Pickleball is one of the fastest-growing sports in the country because it provides a great workout and is a lot of fun to play. Only basic equipment and a small amount of space are needed to play pickleball, and the sport’s basic rules only take minutes to learn.
If you want to know how to play pickleball and add it to your exercise routine, this primer could answer any questions you might have. It will cover the rules of pickleball, and it will also explain how games are scored and won. After you have read it, you will have all the information you will need to start playing and enjoying pickleball.
What is Pickleball?: The Basics
Pickleball was carefully designed to make playing enjoyable for players of all skill levels. The rules prevent tactics that would provide one player or team with an unfair advantage, which makes the game easier to learn and play.
A pickleball court is 44 feet long and 20 feet wide, which is about a third of the size of a tennis court. A net about three feet high runs down the center of the court, and an area extending seven feet from the net in both directions is called the non-volley zone.
Players refer to this area as the kitchen. Beyond the non-volley zone, the court is divided into left and right areas. The right area is where players serve from when their score is an even number, and the left area is where players serve from when their score is an odd number. The first serve of all games is made from the right area.
The sport of pickleball is easy to learn because there are very few rules. There are a few ways that a player can commit a fault, there are parts of the court where volleying is not permitted, and there is a rule to prevent the serve-and-volley tactic that is so dominant in tennis.
Let’s take a look at the three main rules in a little more detail:
- Faults: A player can commit a fault by failing to reach a serve or return shot, hitting a shot that lands out of bounds or on the non-volley zone line or hitting a shot that strikes the net. A serving player commits a fault when their serve does not make it over the net or travels past the net but fails to clear the no-volley zone. There are no let serves or second serves in pickleball. If a pickleball serve brushes the top of the net and falls straight down, it would be a fault because it did not cross the non-volley zone.
- The non-volley zone: No volleying is permitted within seven feet of the net. A player commits a fault if they hit a volley and any part of their body or equipment comes into contact with this area. Entering the kitchen after hitting a volley is a foul. If you ever decide to hit a volley in a pickleball game, make sure that your momentum will not carry you into the kitchen. Not allowing volleys close to the net is one of the pickleball rules that make playing the game so much fun. It eliminates unreturnable smash shots and keeps rallies alive.
- The two-bounce rule: A pickleball serve must bounce at least twice before it can be volleyed. It must bounce once before it is returned, and it must bounce once before the return can be returned. This two-bounce rule prevents teams from using the serve-and-volley strategy that can make facing a strong tennis player so frustrating.
Scoring in pickleball games lasts until a player or team reaches 11 points. Some tournament organizers use a different format and play games until 15 or even 21 points are scored. No matter what the winning score is, players must be at least two points ahead when they reach it.
If a game is tied with both players or both teams a point short of victory, the game will continue until one player or team has a two-point advantage. Only the serving team can score in pickleball. When a serving player commits a fault, they lose their serve. This gives the returning player or team a chance to serve and score.
Pickleball serving rules are quite straightforward and have rules about serving that even beginners will be able to follow. They are designed to prevent aces and keep games going. Pickleballs must be served underhand, and the ball must be struck at a point where it is beneath the server’s waist. The server’s arm must be moving in an upward arc when the ball is struck, and the head of the paddle must be above the wrist when contact is made. Drop serves are permitted in pickleball, which means servers can drop the ball before they swing at it.
Players must serve from the right area of the court, and they must have at least one of their feet behind the baseline. Serves are made diagonally in pickleball, and serving players must remain in their serving area until the ball lands in the opposite playing area.
Serves that strike the net or fail to clear the non-volley zone are faults. Serves are considered in when they strike a sideline or the baseline, but they are considered out if they land on the kitchen line. There are no second serves in pickleball. A serve is either good or a fault.
Pickleball Rules: Singles
Pickleball is an easy game to learn and follow when four players are competing, and reducing the player component to two simplifies things even further. The players decide who will serve first by flipping a coin or using some other random method, and then points are scored, fouls are committed, and the serve moves from one side of the net to the other until one player passes 11 points.
