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11/22/2021

Pickleball 101 | The Serve

“0-0-2!” And with that call, the great game of pickleball commences! 

Did you know that all games start at the score of 0-0-2? Pickleball, unlike many sports, has 3 numbers when calling out the score. The first number is the serving teams score, second number would be the opponents score and finally the number of serves that the team is on. For example, if the serving team has 5,  their opponent has 8, and the serving team is on their second serve. The serving team would say 5-8-2 before serving so both teams are accurate on the score of the game.

Before the game gets into full swing (get it), it’s important to understand a crucial part of the game, THE SERVE. Looking to be king or queen of your court? To quickly increase the level of your play, let’s break down the pickleball serve from the beginning, at 0-0-2! *Consider telling them what 0-0-2 is, in case they don’t know? The 0-0-1 or 0-0-2 is confusing to beginners when they start.

Pickleball Serve Rules

To ensure you are getting every point possible,  we’ve highlighted the rules of the pickleball serve below.

  • A pickleball serve must be hit with an underhand stroke so that contact with the ball is made below the waist, defined as the navel. The arm must be moving in an upward arc and the highest point of the pickleball paddle head shall be below the wrist when it strikes the ball. The highest point of the pickleball paddle head cannot be above any part of the line formed where the wrist joint bends. 
  • RULES UPDATE (1/25/2021) - A new provisional rule allows for a "drop serve." The server has the option of dropping the ball and hitting it after the bounce. The ball can be dropped from any height but cannot be thrown, tossed, or otherwise released with any added force to bounce it. This rule was challenged in 2021, but was passed, and players will be able to continue using a drop serve. Check out our blog on all the recent rule changes at New 2022 Rule Change Blog Link.
  • Serve to the diagonally opposite service court from behind the baseline. The pickleball must land past the kitchen line, in the opposing team’s diagonal service area. 

Pickleball Court

How to Serve

Breaking down how to serve can be difficult, but we are here to help! From experience, the best way to get your serve down (and at least over the net) is PRACTICE, PRACTICE, and more PRACTICE; but before you head to the court, it’s good to know what to expect. Everyone's a little different when it comes to their serve but below, you can find a few pointers that will help before you toe the baseline. 

Note: Each number will match accordingly to the specific serve style.

Serve Set Up

Before attacking the ball with full force, the serve starts with the lower half of your body. Your footwork and body position bring the power in the serve. Below are a couple of starting positions that can help anyone shouting “0-0-2!”

  1. Standing slightly behind the baseline, take a step back with the foot on the same side of your body that you hold your pickleball paddle on. For example, if you are right handed, you would take a step back with your right foot. In this position, your shoulders will be aimed towards your serving target.
  2. Another option is taking multiple steps back so you have a couple of feet between yourself and the baseline. In this starting position, your shoulders and feet will be squared toward your serving target.

Before Serve Contact

  1. Take a look at your service target, and step forward with the foot that is in the back of your stance (should be the same as your dominant paddle hand). A tip to keep your paddle in sync with your lower body is to match up your step forward and paddle position. For example, when your back foot is back, your paddle face should be too.
    Step forward with your non-dominant foot and  your paddle should have the same momentum as that foot. You are going to outstretch your opposite hand (the one holding the ball) and extend it in front of your body. Bring the paddle towards the ball as you are stepping towards your target. The ball should be in front of you at belt level.
  2. As your shoulders are squared towards your serving target, step forward with your non-dominant foot. If you are a right-handed player, you would step forward with your left foot. As you are stepping forward, you will bring the paddle forward, towards the ball, which will be out in front of you at belt level. 

At Serve Contact

  1. At contact, you are going to want to keep your hand and wrist loose so your pickleball paddle will have a free flowing motion. Take your paddle forward and make contact with the ball below your naval out in front of you. Try to connect your paddle and the ball while it is still in your hand as dropping the ball in the air can make consistent contact more difficult. 
  2. For visual learners, I like to think about bowling. Because your paddle will be below your naval it is a very similar motion to bowling, but instead of a bowling ball you will have a pickleball paddle. As you step forward with your non-dominant foot, the paddle should move towards the ball. As we mentioned above, make sure you are making contact with the pickleball when it is still in your non-dominant hand. . 

Through Serve Contact

  1. Follow through, follow through, and more follow through as you serve. It’s important to drive the ball towards your serve target and to ensure you are finishing through in that direction. A good way to focus on this is to finish your paddle swing above your shoulders pointed at your target. In this method you should finish with your feet squared towards your opponent a few inches back from the baseline. This is a great way to be set up and prepared for the return service.
  2. Again, think of a day at the bowling alley. Following through and finishing high and towards your target are crucial.

After Serve Contact

After you’ve launched your serve, STAY BACK!!! This is a very critical aspect of the pickleball serve and a mistake that can be seen in many players who are just beginning their pickleball  journey. Although it can be tempting to rush to the kitchen (non-volley zone) line, STAY BACK! There is no need to cross the baseline as the return of service has to bounce once on the serving side of the court in order for the real play to begin. If you are serving, you are unable to hit the ball out of the air on the return of service so keep those toes behind the line to give yourself room to react.A small tip: wait until you see the flight of your opponent's return of service before making a decision to cross the baseline.

Tips from the Court

  • Ideal ball placement should be deep and to the center of the diagonally opposite service court to keep the receiver back.
  • If you are looking for more power, start with your lower body. Maintain a loose but comfortable grip and focus on transferring your weight from back to front. This will increase the power or pace of serve much more effectively than speeding up your arm action.
  • Start your serve low on your backswing and finish high on your follow through to get the most out of your serve.
  • As you get more and more comfortable you can incorporate top spin serves, deep lob serves, and side angle serves (landing short and in the corner of your diagonal opponent).

  • PRACTICE, PRACTICE, and PRACTICE SOME MORE.

As you advance in pickleball you will see the importance of an accurate and consistent pickleball serve. Pickleball is progressing at a rate never before seen and it’s a great time to get in on the game. Before taking the court for the first time (or the next time), read through our tips on Pickleball 101: The Serve! 

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