Pickleball. More than a Sport.

10 Pickleball Rule Changes to Learn for 2021

by Stacie Townsend 25 Comments

10 Pickleball Rule Changes to Learn for 2021 | Pickler Pickleball

The Official Rulebook is reviewed and, to the extent necessary, revised and updated every year, as pickleball rules continue to evolve as the sport evolves. As a result, it is important to stay up-to-date on pickleball rules changes so that you know the right call on the pickleball court (especially if you plan to play a pickleball tournament). 10 Pickleball Rule Changes to Learn for 2021 | Pickler Pickleball

For the 2021 calendar year, there are some important additions, deletions, and other revisions to the rules of pickleball that you should be aware of. These include the following:

1. Organization of the Rulebook

In addition to the recognizable Official Rulebook, there is also an “alternate” rulebook, which re-organizes the presentation of the rules of pickleball. USA Pickleball is seeking comment throughout 2021 as to whether this alternate rulebook is more user-friendly than the Official Rulebook. Further, in some cases, some rules were moved from the Official Rulebook and placed in the referee handbook or the tournament director handbook (as applicable).

2. Addition of the Concept of Fair Play 

We all know that pickleball is a sport that fosters a culture of fun and competition. To maintain this fun and competitive culture, it is important for the sport of pickleball to encourage fair play and good sportsmanship, which is why these concepts were expressly added in the Official Rulebook. Specifically:

  • All points are created equal, meaning the first point and match point are equally important;
  • In doubles pickleball, each partner is permitted to make line calls;
  • All calls on the pickleball court should be made promptly (rather than waiting until the end of a point or after a shot to make the appropriate call); and
  • When confronted with a “rule-less” situation (in other words, a situation that the Official Rulebook does not address), players should cooperate with each other to resolve any dispute, which could include a replay of the point.

3. New Pickleball Terms and Definitions 

A few new pickleball terms were added to the Official Rulebook’s definitional section, which include “coaching,” “ejection,” “expel,” “plane of the net,” “retirement,” “profanity,” and “wheelchair player.” Many of these new pickleball terms were driven by pro pickleball players and their need for further detail around specific rules (especially since the pro pickleball players play with money on the line).

4. Removal of the Concept of a Let on a Serve 

In the past, service lets were a part of the sport of pickleball. However, this rule has been changed to remove service lets in an effort to (1) preserve the integrity of the sport and prevent receiving teams from calling “phantom lets” on “ace serves”; (2) reduce conflicts between players or between referees and players over a let call; and (3) stop referees from performing a referee technique that some players found distracting, which was holding the pickleball net on the serve to detect lets and then stepping back out of bounds.

5. Addition of the Drop Serve as a Provisional Rule 

The Official Rulebook for pickleball originally created the drop serve for players with a physical disability (for instance, any player with one arm). However, the Official Rulebook now permits this alternative serving method for all players, as the pickleball drop serve is a “provisional rule” under the Official Rulebook. This means that the pickleball drop serve is currently permitted, but may be revised or removed in the future based on its effect on the sport. To do a pickleball drop serve, you must drop or release the pickleball from any natural height, either by using your hand or letting the pickleball roll off of your paddle, and then hit the pickleball with your paddle after the pickleball bounces on the court. Learn the details of the pickleball drop serve now to add this new serve to your arsenal! 

 

6. Revising the Questions that You May Ask a Referee Prior to the Serve 

During pickleball tournament play, only certain questions are permitted to be asked to the referees on the pickleball court when it comes to the score and/or how to determine the correct score. These questions now include whether players are in the correct position – a question that was previously prohibited. As a result, players may ask the following questions prior to the serve being struck:

  • The serving team may ask the following questions to the referee at any time prior to the serve:
    • What is the score?
    • Who is the correct server?
    • Are we in the correct position?
  • The receiving team may ask the following questions to the referee at any time prior to the serve:
    • What is the score?
    • Who is the correct receiver?
    • Are we in the correct position?

