Part of what makes pickleball so unique are its quirky rules that differ just enough from tennis and other racket sports to require a little extra thinking and strategizing for each point. Faults are the violations of these rules that result in a dead ball and either loss of a serve, if committed by the serving team, or a point for them if committed by the receiving team. A fault in pickleball can occur in many different ways, so it’s critical to understand all the nuances of play to avoid committing one unnecessarily.
A comprehensive understanding of pickleball faults will enable you to step onto the court with greater confidence and awareness, making the game more fun for your teammate, opponents, and, most importantly, you.
Other Beginner Resources: How To Play Pickleball: A Beginner Guide To Pickleball Rules
Defining a Fault in Pickleball
The USA Pickleball Rulebook defines a fault as “a rules violation that results in a dead ball and the end of a rally.” In other words, a fault is simply any action that stops play and moves the game forward onto the next server or point.
It’s important to note that, as with many sports, rules can differ ever so slightly depending on the venue and level of play. For instance, a casual pick-up game at your local park may not follow every rule an officiated tournament would.
As we review what constitutes a fault in pickleball, we’ll note where it might be beneficial to check with your teammates and opponents about what rules they uphold strictly.
Common Types of Faults
A handful of pickleball faults occur much more frequently than others, so we’ll first look at the most common types of faults you need to know to keep track of a game.
Serving is a carefully regulated part of pickleball that often takes time to get just right consistently. Improper starting position, swing, or ball placement all can result in a fault.
Here’s every fault in pickleball that’s possible during service:
- Serving from the incorrect area (not with both feet behind the baseline and between the mid-court and out-of-bounds lines).
- Having the incorrect player serve.
- Hitting yourself, your teammate, or a “permanent object” on the serve (a wall or ceiling, for instance).
- Serving the ball into the non-volley zone (kitchen), on the non-volley line, or outside of the service court, which is diagonal from the server.
- Calling a timeout, if on the serving team.
- Serving while still announcing the score.
- Allowing more than 10 seconds to pass between announcing the score and serving.
- Using an illegal serving motion or technique.
As you can see, just serving opens up the potential for quite a few different faults to occur. However, as mentioned, you might find some people in casual matches announce the score while initiating their serve or don’t penalize serving teams who call time-outs. These are examples of faults that might not be so carefully identified.
Learn More: 5 Crtical Serving Rules
Receiving the ball is much less involved than serving, so fewer faults are possible. However, they still can occur.
Receiver faults happen when:
- The wrong player returns the serve.
- Either member of the receiving team touches the ball before letting it bounce, with their bodies or rackets.
- The receiving team calls a time-out after the serve.
A fault in pickleball can occur if players are not in proper position during their serve or when returning a volley.
Resource: What is a Volley: The Complete Beginner Guide
Foot faults include:
- As mentioned above, serving with feet crossing the baseline or the imaginary extensions of the sideline and centerline.
- Stepping on or across the non-volley zone boundary when returning a ball without letting it bounce (even on the follow-through).
During casual play, you might notice opponents just barely making contact with the baseline during a serve or on the follow-through of a volley. Some more relaxed pickleball communities might not call all such faults if they seem inconsequential to the outcome of a point.
Surprisingly, the most common type of fault doesn’t really have a name in the official pickleball rulebook. Most faults occur when a ball is improperly returned, ending a rally on the spot.
For our sake, we can consider these types of faults in pickleball rally faults, and they include:
- Returning the ball out of bounds, into the net (without it going onto the opponent’s side), or into a teammate or permanent object.
- Failing to allow the serve return to bounce.
- Allowing the ball to bounce twice before returning it.
- Hitting the ball illegally (with more than one swing of the racket, after a teammate has already hit it, or with a part of the body below the wrist).
Since most players of some skill can serve consistently and let the rally extend for three or more hits, points typically end when the ball goes out of bounds or into the net. These faults are also of course the easiest to spot and most critical to the score, so they’re not subject to the same leniency other fault categories might receive.
Other Types of Faults
Aside from the common faults, there are several other violations of rules that you might not come across regularly. However, knowing everything that qualifies as a fault in pickleball can prepare you for more competitive, officiated environments and help you avoid any confusion if someone calls an obscure fault.
Here are some other types of faults to be aware of:
Non-Volley Zone Faults
One of pickleball’s most distinctive features is the non-volley zone or kitchen, and several faults arise from violating its rules. Non-volley zone faults include:
- Touching the non-volley zone with any body part or item also contacting a volleying player (including the racket).
- Volleying the ball after having been in contact with the non-volley zone during a return.
Fair Play Faults
A few faults are based on the fairness of play, ensuring each team is given an equal opportunity to complete their return without interference. Such faults include:
- Dropping an extra ball on the court during play (for instance, if a spare falls from your pocket).
- Distracting your opponent while they’re attempting to return.
Some faults are simply unique to pickleball and don’t fall into any particular category. Here are a few miscellaneous faults as defined by the rulebook:
- Losing possession of the paddle as it comes into contact with the ball.
- Responding to an incorrect score call by stopping play.
- Calling a ball “out” and having the call overruled by the referee.
- Crossing the plane of the net before contacting the ball.
- Contacting the net with the player’s body, paddle, or apparel.
- Contacting the net post while the ball is in play.
- Hitting the ball between the net and net post.
- Failing to contact the ball and crossing the imaginary extension of the net when attempting a shot around the post.
- Hitting the center base or horizontal bar of net systems that have them.
How to Avoid a Fault
You have multiple strategies available to you for avoiding an unnecessary fault in pickleball. Here are a few ways to ensure you maximize your success on the court:
Resource: How to Improve Your Pickleball Strategy
Communicate with Other Players
Every pickleball community and venue embraces its own spirit of the game and level of adherence to the rules. If joining a new group of players, observe a few games and see if the more mild faults (such as stepping on the line at the end of a serve) are regularly called.
Ask more experienced members of the community about the miscellaneous or less common faults and see if they expect you to avoid them.
Although the rules may seem overwhelming, most players don’t run into conflict with them too often since most of the faults listed here are relatively rare occurrences. It’s, therefore, best to focus on avoiding the common faults, those that occur from not paying attention during a serve or from simply committing an error on a point.
Consistency is key to reducing these sorts of faults. If serving, focus on sticking to a sequence of calling the score and serving that you can execute every time. Pay extra attention to your starting position and mechanics so that opposing teams will have no reason to call a fault for crossing the baseline or hitting the ball illegally.
Similarly, drilling the basic motions of returning, dinking, and lobbing helps you gain the consistency you need to minimize hitting the ball out of bounds during games. The more muscle memory you have for each type of shot, the less likely you are to commit needless faults on relatively straightforward plays.
Other Resources: Your Go-To Guide to The Third Shot Drop
Review the Rules
As you can see, there’s no shortage of different faults in pickleball. It’s certainly easy to forget some of the technicalities that, if violated, could be called a fault.
From time to time, take a look at the rulebook to ensure that you remain aware of the game’s finer points and familiar with all the rules that a referee or opponent might enforce.
Ultimately, if you can play more consecutive points with fewer faults, you’re going to win more games. Although the list of faults is quite long, remaining consistent in your play can help you avoid the vast majority of them.
Especially if you aim to compete in tournaments and officiated matches, knowing the ins and outs of what constitutes a pickleball fault can be invaluable.