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The Rules of Pickleball | Everything You Need To Know

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Pickleball is such an alluring sport to so many players because of how intuitive the rules are. After just a few minutes of playing, you can get the general idea of how to play pickleball. Many players can pick up the game just by watching other players. Our Paddle Experts have taken the time to break down all of the basic pickleball rules to know before you begin to play for those of you new to the sport.

General Overview of Pickleball Rules

As pointed out in our post comparing Pickleball and Tennis, pickleball is played on a 20' x 44' court. It features a 7' non-volley zone known as The Kitchen. Each point begins with a diagonal serve that must bounce before the opposing team can return it. Only the serving player/team can score a point. The serving player will alternate sides of the court they serve from until they lose a rally or they fault on their serve. The first player/team to reach 11 points, while ahead by at least two points, wins.

Pickleball Pro Tip - Get To The Kitchen As Quickly As Possible

Rules of Pickleball Serving

Each game begins with a diagonal serve from the right-hand service square while alternating with each following serve. All serves must be performed below the waist in an underhand manner while keeping both feet behind the backline. A recent change to the rules of pickleball allows players to drop the ball, let it bounce, and then serve it. The ball must travel in the air, over the net, and into the appropriate diagonal service square. Failure to do so will result in loss of serve. If the ball hits the net and lands in the correct service square, the play shall continue. This was previously deemed to be a let serve.

For doubles:

When it's your teams' turn to serve in pickleball doubles, the player on the right side of the court will always be the first to serve.

For singles:

In singles, your score will dictate the side of the court serve from.

  • An even score will serve from the right side.
  • An odd score will serve from the left side.

Faults in Pickleball

A fault is determined when:

  • The ball fails to clear the net
  • The ball touches any part of the non-volley zone (line included)
  • The ball lands out of bounds
  • The ball bounces twice (the first must be in bounds) on your side of the net
  • The ball strikes a player
  • The serve does not land in the correct receiving court
  • A player volleys within the non-volley zone
  • A player volleys a shot before it has bounced on both sides of the court
  • A player touches the net or post during play

Volleys in Pickleball

A volley in pickleball is a shot hit before the ball bounces. Once the double bounce rule has been adhered to, any volleys are allowed until the point's outcome is determined. As the term suggests, players may not perform volleys within the non-volley zone. It is a fault if any player volleys a shot while in the non-volley zone. Players may not even step into the zone during their follow-through.

Double Bounce Rule or Two Bounce Rule

The double bounce rule states that each team must play their first shot off of a bounce. The receiving team must let the ball bounce once before returning the ball over the net. Then, the serving team must let the return shot bounce once before returning the ball over the net. Once both bounces occur, each side is free to play any subsequent shot off the bounce or in the air.

Pickleball vs Tennis

How to Keep Score in Pickleball

Only the serving side shall score a point after winning the rally. Each serving side will continue to do so until their side commits a fault. In doubles, each player on the serving team will continue to serve until a fault is made, and then the serve will move to their teammate. Once two faults against the serving team have occurred, possession of the serve will go over to the opposing team.

Always call out the score before you serve. The serving team's score will always come first, followed by the receiving team's score. As a result, the same score will sound different following a change in serve.

Singles Pickleball Scoring

Keeping score in pickleball singles is easy. Just announce the two scores in the game—the server's score, followed by the returner's score.

Serve will change following one fault in singles play. Always be mindful of your score because that will dictate which side of the court you serve from. If your score is an even number, serve from the right-hand side of the court. If your score is an odd number, serve from the left-hand side of the court.

Doubles Pickleball Scoring

Keeping score in pickleball doubles is slightly more complicated. Since both players will serve before possession changes, it is important to track whether it is the first or second server.

An equation to keep score in doubles: 

Serving Team's Score - Receiving Team's Score - Current Server (1 is the first server | 2 is the second server)

An example score of a doubles match would be (7-5-1). In this example, the serving team has seven points, the receiving team has five points, and we are still on the first server. If the serving team commits a fault, the new server will take over and announce a score of: (7-5-2).

Continue to play until one team reaches 11. But remember, pickleball is always... win by two!

Pickleball Rules History

Pickleball began in 1965 on Bainbridge Island when three dads sought a summer activity to entertain their kids. Joel Pritchard, co-creator, had a badminton court but lacked enough rackets to play a complete game. So he and his buddy, Bill Bell, improvised. They gathered some old ping pong paddles and a small plastic ball and began to volley back and forth over the 60-inch high badminton net. The game seemed to be entertaining enough as they continued to play periodically over the next few days. But then, a revelation. The players noticed that the ball bounced on the asphalt. Moments later, they lowered the net to just 36 inches and, unbeknownst to them, began playing the world's first game of pickleball. 

The following weekend Pritchard and Bell introduced the game to their friend, Barney McCallum. They worked together to lay out the game rules, drawing primarily from badminton, to avoid any conflict with the already well-established game of tennis. It was designed to be easy to learn and inviting for the entire family to play. After all, the whole purpose of the game was to provide entertainment for the three families.

Pickleball grew more popular on Bainbridge Island as word of mouth began to spread. Two years after the inception, Joel Pritchard helped install the first-ever pickleball-specific court in his neighbor's backyard. And since then, the game has never looked back.

5 best pickleball paddles for a beginner

Can't get enough pickleball knowledge? Check out our extensive database on all things pickleball. The JustPaddles Resource Guide has all the tips and tricks for players looking to improve their game. And as always, we have an entire team of Paddle Experts ready to assist you if you are shopping for a new pickleball paddle or simply want to talk about pickleball. Feel free to contact them via phone (1-866-382-3465), email or Live Chat. It's all part of our efforts to be with you from Click to Court!

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