7 basic rules of pickleball

7 basic rules of pickleball


By Jaclyn Brandt

On: 02/14/2024

Learning to play pickleball can be overwhelming at first, especially with many rules that are unlike any other sport. But learning just a few basic pickleball rules will help you get started playing the game. Here are our top basic rules for pickleball:

The basic rules of pickleball

Pickleball was invented in a backyard, on an already-existing badminton court. Because of this, the playing area is the same as a standard badminton court. Here are a few basic pickleball rules:

  • Pickleball can be played as singles or doubles, although you will see doubles being played far more often.

  • Unlike tennis, you will use the entire pickleball court in both doubles and singles.

Basic serving rules

Pickleball serving is not like tennis, so if you are a tennis player you may need to re-train yourself completely — at least on the serve. Here are a few rules for serving the ball in pickleball:

  • The head of the paddle may not be above your wrist when you hit the ball.

  • When you hit the ball, your arm must be moving in an “upward arc,” according to USA Pickleball.

  • You can “drop serve” or “bounce serve” — but you must use gravity for the bounce, you cannot force the ball down.

  • When you hit the ball during a serve, at least one of your feet must be behind the baseline. Your feet must also be within the imaginary extension of the sideline and centerline.

  • Neither of your feet may step into the playing area or baseline until after the ball is hit.

  • The serve must be made diagonally across the court and land within the crosscourt.

    • During the serve, if the ball hits the baseline, sideline, or center line, it is considered in. However, if it hits the “kitchen line” then it is considered a serving fault — during the serve only.

  • You may only attempt your serve one time.

Serving sequences

Serving sequences are where it gets a little tricky for beginner pickleball players. Several rules may seem complicated at first, but will start to make sense the more you play.

  • In doubles, both players on a team will have a chance to serve before the serve returns to the other team.

    • Each player will serve until they lose the point, or commit a fault.

    • Each time a player who is serving wins a point, they switch sides with their partner for their next serve.

  • The first serve from each team will come from the right side of the court.

    • The server number (1 or 2) of a score applies to that service term only.

    • When a team has an even score (0, 2, 4, etc.) the player who first served first should be on the right side of the court, and on the left side of the court when the score is odd (1, 3, 5, etc.), whether or not they are serving.

    • When a team has an odd score (1, 3, 5, etc.) the player who first served second should be on the left side of the court, and on the right side of the court when the score is even (0, 2, 4, etc.), whether or not they are serving.

  • In singles, the server will serve from the right side of the court when their score is an even number (0, 2, 4, etc.) and from the left side of the court when their score is odd (1, 3, 5, etc.).

The one time the serving rules in pickleball change from the above rules is during the first serve: only one player is allowed to serve during the first service (the game will start as 0-0-2 instead of 0-0-1). After a lost point from the first server, the second team will then receive the ball and both players will serve.

Who serves first?

USA Pickleball does not recommend any specific rule for which team serves first. However, many courts will have their own rules (for example: the team or player on the north side of the court). 

During each game you play, it is up to you and your competitors to come up with the solution to which player (in singles) or which team (in doubles) has first choice of side, serve, and reception.

Learn more about pickleball serving rules.

Pickleball scoring

Scoring in pickleball is pretty easy to learn, and is similar to a few other sports. Here are the basic rules of pickleball scoring:

  • You can only score a point if you are part of the serving team.

  • Games are normally played to 11 points.

  • You must win by two points, meaning you cannot win 11-10. The game will continue until one team wins by at least two points.

  • Tournament games may be played to 15 or 21 points.

  • Before each rally, the server should announce the score, which will be read as: “My score - your score - which number of server I am (1 or 2).”

    • A scoring example in singles would be: 2-4.

      • If the server loses the point, their opponent will gain the serve and announce “4-2.”

    • A scoring example in doubles would be 2-4-2.

      • If the server loses the point, their opponent will gain the serve and announce “4-2-1.”

Learn more about pickleball scoring.

Double-bounce rule

The double-bounce rule in pickleball, or the two-bounce rule, is relevant only for the serve and return — you do not need to let the ball bounce during the rest of the volley. Here are some rules to help you understand the pickleball double-bounce rule:

  • When the ball is served, the receiving team must let the ball bounce one time in their court before returning it. The ball must land on the correct side of the playing court between or on the baseline, sideline, and center line, and outside the kitchen line/non-volley line (NVL).

  • When the ball is returned by the receiving team, the serving team must also let it bounce once before returning it. The return can land anywhere on the playing surface (including within the kitchen).

  • After the ball has bounced one time on each side during a rally, you no longer need to let it bounce in your court before returning it.

  • Two bounces in any court will be a fault for the receiving team.

Pickleball line rules

Pickleball line rules are similar to other net sports like volleyball, tennis, and badminton.

  • A ball may land on any part of the baseline, sideline, or center line and will be considered “in.”

  • The ball may not contact the non-volley zone line, or kitchen line, during a serve. If it does, it is considered a serving fault.

  • Because there are usually no referees or line judges during pickleball games, it is up to the receiving team to make a determination whether a ball is “in” or “out.”

Learn more about pickleball line rules.

The non-volley zone, or “the kitchen”

The non-volley zone (NVZ) may be one of the most important pickleball rules to learn. The NVZ is usually referred to as “the kitchen.” The kitchen is the zone between the net, spanning seven feet toward the baseline and 20 feet wide from sideline to sideline. Here are some rules of the kitchen in pickleball.

  • You may not step into the NVZ to return a ball unless you are returning a bounced ball, not a volley. If you return a bounced ball, you may be in the kitchen before, during, or after you hit the ball.

  • If you volley the ball and step into the zone, either before or after you hit the ball, it is considered a fault.

    • If your momentum takes you into the kitchen after you hit the ball, it is still considered a fault. This is true even if the ball has already been declared dead.

    • A fault is considered any foot stepping into the zone or on any part of the kitchen line.

  • You may be in the NVZ any time other than when you are hitting a non-bounced ball, are about to hit a non-bounced ball, or just hit a non-bounced ball.

    • If you step into the zone before a volley, you must re-establish both your feet behind the kitchen line before hitting the volley.

Learn more about all the kitchen rules.

Faults

Faults in pickleball are “any action that stops play because of a rule violation,” according to USA Pickleball. Faults are anything done by the receiving team that will result in a point for the serving team, or anything done by the serving team that results in a serving loss or side out. Some example of pickleball faults are:

  • Not allowing the ball to bounce one time in the court during the initial serve and return.

  • Hitting the pickleball ball out of bounds.

  • Hitting your ball into the pickleball net where the ball does not cross the other side of the court.

    • During a serve, the ball may not touch the pickleball net.

    • If the ball is hit into the net during normal play but crosses to the other side of the court, the play is not a fault.

  • Hitting the pickleball ball under the pickleball net.

  • Allowing the ball to bounce twice on your side of the pickleball court.

Learning to play pickleball as a beginner

It can seem like you have a lot to remember when you are learning to play pickleball as a beginner, but the more you play the more you will start to learn these basic pickleball rules.

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