Sitting volleyball, a history

Volleyball was invented in the late nineteenth century by William G. Morgan, a director of physical education, in Holyoke, Mass., USA. Taking inspiration from tennis and basketball, Morgan developed volleyball, adding it to his sport and exercise programme as a recreational game. 

Sitting volleyball was originally a rehabilitation exercise for injured soldiers. It first appeared in the Netherlands in 1956 and has now become an integral part of the Paralympic Games. The sport combines volleyball with the German sport of sitzball (which sees players sitting but there’s no net involved).

Sitting volleyball, a competitive sport

The first Sitting Volleyball World Championships, for men only, was held in Delten in the Netherlands in 1983.  In 1994 first women’s Sitting Volleyball World Championship took place in Bottrop, Germany.

Sitting volleyball, a Paralympic sport

The 1976 Paralympic Games featured a standing volleyball demonstration event, designed for athletes with a mobility impairment. Both sitting and standing volleyball then featured as a medal event at the following Games in 1980. 

Initially, there was only a men’s event. The women’s event was added at the 2004 Games in Athens and six nations took part. It was at this Games that standing volleyball was removed, and it has not featured since. 

A programme of sitting volleyball was introduced in the UK in 1986 by Gordon Neale OBE who coached the GB team until 1995.

Sitting volleyball at the Paralympic Summer Games

  • 1980 Arnhem, Netherlands - 2 events, 11 countries participated.
  • 1984 New York, USA - 2 events, 13 countries participated.
  • 1988 Seoul, South Korea - 2 events, 13 countries and 158 athletes, all men, participated.
  • 1992 Barcelona, Spain - 2 events, 17 countries and 211 athletes, all men, participated.
  • 1996 Atlanta, USA - 2 events, 18 countries and 225 athletes, all men, participated.
  • 2000 Sydney, Australia - 2 events, 17 countries and 233 athletes, all men, participated.
  • 2004 Athens, Greece - 2 events, 12 countries and 157 athletes (92 men and 65 women) participated.
  • 2008 Beijing, China - 2 events, 14 countries and 181 athletes (96 men and 85 women) participated.
  • 2012 London, UK - 2 events, 15 countries and 197 athletes (109 men and 88 women) participated.

British sitting volleyball medal winners

ParalympicsGB have only entered teams, in both the men’s and women’s events, at the 2012 Games in London. Both teams finished eighth.

Disclaimer -
Some information from earlier Paralympic Games (i.e. 1960-1988) such as relay and team members are not presented in the IPC source data. Therefore, final results, medal standings and derived statistics may not be complete.
Important note on the definition of participants: Only athletes that appear in the official results books in the section of final results are included in the database and counted towards participant statistics. Data for 2014 and 2016 are accurate. Statistics for previous Games are under review by the IPC.
Important note on competition partners: Competition partners eligible for medals are included in the combined participant statistics until 2014. Statistics for 2016 and beyond consider athletes with an impairment and their competition partners separately. 

Rules of sitting volleyball

International volleyball squads are comprised of twelve players (10 of whom must meet the “Full Classification” requirements, with the remaining two meeting the “Minimal disability” requirements). When playing, teams are made up of six players at any one time, one of whom can be a Libero (specialist defensive player) who wears a different colour to their teammates.

  • The term “Minimal disability” comprises athletes with the following conditions:
    Cerebral palsy
    One upper limb shorter by up to half
    At least 30 degrees movement in the elbow but no more than 60 degrees
    Seven or more fingers (across 2 hands) not functional and/or missing
    One lower limb shorter by up to a third
    Amputation above the toes
  • Full classification comprises athletes with the following conditions:
    Cerebral palsy
    Spina bifida
    One upper limb shorter by more than half
    Unable to lift arm above 90 degree
    One lower limb shorter by more than a third
    Through knee amputation with prosthesis
    Amputation of ankle on both sides 

The rules for sitting volleyball are based on those for non-disabled athletes, with a few small differences. It is played on a court measuring 10m x 6m with a net set to a height of 1.15m (for men) or 1.05m (for women). This is smaller than its Olympic counterpart, resulting in a faster-paced game. 

When hitting the ball, players must always keep part of their body (from buttock to shoulder) in contact with the floor. If they fail to do so then this is classed as a “lifting” foul. A team may touch the ball three times before it crosses the net (not including a legal block touch). Unlike in Olympic volleyball, in sitting volleyball players can block the serve. Players are only permitted to touch the ball twice consecutively if their first touch is a block. Any part of the body can be used to play the ball.  

Sitting volleyball is played over five sets, with the first team to win three sets announced as the winner. A set is won by the first team to reach 25 points (with a two-point advantage) – this is reduced to 15 points in the final set. A point is won when a team grounds the ball in their opposition’s half, or where the opposition cannot legally return the ball. If a team wins a point on their opponent’s serve, then the team rotate positions one place clockwise.

Governing bodies

The international governing body is World ParaVolley

In April 2009 Volleyball England (VE) took over the management of the Great Britain Sitting Volleyball Programme from the British Volleyball Federation (BVF). Since then the BVF website has been integrated in to the VE website.

Regional clubs

The British Paralympic Association has created an online directory, Parasport, where you can search for and find out about sport and physical activity in your area.

To find sitting volleyball clubs local to you, visit

The Scottish Volleyball Association (SVA) is the National Governing Body for Volleyball, Beach Volleyball and Sitting Volleyball in Scotland, more information can be found here.

South West Volleyball has information about clubs in South Wales. 

Or contact a Disability Sport Wales Development Officer through Disability Sport Wales