How Long Are Volleyball Games:(School to Pro Levels)

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Unlike many other sports, volleyball isn’t a timed sport. In theory, volleyball games can last for hours, although they almost never do, but the length really does differ between game levels.

Since volleyball is becoming more and more popular, there’s an unprecedented number of people coming to games, and asking how long are volleyball games is one of the most common questions.

Middle school and junior volleyball games are typically short and rarely last more than an hour, high school games can last up to two hours, with college and professional games often lasting more than two hours.

how long are volleyball games

The length of a game is mostly determined by the number of sets (spoiler alert – it isn’t the same on all levels), but other factors come into play, such as breaks, points caps, and level of competition.

To prevent any confusion, we’ll break these factors down to the tiniest detail in this article, and hopefully, by the end of it, you’ll have a complete understanding of volleyball game length on different levels.

Exploring Different Levels of Volleyball

The biggest difference between different levels of volleyball are the set systems. People often ask how many periods does volleyball have, but they’re actually talking about sets – which is what game periods are called in volleyball.

How many sets are played in a volleyball game? There are two volleyball point systems used worldwide – the 3 out of 5 system and the 2 out of 3 systems. Now, if you’re a newcomer, what I just said makes absolutely no sense to you, so let me elaborate more.

Volleyball doesn’t have a time cap. It’s unprecedented for a referee to end the game because it’s been going on too long – there’s no such thing as too long in volleyball. What volleyball does have is a set cap. Just like tennis, it’s played in sets.

Some levels of the game, such as middle school games and amateur games, use the 3-set system. This means that the teams play three sets, and the team winning two out of those three sets is the winning team.

Do you always play 3 sets in volleyball? Absolutely not!

There’s the 5-set system used by high school leagues, college leagues, and professional teams. In these games, teams can play up to five sets, and the team winning three sets is the winning team.

You can see a pattern forming here – no matter what the system is, you have to win the majority (2 out of 3 or 3 out of 5) of sets to win the entire game. Obviously, if a team wins three sets in a row, they won’t play two additional sets because they already won the majority of sets in the game. The same applies to the three-set system – if a team wins two sets in a row, the game is over.

So, that’s the most important aspect of volleyball game length – sets. 5-set games last longer than 3-set games!

different levels of volleyball

To win a set, you have to win 25 points with a 2-point difference (so, at least 25-23), but as the level of competition becomes higher, it becomes more difficult to win a point and it obviously takes more time. We’ll talk about this in the chapter titled ‘How Long Is a Rally?’

Now we get to the answer to our most important questions: how long is a high school volleyball game, how long are college volleyball games, and just what is the average volleyball game time?

Middle school games are much shorter than high school games. They usually last no more than an hour (barring any incidents that disturb game flow), while high school games can last up to two hours, or in odd cases, more than two hours.

College matches can easily last longer than two hours. Unlike high school teams, college teams are much more evenly matched. Colleges invest a lot of money into proper training facilities and staff, while they also offer scholarships to their players, and their teams are incredibly well-trained.

Since they’re so evenly matched, rallies can last for a long time, so games can last anything between an hour and thirty minutes and three hours. Although it doesn’t happen often, some college volleyball games last up to almost three hours.

Professional games usually last about two hours, and just like college games, they can go deep into the two-hour mark, so you shouldn’t be surprised to see a game last almost three hours. The biggest difference between professional volleyball players and lower level players, aside from the massive skill gap, is the devotion to the sport.

Professionals got to where they are because they’re ready to do whatever it takes to win, no matter how tired they are, and they fight for every point as if their lives depend on it. Because of this, it can become frustratingly long to win points, which leads to longer rallies, longer sets, and overall longer game time.

However, it’s a treat to watch!

Factors Affecting Volleyball Game Length

factors affecting volleyball game length

Determining how long do volleyball games usually last is difficult without talking about these factors.

The most obvious factor determining game duration aside from the number of sets is the disparity in quality between two teams. If one team is much better than the other, they’ll finish the game quickly by winning two or three sets in a row. These are the quickest games and they’re more common in amateur leagues.

As explained before, the higher the level of competition, the closer the teams are to one another in terms of quality. It’s very rare for a college team to beat another college team 3-0; that would be a complete fiasco for the losing team.

Volleyball is generally not a defending sport. Unlike soccer, for example, where some teams will score two goals and sit back and defend for the rest of the game, this isn’t allowed in volleyball.

You only have three touches, so it’s impossible to just pass the ball around until the end of the game to keep the scoreline untouched, and the entire game revolves around turning defense into offense in three touches.

Therefore, we can say that volleyball is equally defending and attacking, and in that sense, more aggressive teams generally do better than teams that take a more lax approach.

An aggressive team will almost always outplay a relaxed team on the court and finish the game quickly.

We also have to take rule variations into account. Timeout rules aren’t the same on all levels. Depending on the level of the game, teams can have one or two timeouts per set, and they can last anything between one and three minutes.

Obviously if both coaches use all of their timeouts, the game is going to last much longer. If neither of them uses timeouts, game time will be shorter.

