If you’re reading this, you must be new and learning how to play pickleball. I would first like to welcome you and let you know that you have made an incredible decision.
We know getting into a new sport can be scary. It takes time to get a feel for the rules and you don’t want to feel like you’re holding up the other players.
This article addresses the written rules, but if you want to get a feel for the unwritten rules, check out our guide to etiquette in pickleball
Playing pickleball is more than a sport or a workout it’s a great way to meet people and be a part of a community that just wants to improve and have fun.
I can assure you, it won’t take long at all before you have a clear grasp of the rules of pickleball to where you can play confidently.
In this article, I break down the rules as easily as I can.
Let’s dive right in.
Intro to Playing Pickleball
You can play pickleball in either a doubles or singles format, with the simple objective of getting a set amount of points before your opponent.
It’s a lot like tennis, so those who come from a tennis background have a lot easier time learning how to play pickleball.
However, there are some key differences from tennis.
Let me explain…
Let’s start with the court.
A regulation pickleball court must be 44 feet long and 20 feet wide. In the middle of the court, you have the Non-volley zone, which is most commonly referred to as “The Kitchen.” (This will be important later)
Resource: All About Pickleball Court Dimensions: A Basic Guide
Like tennis you have the net in the middle, however, the main difference is that a pickleball net is 34 inches in the center, whereas a tennis net is 36 inches.
Now that you have that down let’s get into the actual positioning on the court and how serving works.
Like most paddle sports, the rally starts with a serve, nothing new here. The key rules for serving in pickleball are as follows. Failure to do any of these results in a fault and loss of serve for that team.
- The player on the right side service box serves first.
- Before he/she serves, they have to call the score.
- Once the score is called, the team has 10 seconds to serve the ball.
- The server must land the ball inside the diagonal service box over the net.
- The ball must clear the kitchen (NVZ) or it is a fault even if it hits the line of the kitchen.
- When the ball is served, the player has to be behind the baseline.
- The server gets to serve and score points until they fault. Once they fault, they turn the serve over to their partner (doubles) or the other team (singles)
- If a point is scored by the serving team, they switch service spots, while the receiving team holds their position.
- If the ball bounces off or grazes the net, and lands in the correct service box, it is a legal serve.
Resource: Are You Breaking These Pickleball Kitchen Rules
Determining Serving Order
The serving order took some getting used to for me when I was first learning how to play pickleball.
Here’s how it works.
The player on the right service square on the serving team is ALMOST always number 1.
The only time he/she is not is when the game first starts. At the start, the serving team only gets one chance to serve so the first server is number 2.
KEEP IN MIND: SERVING NUMBER IS A POSITION, NOT A PERSON.
Just because you are server 1 this rally does not mean you will be number one the rest of the game.
The serving team members must be behind the back baseline when they serve while the returning players should be staggered like the diagram below.
For a Deeper Dive Check Out: Beginner’s Guide To Pickleball Positioning
You may notice more advanced players in a stacked formation during the start of a game. To learn more, check out Pickleball Stacking – What is it and How Do you Do it?
The Double Bounce Rule
The double bounce rule (two-bounce rule) is designed to give no team an advantage. As you can see in the diagram, once the ball is served (1), the receiving team member (3) must let the ball bounce.
If it were not for this rule, the returning team could just drive a volley right back at you. If you can keep the serve low, the bounce gives you an opportunity to move up.
He can then return the shot anywhere over the net as long as the serving team (1 or 2) lets it bounce. Then all players are allowed to volley.
If a player goes for the volley without letting the ball bounce, that is a fault.
The first team to reach 11 points wins the game. However, a team should win the game by having two points more than the opponent team.
Resource: Pickleball 101: Pickleball Scoring Rules and Tips
Tournaments and championships will have an increased number of points structure such as 18, 25, etc.
A point is scored if the receiving team commits a fault.
A fault is committed in any of the following circumstances,
- The opponent hits the ball out of bounds
- A shot does not make it over the net
- The player’s foot crosses the non-volley zone line BEFORE letting the ball bounce
- The ball bounces more than once.
- the ball is hit long or wide on the side.
- The ball is hit twice and it’s not a continuous motion.
If a player faults, on a serve, they lose the serve.
If the ball touches any outer line (back, side, or corner) of the court, it is considered in. But if the ball touches the line of the non-volley region ON A SERVE, is considered a fault. Simply, a ball touching any line other than the non-volley is a clear place.
For More Clarity, Check Out:
- What is a Fault In Pickleball?
- Double Hit Rules: What’s the Verdict?
- Guide to Pickleball Skill Level and Rating system
I hope this explanation helps you get a better understanding of the basic rules of pickleball. For those of you who are more visual learners, here is a great video that explains the basics including serving, calling the score, and the serve.