The sport of pickleball is constantly growing and changing. Once a gym class sport played with wooden paddles and a whiffle ball, the game has taken the world by storm. In parks, neighborhoods, streets, and even major arenas, you can hear the faint sound of pickleballs being rallied. Whether it's on the main stage or in a backyard game, all rallies end but not all end with a fantastic shot followed by a fist pump. Many end in what is known as a “fault.” But, what is a fault in pickleball? The Paddle Experts at JustPaddles explain everything you need to know and more in this article. Let's dive in.
What is a “fault” in Pickleball?
A fault in pickleball is anything that violates the game's rules and forces the game to stop. There are 10 ways to get a fault in pickleball, but the three most common ones include:
- Hitting the ball out of bounds
- Volleying the return of serve
- Committing a no-volley zone (“Kitchen”) foot fault
For players first getting into pickleball, the most common fault is volleying the return of service, as this is a unique rule to pickleball. Beginners or anyone with a tennis background may instinctively run up and smash the return but you have to remember, even during the excitement of a game, to let the return of service bounce. (Tip: Once you serve, keep your toes behind the backline, ensuring the return has to bounce in front of you before you hit it.)
Fault Fast Facts
- A fault is any action that stops play because of a rule violation.
- A fault by the receiving team results in a point for the serving team.
- A fault by the serving team results in the server’s loss of serve or side out.
Faults Occur When...
- A serve does not land within the confines of the receiving court.
- The ball is hit into the net on the serve or any return.
- Hitting the pickleball into your side of the pickleball net, without the pickleball crossing over to the other side of the pickleball net, is a fault. The fault occurs the moment the pickleball hits the ground. This timing is important because the opposing team could commit another fault (such as touching the pickleball net or crossing the plane of the pickleball net) before the pickleball hits the ground. The first player/team to commit a fault will lose the rally.
- The ball is volleyed before a bounce has occurred on each side.
- A violation of the 2-bounce or 3-hit rule is a fault in the sport of pickleball. As a reminder, both the serve and the return of the serve must bounce. After the serve and return of serve, either team or player may volley the pickleball. In other words, after the serve and return of the serve, either team or player may hit the pickleball either in the air (i.e., a volley) or after a bounce.
- The ball is hit out of bounds.
- Hitting the pickleball so that it lands either out of bounds or on your respective side of the pickleball net, is a fault.
- A ball is volleyed from the Non-Volley Zone.
- Any violation of any of the Non-Volley Zone (or Kitchen) rules is a fault. For instance, any volley of the pickleball while standing in the Non-Volley Zone is a fault.
- A ball bounces twice before being struck by the receiver.
- Allowing the pickleball to bounce twice on the same side of the pickleball court is a fault (with an exception for pickleball players using wheelchairs). For instance, if the opponents hit the return of serve back to you as the server, but you are unable to make contact with the pickleball before it bounces twice on your side of the pickleball court, then you would have committed a fault and would lose the rally.
- A player, player’s clothing, or any part of a player’s paddle touches the net or the net post when the ball is in play.
- If your body, your apparel (for instance, your shirt, shorts, or shoes), or your paddle, touch the pickleball net posts, net system, or the opposing team’s side of the pickleball court when the pickleball is in play, you have committed a fault. With that being said, if you touch the pickleball net posts, net system, or the opposing team’s side of the pickleball court when the pickleball is not in play, then you would not have committed a fault.
- There is a violation of a service rule.
- Any violation of any pickleball rule on the serve is a fault. For instance, contact with the pickleball above your naval on the traditional pickleball volley serve, or propelling/tossing the pickleball on the drop serve, would be a fault. Also, it is important to note that if a pickleball player serves the pickleball after a rally has ended, but before a referee starts to call the score, then the server has not committed a fault because the pickleball is still “dead.” However, if the pickleball player serves the pickleball after a referee starts to call the score, but before the referee has finished calling the score, then the server would have committed a fault because the pickleball is “live” once the referee starts to call the score and the entire score must be called before the pickleball is served.
- A ball in play strikes a player or anything the player is wearing or carrying.
- That’s right! Watch out for incoming pickleballs. If you are struck, you lose that point.
- A ball in play strikes any permanent object before bouncing on the court.
- If the pickleball hits a permanent object (such as a bench, fence or even the referee - yes, the referee is considered a permanent object) before bouncing, then the player or team that hit the pickleball last would have committed a fault and will lose the rally.
Is hitting the ball into the net a fault?
Yes - If your body, your apparel (for instance, your shirt, shorts, or shoes), or your paddle, touch the pickleball net posts, net system, or the opposing team’s side of the pickleball court when the pickleball is in play, then you would have committed a fault. As well, if you hit the ball into the net and it doesn’t make its way to the other side of the court, then it is a fault.
If the ball hits the tip of your shoe when bouncing the ball on a serve, don’t worry that is not in “live play” and you can give your serve another shot.
What is a foot fault?
- Stepping over the service line while serving.
- Stepping over the no-volley zone line (Kitchen line) either while hitting a volley shot or after hitting a volley but your momentum carries you over the line.
Calling Faults in Pickleball
Pickleball encourages fair play and good sportsmanship. This is exemplified by a rule in pickleball that expects players to call faults on themselves. In other words, if you commit a fault, then you should immediately identify and call the fault on yourself. If you believe that your opponent committed a fault, then you may tell your opponent, but you have no authority to enforce the fault. Rather, the opponent that allegedly committed the fault must enforce the fault on himself/herself.
There is an exception to this general lack of enforcement rule in non-officiated play (in other words, for pickleball games without a referee), which is that you may call Non-Volley Zone faults and service foot faults on your opponents’ side of the pickleball court. However, if there is any disagreement about the fault, then you and your opponents should replay the point. If a pickleball game or match has a referee, then the players will not be responsible for any Non-Volley Zone faults and service foot faults on their opponents’ side of the pickleball court. Rather, these fault calls will be the referee’s responsibility.
How to Limit Faults in Pickleball
We are all victims of a fault here and there on the pickleball court. But how can we limit or avoid faults while playing?
- Practice, practice, and more practice. The more time spent on the court, the fewer mistakes you make. During play, limit your faults and continue to expand your skills by always playing by the rules of the game.
- Understanding the rules of pickleball. When first starting out on the pickleball court, we all make mistakes due to some of the more nuanced rules. Understanding every rule will help you limit your faults and call opponents on theirs. Check out our complete guide to Pickleball Rules to be on top of the rules of pickleball.
- Watching better players. Whether this is watching the top pros battling it out or your top local player, watching their games will only improve yours and will help you limit your mistakes. In pickleball, better players typically make significantly less mistakes or faults. Watch how the game is played at a high level and see how you can improve your game.
- Give yourself room for error. Watch those toes and don’t get too close to the kitchen or the service line. If you are a step or two back from the kitchen line, it is nearly impossible to foot fault in the kitchen. When serving or returning the serve, I always like to say to myself “keep it play” or “get it back.” This is a good reminder, ensures the rally continues, and limits the number of my personal faults.
Learning about faults will strengthen your game. Now it’s time to discover our complete guide to pickleball so you can become a master of the sport. Read How to Play Pickleball - The Ultimate Guide for more rules and helpful tips
Want to add something new to your game? Check out our extensive list of the game’s top pickleball paddles. Have any questions? Our Paddle Experts are ready to assist if you are shopping for a new pickleball paddle or simply want to talk about the game. Feel free to contact them via phone (1-866-382-3465), email email@example.com or Live Chat. At JustPaddles, we’re with you from Click to Court!