Close this search box.

Pickleball 101: Understanding the Game and Rules of Pickleball

Cartoon image of four pickleball players getting ready to learn the rules and play their first game

Welcome to the Simply Pickleball guide to pickleball rules! Whether you’re new to the game or an experienced player aiming to refine your skills, this blog post will be your personal coach. From understanding Pickleball’s history and basic rules to learning advanced scoring and serving rules, we’ve got you covered. We will also explore the court layout and familiarize ourselves with essential equipment.

By the end of this guide, you’ll be ready to jump into your first game and embark on a thrilling Pickleball journey. Are you ready to play pickleball?

Table of Contents

Introduction to Pickleball

Pickleball is a fun and fast-paced sport that has been gaining popularity recently. It combines elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis to create a unique game that people of all ages and skill levels can enjoy.

Like any other sport, pickleball has rules that players must follow. These rules are designed to ensure fair play and make the game more enjoyable for everyone.

Watch out – it’s also highly addictive!

How to Play Pickleball

Pickleball has straightforward rules that are easy to learn and understand. The game’s main objective is to hit the pickleball over the net and into the opponent’s court without them being able to return it. 

A point is scored when a player fails to return the ball or hits it out of bounds. The first team to reach 11 points with a minimum lead of two points wins the game.

Pickleball is played on an indoor or outdoor court, similar to a tennis court. The pickleball court is smaller than a tennis court, measuring 20 feet by 44 feet. 

The net is at the center of the court, dividing it into two equal halves. On each side of the net are non-volley zones known as “The Kitchen.” These areas extend 7 feet from the net and are marked by a line parallel to the net.

Pickleball court dimensions as outlined in the rules of pickleball

Types of Pickleball Shots

Two main types of pickleball shots are the volley and the groundstroke. A volley is when you hit the ball out of the air, and a groundstroke is when you hit it off the bounce. Understanding the fundamental differences between these shots is essential as they are a big part of the rules. 

There are many other pickleball shots, which can be found in our Ultimate Guide to Pickleball Shots

Pickleball Rules Governed by USA Pickleball

USA Pickleball was established to foster the expansion and progress of pickleball nationally and establish objectives for global play and acknowledgment.

The organization is dedicated to advancing pickleball among all players, serving as the National Governing Body in the United States. It creates and interprets the sport’s rules, aiming to uphold its traditional essence and the skills integral to playing.

Decisions made by USA Pickleball are considered final and not subject to appeal.

Essential Equipment for Pickleball

Pickleball Paddle: You can’t play pickleball without a pickleball paddle. The paddles have a flat surface and handle, similar to a large ping pong paddle. Most pickleball paddles are made with composite material and a graphite, fiberglass, or carbon fiber face. The size and weight of the paddle can vary, but it must adhere to specific guidelines set by the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA). Need help deciding on a pickleball paddle? Check out our blog on How to Choose a Pickleball Paddle!

Pickleball Ball: The pickleball is a unique ball specifically designed for this sport. It is a bit smaller and lighter than a tennis ball, with holes on its surface to reduce the game’s speed. These holes also help in creating more spin and control over the ball. There are specific balls for both indoor and outdoor play.

Pickleball Attire: One of the great things about pickleball is that there is no strict dress code. However, wearing appropriate attire can enhance your game and provide comfort during play. As with any physical activity, wearing comfortable clothing and proper athletic shoes is essential to prevent injury.

Basic Rules of Pickleball

1. Every pickleball point or rally starts with a serve

Either the team closest to Bainbridge Island, WA (where pickleball was invented) or the local rule determines the initial serving team. You serve underhand and aim at the left side towards the opposing team’s service court. The ball must clear your opponent’s kitchen or non-volley zone line.

2. The ball must bounce twice (two-bounce rule) before either team can volley

Before either team can hit the ball out of the air (called a “volley”), the ball must bounce once on each side. 

There is a good reason for the two-bounce rule. If the returning team could volley the serve, they’d stand up by the non-volley zone line and have an easy shot to win the point. 

Similarly, if the serving team could volley the return, they’d run up to the kitchen line after the serve and have a volley advantage. The two-bounce rule is crucial for eliminating the serve and volley advantage, ensuring that play begins on a more equal footing. This rule mandates that the ball bounce once on each side of the court, ensuring a fair start to each rally.

This sometimes needs to be clarified with the double-bounce rule. The double-bounce rule means the ball is dead after bouncing twice on the same side. 

Diagram illustrating the two-bounce pickleball rule

3. Only one serve attempt per player

There are no “lets” or do-overs when serving. The only exception is if the serving team calls an incorrect score and then hits the ball. Before the third shot of the rally is hit, any player can ask the serving team to redo the serve (and call the correct score).

4. Can the ball hit the net on a serve?

Unlike tennis, the ball is in play if the serve hits the net and lands in the opposing team’s opposite service court.

5. Volleying in the kitchen is a rule violation

The 7ft zone on either side of the net represents the non-volley zone or ‘kitchen.’ If you, your partner, any part of your body, clothing, or paddle is in the kitchen (or touching the kitchen line), the ball must bounce first before you can hit it. You cannot volley any shot while standing in the kitchen. If you hit a volley from outside the kitchen and your momentum pulls you in (or you drop your paddle in the kitchen), that is a fault, and you lose the point.

