Pickleball is a fun and accessible game that is suitable for players of all ages. Its low-impact gameplay allows for flexibility in how you play and has few rules, making it easy to learn and enjoy. Whether you are young or old, you can enjoy the benefits of this exciting sport. This comprehensive guide to the game will help you familiarize yourself with its basic rules. With a minimal list of materials needed, pickleball is an affordable and enjoyable activity for people of all ages.
We’ll cover a variety of topics pertaining to pickleball rules:
- Serving rules
- Scoring points
- Regulations and standards
- Singles vs. doubles
- Frequently asked questions
Serving Rules of Pickleball
There are specific rules for serving in pickleball that you should familiarize yourself with before hitting the court. Once you get used to these simple rules*, with enough reps you’ll be serving like a pro every time.
- The server’s arm must swing upward as they hit the ball.
- In a legal serve the paddle cannot hit the ball anywhere above the waist.
- Upon contact with the ball, the paddle head cannot be higher than the highest part of the server’s wrist.
- Upon contact with the ball, the server’s feet cannot be touching the pickleball court or anywhere outside of the side- or center-line extensions. Additionally, the server must have (at least) one of their feet firmly behind the baseline.
- The first serve of the game needs to be a diagonal serve. In other words, if the server is on the right side of their half of the court, they must serve the ball diagonally.
- The server has only one attempt to serve the ball across the court. If the serve fails, they must give the serve to the other team.
- The server must switch sides of the court (i.e., from right to left) anytime their team scores a point.
- Two-bounce rule (also known as the double bounce rule): In pickleball, the ball must bounce on both sides of the court before it can be returned. This rule applies to both singles and doubles play.
*Keep in mind that rules 1-3 do not apply in the case of a drop serve. A drop serve is when the server first lets go of the ball and then hits it before it touches the ground.
New or aspiring players need to be aware of how pickleball scoring works. There are relatively few rules about this, though the exact rules may vary from match to match. If you’re unsure of how the scoring system will work for your upcoming game, make sure to ask your friends or teammates!
Below are the basic rules of pickleball scoring:
- The serving team is the only team per round that is able to score points.
- In casual pickleball games, the game ends at 11 points. The winning team wins by two points.
- In tournament games, pickleball is played to either 15 or 21 points. The winning team wins by two points.
An interesting facet of pickleball is that a team’s score during the game also affects which side of the court they serve from:
- If the team has an even score, the server for that team serves from the right side of the court.
- If the team has an odd score, the server for that team serves from the left side of the court.
Finally, the server changes sides of the court every time their team scores a point.
Pickleball Regulations and Standards
In the following sections, you’ll learn about the pickleball regulations and standards regarding these topics:
- Net height
- Court dimensions
It may take a while to grow accustomed to these rules as you begin playing pickleball, but knowing them by heart will help make you a better player.
Pickleball Net Height
A pickleball net is higher at the side posts (36 inches) than at the center (34 inches).
In pickleball, we use a ball similar to a Wiffle ball. But while Wiffle balls have several oblong holes along the surface, pickleballs have round holes that are equally spaced. Here are a few rules concerning pickleballs:
- The pickleball must be made of plastic.
- It must weigh between 0.78 and 0.935 ounces.
- It must be between 2.874 and 2.972 inches in diameter.
- The pickleball may be of any color, but it must be one solid color.
The good news is that pickleballs are cheap to buy online (or at your local sports store) in bulk.
Pickleball gameplay requires a specific type of paddle that adheres to the rules below:
- The paddle can be no longer than 17 inches.
- When combined, the paddle’s length and width can be no more than 24 inches.
- Any thickness of paddle is allowed.
Make sure the paddle you buy or borrow fits the description above, and you’re good to go! Looking for the perfect pickleball paddle?
Size of Pickleball Court (vs. Tennis)
A standard pickleball court has dimensions of 44 feet long by 20 feet wide. This makes pickleball courts noticeably smaller than tennis courts and roughly the same size as badminton doubles courts. Here’s a table for reference:
Standard Court Sizes
44’ L x 20’ W
78’ L x 27’ W or 78’ L x 36’ W
17’ L x 44’ W
20’ L x 44’ W
Pickleball Singles vs. Doubles
You may have come across the terms “singles” and “doubles” while learning about pickleball. The terms refer to two different types of gameplay:
- Singles: This is a 1-on-1 match.
- Doubles: This is a 2-on-2 match, where two players occupy each side of the court.
There are only sparse differences between the two types of gameplay in practice:
- In doubles matches, both members of each team are able to score points for their team.
- In doubles matches, only one team member may serve; if a fault occurs, the serve goes to the other team.
Otherwise, both versions of the game follow the same sets of rules and regulations, including court size.