Timeout use is more common with professional and college volleyball than it is with middle school volleyball. Children at that age aren’t as good at following instructions and when they’re losing they can have trouble focusing, which is why the coach’s instructions sometimes don’t get through to them, so they don’t use their timeouts at all.

Making changes also isn’t as common with lower-level volleyball because the roles are much clearer and more specific with higher-level players. You’ll sometimes see a player subbed on with a very specific job to do, while this can’t be done with children as they’re still profiling themselves as players.

Because of this, and the fact that they play only three sets, children’s games are much shorter than higher-level games!

Technological Advancements and Their Impact on Game Pace

The most important technological advancement in volleyball is video technology, appropriately named Hawkeye because of its bird-eye’s view perspective. To keep it short, the modern game is often recorded with several cameras that track every single movement of the ball.

technological advancements impact

So, when there’s a 50/50 decision to be made, the referees can simply take a look at the footage to ensure they’re right.

This is especially important with lines. The “It was in/out” debate is as long as volleyball itself. Nowadays there’s no more debating – the referees have clear footage of the ball and they can easily see if it remained within bounds or if it left the field of play.

The Hawkeye system requires stopping the game for a point to be rewarded and/or deducted. In volleyball, we call this a challenge. It’s how it works in all sports – the referees pause the game and take a look at the footage, after which they either change their decision or stick with it.

After analyzing the impact of technology on game pace, we can certainly say that it can take a few minutes to really measure everything right, which obviously makes a game longer.

Strategies for Enhancing Game Efficiency and New Trends in Volleyball Game Duration

Referees don’t want the games to be unnecessarily prolonged, so they’ll usually be very strict with timeout length and injuries. These are the most common reasons games are prolonged, after all, and they’ll usually insist that teams stick to the agreed timeout length, and they’ll ask the injured players to leave the court if they can’t continue.

volleyball game duration

Managing time constraints during tournaments is especially important because smaller tournaments (we’re obviously not talking about the World Cup, but about your local county’s 16-team tournament) are often played on the same court, and all the games are often played on the same day.

If just one game takes too long because the players or the coaches are making a fuss, it will delay all the other games. Referees hate this!

Another thing we have to keep in mind is point cap. Some competitions have points caps for sets, while others don’t.

Remember how we said that in order to win a set you have to win 25 points and have a 2-point lead? Well, if you don’t have a 2-point lead, the game might get up to 50 points, theoretically, before you establish a 2-point lead. This can prolong game time a lot, which is why some competitions cut this part out.

Some competitions also require you to win at least 25 points with a 2-point lead, but if you get to a certain number of points (usually about 32 or more) without a 2-point lead, you’re winning that set despite not having a 2-point lead.

This is called a point cap, and if it didn’t exist, games could, in theory, last forever.

Most high-level games don’t have point caps – you’ll never see a point cap in the Olympics or the World Cup, but some middle school leagues use them as well as some minor tournaments.

It’s just an effective way of controlling game time and nothing more than that!

On a professional level, this doesn’t make much of a difference for players on the highest level. Across all sports, not just volleyball, players have never been as physically advanced as they are right now. Professionals of the highest level could probably play for hours before exhaustion started affecting their game.

Their bodies are prepared for very long games, which is why they don’t mind not having a point cap.

How Long Is a Rally?

how long is a rally

Rallies are very interesting to look at. They can last anything from literally just a second or more than a minute (although that’s extremely rare).

A rally is a passage of play starting with a player serving the ball and it ends with that ball touching the ground.

If a player aces a ball (serves it so well that opposition players can’t defend from it and the serving player scores a point with their serve), a rally will last less than a second.

However, rallies can go from one side to the other dozens of times before a team makes a mistake and concedes a point. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does happen, it’s the result of two evenly matched teams.

When you put two evenly matched teams on the same court, rallies will on average take more than 20 seconds, often lasting up to a minute, which will prolong the time it takes to win a set, and that prolongs the entire game!

Take a look at this rally as an example.

This is from the iconic Nebraska – Illinois match and it’s generally thought of as one of the longest rallies of all time. It lasted an incredible 72 seconds!

There are two important things I want you to pay attention to in the video.

First of all, these aren’t children – they’re adult athletes who have been playing volleyball their entire lives. We’re talking about women who know what they’re doing.

Secondly, the score is pretty tight, 3-2 at the start of the rally. There’s no such thing as ‘we can lose this point, we’ll get back at them in the next rally’ in volleyball (or in professional sports in general). They were fighting for every touch in that rally and that’s why rallies often take so long!

Conclusion

Let’s recap everything we learned today; middle school games usually last less than an hour, high school games can last up to two hours, while college games and professional games last anything from two to three hours (or in extremely rare circumstances, more than three hours).

The number of sets determines game duration more than anything else. 5-set games are much longer than 3-set games, which is why professional games are so long. The skill difference between two teams also has an effect on length – the bigger the difference between the teams, the shorter the game!

In the modern game, a game can be prolonged because of referees using the Hawkeye System, but referees are generally very strict about time management and they try to minimize time wasting.

ABOUT Harvey Meale

As a former international level volleyball player, I now spend my days working out and writing for Volleyball Vault. I look for ways to bring my wealth of experience and knowledge to create unique and insightful perspectives in my content.