Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the United States, in part because it has a very short learning curve. People of all ages can enjoy pickleball. It’s simple, fun, and social. For beginners, the game can be easygoing. For those with a knack for competition, it can be thrilling, fast-paced, and strategic. Let’s dive into a brief overview of everything you need to know about how to play pickleball, including the five basic pickleball rules.
What Is Pickleball?
Pickleball is a sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis. You can play the game as singles (with one opponent) or doubles (in a 2v2 matchup). The perforated ball you play with is similar to a wiffle ball, and the paddles are slightly larger than traditional ping pong paddles, but have similar shape. Joel Pritchard came up with the idea of pickleball in 1965, and named the game after his dog (Pickles)! Since then, sport has grown dramatically.
Today, pickleball is enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities, and it is a great way to get active outdoors. It is especially popular in retirement communities as it is a low-impact sport that can be played safely by people of all fitness levels.
Pickleball Court Dimensions
Pickleball is played on a rectangular court that is 20′ wide by 44′ long. The court is divided into two sides by a low net. The net height is 36 inches high at the sidelines and 34 inches high in the middle. There is a center line on each side, which divides the side into two service courts: the left service court and the right service court. Outdoor courts are similar texture to tennis courts, and indoor courts are similar to volleyball courts, which is why enhance their grip on the court with pickleball shoes.
Running perpendicular to the center lines are the two non-volley lines. This area between the non volley zone line and the net is called the kitchen. Players can NOT step into the kitchen when volleying the ball. The kitchen (or non volley zone) is 7′ deep and extends the entire width of the court, which is 20′.
Pickleball Scoring & Rules for Singles
In singles play, the game is started with the player serving the ball from behind the baseline. The serve must be made underhand and land cross-court, in the opposing team’s service court. The serve must clear the net and not land in the kitchen.
The opponent returns the ball, and the players take turns hitting the ball back and forth until one player misses or hits the ball out of bounds. When this happens, a point is scored, and the server changes. The first player to reach 11 points wins the game. However, if both players reach 10 points, the game lasts until someone wins by 2 points.
The 5 Basic Pickleball Rules for Singles
- The server starts the point by standing behind the baseline and serving the ball diagonally into the service court. The ball cannot land in the kitchen. When serving, you must call out two numbers: your score and your opponent’s score.
- After the ball has been put into play, players can only return the ball over the net.
- The Double Bounce Rule: The ball must bounce once on each side before either team may start volleying the ball in the air. For example, when Team A serves to Team B, the ball must bounce once Team B’s side, and then when Team B returns it, it must bounce once on Team A’s side. After the ball has bounced once on each side, either team may volley the ball into the air, so long as they are not standing in the kitchen.
- A point is scored when the opponent hits the ball out of bounds, into the net, or lets the ball bounce on their side twice. If the ball lands on the line, it is regarded as “in”.
- A player can only score points when serving. If the server commits a fault, they lose the service.
Pickleball Scoring & Rules for Doubles
With two players, the rules for pickleball are relatively similar to singles play. The main difference is that there are no service courts, and each player serves from their own side of the net.
The game starts with one player serving the ball from behind the baseline. The serve must be made underhand and must bounce before it is reached by the opponent. The server cannot bounce the ball before hitting it to the other side. Like in singles play, the rules only allow one service attempt unless the ball hits the net.
In doubles pickleball, each of the four players takes turns serving and has their own score. The game is played to 11 points, and players must win by at least two points.
The rules for how to play pickleball with two opponents are as follows:
- The call “0-0-2” should signal the game’s beginning. The two signifies the second server.
- The game starts with one player serving the ball from behind the baseline with all of the same rules as in singles play. The main difference between singles and doubles is that in doubles, the server has three numbers to call: their score, their opponent’s score, and whether they are server one or two.
- The Double Bounce Rule: just like in singles, the ball must bounce once on each side before either team may start volleying the ball in the air..
- Each team member serves until their team makes a fault.
- When a team loses a point, the serve passes to the opposite team; this is known as a Side Out.
Serving in Pickleball
When playing pickleball, the serve must be made underhand and the server cannot bounce the ball before hitting it over the net. The ball must also bounce in the service court before the opponent can return it. In doubles play, the First Server Exemption rule applies. This rule minimizes the advantage of serving first by only allowing the right-side player to serve for the first round. The server needs to hit the ball diagonally. If the ball hits the net and goes over, it is called a “let”, and the point is replayed.
The serving team does not alternate sides unless a point is scored. The receiving side never changes sides. The opposing team gets the serve when the second server loses the point. In doubles play, the player on the right serves first.
Players or teams only switch sides after the entire game is over.
A pickleball volley is a defensive shot to keep the ball in play and force the opponents to hit the ball multiple times. The main goal of a volley is to allow the player to stay in the game and not let their opponents take control of the rally. Pickleball volleys can be hit with different strokes, but the most common are forehand and backhand strokes. The forehand stroke is hit with the front of the paddle, and the backhand stroke is hit with the back of the paddle. Volleys can also be hit with different spin techniques. The most common spin techniques are topspin, backspin, and sidespin.
Topspin volleys are hit with a downward motion on the paddle, and they cause the ball to spin forward after it hits the ground.
Backspin volleys are hit with an upward motion on the paddle, and they cause the ball to spin backward after it hits the ground.
Sidespin volleys are hit with a sideways motion on the paddle, and they cause the ball to spin sideways after it hits the ground.
Keep in mind that it is a fault if you hit a volley inside the No Volley Zone (located in the front half of each opponent’s court). This rule prevents players from hitting the ball too hard and giving their opponents no time to react.
Pickleball is an exhilarating game that most people can pick up quickly. Once you arrive to the court, the only things you need are a ball, paddles, pickleball shoes, and a pickleball bag to carry your equipment. The rules are fairly simple to grasp after a few rounds of practice. The main things to keep in mind is the “double bounce rule”, keep your feet out of “the kitchen”, underhand serve, and have fun!