Pickleball Rules: A Guide for Beginners

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Pickleball Rules: A Guide for Beginners

The first step of learning any sport is understanding the rules. As one of the fastest-growing sports, pickleball has many rules that ensure consistent and fair gameplay. By understanding the rules and regulations, you can step onto the court with confidence and enjoy the game to its fullest.

This guide dives into some of the basic pickleball rules and regulations. This is not a complete overview of the rules of pickleball, as there are several nuanced rules that many beginners don’t need to know. For a complete pickleball rules breakdown, we recommend consulting the USA Pickleball Rulebook.

Basic rules of pickleball

Pickleball is played using a light, plastic ball that has several holes, similar to a whiffle ball. A pickleball paddle is about twice the size of a table tennis racquet, making it easy to hit the ball. The game can be played as singles or doubles, with most people opting for doubles play.

A pickleball court is 44 feet long and 20 feet wide. It is divided into two halves by a net that is 22 feet long. At the end posts, a pickleball net is 36 inches high. At the center, a pickleball net is 34 inches high.

The official rules of pickleball include scoring points as the serving team (also known as side-out scoring). Games are typically played to 11 points, with the requirement to win by 2 points. Depending on the format and event, games can also be played to 15 or 21.

A defining characteristic of pickleball is the underhand serve that starts each point. Players are required to hit the ball below their waist with an underhand motion. This makes pickleball less serve-dominant (compared to tennis) and results in more extended rallies.

Pickleball serving rules

There are several rules surrounding the pickleball serve. These rules are in place to ensure fair gameplay. Below are some of the most important rules for pickleball beginners.

Rules for a legal pickleball serve

In pickleball, a legal serve is essential to starting each point correctly. To ensure fair play and adherence to the rules, players must follow specific guidelines when serving the ball.

Here are the rules for a legal pickleball serve:

  1. Underhand Serve: The serve in pickleball must be executed with an underhand motion, with the paddle and the ball held below the waist. Serving overhand is not allowed in pickleball and will result in a fault.
  1. Contact Below the Waist: When serving the ball, the player must make paddle contact with the ball below their waist. This rule ensures that the serve is executed from a position that is fair and consistent for all players.
  2. Paddle Below the Wrist: At contact with the ball, no part of the paddle can be above the player’s wrist. This rule reinforces the underhand motion of the serve and prevents players from hitting the serve sidearm (like a ground stroke) or overhand.
  3. Foot Placement: At contact with the ball, one foot must be touching the ground. Neither of the player’s feet can be touching the baseline or the imaginary extensions of the centerline and sideline.
  4. Diagonal Serve: The serve must be made diagonally crosscourt to the opponent’s service court. The ball must land in the proper service box and not touch the non-volley zone (including the non-volley zone line).

Serving sequence in pickleball

In pickleball, the serving sequence is an important aspect of the game that players must understand and follow. The serving sequence determines which player serves first, as well as the subsequent order of serves during a match.

Here is a breakdown of the serving sequence in pickleball:

  1. First Serve: Doubles games start with the first serve from the player on the right side of the court, facing their opponents. This initial serve is made diagonally to the opponent’s service area. Only one player in doubles serves during the first service, and the score starts at 0-0-2.
  2. Second Serve: After a lost point from the first server, the second team will then receive the ball, and both players will serve. The serving team must switch sides after a side-out, and the second player on the doubles team serves next.
  3. Rotation: Depending on the current score, the first serve after a side out can be from either the right or left service court. Players must be aware of the serving rotation to ensure that each player has an opportunity to serve during the match.
  4. Scoring: In pickleball, only the serving side can score a point. The serving team earns a point each time the non-serving team commits a fault. The score is always called as the serving side’s score followed by the receiving side’s score and the number of the current serving player.
  5. Serving Rules: When serving, the server must be behind the baseline on one side of the center line and serve the ball to the opponent’s diagonally opposite service court. The serve must be underhand, with contact below the waist, and the arm must move in an upward arc when striking the ball.

Determining the doubles team that serves first

In pickleball, there are a few different fair methods that can be used to determine the serving team at the start of a match. One common method is a simple coin toss, where one player from each team will choose heads or tails, and the winner of the toss gets to choose whether they want to serve first or which side of the court they want to start on.

Another method that can be used is to have one player hold up one or two fingers, hiding their hand from the opposing team. To ensure fairness, the player should show their partner whether they are holding up one or two fingers. The opposing team then guesses “one” or “two.” Then, the “winning” team of the toss can decide their serving preference.

How does scoring work?

In pickleball, most players adhere to traditional side-out scoring rules. In side-out scoring, you only score a point when you win a rally on your serve.

If you lose a rally on your serve, what happens next depends on whether you are playing singles or doubles, as well as whether you are the first or second server:

  • In singles, you only get one serve per side. If you lose the rally on your serve, the serve then switches over to your opponent.
  • In doubles, you get two serves per side. If you are the first server and your team loses the rally, the serve then goes to your partner. If you are the second server and your team loses the rally, the serve then goes to the opposing team.

Winning a rally requires hitting the ball so that it bounces twice before your opponent can return it. Another way to win a rally is by your opponent committing a fault. There are several scenarios where a player or team commits a fault.

What is a fault in pickleball?

Serving faults

  1. Serve lands outside the cross-court area from where the serve originated.
  2. Serve contacts the non-volley zone line.
  3. Both feet not in contact with the ground behind the baseline during the serve.
  4. Foot faults:
    • Server’s feet touching the baseline or inside the baseline.
    • Server’s feet touching the area outside the sideline or centerline.
  5. Illegal serving motion:
    • Not using a low to high swing.
    • Contact made above the waist.
    • Wrist above the height of the ball at contact.
  6. Serving from the wrong position on the court.
  7. Serve hitting any permanent object before hitting the ground.
  8. Server or their partner calling a timeout or asking to confirm the score after the serve.

