Sepak takraw (kick volleyball) is a competitive sport that involves 2 teams of 3 players, known as the left inside, right inside and back. The game takes place at a court that’s about the same size as a badminton court, with a 1.5-metre-tall net. The grapefruit-sized balls are traditionally handwoven from bamboo or rattan, but modern ones are usually synthetic.

photo by eric molina (CC BY 2.0) modified

Gravity-defying moves in sepak takraw

Basic rules and scoring for sepak takraw are similar to volleyball. Each team is allowed a maximum of 3 touches of the ball to pass it over the other side – without letting it touch the ground, of course. The first team to score either 15 or 21 points, depending on the rules in play, wins the set. The team that prevails in 2 sets wins the match.

The match starts when a teammate tosses the ball to the server while keeping one foot in a small ‘serving circle’. He/she must kick the ball over the net with the other foot. After that, volleyball rules pretty much apply, except that the ball can't be touched by the hands or arms. Top takraw players combine excellent foot-eye coordination with agility, anticipation, power, flexibility, and acrobatic skills.

Sepak takraw is known for its intricacy and speed of the methods used to send the ball aloft. Basic moves include the sole kick (using the arch or sole), instep kick, knee kick, shin kick, shoulder kick, and head kick. An advanced manoeuvre is cross-legged jump kick – crossing your left leg over your right and leaping up to kick the ball with the instep of the left foot. Another is the cross-legged knee kick, where the player crosses his left leg over his right above the right knee, before leaping into the air and kicking the ball with his right knee.

Good to know about sepak takraw

A spike is more difficult in sepak takraw than volleyball because slamming the ball down hard means getting your feet above the net. The movement required is a bit like a bicycle kick in football, jumping and flipping in the air to kick the ball. Professional sepak takraw players are athletic enough to execute a spike and land on their feet. A good spike or spiker is often referred to as the 'killer'.

Some of the most impressive feats are the roll spike (the player leaps into the air to kick the ball over the opposite shoulder) and the sunback (similar to a scissors kick but over the same shoulder). Perhaps the most brutal kick of all is the horse-kick serve, made famous by Thailand's Suebsak Phunsueb – he’s one of the best players in the world.

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Net takraw

Net takraw takes place in a badminton-sized court. Lots are drawn beforehand to determine the placement of players and the 1st serve.

In-tossing takraw

With fewer rules to abide by, the point is simply to see how many times the ball can be hit aloft by the player. It’s a means of training for a player. Some can hit the ball from positions which call for stooping or lying down. A good player should be able to keep the ball aloft for 10 minutes. If he is joined by others, the group should manage to keep it in play for close to 1 hour.

Naturally, this is a skill which only the most adept players can manage: they have trained arduously, can concentrate for a long period, and can use their bodies dexterously.

Circle takraw

The less acrobatic takraw wong (circle takraw) consists of 5 to 7 players standing in a circle, trying to keep the ball airborne as long as possible. Takraw wong is perhaps the most popular pastime among the Thai since no other special skills are required, except for creativity of movement.

Hoop takraw

Hoop takraw (lawd huang) is the most difficult version of the game. It’s similar to circle takraw, but the goal is to put the ball into a basket-shaped net with 3 hoop openings in a triangular formation. The hoops are suspended around 5 to 6 metres above the ground.

Standing at the perimeter of a circle, each team is given an allotted time, usually 20 or 30 minutes, to shoot the ball into the basket as many times as they can. Points are awarded for difficulty and creativity, so players break out their full repertoires of expert manoeuvres as cross-legged jump kicks. 

In-scoring takraw

In-scoring takraw is played without nets or hoops. The ball rotates from player to player, each of whom scores points through skill. After 30 minutes or 10 starting throws, the highest score determines the winner.

photo by dbgg1979 (CC BY 2.0) modified

Paul Smith | Compulsive Traveller