Note: All Pickleball Serving rules are current and up to date as of: April 2023
I’ll be honest. During the first couple of months I played pickleball I thought I had all the fundamentals down and was starting to see a huge improvement.
In one match, while we were leading, my opponent told me I was serving incorrectly. It got in my head and ruined my entire game.
Let’s break down and understand critical pickleball serving rules so you don’t make the same mistake that I did.
5 Pickleball Serving Rules (Overview)
- Both feet must be behind the baseline when serving.
- The complete score must be called before the ball is hit.
- Keep your arm moving in an upward arch and make contact with the ball below your waist.
- The serve must land in the diagonal quadrant.
- The ball can touch the net as long as it clears the non-volley zone (Kitchen) line.
Before The Serve
These are the pickleball serving rules that occur before you even make contact with the ball.
One Foot Behind The Baseline (Rule 4.A.4.a)
When you serve in pickleball, you are not allowed to touch the baseline at all until after you make contact with the ball. That being said, you can still only have one foot behind the baseline. The foot other can be hovering over the court or over the sideline boundaries and remains legal as long as you make contact with the ball before your foot touches the court or outside of the designated service area.
Complete Score Must Be Called Before the Ball Is Hit (4.A.1)
The server has to yell out the complete score before they serve in pickleball. Don’t try to pull a fast one on your opponents by serving while you’re in the middle of calling the score. A serve should not be offensive. Sure an ace is nice, but a good rally is way more fun.
The 10-Second Rule in Pickleball
The 10-second rule means that the server has 10 seconds to serve after the score is called to serve the ball otherwise is is a fault.
Next, let’s break down the mechanics of serving rules. You can legally serve in a forehand or backhand motion, but a forehand serve in my opinion is easier for executing a legal serve.
You can go ahead and take a look at what USAPickleball.org has to say about pickleball serving rules or I can break it down into 3 basic steps.
Note: These rules apply for both backhand and forehand serves.
The Paddle Has to Contact The Ball Below the Waist ( 4.A.5.c)
This is an important one and means exactly what it says. You must make contact with the ball below your waistline. Not only is it a rule for a legal serve, 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.
The Player’s Arm Must Move at an Upward Motion After Contact (4.A.5.a)
This just essentially means that you hit it like an underhand serve. By upright angle, it is referring to the player following through and continuing to move in an upward direction.
The Highest Point Of the Paddle Head Can’t be Above the Wrist (4.A.5.b)
If your pickleball paddle is at an angle when serving, the highest of the paddle face cannot be higher than your wrist joint.
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 the top of the paddle is pointing to the ground, you know it’s below your wrist. This rule needs to be carefully observed if you have an opponent serving with a backhand.
What good is executing a perfect serve if you hit it out of bounds? Ball placement after the serve is just as important as a legal serve in pickleball.
Here are the three rules to keep in mind for ball placement after you serve.
Serve To The Correct Box (4.A.2)
If you’re serving in pickleball, you have to ensure that the ball lands anywhere in the box that is diagonal from you over the net.
The Serve Must Clear The Non-Volley Zone Line (4.A.2)
If the ball hits the baseline, sideline, or center line, it is still considered in play. The only like that is considered a fault is the non-volley zone line.
Pro Tip: You want to serve as deep down the court as possible in order to keep your opponents back.
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): This goes against every pickleball serve rule. Don’t do this.
- Contacting the ball above waist level: This can be a hard one to judge especially if you prefer a backhand serve.
- 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 in pickleball.
- 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 or on the baseline: The server cannot stand in front of or on the baseline until after they serve.
- Having both feet off the ground when serving: You must keep at least one foot on the ground when you serve.
- Taking more than 10 seconds: Once you announce the score you have 10 seconds to serve the ball.
- Serving to the wrong box: You must serve to the quadrant that is diagonal from you on the pickleball court.
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.)
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.
Pickleball Serving Myths
Myth #1: The Drop Serve is Illegal
I can understand the confusion with the drop serve. It used to actually be an illegal serve, until 1/25/2021, when there was an update in the pickleball rules deeming it legal.
Myth #2: You Cannot Serve Out Of Your Hand
This serve refers to those who hold the ball with two fingers and right when the paddle hit the ball, they release it. This is a perfectly legal pickleball serve as long as you follow all the other pickleball serving rules.
Myth #4: If you Completly miss (Whiff) The Serve, It’s a Fault
You’re about to serve and you completely miss the ball without making any contact. If you can pick the ball up, and serve it all within the 10 seconds, it is a legal serve.
Myth #5: Both feet Must Be On the Ground Behind the Baseline when Serving
According to the pickleball rules, one one foot must be on the ground while serving, so if you have one foot in the air while serving, it’s within the rules of a pickleball serve.
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.
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
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.
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”.
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.