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What Does Sideout Mean in Volleyball? [Rally Scoring vs. Sideout]

If you’re anything like me, not understanding a word is no reason to stop saying it. I’ll walk around using words like, ‘façade’, ‘arbitrage’, and ‘Collateral-Debt-Obligations’, hopefully without doing much harm.

But in volleyball circles, there are some words you just want to be using correctly:

‘Sideout’ is one of them.

It took me an embarrassingly long time to find out what one of the most common words in volleyball actually means, so I thought I’d save you guys from making the same error.

What does sideout in volleyball mean? The term ‘sideout’ refers to an old volleyball scoring system which hasn’t been used since 1999. In today’s game, it simply means ‘any point that a team wins when their opponent is serving’… but of course, there’s a little more to it than that.

What does ‘sideout’ actually mean?

The old scoring system gives us a better way to make sense of things.

*What is sideout scoring in volleyball? In the old ‘sideout’ scoring system, your team had to be serving to score a point.

Think of it this way:

In the old scoring system, you couldn’t actually score a point while the other team was serving.

Points were only ever scored by the serving team. Maybe that means serving an ace. Maybe it’s a monster block.

Maybe it’s an incredible defensive play, followed by a high ball that your pin hitter crushes down the line to end the rally.

Whatever the case, you could never score a point by the good old: ‘receive serve, set the middle, bounce ball’ sequence.

Then again… that kind of thing still happened. All the time. In fact, you might argue it was even more important that your team wins the rally when the opponent is serving.

So, teams were faced with a problem:

‘What do I say when I want my team to win the rally, even though I know we can’t actually score a point?’

For example, you couldn’t say:

‘This point,’ OR

‘Let’s score right here,’ AND

‘Let’s stop them from scoring the point, while also giving us a chance to score the next one,’ is just a little too lengthy for most people.

So, it was given a name: ‘Let’s sideout’.

You’re not scoring the point, you’re just giving yourself a chance to be the team that’s on offense.

Problem solved.

Well… this is awkward.

When you look at today’s rally scoring system (where every rally is a point for the winning team, serving or not), then yes: this ‘sideout’ artefact is a little awkward.

The truth is, in modern volleyball we really can say: ‘This point,’ and ‘Let’s score here,’ even when we’re not serving.

It also means that we can ‘sideout’ on match point–which is how most matches end, and a great relief when you’re up 24-23 and have the sideout.

Not so fast.

Before we get too down on ‘sideout’, there are a few benefits to this old-fashioned term.

First of all, it gives us a ready-made language which people understand and can use as short-hand for another awkward phrase: ‘let’s score the point on serve receive’.

Instead, we can just use the good old ‘sideout’ term and everyone pretty much knows what’s going on–even if it doesn’t really ‘make sense’ anymore.

What do people mean when they say sideout in volleyball, today?

Today, sideout has a few different uses.

  1. As a verb: ‘Let’s sideout this point.’;
  2. As a noun (object): ‘We just need one sideout.’; AND
  3. As a(nother) noun (system): ‘Brazil is stuck in sideout.’ [Okay, maybe not Brazil…]

If you’re new to volleyball, this can be a little confusing. But never fear: There’s one simple rule to follow for understanding ‘sideout’.

THE RULE:”If the other team is serving, your team is in, needs and wants to sideout.”

Some other things you might be wondering…

What’s rally scoring in volleyball, again?

Rally scoring is the system most forms of modern volleyball follow today. In this system, every time the referee blows their whistle to signal the beginning of the rally: one team is going to score a point (unless there’s a replay…).

Rally scoring in volleyball makes matches a little easier to handle. With the old sideout system, matches could go on, and on… and on.

This was a problem for volleyball fans–who wants to sit around and watch a 6 hours of volleyball? (Okay, maybe you do, but the general public were switching off after the first set).

With the rally scoring system, we have a much better idea of how long a volleyball match will take. That’s actually pretty useful. Think about it in your own experience:

Ever had a tournament where the court before you went way over time? You were supposed to play at 1pm, but the women’s match before you went to a tiebreaker and now you’re not scheduled to play until 2pm?

Sideout scoring was like that, but on steroids.

Is it easier to score in sideout or while serving?

As you work up to higher levels of volleyball, sideout is where teams should have the biggest advantage. That’s because, technically, you should have the first opportunity to attack.

That being said, if there’s a really strong server at the line, then serving can definitely be an advantage for your team.
When we look at high-level volleyball though, teams generally want to score the point in sideout at 60% or higher (with some teams being much more efficient than that). Naturally, that means teams would only be scoring on serve 40% of the time or less.

So, if you’re team captain and faced with a decision at the coin toss–keep this in mind. It may not be the only strategy (and there’s definitely a case for choosing to serve first), but if you’ve got nothing else, at least with this stat you can justify your decision to Coach.

Summing Up

While sideout is pretty much used in the same way that it was prior to 1999, it has taken on a slightly different meaning. Now, it has the added bonus of giving your team a point, along with the right to serve.

What are your thoughts? Were we better off with the sideout system? Or has rally scoring changed the game for the better?

Leave a comment below letting us know what you think.

Other Rules In Volleyball

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