How to Play Pickleball: The Rules Explained

Object of the Game

Pickleball is a game played indoor or outdoor with two or four players. The winner is the first one to 11, win by two points. Points can only be scored by the serving team and occur when the opponent hits the ball in the net or outside the court. One point is scored at a time.

Here is a video of a few points in Pickleball so you can get an idea of how the game is played.

Equipment

To play Pickleball you need a net, ball, paddle, and the proper shoes. The net is 36 inches high at the sidelines and 34 inches in the middle. A regulation net is 22 feet wide but be careful when purchasing a net as many are smaller than 22 feet. Check out our guide on nets to get the right one. The mesh of the net should be small enough to a ball cannot go through it.

The ball is 2.874 inches (73mm) to. 2.972 inches (75.5mm) and is a perforated polymer ball similar to a wiffle ball. When you decide to purchase balls be sure to check whether they are indoor or outdoor balls. Outdoor balls are heavier since people playing outside often have to deal with windy conditions. Whether indoor or outdoor, balls vary in their quality so we did some tests to evaluate them so you can make the best choice.

The Pickleball paddle is larger than a ping pong paddle and smaller than a racquetball or tennis racquet. Paddles can be made of a variety of materials including wood, graphite, or composite. Wood paddles often come with Pickleball sets which contain a net, ball, and paddles. Most recreational and tournament players, however use a composite or graphite paddle for better power and control. We have a couple of articles which review paddles including the best ones for spin and the best paddles overall. Also remember when making a purchase all paddles are not created equal. If you are planning to play in tournaments, you must use one approved by the U.S.A. Pickleball Association for sanctioned tournaments. These paddles meeting specific requirements of size, weight, and composition.

Having the proper shoes for Pickleball is important for safety reasons. Avoid playing in running shoes as the knobs on the bottom can catch and cause you to fall. A court shoe is best whether you are playing Pickleball indoors or outdoors. Many players wear tennis shoes as the movement in Pickleball is similar to tennis. Volleyball or racquetball shoes can also be worn and some people even where basketball shoes if they need to protect their ankles. Again, we have a guide on the best shoes for Pickleball.

If you are looking to buy Pickleball equipment, Amazon usually has the best selection and price.

Court

The Pickleball court is the same size as a badminton doubles court which is 20 feet wide by 44 feet long. It is slightly bigger than a racquetball court (20′ x 40′) and much smaller than a tennis doubles court (36′ x 78′). Normally, you can set up two pickleball courts on a tennis court.

The Pickleball court has a net in the center of the court to divide the sides. Further, it has a line down the middle of the court. There is also a line parallel to the baseline 7 feet from the net and this is area is called the Kitchen or Non-Volley Zone.

Serve

A coin can be tossed to determine who serves or in recreational play one side is usually designated to start the game serving. The first serve is taken from the right side of the court and it must land diagonally between the non-volley zone and baseline on the opposite side of the net (see picture below). The ball may not hit the kitchen line although a serve is good if it contacts the court and the sideline or baseline. The server only has one chance to get the ball over the net and in, otherwise the next person serves.

When play is started in doubles, the server will call 0-0-2. The first 0 represents the serving teams’ score. The second 0 represents the opponents’ score and the 2 represents the person serving the ball is the second server. This person will serve until the serving team makes a mistake. Then the opponents first server will start serving until that team makes a mistake and then the opponents partner will serve.

The partners of the server and receiver can stand anywhere on or off the court as long as they are on their respective sides of the net.

When the serving team makes a point, the partners will swap sides of the court. This is similar to doubles in tennis and racquetball. For example, if the player served from the right side of the court and the team won a point, the same person will then move to the left side of the court and serve. The right side of the court is often referred to as the forehand side as most players are right-handed so they will hit a forehand from this side. The opposite is true with the left side of the court or the backhand side for right-handed players.

The server in Pickleball differs from both tennis and racquetball as it must be hit with an underhand motion and ball cannot bounce before it is hit. The ball must also be contacted below the belly button and the head of paddle must be below the wrist when hit. The server must stand behind the baseline and not touch the line when serving. If the ball hits the net and lands in the kitchen, the serve is a fault. If the ball hits the net and lands in the proper service court, the serve should be replayed. If a serve hits either of the opponents, the serving team receives a point. In other words, the serve return team cannot catch a ball if it is not going in the proper service court or out of bounds.

Serve Return and Two Bounce Rule

The person returning the ball must let it bounce before they hit it. The ball should go over the net and in the court. The serving team, when taking the third shot, must let the ball bounce before returning it. This is called the two-bounce rule in Pickleball. After this, all players can choose to move forward and volley the ball in the air as long as they are outside of the kitchen.

Kitchen

The non-volley zone or kitchen is the area from the net to seven feet behind the net on both sides of the court. A player can enter the kitchen and hit the ball if it has bounced first. However, players cannot enter the kitchen to volley or hit the ball in the air. Players can also not go into the kitchen after volleying a ball. In other words, their momentum cannot take them into the kitchen after the volley. If this happens, it is considered a fault.

Faults

Faults end a rally but the result of one can also score a point if the non-serving team made the fault. The most common type of faults are to hit the ball in the net or out of bounds during a rally. Note the ball can hit the net during a rally and is still good as long as it goes over the net.

Other types of faults include:

  • Failing to hit the ball before it bounces twice
  • Touching the net with your paddle or clothing
  • Catching the ball during a rally
  • Entering the kitchen to hit a volley
  • Bouncing the ball before hitting a serve

Doubles Position

When playing doubles, you may lose track of the score or which side you are serving from. An easy way to remember it is to think about your position when you first started the game. If you are the first server or person on your team who served first in your game then when the score is even, you should be on the right side of the court. For example, if your team’s score is 2-0 or 4-5 then you should be serving from the right side of the court. If your team’s score is 3-1 or 5-8 then you should be serving from the left side of the court.

Summary

Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America, in part, because it is easy to learn to play. While it has some similarities to other sports like tennis, ping pong, badminton, and racquetball its uniqueness makes it appealing for all ages. Remembering the two-bounce rule and when to stay out of kitchen are two examples of what makes this sport special.

If you are interested in a more complete set of rules, check out the tournament rule book of the U.S.A. Pickleball Association.  If you want more information on the game in general, the book How to Play Pickleball: The Complete Guide from A to Z: Illustrated Stroke Techniques and Winning Strategies is a good resource from Amazon.

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