devo's volleyball – Australian volleyball: news and views

Tournament Formats

Posted by devo on June 10, 2009

What are players preferences for tournament formats?

It seems that Australian players have a real preference for 5 set tournament matches. The USA and NZ extensively use 3 set formats. Some advantages and disadvantages are listed below. I’m sure that you can add to the list. Hit the comments button to give us your preference for tournament structure and why you prefer that structure. Also hit the poll in the left hand column.

Option 1: BEST OF 5 SETS (no time limit)


  • Long matches

  • Cannot program back to back matches
  • This means you are at the gym most of the day
  • You do not play many teams
  • Inefficient court usage as 3 nil matches leave courts that have been paid for empty

Option 2: Best of 5 sets (90 minutes: 80 min playing – 10 warm up / 60 minutes ~ 50 & 10)


  • Easier to schedule
  • Known starting times

  • Inconclusive results

Option 3: Best of 3 sets (No time limit)


  • Back to matches can be scheduled.
  • Get to play more teams.
  • Can use USA model of AM (9.00 – 3.00) and PM (3.00 – 9.00pm) waves
    as pool of 4 can be played in 5 hour timeslot
  • 5 hour time slot enables other activities to be done during a tournament

  • Short matches.
  • Seem to spend a lot of time warming up for matches

20 Responses to “Tournament Formats”

  1. Liam Mackin said

    i prefer 5 setters without time limits, but its good that at schools cup and vic schools cup only honours divisions play them, i dont think many people are too fussed about playing maybe only 2 games in a game any more than 3 is a bit tiring

  2. Volleyball Athlete said

    It depends on the kind of tournament to me. I like, when at something like Junior Nationals, it’s best of 5 sets.
    However I feel that at country tournaments, like Warrnambool as best of 3 set to 25, with no time limit is the way to go. That way, you get to play more matches and also get an actual results instead of draws.

    (this best of 3 set format is used in the Vic Open tournament and I think works really well)

  3. Sunrise watcher said

    Agree with Volleyball Athlete on depending on type of championship/tournment.

    If fun weekend tournment, if pick for best of 3 sets and the scores can be bumped up to 30 points instead of 25 points ? Or if pick for 5 sets, it can reduced to say 20 points ? It’s only suggestion, bit like twenty20 format …. Ie serving an ace worth 2 pts instead of 1 point – something like that … spice up excitment environment …. Ohhh ahhh reaction …

    • Murph said

      Given that the current trend is pushing for longer rallies, I’d rather see 2 points for a transition kill instead of 2 points for an Ace…

      But I don’t want to see either…

  4. Murph said

    I can see a benefit of best of 3 untimed in the pool matches and best of 5 untimed in the cross-overs/finals…

    Don’t the US use best of 3 matches with each set going to 30?

    The 3 untimed then 5 untimed allows you to do ‘other activities’ during the tournament (but only at the start, or if you aren’t in the top bracket of cross overs), but also, at the business end of the tournament, you are all a tad fresher and are focussed on the ball and not the other activities.

    • edbinnie said

      USA Volleyball go to 25, Men’s NCAA is the only one that still goes to 30 (even women’s is 25).
      Formats vary in the US too – in the NY region, most are best of 3, no time limit. You play all 3 sets no matter what. sets are to 25. Interestingly though, most tourneys start the set at 4 all (so effectively a 21 point set). Depending on no. of teams, or how late courts are running this can be increased to starting at 6 all (19 point set).

      • Murph said

        Starting at 4-4?

        WTF…That’s what I do it trainings to simulate the end of sets, I cannot possibly see the benefit in doing it during games?!

        • edbinnie said

          I know weird right. but its just a way of not changing the “official’ rules, but also reducing the time taken to play a set – from 21mins to 18mins were the numbers quoted to me. Seems a bit arbitrary, but everyone accepts it because the same rule applies for all these tournaments.

