The Essential Pickleball Rules: A Beginner’s Guide

Pickleball, a rapidly growing sport in America, is gaining popularity for its simplicity and enjoyment. This easy-to-learn game, with its unique combination of elements from tennis, table tennis, and badminton, offers a fun and engaging experience for players of all ages and skill levels.

So, what are you waiting for? Let’s dive into the essential pickleball rules and master the game everyone is talking about!

Short Summary

  • Understand the basics of pickleball, including court size, serving, and scoring rules.

  • Win by two points to ensure a fair match and adhere to double bounce & no-volley zone rules for strategic gameplay.

  • Familiarize yourself with equipment requirements & etiquette for an enjoyable experience in pickleball.

Understanding the Basics

Pickleball is played on a court measuring 20 feet wide and 44 feet long, with a net height of 36 inches on the sidelines and 34 inches in the center. It can be played as singles or doubles, catering to different preferences and group sizes. The basic rules of pickleball are divided into serving, gameplay, and scoring rules, providing a solid foundation for beginners to grasp the game easily.

Some key differences between pickleball and other racquet sports like tennis and table tennis include the sequence of service, the size and design of the court, and the type of ball and racquet used. For instance, pickleball racquets are generally smaller, lighter, and possess a broader grip than tennis racquets. The presence of holes in the pickleball results in them being slower, thus encouraging more rallies and making the game more accessible to players of all ages and abilities.

Scoring System in Pickleball

In pickleball, the scoring system is unique, with only the serving team being able to score points. This emphasizes the importance of serving in the game and adds a strategic element to gameplay.

To win a game, a team must reach 11 points and have a lead of at least two points over their opponents. Understanding the scoring system is crucial to prevent disputes and ensure fair play.

The serving sequence in pickleball begins with the initial server serving the ball from the right side. The server continues to serve from the alternate side each time a point is won. This pattern is repeated throughout the match.

The first player to serve in the game announces “0-0-2”, indicating that the starting team only gets one serve before the service passes to the receiving team.

Only Serving Team Scores

As mentioned earlier, only the serving team can score points in pickleball. The game is customarily played to 11 points, and to be declared the winner, a team must win by a margin of two clear points.

Winning by Two Points

The requirement to win by a two-point margin in pickleball guarantees a level playing field and adds excitement to the game. With points scored exclusively on the serve, comebacks are always possible, and the pressure is on the serving team to maintain their lead.

This winning condition keeps the game competitive and thrilling until the end, making every serve count.

Serving Rules: Mastering the Art

Two players hitting the ball diagonally in a pickleball game

Mastering the art of serving in pickleball is essential, as the serve sets the tone for the rest of the rally. Each player is allocated only one serve attempt, and the service alternates back and forth until a fault is committed.

The server must stand behind the baseline, with at least one foot behind the line, and ensure that their foot does not touch or pass the line during the serve. The serve can be executed either by hitting the ball out of the air or by dropping it on the ground and then hitting it.

Additionally, the player must hold the ball underhand and below the waistline while serving. The player on the right side of the court initiates the serve. They face their opponents when doing so.

Players usually settle the debate on who will be the first server by flipping a coin. It is a popular way to determine this at the start of a game.

Diagonal Serve Requirement

The serve must be made diagonally crosscourt and must land within the confines of the opposite diagonal court, past the kitchen line. Only one serve attempt is permissible, making each serve crucial in the game.

Mastering the diagonal serve adds an element of strategy to the game, as players can target their opponent’s weak spots and gain an advantage right from the start.

First Server Exception

The First Server Exception Rule in pickleball states that each player on the serving team gets a chance to serve after the initial serve of the game. When the score is tied, the player who served first should be on the right side of the court. When the score is odd, they must switch to the left side.

The server number applies only to that particular service turn. Depending on the score, the person on the right side becomes the initial server exclusively when their team regains the serve. To start the game, the server announces, “0, 0, 2” or, more commonly, “0, 0, Start”.

Volley Serves Must Be Underhand

Volley serves are the most common in pickleball, with the alternate choice being a drop serve. Both serves are legal, although there is one requirement: a volley serve must be underhanded and below the waist.

Key Gameplay Rules

Two players playing pickleball with a double bounce rule

Apart from the serving and scoring rules, there are key gameplay rules that players must adhere to in pickleball.

One such rule is the double bounce rule, which states that each team must execute their initial shot off the bounce. This rule prevents the serving team from gaining an unfair advantage and encourages longer rallies, making the game more enjoyable for players and spectators.

Another essential gameplay rule in pickleball is the non-volley zone, also known as the kitchen. This seven-foot area on either side of the net is where volleys are prohibited.

The non-volley zone adds a layer of strategy to the game, as players must carefully position themselves and execute their shots to avoid committing a fault.

Double Bounce Rule

The double bounce rule in pickleball dictates that each team must execute their initial shot off the bounce. This means the ball must bounce once on each side of the net before being volleyed. The rule was instituted to prevent the serving team from gaining an unfair advantage and to encourage longer rallies.

Once the ball has been bounced on either side, all players can move to the kitchen area and begin volleying.

Non-Volley Zone (Kitchen)

The non-volley zone, also known as the kitchen, is a key gameplay feature in pickleball. This zone is a seven-foot area on either side of the net where volleys are prohibited. The non-volley zone aims to prevent players from gaining an unfair advantage by aggressively volleying at the net, similar to a “serve and volley” strategy in tennis.

Players must plan their shots and position themselves to avoid committing a fault in the no-volley zone.