In pickleball tournaments, we use brackets to keep track of each game’s winners and losers. These brackets are predominantly divided by age, and then further divided by skill level. This ensures that every player has a fair match in terms of physicality and skill—after all, pickleball is a game suited for anyone and everyone!
If you want to follow pickleball brackets for a specific team online, your best bet is to visit PickleBallBrackets.com. They provide information regarding the pickleball tournament brackets of various games going on around the world. This way, you can set the filter on the website to watch for match updates from your favorite teams or tourneys (we recommend following USA Pickleball).
Every sport has its unique terminology that players and fans alike need to learn. Pickleball is especially known for its strange and good-humored vocabulary. Below are just a few terms you should try to memorize before joining your first pickleball game.
In pickleball, the kitchen is the “non-volley” or no volley zone part of the court. It is the area between the net’s sideposts and the sidelines.
The dink is one the best shots you can make in a game of pickleball. It refers to hitting the ball as it bounces out from the kitchen, ensuring it arcs downward as it approaches the net. This makes it difficult for the opposing team to hit the ball back over.
First of all, ATP stands for “Around the Post.” This is the name of a shot that occurs from outside the sideline and results in a point when the ball goes around the net’s post on either side into enemy territory.
If a new song’s a banger? Awesome.
If you’re a banger in pickleball? Not so good.
A drop shot is a shot in Pickleball that is hit softly and with a lot of spin, causing it to fall quickly and land close to the net.
Experienced pickleball players will sometimes poke fun at newbies by calling them a “banger.” This refers to someone who hits the pickleball too hard and plays with brute strength rather than actual skill.
Pickleball players use the term “dead ball” to refer to a ball that has been taken out of play due to a fault or other in-game issue.
Pickleball Basic Rules Questions
Do you have any pickleball questions we haven’t answered yet? Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding pickleball rules.
What happens when the serve hits the net and goes over?
This occurrence is called a “let.” While a let does not give the serving team a point, it’s not considered a fault either. If a serve results in a let, then the server is allowed to reattempt the serve as many times as they would like.
What’s the rule on a double hit?
This is a tricky one. A double hit refers to an occurrence where the ball bounces, and then the server hits the ball twice (instead of once). Luckily, there is one rule that determines what happens in the event of a double hit:
- If the extra hit was intentional (the result of an additional swing), the double hit is a fault.
- If the extra hit was accidental (the result of one swing that happened to hit the ball twice), the double is valid.
Of course, applying this rule to the court can be difficult when accounting for the various factors of actual gameplay.
What happens if a ball hits the crossbar of a portable net?
In the event you’re playing with a portable net, there are some extra things you need to take into consideration. One of those things is what happens if a server hits the net’s crossbar.
- If the ball hits the crossbar on a serve, it is considered a fault.
- If the ball hits the crossbar at any other time, it is considered a let.
How do line calls work in pickleball?
The linecall rules in pickleball are relatively simple:
- A ball that lands anywhere within the confines of the court is ruled “in.”
- A ball that lands anywhere outside the confines of the court is ruled “out.”
The judge determines whether the ball is in or out by examining it from above and determining where exactly its surface is touching.
Can you hover your paddle over the kitchen?
Yes! This is because the “kitchen” technically refers only to the actual ground of the non-volley zone. In other words, you’re allowed to hit the ball with your paddle hovering over the kitchen as long as you’re not physically touching the kitchen.
Can you touch the net post?
No, you cannot touch the net post during gameplay. Doing so would be considered a fault and result in the ball being declared dead.
Do you have to call the score before serving?
Yes, pickleball rules state that you need to call the score before you serve. The only exceptions are in recreational play (where players may unanimously decide it’s unnecessary) and in tournaments (where the referee calls out the score instead).
What happens if you hit a player from the other team?
In sports, accidents happen. (And so do strategic accidents…) If you happen to hit a player from the other team with the ball, then the point goes to you! In the words of Bob Ross, this would be a “happy little accident.”
However, be aware that if you become malicious in your attempts to hit the other players, the referee can choose to call it and give the other team a point.
What are the non-volley zone rules?
The NVZ, also known as the "no-volley zone," is the area on the court surrounding the kitchen where players are not allowed to volley the ball. Players may hit the ball out of the NVZ, but they cannot volley it until it has bounced on the other side of the net.
What are the kitchen rules?
The kitchen is the area on the court closest to the net where players are not allowed to volley the ball. Players may hit the ball out of the kitchen, but they cannot volley it until it has bounced on the other side of the net.
While pickleball is an extremely easy sport to pick up, there are several rules and regulations you should learn about before diving in. That said, the rules we outlined in this article only cover the basics and only govern official tournaments. Day-to-day gameplay with your friends may differ!
Now that you know the rules of pickleball, why not get started by finding a local group or purchasing a set of awesome pickleball rackets?
Get out there and have fun!