  5. edbinnie said

    For AVL, AJVC and State Leagues, I’d say 5 sets is the way to go. If you train 4+ hrs a week, you want to play more than 45mins a game.
    For Tournaments (State Cups etc) Time limits suck. You get to see the worst from obnoxious players and coaches (unfortunately there are way too many of them). People deliberately find ways to drag out the end of final sets so they don’t count, or games end in draws etc.
    Others, aware of this fact, start to hurry games along too much allowing unsafe playing conditions – anyone that has seen me play knows how much I sweat, and I have been given many delays at tournaments for cleaning up sweat (but never in leagues – go figure).
    On the other hand, 5 sets is too much – you play 6 to 8 games, and that could be upwards of 30 hours.
    Best of 3 clean and simple (and play all 3 mandatory!).

  6. Alan Cahill said

    As a coach I like to use Tournaments to simulate what we will be doing during our State League Season. Giving new Athletes the exposure under 5 set conditions can only enhance their ability to play consistently at high levels over the 5 set distance.

    Also its about participation.If you are training and paying to play then play for as long and as hard as you can.Getting quantity touches at quality levels over a 2-3 day tournament is the best training, physically and mentally, an athlete can have.

    In Victoria,with our State League Games being reduced,Tournaments in 5 set formats are an opportunity for clubs to attempt to offer value for money to players.

  7. Eldo said

    League and significant matches best of 5 sets – no question.
    Week long tournaments best of 5 – again no question
    Long weekend tournaments best of 3
    Compulsory 3 sets encourages idiots time to show case themselves if the set is dead.

    NZ use best of 3.
    As previously said it also allows a team time to have a meal out, or a sleep in.

    From an organisational stand point – best of 3 with facility to have back to back matches (without flogging the players) gives you great flexibility.

    Disadvantage of 3 sets is the time spent warming up.

    There is a PHD in this statement for somebody.
    “The time a player needs to warm up is directly proportional to the size of the crowd watching.”

    • edbinnie said

      For got to mention that there is no such thing as dead sets. In tournament play, you get a point per set. so if you win 3-0 its 3 points. 2-1 is two points and the loser gets 1 point.
      so there is always incentive – you can go through undefeated, and be on less points than a team that lost a couple of games. Again just different.
      Because everyone plays 3 sets, most courts run close to same time, give or take a few minutes. And estimating match times is a bit easier – each game takes about an hour.
      Time limit best of 5 tournaments in NSW get plenty of idiots too – a team goes up 2-0 and then mucks around in the 3rd, because its best of 5, with 50 minute limit, never going to complete a third set, let alone a 4th. if its 80 minute limit, then its different.

  8. Alexis said

    Haha – I’ve seen PhDs on equally pointless topics but probably none actually more pointless.

    My argument about much research that is done is that it is simply placing scientific framework around, as Monty Python would say, ‘the bleeding obvious’.

    Eldo, I would contend that this statement is bleedingly obvious and therefore agree that there is certainly a PhD in it for someone…….

  9. Yankee Boy said

    All the big junior tournaments in the US are primarily best of 3 sets (play to 25 pts), the 4-all start is not that common. Most junior tournaments are held over a weekend with only the season ending tournaments like J.O’s and Festival being week long events. The am-pm wave format is pretty much the norm at any tournament meaning no ridiculous 8am starts and 10pm finishes as happens with Schools Cup at times.

  10. David Berry said

    Last year at the Horsham Tournament we ran best of three sets to 31. This was in response to a comment from the previous years tournament saying two set matches were over too quickly. From last year two set matches went approximatley 10-15 minutes extra, lasting around 40-50 minutes, which left 10 minutes warm up before next match. With a 7 team division this gave teams six matches plus a final for the top two. The only mistake I made was taking the deciding set to 31. In hindsight it should have been to 15.

  11. Batesy said

    Alternately all matches could be best of 4 sets.
    If they ended up at 2-2, then the winning team could be decided by an egg-and-spoon relay.

    …just a thought from left-field!

  12. Alexis said

    I like the best of 4 idea. If the result is 2-2, the winning team could be the team with the tallest player (provided he promises not to play AFL).

    Just a thought.

    • Troy M said

      or make the winning team the one with the shortest player… would be interesting to see which team could get the shortest volleyballer xD

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