Guards Parade.
  • A total of 24 teams, each made up of two athletes, will compete in both the men's and women's preliminary phase.
  • The teams in each event are divided into six groups of four, with 16 teams qualifying for the knockout phase. The top two teams from each group and the best two third-ranked teams qualify automatically, with the four remaining third-placed teams playing a two-match lucky loser round in which the two winners will also advance.
  • The winners of the semi-finals will play for gold, with the losers playing for bronze.

More on the London 2012 website

The rules at London 2012

A point is gained when the ball lands in the opposition side of the court.

Matches are the best of three sets, with 21 points required to win a set, and 15 in a potential third and deciding set. To win a set, a minimum two-point advantage must be held over the opposition duo.

In the case of a 20-20 tie, play is continued until one team gains a two-point lead.

When hitting the ball, players must make a clean, quick hit. Teams can hit the ball three times in their half of the court but a player cannot hit the ball twice in a row. The winner of the last point gets to serve, with players in a team alternating the serve if they retain possession after winning another point.

In beach volleyball, the court is 16m long and 8m wide. The court is divided in the middle by a 1m-high net that strung between two posts so that it is 2.43m off the ground for men and 2.24m off the ground for women.

More on the Team GB website

Ones to watch

A medal is a distant dream for Team GB, with John Garcia-Thompson and Steven Grotowski taking the men's place and Zara Dampney and Shauna Mullin the women's.

The USA and Brazil pairs are expected to duel for gold in both the men's and women's events. Legendary duo Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor will be defending their Olympic title.

Men's world champions Emanuel Rego and Alison Cerutti of Brazil will be looking to wrestle gold off Beijing winners Todd Rogers and Philip Dalhausser.


Beach volleyball began to gain popularity throughout the United States during the 1930s and the first official two-man tournament took place in 1947.

The first beach volleyball circuit involving hundreds of players and five California beaches began in the 1950s. Signs of the sport's continuing popularity came in the 1960s when Marilyn Monroe and John F Kennedy watched a tournament, and the Beatles even tried to play while in California.

Beach volleyball had to wait until 1996 to make its Olympic debut in the Atlanta Games, with the USA and Brazil dominating the medal count since its introduction.

The first international beach volleyball tour in 1990 involved three tournaments, 40 athletes and three countries. In 2011, the season consisted of 30 tournaments (14 for men, 16 for women), with total prize money of £4.8m.

It is not true that the women are obliged to wear bikinis - they have always been able to choose from a one or two-piece uniform, and

More on the IOC website