The Value of Small-sided Games in Volleyball


By Steve Colpus

Co-owner of Matchpoint Volleyball Inc., PO Box 218415, Columbus, OH 43221





The purpose of this article is to explore the value of small-sided games at all levels of volleyball from youth to National Team. In most of the world the game of “mini volleyball” is the most common way of introducing the game to young players and many countries hold huge mini volleyball tournaments both indoors and outdoors. It is not until the start of 10th grade that most youngsters would begin to be exposed to six on six play. This is not the case in the USA where slightly modified six on six is played from 5th grade upwards, and the full game without modification from 8th grade.


The Value of the Small-sided Game


·         Players will touch the ball more often and become more skillful with it! (Individual technical development)


·         Players will make more quality decisions during the game! (Tactical development)


·         Players will become more physically efficient in the smaller area in which they are playing! (Reduced court size)


·         Players will have more involved playing time in the game! (More opportunity to solve problems that only the game presents)


·         Players will have more opportunities to lean tactical skills (More exposure to attacking and defending situations)


·         Players will have more opportunities to score points or make defensive plays! (Create excitement)


Small-sided Games for Introducing Volleyball to Young Players


Although official mini volleyball rules exist, there is no reason why they should not be adapted to suit the level of skill of the group to create competitive game like situations. The following are some ideas on how this may be achieved.


  • The net can be divided into two by the use of extra antenna. Using existing lines and cones can help make the court extremities.


  • 3v3 or 4v4 depending on space.


  • You may start with simply catching and throwing the ball over the net and if the distance to be thrown is too great then pass to a team-mate who then throws it over. Every time the ball travels over the net the team must rotate in a clockwise direction, thus introducing the concept of rotation. An interesting idea developed in Holland is that when an error is made the player (or player nearest the ball) must leave the court. Play continues until one team loses all its players and a point is then scored by the team that has players remaining. All players then return to the court to begin playing for another point. This introduces the substitution concept at an early age.


  • The next development of this game is to introduce the underhand serve to start each “rally” followed by the forearm passing the ball over or to a team-mate who catches and throws the ball over.


  • From here we introduce three-touch volleyball. Three contacts must be made, the third contact being over the net using an overhand pass. The second contact is a catch and throw using an underarm two handed toss in a forwards or backwards direction simulating a set. Players still rotate each time the ball is player over and the same scoring system is used.


  • The next stage is to introduce rally score and normal player rotation, together with a no catching rule on any contact. Stress using overhand pass, or set, if the ball is high enough.


  • Finally the use of a spiking action if possible and overhand serve can be added and the full min-volleyball game is played. As the skill level increases base position, blocking and defensive cover can be introduced and will provide a good base understanding when moving to the six-on-six game.


Small-sided Games for Advanced Players


The value of the small sided game for advanced players is the same as for the younger developmental player. Small-sided games are excellent for creating healthy competition between players on a team and providing maximum contacts and movement skills. Here are a few ideas:




A 1v1 or 2v2 game that can be organized in a “queen of the court” system, using the full court and a single contact over the net similar to that of tennis. Excellent for warm up, creating movement and a healthy competitive and fun environment that sets the tone for the rest of the practice.





2v2 beach volleyball played on the indoor court again using “queen of the court” organization and first to 3 points rally score. Excellent to promote tactical awareness – to block or not to block, block line and dig cross court etc.



Top of the Class


The court or courts are divided into two narrow full length playing areas divided by extra antenna if available. The game is played 1v1 with a third player who is setter for both “teams” moving under the net after each set is made.


























Play begins with a serve and normal rally score. Play may last for a set period of time (say 3 minutes). At the end of play all winners move up a court from say right to left in the diagram above and become the setter for the next game. The winner on the top court (extreme left) remains playing until they lose and drop down a court. All setters now become a player on the same court they were just on. Losing players move down a court from left to right and play. If you have extra players they can be “on deck” so in this case a winner moving from one court to the next would be on deck for one game before moving on to the next court as the setter. The object is to get to the top court and stay there as long as possible. You would expect the better players to eventually filter their way to the upper courts – but this is not always the case!  This game can become highly popular and competitive as well as working on many of the skills needed by your team.


In conclusion, small-sided games should play an important part of every volleyball program from beginner to National Team as an aid to assist in the development of skills and competition.