Beach volleyball is played on a 16m x 8m sand court. Two teams of two players hit the ball back and forth over the net, attempting to make the ball contact the sand in the opposing team’s court before the other team can return it.
Play begins with a service taken from anywhere behind the baseline. Players may use any part of their body to hit the ball, which must be returned within three hits. Normally the first two hits are used to position the ball high and close to the net to give the third hitter a good chance to smash the ball to the sand in the opposite court. A player may not contact the net while playing the ball. The net is set at a height of 2.43m for men and 2.24m for women.
In beach volleyball, matches are played for the best of three sets. The first two sets are played to 21 points with the teams switching sides every multiple of seven points, with the final tie-breaker set being played to 15 points with the teams switching sides every multiple of five points. A team must win a set by two points and there is no point cap, so a set continues until one of the teams gains a two-point advantage. If a team commits a serving or other fault or fails to return the ball, the opposing team wins the rally and the point. In beach volleyball, a block counts as a hit.
Both the men’s and women’s beach volleyball events begin with a preliminary phase: the 24 teams in each event are divided into six pools of four, and each team plays every other team in their pool. A total of 16 teams from this phase qualify for the knockout phase, as the winners of the semi-finals eventually go head-to-head for the gold.