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Revised Back Pocket/Service Height Rule

Need For Change

The definition of a pocket and the way pockets are called have always varied greatly depending on where you play. This lack of continuity causes confusion, disagreement, and slows the game down. Even the most trained eyes will often disagree when reviewing footage in slow motion, let alone real time. Unfortunately, crucial points sometimes go to the teams with the most confidence to argue their case.

While the 2021 SRA rule updates set out to better define pockets and create a shared understanding of the terms, making those calls correctly didn’t get any easier. Specifically, the back pocket/lip, which is the hardest and most contentious call, remained an issue. However, that’s exactly what this rule revision is intended to do. We’d like to thank the DCC, the independent tournament directors, and everyone else who contributed for pushing to make the sport better. We're excited to implement this rule for the 2021 SRA Season.  


Rule Summary

On a serve, it is a fault if the ball is above the receiver’s shoulder. Any back pockets/lips that are below the shoulder are legal. Side pockets are still illegal. With this change, the receiver (or observer) now only has to focus on the height of the ball when it is received. This change is intended to reduce arguments and increase played points.


Rule Specifics

4.4.8. Serves may not be higher than a receiver's shoulder when in athletic stance. (See and 4.6.8) There is no limit to the angle at which serves can be hit. A receiver’s athletic stance establishes the serving zone. An athletic stance is defined by slightly bent knees, feet slightly wider than shoulder distance apart, and chest positioned over feet.  

Back pockets are legal with the exception of: It is a fault on a back pocket if the ball does not move forward. Every part of the ball must land beyond the farthest point of the set relative to the ball’s horizontal angle of entry.

New height rule, it is a fault if:

4.6.8. Every part of the ball is over the highest point of the receiver’s shoulders when they contact the ball or when the ball passes them. If, in the act of receiving, the receiver lowers their shoulders, the shoulder height will be judged off their prior athletic stance. If, in the act of receiving, the receiver raises their shoulders, the shoulder height will be judged off their new position.

Rule Considerations


Doesn’t the term athletic stance create more gray area?

We recognize that using the term “athletic stance” creates some gray area. Despite this, we think that the trade off provides much more upside. The previous height rule was based on the receiver being directly under the ball and standing straight up with their arm fully extended. While in theory there is no subjectivity to what that height would be, in practice those three conditions are almost never met simultaneously. The result is that players are forced to basically make their best guess. Although an athletic stance in theory has more subjectivity, in practice it provides a much better reference point to the height of the ball - allowing calls to be made based on where the ball is compared to the shoulder as it reaches the receiver, rather than compared to a separate reference height. Even though there will still be some subjectivity, we think removing the gray around what is a back pocket/lip is well worth the tradeoff.


Can’t people use their stance to limit the serving zone?

We’ve put basic guidelines for the conditions of an athletic stance. If a receiver does not meet these conditions, the serving zone will be judged off the height if these conditions were met (in other words, there’s no laying down to receive a serve loophole). A natural consequence of trying to marginally reduce the service zone is that the player will be in a worse position to receive legal serves. If we see abuse, this is an area that we’ll continue to refine. We’re also hopeful that players will adhere to the spirit of the rule.


Does this benefit shorter players?

There are always trade offs with different body types in sports. However, the service height rule was already determined relative to the receiver’s height so this rule stays consistent with that.


Does this give too much of an advantage to servers?  

Server and receiver dynamics are constantly changing. Playing back pockets/lips below shoulder level certainly means there will be some more challenging serves to receive that would have previously been called a fault. On the other hand, there will be a number of illegal serves that previously went uncalled that will now be more clearly defined. On the whole, this means more points that are played and less arguments over the legality of serves. A main problem this revision is contending with is that previously the player willing to argue the hardest had too much of an advantage.


Why doesn’t this rule differentiate between back pockets and lips?

While the term ‘lip’ is commonly used, it actually has never shown up anywhere in the rules. In the DCC’s rule proposal, they define a lip as a ball that enters and exits a different third of the net. Determining the ball’s exact entrance and exit location adds a lot of complexity to the rule without adding much value. Having this distinction opens up the doors for disagreement on where the ball contacted the net. Removing the distinction greatly simplifies calls for players, observers, and fans. The rule also stipulates that back pockets must go forward to account for the occasional circumstance where a serve hits the pocket and comes back toward the server.


What about back pockets that go super high but land in front of the receiver?

This is legal. The height is determined by where the ball is contacts or passes the receiver, so a ball that pops up high and lands in front of the receiver it is legal. If the receiver runs forward and contacts the ball above their shoulder then it is a height violation and a fault. In discussing this rule, a major consideration was creating more played points without making the job of the receiver impossible. As these types of serves are generally easily managed by receivers, we want to see them played.