Common Faults and Penalties

Players should recognize several common faults and penalties in pickleball to ensure fair play. Foot faults occur when a player’s foot goes beyond the baseline during a serve or touches the non-volley zone line while volleying.

Double hits are also considered faults when a player strikes the ball twice in one motion. Additionally, if a player hits the ball out of bounds beyond the court’s boundary lines, the opposing team is awarded a point.

Advanced Strategies for Success

Two players playing pickleball with advanced strategies

As players progress in their pickleball journey, they may want to explore advanced strategies to enhance their performance on the court.

Some effective strategies include playing to one’s strengths and exploiting opponents’ weaknesses, communicating with one’s partner in doubles play, executing third shot drops, incorporating drop shots, targeting opponents’ feet, and returning serves deep.

Dinking, lobbing, and volleying are advanced techniques that elevate a player’s game.

Dinking is a gentle shot struck on a rebound close to the non-volley line, intended to land within the adversary’s non-volley area. Lobbing is a shot hit high in the air, typically over the opponent’s head, to give them less time to react. Volleying is a shot hit before the ball bounces, typically close to the net, to give the opponent limited time to respond.

Adaptations for Singles and Wheelchair Play

An image showing a pickleball court with players in wheelchairs and singles play following pickleball rules

Pickleball can be adapted for singles and wheelchair play, ensuring that the game remains inclusive and accessible to a wide range of players.

In singles play, the strategy and court positioning differs from doubles play, with players needing to cover more ground and rely more on their skills.

For wheelchair play, the front wheels of the wheelchair are permitted to enter the non-volley zone, while the rear wheels must remain behind the baseline.

Generally, the rules for wheelchair pickleball are the same as those for singles or doubles pickleball for standing players, apart from a few exceptions, such as the second bounce rule not applying in wheelchair pickleball.

Court Dimensions and Equipment

Two players playing pickleball on a court with dimensions and equipment

A standard pickleball court measures 20 feet wide and 44 feet long, with a net height of 36 inches on the sidelines and 34 inches in the center.

The court is divided into four sections: the right and left service areas and two sides divided by centerlines. These centerlines serve to divide the right and left sides of the court.

Pickleball equipment includes paddles and balls, which are smaller, lighter, and have a broader grip than tennis racquets. The balls used in pickleball have holes, making them slower and encouraging more rallies.

Etiquette and Sportsmanship

Etiquette and sportsmanship are vital aspects of pickleball, ensuring a respectful and enjoyable experience for all participants. One important aspect of etiquette is calling out the score before each serve, reminding players of the current score, and indicating which side will serve next.

The third number called out during the score call-out indicates whether the serving team is still on their initial server or has moved to the second server, providing useful information for both teams.

Other aspects of etiquette and sportsmanship include avoiding distractions, such as conversing with opponents, playing music, or using cell phones on the court.

By adhering to these etiquette guidelines and exhibiting good sportsmanship, players can ensure a positive and enjoyable atmosphere on the pickleball court, making the game a rewarding experience for everyone involved.

Winning Games and Matches

In contrast to tennis, which operates in a game, set, or match process, pickleball matches can be won in two of three matches with the highest scores in each game.

Pickleball Ends at 11, 15, or 21 Points

In pickleball, a game is typically won when one team reaches a score of 11 points and is leading by at least 2 points. However, scoring variations depend on the specific rules being followed.

Sometimes, a game may be played to a different score, such as 15 or 21 points.

It’s important to note that pickleball scoring may vary depending on the level of play, tournament rules, or specific league guidelines. It is recommended to refer to the official rulebook or the rules being followed in a particular game or event to determine the exact conditions for winning a game.


In conclusion, pickleball is an exciting and engaging sport that players of all ages and skill levels can enjoy.

Players can excel in this rapidly growing sport by understanding the basic rules, mastering the serving and scoring systems, adhering to key gameplay rules, and practicing good etiquette and sportsmanship.

With its unique combination of tennis, table tennis, and badminton elements, pickleball offers a fresh and challenging experience for newcomers and seasoned racquet sport enthusiasts.

So grab a paddle, hit the court, and join the pickleball revolution!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you hit a pickleball before it bounces?

In pickleball, hitting the ball before it bounces, known as a “volley,” is prohibited in certain court areas. The non-volley zone, or kitchen, is within 7 feet on both sides of the net.

In this zone, let the ball bounce before making contact. Once the ball has bounced, volley or play it off the bounce.

Can you step into the Kitchen in pickleball?

Yes, in pickleball, you can step into the kitchen (non-volley zone) if you do not hit the ball before it bounces. Stepping into the kitchen is permitted, but hitting the ball while standing inside the kitchen before it bounces is a fault.

How are points scored in pickleball?

A point is scored by the serving side when the opponent faults. A fault can occur in several ways:

  • The ball is hit out of bounds.

  • The ball doesn’t clear the net.

  • The ball is volleyed before a bounce has occurred on each side (violating the double bounce rule).

  • The ball is volleyed while standing within the non-volley zone (the seven-foot zone on both sides of the net, also known as the “kitchen”).

  • The ball bounces twice on one side before being returned.

How do you play pickleball for beginners?

Pickleball is a great sport for beginners! To get started, try playing singles or doubles with the help of an understanding partner. Always use underhanded serves. Serve behind the baseline and ensure the ball bounces once per side.

Is pickleball easier than tennis?

It may be debatable, but the five rules in pickleball are far simpler than tennis rules. In most cases, pickleball courts are much smaller. It helps players cover more court areas at a shorter pace and provides more chances for long rallies.

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