11 commonly misunderstood pickleball rules

What are some of the most commonly misunderstood pickleball rules?

Jaclyn Brandt

rules

04/25/2024

April 25, 2024

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The rules of pickleball can be incredibly confusing at first, and even more confusing because not every situation will be in the USA Pickleball rulebook. But what are some of the most commonly misunderstood pickleball rules?

Read all the USA Pickleball rules here.

Rules not in the rulebook

This one is one of the most confusing because it’s not commonly talked about, but if a situation is not explicitly stated in the USA Pickleball rules, then you should assume it is allowed.

If someone tells you a rule is correct or incorrect, ask them to show you in the rulebook. If they cannot show you in the rulebook, then it is not a rule. If they say “it’s always been done that way,” or “my friend told me,” you should still ask for clarification in the rulebook — and if it’s not there, it is not a rule.

Tossing the (volley) serve

Tossing the volley serve may be one of the most common misunderstandings that players have in pickleball, and it goes back to the above rule (Rules not in the rulebook) — because it is not explicitly stated that you cannot toss the volley serve, you should assume it is allowed.

If you toss the volley serve, you still need to hit the ball within the rules: below your waist, with your paddle in an upward arc, and with the highest part of the paddle head below the highest part of your wrist.

During a drop serve, you still can not toss the ball, you can not hit the ball upward with the paddle, and you cannot propel or throw the ball downward.

PPA rules

Just a note on this rule: you will see that in Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) tournaments, players are not allowed to toss the volley serve. This does not mean that you cannot in recreational play — the PPA has a different rule than USA Pickleball in this case.

The PPA also does not allow the Drop Serve, only the Volley serve and, according to the PPA:

  • The serve must be dropped from below the waist.

  • The ball must be dropped, not tossed upward.

  • The player’s palm must be facing down when the ball is dropped, toward the ground (in the past, a player’s palm could be facing upward).

Double hits

Hitting the ball on your paddle with a double hit is another commonly misunderstood rule of pickleball. The double hit rule of USA Pickleball (Rule 11.A) says that a ball can be hit twice, but that must happen “during a continuous, single-direction stroke by one player. If the stroke made while performing the serve or during a rally is not continuous, or not in a single direction, or the ball is struck by a second player, it is a fault.”

Catching or carrying the ball on your paddle

A similar rule to the double hit rule changed in the 2024 rulebook. Rule 7.L says that catching or carrying the ball on your paddle is a fault, which is what it has always been — mostly.

The 2024 change eliminates the requirement to determine if that catch or carry was intentional. Previously, it was only a fault if a player meant to do it — as of 2024, it is a fault whether they intended to or not.

Switching hands

The switching hands rule (Rule 11.B) is pretty straightforward: “A paddle may be switched from hand to hand at any time.”

If someone wants to play both right and left-handed, they are allowed to do so — as long as they are not playing with two paddles at the same time.

Broken or cracked pickleball

The biggest misunderstanding with a broken, cracked, degraded, or soft ball is that it can stop a rally. According to the USA Pickleball rule (Rule 11.E), if you think the ball has an issue, you must wait until the end of the current rally to say something.

According to the rule: “In only the case of a broken or cracked ball, if the players agree the cracked ball impacted the prior rally, a replay occurs. If the players do not agree that a cracked ball impacted the outcome of the prior rally, the prior rally stands as played.”

Whether a replay happens or not, if you do bring this up at the end of a rally, both teams must agree but you can replace the ball before the next serve.

Injury during a rally

Another misconception during a pickleball rally is that if one player gets injured, the rally will automaticallty stop — but that is not correct.

According to Rule 11.F, the rally will continue to its conclusion, even if there is an injury on the court. So if your partner or opponents falls or gets injured in some other way, you should keep playing until that rally is over unless you want to lose the rally.

The pickleball momentum rule

Momentum in pickleball, according to USA Pickleball, is: “a property of a body in motion, such as a player executing a volley, that causes the player to continue in motion after contacting the ball. The act of volleying produces momentum that ends when the player regains balance and control of their motion or stops moving toward the non-volley zone.”

In pickleball, momentum is usually referred to when the player hits a volley but their motion makes them continue into the non-volley/kitchen zone on the pickleball court.

The confusion usually comes in to determine when that momentum ends. In other words, if you hit a volley and your momentum takes you into the kitchen zone one play later, five plays later, is that a fault? Some players think that when the opponent hits the next shot, momentum no longer applies.

But in pickleball, the momentum rule does not have a time limit. If you hit a volley and your momentum causes you to hover over the kitchen zone for two full rallies, and then you eventually fall in, it is still a fault.

Distraction vs. hinder

Distractions and hinders are many times used interchangeably but they are very different things.

Distraction

A distraction (Rule 3.A.7) is any physical action by a player that is “not common to the game” that might interfere with their opponent’s concentration or their ability to hit the ball. 

Some examples include making noises, waving your paddle in a distracting manner, or stomping your feet.

Hinder

A hinder (Rule 3.A.16) is any element or occurrent not caused by a player that affects play (not including any permanent objects).

Some examples include balls from other courts, insects, birds, or players on other courts.

Carrying a pickleball ball in your pocket

Another misunderstood rule in pickleball has to do with whether or not you can carry a ball in your pocket while you are playing. Many players, especially if they came from tennis, are used to carrying those balls in case they need it.

The answer is yes, you can carry an additional pickleball ball in your pocket while you play. But there are a few rules associated with this:

  • The ball cannot be visible to your opponent during play.

  • If that ball falls out of your pocket during play, you will receive a fault.

Balls hitting the ceiling

All courts are different, some have low ceiling, some have high ceilings, and most outdoor courts just have sky. But there is a common misunderstanding about whether a pickleball ball is allowed to hit the ceiling.

The ceiling is located under the Permanent Object definition in USA Pickleball (Rule 3.A.26), which includes ceilings, walls, fencing, lighting, net posts, net post legs, the spectator stands and seats, spectators, “and all other objects around and above the court.”

During a serve, it will be considered a fault if “the served ball touches any permanent object before it hits the ground” (Rule 4.M.1).

During a rally, it is also a fault if the ball hits any permanent object (including the ceiling) before bouncing on the court.

So, any time the ball hits the ceiling it is considered a fault by the person who hit the ball.

Misunderstood pickleball rules

You will find yourself in many disagreements over pickleball rules while out on the court. But the more situations you find yourself in, the more you will become educated on exactly what the rules are. Getting started with learning these misunderstood pickleball rules will give you a good start in knowing how to win every on-court disagreement.