In-play faults

  1. Ball hits into the net on the serve or any return and does not cross into the opponent’s side.
  2. Ball lands out of bounds.
  3. Ball bounces twice before being returned.
  4. Ball is caught or stopped by a player before it makes contact with the court.
  5. Ball is hit twice by the same team (unless in a continuous, single-direction stroke).
  6. Player volleys the ball before the serve and return of serve have bounced once (violating the two-bounce rule).
  7. Ball is volleyed from within the non-volley zone or momentum carries the player into the non-volley zone after a volley.

Foot faults

  1. Stepping on or over the non-volley zone line while volleying or after a volley.
  2. Stepping on or over the baseline during the serve.

Net faults

  1. Touching the net or net post with any part of the body, clothing, or paddle during play.
  2. Hitting the ball below the net or between the net and net post.
  3. Reaching over the net to hit the ball before it crosses to your side.

Miscellaneous faults

  1. Ball hitting a player, their clothing, or anything they are carrying except the paddle.
  2. Ball hitting any permanent object before bouncing on the court.
  3. Player uses or carries more than one paddle during a rally.
  4. Player stops a rally due to equipment issues or items on the court without valid reason.

Two-bounce rule

The two-bounce rule in pickleball, also known as the double-bounce rule, is crucial for ensuring fair play and extending rallies. Here’s a summary of how it works and its purpose:

How the two-bounce rule works

  1. Serve: The ball is served into the diagonal service area and must bounce once on the receiving team’s side.
  2. Return: The receiving team must let the ball bounce once before returning it to the serving team.
  3. Third Shot: The serving team must let the return bounce once before hitting it back.

After these two bounces, the ball can be volleyed or played off a bounce by either team for the remainder of the rally​​​​​​.

Purpose of the two-bounce rule

  • Prevents Serve and Volley Advantage: It eliminates the advantage of the serving team volleying the third shot, which would otherwise give them an unfair edge due to their starting position closer to the net​​​​.
  • Encourages Longer Rallies: By requiring the ball to bounce twice, the rule promotes longer rallies, enhancing the strategic depth and excitement of the game​​​​.

Additional notes

  • The rule was originally called the double-bounce rule but was renamed to reduce confusion with the fault that occurs when the ball bounces twice on one side​​.
  • The second bounce can land anywhere on the court, including the kitchen, except on the serve where it must avoid the kitchen​​.

This rule ensures a more balanced and enjoyable game by extending rallies and reducing the dominance of powerful serves and volleys.

Non-volley zone (the kitchen)

In pickleball, the non-volley zone (NVZ), also known as the “kitchen,” is a critical area on the court with specific rules:

  1. Definition and Boundaries:
    • The NVZ extends 7 feet from the net on both sides and spans the entire width of the court. All lines surrounding the NVZ are part of it​​.
  2. Volleying Rules:
    • Players cannot initiate a volley (hitting the ball before it bounces) while standing inside the NVZ​​.
    • If a player is volleying, neither they nor anything they wear or carry can touch the NVZ, including the lines​​.
    • The act of volleying includes the swing, follow-through, and momentum from the action. Thus, if a player’s momentum carries them into the NVZ after hitting the ball, it is a fault​​.
  3. Entry and Exit:
    • Players may enter the NVZ at any time, except when volleying. They can stay in the NVZ to hit balls that have bounced​​.
    • After being in the NVZ, players must re-establish both feet outside the NVZ before volleying a ball​​.
  4. Partner Considerations:
    • It is a fault if the momentum of a volleying player causes them to contact anything in the NVZ, including their partner​​.

These rules ensure that the NVZ remains a unique area on the court where players must navigate strategically to avoid faults while engaging in volleys and other plays.

Line calls in pickleball

In pickleball, line calls play a crucial role in determining whether a ball is considered “in” or “out.” The rules surrounding line calls ensure fair and accurate play on the court.

During the serve in pickleball, the ball must clear the net and land within the boundaries of the correct court. If the ball contacts any part of the centerline, sideline, or baseline, including the lines themselves, it is considered “in.” However, if the ball lands inside the non-volley zone, on the kitchen line, or outside the bounds of the court, it is deemed “out.”

When the ball is in play during a rally, it is important for players to make accurate line calls. If the ball lands outside of the lines on the court, it is considered “out.” Players must be vigilant and honest in their line calls to ensure fair play and sportsmanship.

Line calls can sometimes be contentious in pickleball, as players may have differing perspectives on where the ball landed. Clear communication and mutual respect among players are essential in resolving any disputes that may arise regarding line calls.

Key takeaways

  • Understanding the rules is crucial for enjoying and confidently playing pickleball.
  • Pickleball is played with a light, perforated ball and a paddle larger than a table tennis racquet.
  • The court is 44 feet long and 20 feet wide, divided by a net that is 36 inches high at the posts and 34 inches at the center.
  • Games typically play to 11 points, requiring a win by 2 points, with alternate formats going to 15 or 21 points.
  • The serve must be underhand, below the waist, with contact below the wrist, and diagonally across the court.
  • Only the serving team can score points, adhering to traditional side-out scoring rules.
  • The serving sequence in doubles starts with the right-side player, rotating after each side-out.
  • The two-bounce rule requires the ball to bounce once on each side before volleys are allowed, promoting extended rallies.
  • The non-volley zone, or “kitchen,” restricts players from volleying within its 7-foot boundary near the net.
  • Line calls are critical for fair play, with clear rules on when a ball is “in” or “out” based on its landing on the court’s lines.
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