7. Serves Must Be After the Entire Score Has Been Called 

A server cannot make contact with the pickleball for the serve until the entire score has been called (in other words, all three digits during doubles play, or both two digits during singles play). With that said, a player could quick serve you by starting his or her serve before the entire score is called. This differs from the previous rule as players were prohibited from starting their serve prior to the entire score being called. Now, it is not a fault for the server to start the serve prior to calling the entire score. It is only a fault if the server’s paddle has made contact with the pickleball for the serve prior to the entire score being called. This change was driven to remove the ambiguity between practice serves and the start of the actual serve. To note, in officiated play (for instance, in a pickleball tournament), beware of referees altering the tempo of their respective score calling. For instance, a quick 0-0-2 compared to a slow, drawn out 0-0-2. Changing tempo in score calling may inadvertently lead to you making contact with the serve prior to the entire score being called, especially if you are tempted to quick serve your opponents. So, beware of tempo and be sure that the entire score is called before serving the pickleball!

8. If the Wrong Score Is Called, Players Have Until the Third Shot to Stop Play 

At times, the server (or the referee) could call the wrong score on the pickleball court. If the wrong score is called by the server (or the referee), any player on the pickleball court can stop play, and ask for the correct score to be re-called, before the third shot of the rally is hit. This differs from the prior rule, as the prior rule only permitted play to be stopped before the return of serve (rather, than the third shot). If play is stopped before the third shot of the rally is hit, and the score was called incorrectly, then the server (or the referee) will re-call the correct score and re-serve the pickleball with no penalty. However, if a player on the pickleball court stops play after the third shot of the rally is hit, then the player who stopped play will have committed a fault and will lose the rally. In other words, you cannot raise the issue of the wrong score being called after the third shot of the rally is hit – you must challenge the issue of the wrong score being called before the third shot of the rally is hit.

9. Coaching Is Permitted When Switching Ends of the Pickleball Court

Coaching is only permitted between games and during time-outs. Coaching is not permitted at any other time during a pickleball match. The previous version of the rules prohibited coaching when switching ends of the pickleball court in game three of best two out of three to 11 points, or in a game to 15 or 21. This is because switching ends was not deemed a time-out. This has now changed in the current rules of pickleball, as switching ends is now deemed a time-out. Since the time to change ends is deemed a time-out, coaching is permitted. As a result, partners may communicate with each other or receive coaching from individuals that are not playing on the court.

10. Other Revisions to Remove Conflict Between Players and Referees 

The Official Rulebook is generally revised in order to preserve the integrity of the sport for years to come and in a manner that is best for the players. The Official Rulebook is also generally revised in an effort to reduce the potential for conflict between referees and players on the pickleball court. For instance, there are a handful of revisions to change the key point in time from the calling of the score to the point of contact between the pickleball and the paddle on the serve (such as when serves may be hit, as described above). There are also a handful of revisions regarding technical warnings and technical fouls to provide more clarify on when those penalties should be imposed on pickleball players.

Looking for More Pickleball Rules?

We know pickleball rules can be tricky at times. Don’t worry. Pickler explains the ins and outs of all of the pickleball rules in a series of pickleball rules blogs to make sure that you make the right call on the pickleball court. Learn more by visiting Pickler's pickleball rules blogs that are linked below!




Stacie Townsend
Stacie Townsend

Author



25 Responses

Gaston
Gaston

May 06, 2021

1. While playing a match particularly outdoors, changing sides should be done more frequent. The reason are that the sun and wind is a factor.

2. The receiver should be granted a point if a rally is won. There are some players that are better defensively than offensively.

Dean DeWitt
Dean DeWitt

March 14, 2021

Drop serves, well you should know I like hitting serves low, just off the court anyhow. Don’t know why, me? In football, drop-kicks; I’’ll try a drop serve like that. With less than a foot drop and a so quick off the bounce that you might wonder if it hit; ready? I think coming-up from a bounce would add more power off a paddle, than catching it falling-away and down. But I’ve got to end this covid isolation, and ‘mask’, to do it. Personally, I don’t think I’ll miss the let calls. It will add to some ‘fun’ challenges, I think. If calling lets were an issue; why not make a tech-sensor thing for the net that would beep/flash when the net is hit? Tennis utilizes such tech now, which had been an official with hand-on-net to call lets, and line judges? They’ll be replaced by tech some day too.

