While watching a US collegiate volleyball match once, I heard the announcer and analyst working the match talk about the difference between rally and sideout scoring. The analyst was a former long-time college volleyball coach. Their career spanned both scoring systems (as my own has done), so it’s natural to want to hear what someone like that thinks. Unfortunately, in this case, it wasn’t the brightest observation in the world.
Basically, what the analyst and the former volleyball coach said during the broadcast was that in rally scoring you can catch-up much faster than you could in the old sideout system. Think about this for a second and you should quickly realize why this is totally incorrect.
In sideout scoring the only way to get points was if your team served and won the rally. Thus, in order to catch-up after falling behind you must score an unanswered string of points while serving.
In rally scoring you get points any time you win a rally. In order to close a gap, though, you need to be able to score points when your team is serving. That is, score points in a row. It’s exactly the same idea as in sideout scoring.
The illusion of faster catch-up probably comes from the fact that when a team gains the serve in the first place they score a point. For example, if the score is 10-6 and the losing team gets a sideout the score becomes 10-7. If, however, they cannot win on their serve, the score becomes 11-7, so no gain is made. The gain only comes if the losing team can win when they serve.
So closing a gap has exactly the same requirements whether you’re playing sideout or rally scoring. You have to score when you serve. The difference is one of time.
In the sideout days you could go multiple rotations without either team scoring a point. That gave teams behind on the scoreboard more opportunity to mount a comeback. They could chip away slowly so long as they could sideout effectively. For example, if each one of your servers got one point during their rotations and you were able to sideout each time the other team served, you would make up 6 points against them. If you were down 11-5 the score would be 11-11 and you’d be right back in it.
In rally score, though, points accumulate quickly. Teams no longer have the luxury of time to slowly whittle away at the opponent’s lead. All the other team has to do at that stage is keep siding out to win. Using the above example of each server scoring a point in their rotation, your team would still make up 6 points, but it would be in a 12-6 fashion rather than a 6-0 one. If you’re in the fifth set and it was 11-5 you probably ran out of time because the other team reached 15 before you got close enough to push it to extra points.