Legal Vs. Illegal Pickleball Serve: Play It Right


I’ll be honest. During the first couple of months I played pickleball on the public courts near my house, I thought I had all the fundamentals down and was starting to see a huge improvement.

One day, while we were leading 6 to 1 I got called out by my opponent for having an illegal pickleball serve. We ended up losing that game because I couldn’t figure out the correct way and it messed me up for days, even weeks.

Please don’t make the same mistake I did, because someone will call you out on it. So what is an illegal pickleball serve? Let me explain how to serve in pickleball and break down a legal vs illegal pickleball serves.

person demonstrating legal serve with text overlay

What Is Considered An Illegal Pickleball Serve

Chances are if you play pickleball for fun, you’re not spending your time reading the rule book. I’m here to make this as easy to understand as possible. Here is a list of illegal pickleball serves.

  • Overhand serve (Tennis Serve): If you’re doing this and have not been called out then I’m honestly impressed. Have you seen anyone doign this?
  • Serving above waist level: This is the illegal pickleball serve that I got busted on. This serve resembles a forehand shot. The paddle is equal to or above your waist line.
  • The head of the paddle is above your wrist: This sounds a little confusing, but just think of a backhand shot. When you make contact, the paddle is slightly higher than your wrist. This is not an acceptable serve.
  • Serve lands in the kitchen (non-valley zone): Your serve must get over the front line past the kitchen. If you read my post about How to Improve Your Return of Serve, then you know you should hit the serve as far back as possible.
  • Standing in front of the baseline: The server cannot stand in front of the baseline while serving. They must always be behind it.
  • Taking more than 10 seconds: Once you announce the score you have to seconds to serve the ball.
  • Serving to the wrong box: You must serve to the box that is adjacent from you.

If a player serves illegally they turn their serve over. (Example: Player 1 serves illegally they lose the serve and player 2 must now serve. If player 2 serves illegally it goes to the opposing team’s position 1 player.)

Legal Pickleball Serve: 3 Key Factors

Now that we have covered what illegal pickleball serves look like, let’s take a look at the correct way to serve.

You can go ahead and take a look at what has to say about a legal serve, or I can break it down into 3 basic steps.

  1. The player’s arm must move in an upright angle after the ball is hit: This just essentially means that you hit it like and underhand serve. By upright angle, it is referring to the players follow through continuing to move in a upward direction.
  2. The paddle has to contact the ball below the waist: This is an important one and means exactly what it says. You must make contact with the ball below your waist line. Not only do you have to, but the lower you make contact, the lower the serve will come out. If you make contact above your waist, you run the risk of a lob serve that your opponent can drill at your feet (after they let it bounce of course).
  3. The paddle’s highest point (the head) can’t be above the wrist: This one can get a little confusing and can be hard to judge. To keep everyone happy I just have a very underhanded motion like the motion in the picture below. If ythe top of the paddle is pointing to the ground, you know its below your wrist. This rule needs to be carefully observed if you have an opponent serving with a backhand.

See, no need to dive into the official rulebook. By now you should know what is a legal serve and what is an illegal

serve in pickleball.

Illegal Pickleball Serve 3 key steps

How To Avoid An Illegal Pickleball Serve

Like anything in this game, practice makes perfect. Having to make that change mid-game was almost impossible for me.

If you read this article and find out you’ve been serving it illegally this whole time, then carve out some time and get to the courts to drill.

This is one of the few shots you can work on by yourself. You just need a couple of balls (the more the merrier) and just work on hitting the correct serve.

With the legal serving motion, you may hit a bit of a lob. This is perfectly fine to start with. As you start dialing the serve in, bring the ball flight down and maybe even try adding a little spin.

Play around with what is comfortable to you and you’ll have a deadly serve down in no time.

Frequently Asked Questions: Pickleball Serves

Is a Drop Serve legal in Pickleball?

in short, Yes,The drop serve was included in the USA Pickleball rulebook as a legal serving option (Rule 4.A.8), however, keep the following things in mind.

You may not throw or propel the ball down, the ball must be dropped (Rule 4.A.8.b).
Also, keep in mind that if you drop the ball and it bounces too high you risk violating rule 4.A.5 that states you cannot make contact with the ball above your waist

Is a Spin Serve Legal in Pickleball?

Not only is it legal, but it is lethal! A spin serve is risky for higher-level players, but once mastered it can take your game to new levels

What if the Serve Hits The Center Line or Baseline?

This is very unfortunate if you’re the one receiving the serve, but it is considered a “good” serve and is legal as long as it is in the correct square according to Rule 4.A.6 which states, “The serve may land on any other service court line.

What if The Serve Hits the Net in Pickleball?

As long as the serve clears the kitchen or NVZ after hitting the net, it is a legal serve.
Don’t give up! Just, remember the golden rule- “Practice makes perfect”. Do Read This:- How to Practice Pickleball More Efficiently?

Is it illegal to serve sidearm in pickleball?

As long as the point of contact is below your waistline and the head of the paddle is below your wrist it is a legal serve.


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Tyler claims to be born with a racket in his hand. After growing up playing competitive Tennis and Squash, he recently realized his new love of Pickleball. In just 2 short years of playing pickleball he is already competing and ranking at a 5.0. He has a passion for technology in equipment and knows the ins and outs of every paddle he holds. Tyler says Tennis is his first love, but pickleball is slowly making a climb. Tyler teaches on the side snd he is the expert in the field. He gives the game time and strategy advice that he picked up as a college athlete.


  1. Paddle head shall not be above the wrist joint but they do a poor job of defining whether that’s the top of the wrist joint or the bottom. The difference is about 3 inches in height so this is important.


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