Pickler
Pickler

March 07, 2021

Great question, Nicki – There is no rule prohibiting that a drop serve to bounce multiple times. As a result, the drop serve may bounce multiple times before making contact. Also, to note, you may pick up the pickleball and re-drop the pickleball if you do not like the drop as many times as you’d like (as long as you still hit your serve within 10 seconds after the score has been called).

Nikki’s Opponent
Nikki’s Opponent

March 07, 2021

Rule 4.A.8.a, scenario C says that you may let the drop serve bounce multiple times before hitting it.

Pickler
Pickler

February 16, 2021

Conrad – I understand the confusion. However, the key is whether you need to wait to START your serve before the score has been called (the OLD rule) and whether you need to wait to actually make CONTACT on your serve before the score has been called (the NEW rule). With the new rule, it is easier to try to throw your opponents off balance by doing a quick serve. Hope this helps!

Conrad Hotchkiss
Conrad Hotchkiss

February 16, 2021

Your #7 calling the score and serving. I read it several times. It appears to me the explanation contradicts it self. Please review it.

Nicki
Nicki

February 16, 2021

On a drop serve – can the ball bounce more than once before you hit it? An opponent did this to me last week so just wondering?

Pickler
Pickler

January 31, 2021

To respond to a few questions in the comment section:

Glen – A natural height is any height that you can reach while standing on the ground. This means that you can drop the pickleball on the drop serve from any point between the ground and as high as you can reach with your feet on the ground.

Bob – Both the serve must bounce in the correct serving area on your opponents’ side of the pickleball court, and the return must bounce on your side of the pickleball court. The drop on the drop serve does not count as a bounce.

Arlene – You may drop the pickleball on the drop serve as many times as you’d like until you feel as if you have a good drop. However, remember that you only have 10 seconds after the score has been called to serve the pickleball. So, there is a time limit for you to get a good drop.

John – There are no rules regarding where the dropped pickleball must land. You are correct that your feet must be behind the baseline, but the dropped pickleball could land on the baseline or even in front of the baseline.

Stephen – On contact for your serve, neither of your feet may be on or in front of the baseline. However, you only need one foot to be in contact with the ground behind the baseline. This means that one foot could be in the air. But, again, neither foot may be in contact with the ground in front of the baseline or on the baseline.

Hope this helps!

Stephen
Stephen

January 31, 2021

The video mentions foot placement. She mentions that ONE foot has to be behind the line. So, I could have my BACK foot behind the line and my front foot in the court area?

Karen Widlitz
Karen Widlitz

January 21, 2021

Hi Stacie! Your service lesson/demonstration was just great!! So helpful and informative! Thanks ☺️

Dennis Schule
Dennis Schule

January 21, 2021

Absolutely hate the no let rule and drop serve rule changes. All you are doing is rewarding players for unskilled play. No let is a real disadvantage for the receiver. Drop serve should only be allowed for handicapped players.

Don L
Don L

January 31, 2021

An in correct score may also be corrected after the rally.

John Gibbons
John Gibbons

January 31, 2021

Re: New bounce serve.

Does the ball have to bounce outside the serving box or does it matter? I realize the server has to be behind the line, but what about the ball?

Arlene Magdaleno
Arlene Magdaleno

January 31, 2021

When you drop or roll the ball off your palm. Do you have to hit the ball the first time? Can you drop it several times, till you like the drop.

Bob Beck
Bob Beck

January 31, 2021

The serving side always has to let the ball bounce before returning; or is the bounce considered complete if the new serve method considered a bounce on the serving side

Glen Hudson
Glen Hudson

January 31, 2021

When rules changes are meant to remove ambiguity I see on in the new drop serve. What is considered a natural height?, waist high, shoulder high or any place between?.

Pickler
Pickler

December 29, 2020

In response to a few questions:

Wrong Score – If you stop play prior to the third hit, but the score was correct, then you would have committed a fault and will lose the rally.

