A set point can be a pivotal moment in a volleyball match, as it represents an opportunity for one team to take a big step toward victory. Rules for set points come from both the sport’s world governing body -- the International Volleyball Federation, or FIVB -- and USA Volleyball, which oversees the sport in the United States.
Under FIVB rules, a regulation volleyball match consists of up to five sets; the first team to win three sets wins the match. USA Volleyball allows tournaments to shorten matches to best two out of three. Unlike in tennis, in which a set is made up of several games, a set in volleyball is essentially a single game made up of several rallies. A rally begins with a serve and continues until the ball is out of play. A team gets one point for winning a rally.
Winning a Set
Each set is played to 25 points, except if the teams are tied at two sets apiece after four sets -- or one set apiece after two sets under USA Volleyball’s tournament rules. In that case, the deciding tiebreaker set is played to 15 points. To win a set, a team not only has to be the first to reach the required number of points, it must also hold at least a two-point lead. For example, if the score in a set is 24-21, then the team in the lead can win if it scores the next point, because it will have 25 points and a lead of at least two points. On the other hand, if the score is tied 24-24, then the next team to score will hold a lead of only 25-24, meaning it cannot win the set. In this case, the set continues, and the first team to build a two-point lead is the winner.
Whenever a team can win a set by winning the next point, the situation is a “set point.” In the 24-21 example given earlier, the team with 24 points is in a set-point situation. Even if its opponent won the point, it would still be set point because the score, now 24-22, would still allow it to win on the next point. If the trailing team managed to tie the score at 24, then it wouldn’t be set point for anyone. But the winner of the next point would be up 25-24, and it would be set point for that team. There’s no limit to how many set points there can be in a set, just as there is no limit on how many points a set can have. Beyond 25 -- or 15 in the tiebreaker set -- the teams play until someone has a two-point edge, whether that’s 26-24 or 30-28 or 120-118 or something else.
A related concept is the match point. When a team could win not only the set but also the match with the next point, it’s a match-point situation. Say a team leads a match two sets to one and builds a 24-15 lead in the fourth set. It would be match point for that team -- and it would continue to be match point on every point until the other team tied the score.