Have you heard about the trendy new game that’s taking over the courts, and you’re ready to give it a try and play pickleball for yourself? Before you hit the court with your paddle and pickleballs, you need at least a basic understanding of the rules of pickleball – and someone to play with!
Basic Pickleball Rules
At first, the many pickleball rules might seem a little overwhelming, but they’re really not any more complex than any other racquet sport. The basic rules involve learning when and where to serve from, how to return the ball, what happens if you hit the ball out of bounds, and what areas of the court to use and when. Here’s a simple rundown of the basic rules of pickleball.
Court Rules & Dimension
Before we can grab our rackets and start playing, we need to make sure that the court is exactly right. An official pickleball court needs to measure 44 feet by 20 feet, with a 36-inch high net dividing the court into two halves.
However, these dimensions don’t mark the court’s overall size but rather the pickleball court’s boundary lines. When playing pickleball, the ball is not allowed to be hit outside of these lines.
In addition to the boundary lines, there are also lines placed at 7-feet from the net on both sides. These lines designate the no volley zone, which many in pickleball also refer to as the kitchen.
Outside of the no volley zone, the remainder of the court is divided into four sections that measure ten by fifteen feet. These are called the service areas, with the right and left services areas on each side of the net being separated by two lines.
The net in pickleball serves a very important purpose. It both defines the boundaries between the playing area for both sides, and it offers an obstacle that makes the game of pickleball more challenging.
The standard pickleball net sits at 36-inches high. The actual height of any specific net may depend on its individual features. For example, a portable pickleball net that sits on a base that gives in an extra two inches of height would be 34 inches to compensate for the extra height of the base. That said, the net height should stray as little as possible away from the required 36 inches.
Although this practice isn’t in any official playbook, you’ll often find that there’s just a slight bit of slack in the center of the net. This minor amount of slack makes the net less taut, which also means not as many balls will get stuck in it. The slack point on any pickleball net should never measure less than 34-inches.
Determining the Serving Team
This is one area of pickleball where you get to make up your own rules. It’s entirely up to the players on how to decide who makes the first serve attempt. Any fair way of determining the first serving sequence is good to go in pickleball!
Rules of the Serve in Pickleball
Deciding who will make the first serve is easy. It’s when you actually go to make the serve that things begin to get a little complicated – but in a good, fun way.
There are several rules of the serve in pickleball. Here, we’ll go through them all, starting with the serving sequence.
In the game of pickleball, the initial server serves from the right side of the court. The goal of a serve is to win a point, and only the serving team is capable of scoring. If the server wins a point, they then move to the left side of the court for the second serve.
With each consecutive point that is won, the server continues switching sides until they commit a fault. The ball is not passed back and forth between teammates if playing doubles. Instead, the initial server continues serving until they commit a fault. At that point, the serve is handed to their team member, who then serves from their side of the court.
The second server continues with the next serve, switching sides each time a point is scored. The second server continues to serve until the team commits a fault, at which point the serve is handed to the other team. With this sequence, each team can commit two faults before losing the serve.
When playing singles, the ball is served from the right when the score is an even number and from the left when the score falls on an odd number.
Breakdown of Serving Rules
Once a player is ready to make the serve, the proper form and process are important. When serving in pickleball, the ball should be dropped from above with one hand and hit underhand-style with the other. The ball must be hit with the paddle no higher than the server’s waist. The head of the paddle must also never extend beyond the highest part of the wrist when contact is made.
When serving, the server’s feet should not be touching the court, and at least one foot must be behind the baseline of the service area that the player is serving from.
The ball is to be served towards the opposite diagonal court in the service area of the opposing team. The ball must land diagonally cross court within the bounds of the court, or a fault has been committed, and the player loses the serve. Each player only gets one shot at a serve, meaning if you mess it up by not making contact with the paddle and ball or commit a fault, there are no do-overs.
Double Bounce Rule
The double-bounce rule in pickleball is in place for two reasons. The first is that it eliminates the serving advantage. The second reason is that it extends rallies and prevents points from adding up too quickly. In other words, the two-bounce rule makes sure you have the chance for a good competitive match of pickleball.
When a ball is served, it must land in the opposing team’s service area and bounce once before it’s returned. When the serving team receives the ball back, they must also let the ball bounce once before returning it. This is why it’s called the two-bounce rule.