The only thing players really need to concentrate on is standing in the right position when they serve. The first serve of the game is made from the right area. Subsequent serves are made from the right area when the server’s score is an even number and from the left area when their score is an odd number. Players continue to serve and score until they commit a fault. At that point, the serve switches to the returning player.
Pickle Ball Rules: Doubles
A small court and four players can make a doubles game of pickleball a thrilling experience. Covering half of a pickleball court is pretty easy for two players, so finding a winning shot is not easy.
The game starts with a coin toss or similar procedure to determine which team will serve first, and then each player on the serving team is given an opportunity to serve. When both serving players have committed faults, the serve passes to the other team.
Let’s take a look at the first six serves used in pickleball doubles matches to see how these rules are followed:
- Serve one: The first player on the serving team serves from the right area as this is where all pickleball first serves are made. The returning player commits a fault by hitting the ball into the net.
- Serve two: The first player now moves to the left side as they have one point, which is an odd number. They commit a fault when their ball fails to clear the non-volley zone.
- Serve three: The second player on the serving team serves from the left area as the team's score is still one. After a brief rally, the serving team prevails.
- Serve four: The second player now moves to the right area as the team score is now two, which is an even number. This point is also won by the serving team. The serving team now has three points.
- Serve five: The second player moves back to the left area because three is an odd number, but they hit their serve into the net.
- Serve six: Both players on the serving team have now committed faults, so the serve passes to the returning team with the score standing at three points to none.
The First Server Exception
To prevent a team of strong servers from steamrolling opponents, pickleball has a rule in doubles games called the first server exemption. This rule requires the server to pass to the returning team after the serving team commits one fault.
The second player on the serving team does not get an opportunity to serve during the game's first service turn. This rule all but guarantees that all players will get at least one chance to serve.
All sports have jargon that can make them seem baffling to novices, and pickleball is no different. If you don’t want to be seen as a rookie the first time you set foot on a court, here are some common pickleball terms that will make you sound like a veteran:
- The kitchen: This is what players call the non-volley zone. It stretches seven feet from the net in both directions, and players cannot volley the ball when standing inside it. Payers also commit a fault if they volley the ball and their momentum carries them into the kitchen. The kitchen prevents players from crowding the net.
- Court lines: The court is divided by sidelines, baselines, non-volley zone lines and a center line. Balls that land on sidelines or guidelines are good and can be returned. Balls that land on kitchen lines are faults. The center line runs from the baseline to the kitchen line and divides the right and left serving areas.
- Fault: A fault is an error that loses a returning player a point or costs a serving player the serve. Faults are committed when balls are struck out of bounds or into the net, a serve strikes the net or fails to reach the kitchen line, a ball bounces twice, or a player enters the kitchen after volleying the ball.
- Drop serve: This technique is permitted in pickleball to make serving a little easier for new players. Instead of lobbing the ball into the air and swinging at it as it falls back down, this technique calls for the ball to be dropped to the ground and struck as it bounces back up.
- Two-drop rule: Pickleball was developed to be a fun and easy game to play, and the few rules it has were written to prevent tactics that could allow players or teams to dominate. The two-drop requirement is one such rule, and it is designed to prevent players from following up serves with unstoppable volleys. Serves must bounce at least once before they can be returned, and service returns must bounce at least once before they can be struck.
Exercise and Fun
Playing pickleball is a great way to shed pounds and improve physical fitness, and the game’s rules have been developed to make the sport exciting and fair. Tactics that would rule on a tennis court are banned in pickleball, which makes the game easier to learn and a lot more fun to play. If you want to burn some calories on a pickleball court, all you need is a ball, a paddle, an opponent and the right gear.
The shoes you play pickleball in should provide good arch and lateral support, and the socks you wear should apply gentle compression to improve blood circulation, prevent injuries and speed up recuperation. TRUEENERGY® has compression socks for pickleball athletes and everyday players in a wide variety of styles and colors. They all feature infrared technology that was first developed by NASA, too.
If you have a question about how our compression socks could elevate your pickleball game, you can call us at (800) 395-4290, or you could use our online form to get in touch with us.