Drop Serve – Yes, you may also roll off of your palm – as long as it is gravity drop and unaided.

Let – If the pickleball hits the net, and bounces just beyond the Kitchen, then that is the luck for the server if the proper receiver cannot retrieve the serve. The correct receiver must hit the return of serve.

Rulebook – An electronic version of the rulebook (in the most current form) is available for free at usapickleball.org.

Michelle Miller
Michelle Miller

December 29, 2020

I have a question about the score being called “wrong” and having until 3rd hit to stop play and question it. If I believe my opponent called it wrong and I stop play BEFORE 3rd shot, but they actually called the score correctly, what happens then? Is that a fault on me for stopping play? Thanks

Arun s
Arun s

December 29, 2020

Although I am excited about these above rule changes/insertions, I do have some questions.
1) on the drop serve, it clearly states you can roll it off your paddle to drop it. Can you also roll it off your open palm that’s facing upward?
2) With regard to the ‘no let/net rule, is there anyway to make it less challenging to deal with. In other words if older, less mobile/nimble players have difficulty in returning them. Especially the ones that drop just beyond the NVZ/Kitchen line upon hitting the net, can they permit the partner of the receiver to also be able to return it? I think it evens the playing field in a manner of speaking (so to speak) and removes any undue advantage the server may have.
As of now there has always been the ‘designated receiver’ (intended receiver) and no one else is permitted to return it legally w/o losing the rally/point, as the case may be.
I do believe the drop serve is going to be exploited since there is by design more room for creativity within the fairly lax perimeters/requirements set forth.
Thanks for you prompt attention to this matter. Cheers! Happy Holidays! 🤔

Lowell Barkan
Lowell Barkan

December 29, 2020

I recently bought a new rule book and now you added new rule changes. How do I update my rule book.

Martha Gilbert
Martha Gilbert

December 29, 2020

Thanks, Stacie. You covered these in a clear and thorough way. Very helpful!

Brent Oswald
Brent Oswald

December 29, 2020

great article !, and excellent video ! Thx !!!

FRED
FRED

December 29, 2020

What if a player stops play (before the third hit) claiming an incorrect score, but they were mistaken?

Hector lugo
Hector lugo

December 29, 2020

My passion is pickleball and all the health benefits and meeting all types of people from all walks of life that play that ilove the game.

Becky bishop
Becky bishop

December 29, 2020

I love theses new rule changes for 2021. Great job.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.


Also in Pickleball Blog

Team Waters Takes Pickleball on Vacation in Costa Rica | Pickler Pickleball
Team Waters Takes Pickleball on Vacation in Costa Rica

by Leigh Waters

Since returning to professional pickleball this year, after taking a long COVID hiatus, Leigh and Anna Leigh Waters have been traveling the country for pickleball tournaments. But, one thing that that they have not done in a really long time is take a family vacation... until now. Learn about Team Waters' trip to Costa Rica from Leigh herself, which included as much, or more, pickleball than at home in Florida, monkey spectators, family bonding, surfing, and a lot of new friends made on the Costa Rican pickleball courts, which reminded them how much fun the great sport of pickleball really is. 

Read More

Lessons from the Pickleball Court: Encourage the Kids to Play | Pickler Pickleball
Lessons from the Pickleball Court: Encourage the Kids to Play

by Stacie Townsend

Pickleball is great for kids. Kids are great for pickleball. Learn why pickleball is not just your grandparents' game anymore and why kids should be on the court playing pickleball!

Read More

Why the Middle May Be the Best Pickleball Strategy | Pickler Pickleball
Why the Middle May Be the Best Pickleball Strategy

by Stacie Townsend 1 Comment

Down the middle solves the riddle.” We have all heard this idiom before on the pickleball court. There is a strategy in pickleball to hit shots “down the middle” in doubles pickleball. What is this middle strategy? Why is the middle strategy effective in doubles pickleball? How can you execute the middle strategy? Learn the answers to these questions and whether the middle is the best pickleball strategy.

Read More