Once the requirements of the double bounce have been met, then both teams are allowed to either volley or hit the ball with a ground stroke off the bounce with each turn.
There’s an area that extends 7-feet on either side of the net on a pickleball court. This is called the non-volley zone or the kitchen. It’s an area that’s completely off-limits for players to enter when attempting to volley the ball back across the net.
The rules of the non-volley zone are pretty simple and straightforward. When attempting to volley the ball, it’s against the rules for the player to cross the non-volley zone line. This includes even a foot touching the non-volley zone line immediately before, during, or after the volley – even if the volley has been declared dead.
If a player does enter the non-volley zone, it’s considered a fault. Players are allowed inside the non-volley zone at any other time of play, except when volleying the ball. This seems like it cuts the size of the court down dramatically for some plays, but the non-volley zone/kitchen area offers an opportunity for more strategic play.
So, what happens if the ball hits one of the lines on the pickleball courts? Well, it depends on which line we’re talking about., If a ball makes contact with the line that designates the non-volley zone, it’s considered a fault. However, if the ball makes contact with any other line on the court, it isn’t considered a rule violation, so you’re all good!
Leading up to this point, we’ve mentioned “faults” more than a few times. Let’s take a minute to break this down a little for some further clarification.
A fault is nothing more than another word for a rule violation. A fault results in what is termed a “dead ball” and signals the end of the rally. The serving team’s score goes up by one if the receiving team commits a fault. If the fault is at the hands of the serving team, no point is one by the other side, but instead, the serving team loses the serve.
There are many ways to commit a fault in pickleball, but a few of the most common that you’ll see include:
- The players hit the ball before it bounces off the court when the double bounce rule is in play.
- Serving or returning the ball into an out of bounds area
- Players hit the ball, and it makes contact with the net
- Allowing the ball to bounce more than once before hitting it
- Any entry into the no volley zone when attempting to volley the ball
Second Bounce Rule
During the initial exchange of the ball after the serve, players can either volley the ball or grab with a ground shot off of a bounce. One thing you don’t want to do is give the ball a chance to bounce again because then it’s considered a fault.
Under no circumstances is the ball allowed to bounce twice in either team’s court. If it does, it is considered a fault – and one of the most common ones at that. The second bounce rule is in place to keep you on your toes and encourage fast decision-making for an exciting game of pickleball.
It should be noted here that as long as you aren’t volleying, you can enter the kitchen area to catch the ball with a ground stroke after you let the ball bounce once, but not twice.
Pickleball Out of Bounds Rule
There’s another simple rule to playing pickleball – and it’s to stay in the lines! Well, at least mostly. Most of us playing casually don’t have access to a birds-eye view of the court, which would make determining what’s in or out of bounds a lot easier.
A ball is considered out of bounds if it lands outside of the lines that designate each team’s 20×22 ft playing area. But, if when the ball bounces, any part of it is inside the court, then it’s considered in bounds. This is true even if it hits the out-of-bound lines.
With all the hard work you’ve put in, you want to see some points tally up as a reward. This is how scoring in pickleball works:
The first unique thing about pickleball is that a point can only be earned by the serving team. The serving team wins a point by either winning a volley or when the opposing team commits a fault, with each resulting in a single point.
When the receiving team plays so that the serving team commits a fault instead of a point, they earn the serve back. This allows them to be the team earning the points.
Pickleball games are won when a determined number of points is reached, and the winning team is ahead by at least two points when the match is called. The typical pickleball game is played until 11 points, but pickleball can also be played to 15 or 21 points, which is more common in tournament play.
What are the 5 rules of pickleball?
There are actually more than five rules to pickleball, but the five most basic rules include the serve/service sequence rule, the non-volley zone rule, the two bounce rule, line calls, and scoring rules.
When can you go in the kitchen in pickleball?
You can go in the kitchen (or no volley zone) when you’re attempting to hit the ball off a bounce before the ball touches the court a second time. You cannot be in the kitchen at any point immediately before, during, or immediately after a volley shot.
Having Fun with Pickleball
Pickleball isn’t a new game, but it’s one that has gained a ton of popularity recently. It’s fun, fast-paced, and a great way to engage in some friendly competition. At first glance, it feels like there are a lot of rules to playing pickleball, but it doesn’t take long before it all comes naturally. Grab a paddle, some pickleballs, your favorite competitor, and go enjoy!
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