How many sets are in a volleyball game? (All match formats)

how many sets are in a volleyball game

When someone first learns the basics of volleyball, it is obvious to be curious about its terms and rules.

As a coach, I find great joy in helping beginners understand the fundamental structure of volleyball matches.

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Mainly, newbies are more conscious of how many sets are in a volleyball game and what these sets mean.

Quick Answer: In volleyball, the number of sets varies depending on the level of play and the match format. At lower levels, teams play best-of-three matches, with each set of 25 points.

In professional games, which are best-of-five, all sets contain 25 points, except for the final set of 15 points with a two-point lead requirement.

In this detailed guide, I will elaborate on sets’ variations in different levels and how they relate to a volleyball match.

Understanding Set Structure

In volleyball, a set represents a structured game segment composed of multiple rallies.

A rally, the fundamental play unit, begins with a player’s serve and continues until the ball touches the floor.

Teams compete to reach 15 or 25 points in a set, depending on the set type and specific competition rules.

To secure a set, a team must establish a lead of at least 2 points over their opponents.

After winning a rally, a team rotates players in a specific order, often following systems like the 4-2 rotation.

Each successful rally advances a team toward the set’s point total and earns them a point on the scoreboard.

The duration of a set is typically 30 minutes.

While discussing the concept of sets, let me tell you an interesting fact.

You might encounter the informal use of “periods” in some regions or among volleyball enthusiasts.

While “sets” remain the standard terminology, it’s worth noting that “periods” is an occasional and informal synonym used to refer to the same segments of a match. 

So, whether it’s “sets” or “periods,” both represent the segments of a volleyball match. 

Just don’t get yourself confused by these terminologies and focus on excelling in court.

a standard volleyball match

Is Volleyball Best of 3 or Best of 5?

The best of 3 or 5 in volleyball depends on various factors, including the level of play, the specific tournament rules, and the format used.

Typically, in casual or non-professional matches, best-of-three sets decide the winner.

It means that the first team to win two sets wins the game.

In a tie, usually 1-1 in sets, the third set decides the game’s fate, and the team winning that set secures the victory.

In professional and competitive play, teams use a best-of-five set format, where a team must win three sets to secure victory.

In case of a tie, teams play a fifth set with 15 points instead of the standard 25-point set.

The winner is the team that maintains a lead of at least 2 points in this final set.

Now, let me discuss the number of sets in different match formats.

1) How many Sets are in School Volleyball?

The number of sets in middle school is three, while matches adopt a best-of-five format in high school.

If I compare the match formats between varsity and junior varsity, the varsity games are often best-of-five.

In contrast, the junior varsity matches primarily consist of a maximum of three sets.

Junior varsity matches may adopt the best-of-five format in certain instances, but this happens only when both teams are equally strong.

2) How many Sets are in College Volleyball?

In college volleyball, matches follow the same five-set format as the professional games, and the winning team is the one that takes three out of those five sets.

You should expect to see the fifth set matches quite frequently in college volleyball due to the high level of competitiveness.

some volleyball players looking at the spike

3) How many Sets are in a Standard Volleyball Game?

A standard or professional volleyball game consists of five sets.

As explained above, the team winning the three sets wins the match.

The tie set contains 15 points, requiring a lead of 2 points.

A competitive volleyball match, having five sets, is an actual test of a team’s strategy and adaptability.

In certain leagues, you might encounter unique formats, like best-of-seven matches.

Furthermore, it’s common for officials to implement custom rules explicitly made for the tournaments.

4) How many Sets are in Beach Volleyball?

In beach volleyball, the set count can be either one or three, determined by the tournament format.

In a single-set match, the winning team has to score 21 points with a lead of 2 points. 

The first two sets are played to 21 points in a best-of-three match, while the deciding set is a race to 15 points.

5) How many Volleyball Sets are in the Olympics?

The Olympic volleyball matches adopt the familiar best-of-five sets format, aligning with the game’s standard rules.

The team that wins three out of these five sets emerges as the victor.

This format ensures the showcase of skills, endurance, and teamwork on the grandest global stage.

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Significance of Sets

In volleyball, sets are not just the segments of a match, but they are crucial components that shape the course of the game.

Still not clear?

Let me elaborate on the above statement through some valid points.

  • Sets provide a structured scoring system, ensuring every serve, spike, or rally counts toward the team’s progress.
  • Winning a set can significantly influence the team’s momentum and make scoring maximum kills easier.
  • Sets allow the trailing team to stage a comeback by winning subsequent sets.
  • They are beneficial for the coaches to analyze the payers’ performance and help them adapt their game plan between sets.
  • They pump up the team’s confidence and inject a burst of energy into their play.
hands in the air to stop the spike

Common Rules and Scenarios 

When you want to have a firm grip on any sport, it is essential to understand its standard rules and scenarios.

Likewise, if you understand some of the commonly used set terminologies in volleyball, you can enjoy the game to the fullest.

I am listing down some of the essential terms related to sets in volleyball.

1) Tie-breaker Set

A tie-breaker set determines the winner when both teams have won equal sets.

This set is often at a lower point total (usually 15 points), and the team securing the two-point lead wins that set and the match.

2) Straight Sets

“Straight Sets” is a term used for a volleyball match in which one team wins every set without losing any set to their opponents.

For example, if a team wins the initial three sets, they have succeeded in straight sets in a best-of-five match.

3) Time Sets

A “time set” format is used in some youth volleyball matches.

It means the set has a time limit (e.g., 30 minutes) instead of a fixed point total.

The team with the most points when the time expires wins the set.

You will only find this format in recreational or lower-level games, not professional matches.


In the volleyball world, you may see the difference in the number of sets of a match, but the essence of the game remains the same.

Whether it’s a classical best-of-five format in professional matches or best-of-three sets at a lower level, each set tells a unique story of the dedication and determination of the players.

As volleyball die-heart fans, let’s celebrate each set and the electrifying moments that make this sport spectacular.

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