Pickleball Rules for Serving

1. Position of server

The server must adhere to specific rules regarding their position:

  • The server must stand behind the baseline and within the sideline (see image). 
  • At least one foot must contact the playing surface behind the baseline when serving.
  • Both feet of the server must remain behind the baseline until the ball is struck.
You call out the score to start the rally. Once the score is called, you have 10 seconds to hit the ball. 
Images of pickleball players in the correct serving positions per the rules of pickleball

2. The drop serve

The drop serve involves hitting the ball after it bounces on the playing surface and can be executed using either a forehand or backhand motion. There are no limitations on the number of bounces or where the ball can bounce on the court. To execute a proper drop serve, the following elements must be observed:

  • The server must release the ball using only one hand or drop it off the paddle face from a natural, unassisted height.
  • The ball should not be forcefully propelled downward, tossed, or hit upward with the paddle
  • Contact must be made with the highest part of the paddle head lower than the wrist joint. A good rule of thumb is for contact to be made below the server’s waist.

3. The volley serve

The volley serve is executed by hitting the ball directly without allowing it to bounce on the playing surface and can be performed using either a forehand or backhand motion. To perform a proper volley serve, the following criteria should be met:

  • The server’s arm must be in an upward arc motion when the ball is struck with the paddle.
  • Like the drop serve, the highest part of the paddle head should not be higher than the highest point of the wrist (where the wrist joint bends) when the paddle makes contact with the ball.

4. Service sequence

Both players on the serving doubles team can serve and score until a fault, except for the first game. The first game starts with the second server.

  • The server on the right court serves first after each side-out.
  • After scoring, the server switches sides, starting the next serve from the left court.
  • Server continues switching until a fault, leading the first server to lose the serve.
  • Upon losing the serve, the partner serves from their correct side, barring the game’s start.
  • The second server serves until a team fault, surrendering the serve.
  • The first serve begins from the right court on the opposition’s side, allowing both players to serve until two faults.

Pickleball Rules for Scoring

1. Side out vs. rally scoring

There are two main types of scoring in pickleball. Side out is what most recreational players use and what we’ll refer to in the following rules. In side-out scoring, both players serve, and the server continues serving until they fault and lose the point.

In rally scoring (used primarily in MLP tournament games), players on the same team alternate serves whether they win or lose the point. When a rally is lost, the serve immediately returns to the opposing team. 

2. How rallies are won

Remember, only the serving team can win a point. The ways to win a rally:

  • The opposing server serves the ball into the net.
  • The serve is hit outside the side of the court, into the kitchen, or past the baseline.
  • During gameplay and after the serve, the ball is hit out of bounds or into the net.
  • A fault occurs by a player volleying in the kitchen or touches the net.
  • The receiving team violates the double bounce rule and volleys the return of serve.

3. Line calls

If the ball touches any line, except the non-volley zone line, during a serve, it’s deemed as “in.” The team makes the line call on the side of the court where the ball lands. Players usually make their line calls governed by the honor system. If two players on the same team disagree on the line call, the opposing team wins the rally.

Any ball that cannot be called “out” will be considered “in.” For example, if neither player on the side of the court where the ball lands sees it, it will be called “in.”

4. The first team to 11 points wins

And you must win by two points. A game could continue forever if no team can gain more than a 1-point advantage.

5. Calling the score

This is the most confusing part of pickleball scoring! Before the server serves, they must call the score. They will always say three numbers:

First number: the serving team’s score

Second number: the opponents score

Third number: if they are the first or second server – one or two.

For example, if you are leading 6-0 and are the second server on your team. Before you serve, you say 6-0-2. The game is always started on the second serve to reduce the advantage of being the first serving team. To start the game, you call out 0-0-2.

Common Pickleball Rules Questions:

Can you double-hit the ball?

Players are allowed to hit the ball twice, provided it happens unintentionally within a continuous stroke in one direction by a single player. However, if the team commits a deliberate action that violates this rule, it will be considered a fault, and the server loses the rally.

Are there clothing restrictions?

Pickleball players are a unique group with distinct personalities, which means they can wear some creative outfits. However, a player may be required to change apparel that approximates the ball’s color. It’s not a good pickleball etiquette to wear your favorite bright yellow shirt while playing with a yellow ball.

Does the ball need to go over the net?

A player has the option to hit the ball around the net post. This action doesn’t require the ball to cross back over the net. Additionally, there are no limitations on the height at which the ball can be returned around the net post, allowing players to hit it below the height of the net.

This is commonly referred to as an ATP or “Around the Post” – congratulations if you can pull it off successfully!

Is there a Difference between Two-Bounce and Double-Bounce Pickleball Rule?

Yes, they are two very different rules. The two-bounce rule aims to eliminate the advantage of serving and volleying. This rule requires the ball to bounce once before the serve return and again before the third shot. The double-bounce fault rule dictates that if the ball bounces twice on the same side during a rally, it becomes an immediate dead ball. This can occur at any moment in the rally.

             Simply sign up for our newsletter 

                  Join thousands of fellow pickleball players from around the world. Subscribe today!

Latest Blogs

Converting Tennis Courts for Official Pickleball Play

How to Play Pickleball on a Tennis Court

Ready to play pickleball but only have a tennis court nearby? Converting a tennis court for pickleball is straightforward. Our step-by-step guide on “how to play

How long do Joola pickleball paddles last? Image showing a pile of paddles

How Long Do Pickleball Paddles Last?

When it comes to pickleball paddles, their longevity can be as variable as the game itself. Typically, paddles can last anywhere from 1 to 5 years

SwingVision AI being used to record a pickleball game

SwingVision Pickleball AI App Review

Unleash your pickleball prowess with SwingVision Pickleball AI! Discover the power of swing analysis, shot tracking, and more in this ultimate review.

Best Portable Pickleball Nets

Top-Rated Portable Pickleball Nets

Are you searching for the best portable pickleball net? This article cuts straight to the chase, helping you compare top choices based on portability, quick setup,

Hey, Wait!

Want to save up to 15% off your next paddle?

Unlock free discount codes by subscribing to our weekly newsletter