Spikeball Rules and Play

How did Spikeball rise so quickly from a total unknown to a favorite of so many people?  Is it a game for all or only the highly athletic, active community?  Let's take a closer look at the game that has become a sensation over the past few years.  

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Why we play

What makes Spikeball so immensely popular and has it growing so quickly?  Spikeball simply looks fun.  Watch some videos of the pros playing and it is easy to get hooked on the fast paced action Spikeball brings.  Most of us know we won't be making such impressive, full extension diving saves every play, but the possibility is there!  If you are willing to move around a bit for your yard or beach games, Spikeball is going to be super appealing to you on first sight.

Spikeball standard set

Spikeball also benefits from a dead simple rule explanation:  it's volleyball on a bouncy net.  That's an easy enough description that also covers the vast majority of the rules!  Sure, you might get questions about positioning and rim hits, but to get the game going a few word explanation is enough.

Why has Spikeball risen to be at the top of the active game list for so many people? At some point in this post I was going to have to mention Shark Tank, might as well do that now.  The owners of the company went on the popular show in 2015 and struck a deal (which later fell apart, apparently).  This brought massive exposure to an already booming sport.  Outside of the huge public eye that was placed on Spikeball, the game sells itself extremely well by offering an extremely active competition in a relatively small package.  It is played with only four people and can be setup in just a few minutes.  Compare that with the closest comparison, volleyball, which requires a full court and net setup.  Spikeball has become the go to traveling active yard game.

Rules of the game

In its most basic form, the rules of Spikeball are as follows.  The Spkieball net is setup and placed in the center or two two-player teams.  A serving team is chosen by a best of three game of rock-paper-scissors.  The server stands a few feet away with their teammate adjacent.  The opposing team members generally stand on the opposite side of the net.  

Play begins with a serve, in which the serving player hits the ball onto the net.  From there, traditional volleyball rules apply.   That is, each team has three hits to get the ball to hit the net, at which point the possession changes to the opposing team.  This continues until one team cannot return the ball or one team directly hits the rim on the net.  If the serving team won the pint, they must switch servers but retain the server.  If the receiving team won the point, they gain serving rights.

Games of Spikeball are typically played to 11, 15, or 21 points.  Points are scored on each serve, you don't have to be the serving team to score.  Tournaments may be played to any of these numbers, they are announced before the tournament.  Games of Spikeball must be won be two points.

Spikeball two-pack replacement balls

The biggest source of scoring arguments in Spikeball is the ball hitting the rim.  This is considered to be an illegal hit and is played as if the ball didn't hit the net and the opposing team receives the point.  However, there are parts of the net, near the edge, where the ball will hit softer and "die" or take a strange bounce.  These hits are called "pockets."   These hits are legal during rallies, but considered faults during a serve.  The official Spikeball rules say that if there is any disagreement over whether a ball was a rim or a pocket hit, the point should be replayed.  

Strategy, pointers, and Variations

Much like volleyball, Spikeball is a game that demands teamwork above all else.  Playing the game on the same page as your partner is paramount to coming out on top.  You must be ready to receive their passes, know who is going to defend the hit, and be ready for the quick returns (i.e. those which hit the net after less than three hits).  Spikeball moves so quickly that much of the communication goes unspoken which will greatly benefit repeat playing partners who learn to work together instinctively.  A few bits of strategy, including a few basic building blocks for any Spikeball player:

  • Set high and set near the net:  You want to give your teammate the biggest possible meatball you can when you set them.  A high floater near the net is the ideal set, this will open up all kinds of options for their scoring hit.  Hitting it high will give them maximum time to decide what to do, or even to get back into a good position.
  • Get close to the net for the kill:  Much like in volleyball, the most popular way to score is an un-returnable smash from as close to the net as you can get.  Get good at setting your teammates up very close to the net.  Get good at utilizing a perfect setup.  Smashing the ball in the obvious direction isn't always the best play, you can vary speed and direction to great effect, speaking of which...
  • Deception:  Everybody who starts playing Spikeball naturally wants to, well, spike the ball.  Good players expect this and will be in good position to handle these. Sometimes, a little subtlety goes a long way.  Load up one hand to make it look like you are going to smash the ball, but drop a soft shot with your off hand, for example, to keep the opponents off guard.
  • The quick return: Be ready to catch your opponents off guard, especially if they produce a weak hit.  It may be tempting to use a softball return to setup your teammate for the kill, but keep your eyes open for an opportunity to hit the one-shot return for an easy point.  If your opponents are scrambling to get into defensive position, catch them off guard and put the point on the board.  
  • Know when to drop a drop shot:  Drop shots are shots which are hit lightly on the hope that they will fall harmlessly to the ground for a point before the opposing team can get to it, and they are powerful tools in Spikeball.  A good one can be indefensible while a bad one will often give the point to the other team.  Look for opponents who are out of position or playing too far bad as your chance for a drop shot.  
  • Spin:  This is one we see really surprise new players; put spin on the ball! Like any other ball-centric sport, spin can be a game changer.  Wonder how your opponent gets the ball to die so quickly off of the net?  Or how their hits seem to jump off of the net much more than yours?  Backspin and topspin, respectively, are the answers.  
  • Underhand Flipper: Although a wildly inaccurate and unusual variation on grip, I’ve seen it work.  Using your thumb under one side of the bag and four fingers on the yop, you’ll employ the underhand toss while flipping the bag backwards. This also creates backspin.

Spikeball looks to be a high-energy game on the surface, and the marketing videos will certainly sell the point.  Well, there's a little secret to Spikeball:  it doesn't have to be an all-out, dive-fest.  Much like your games of beach volleyball don't usually resemble those we all watch at the Olympics, Spikeball can be taken down a notch or eight.  You can play the game drink-in-hand and use a house rule to limit the amount of power that anybody can put behind their shots, ensuring no Herculean efforts are necessary to continue the point.  You can also even throw a third person on each team to extend the casual nature.  This will be a little crowded, and any more than three probably won't work, but with six people there are sure not to be any gaps, which will allow return attempts on pretty much every shot.  

Terminology & Tournament Rules

Spikeball Tournament Set

Are there any other Spikeball rules I should know about as a serious player?  Yes, the competitive scene has a more thorough set of rules than listed above.  There are some very specific rules about serving/receiving positions, faults, timeouts, and more.  We'll run through what you need to know if you want to take your games to the tournament level.  Note that many or all of these rules may be ignored or forgiven in a casual game, the intention here is to make sure that players who want to get serious about the game and start training for tournaments have a strong knowledge of how the best players play the game.  Feel free to skip if you are just getting into the game or are perfectly happy to remain a casual player, as many of us are.

  • Missing the net
  • Hitting the rim
  • Hits the net and then lands on the net again

That wraps up our look at Spikeball.  The fast paced, high-activity game is skyrocketing in popularity.  Don't let the intense YouTube videos foot you, however, as this is one that can be slowed down to a more casual pace.  However you want to play it, you now know the rules and a few strategies, get to playing!

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