Before you step onto the pickleball court, make sure you know the 10 basic rules for how to play pickleball:
- The Serve in Pickleball Must be Underhand. To start a point in a pickleball game, the serving player must serve the pickleball underhand. The pickleball must travel crosscourt into the opposite serving area, which is the area between the baseline and the Non-Volley Zone line (also known as the Kitchen line – more on this below!).
- Both the Serve and the Return of Serve Must Bounce. Both the serve and the return of serve must bounce in the sport of pickleball. This is called the 2-bounce or 3-hit rule in the sport of pickleball. After the serve and return of serve, either team or player may volley the pickleball. In other words, after the serve and return of serve, either team or player may hit the pickleball either in the air or after a bounce. To note, if the pickleball bounces twice, then the point is over.
- The First Side to Serve in Doubles Pickleball Only Has One Serve; Then, Each Side Has Two Serves. Each team in doubles pickleball will receive two serves, one for each partner, except for the team that serves to start the game. The team that serves to start the game will only receive one serve. As a result, the correct score to start any game is 0-0-2 – 0 points for the serving team, 0 points for the receiving team, and serve #2 because, if the serving team loses a rally or commits a fault, there will be side out and the opposing team will take the serve. Every serve to start the game will begin in the even/right-hand side of the pickleball court and the server will serve the pickleball crosscourt (or diagonal) to the even/right-hand side of the pickleball court for the receiving team.
- The Server Must Call the Score Loudly Before Each Serve. Most pickleball games are played to 11 points (win by 2 points). Some pickleball games may be played to 15 points (win by 2 points) or even 21 points (win by 2 points). Before each serve, the server should call the score so that the other players on the pickleball court hear and know the score. The server should call the score loudly prior to hitting the pickleball on the serve.
- In doubles pickleball, the score is made up of three numbers (for instance, 0-0-2). The first number represents the serving team’s score. The second number represents the receiving team’s score. The third number represents the server number, which is either server #1 or server #2. For example, if the score in doubles pickleball is 10-8-2, then this means that the serving team has 10 points, the receiving team has 8 points, and the serving team is on server #2.
- In singles pickleball, the score is made up of only two numbers (for instance, 0-0). The first number represents the server’s score. The second number represents the receiver’s score. There is no third number because, in singles pickleball, each side only has one serve (rather than two serves). For example, if the score in singles pickleball is 10-8, then this means that the server has 10 points and the receiver has 8 points.
- Only the Serving Team Can Score Points, and the Serving Team Switches Sides of the Court After Each Point Won. Only the serving team can score points. If the serving team wins the point, then the serving team will keep the serve, and the server and his or her partner will switch sides of the court. The server will then serve diagonally in the other direction. The serving team will only switch sides of the pickleball court upon winning a point. The receiving team will not switch sides of the court – only the serving team will switch sides of the court upon winning a point.
- No Volleys Are Allowed in the Non-Volley Zone (also known as the Kitchen). The Non-Volley Zone (also known as the Kitchen) is the 14-foot area in the middle of the court, which extends 7 feet on either side of the pickleball net. You may not volley (in other words, hit the pickleball in the air, without a bounce) the pickleball while making contact with the Non-Volley Zone. Contact with the Non-Volley Zone includes standing in the Non-Volley Zone or the Non-Volley Zone line, dropping your paddle or hat into the Non-Volley Zone, or allowing your momentum to carry you into the Non-Volley Zone after you hit the pickleball outside of the Non-Volley Zone. Again, to be making contact with the Non-Volley Zone, you must make contact with the ground with any part of your body, paddle, or clothing. This includes both at the time you are making contact with the pickleball and after you make contact with the pickleball if your momentum carries you into the Non-Volley Zone. In other words, it is a fault if your momentum carries you into the Non-Volley Zone even if you make contact with the pickleball outside of the Non-Volley Zone. Your momentum ends when you (a) regain balance or control of your motion and (b) you either (i) stop moving toward the Non-Volley Zone, or (ii) pause to start a new motion.
- Shots After the Pickleball Bounces Are Allowed in the Non-Volley Zone. The Non-Volley Zone only limits volleys (in other words, hitting the pickleball out of the air, without the pickleball bouncing). Reaching over the Non-Volley Zone line above the surface area of the pickleball court to hit the pickleball is permitted. You may also hit the pickleball in the Non-Volley Zone after the pickleball has bounced, and you may generally stand in the Non-Volley Zone (although, not recommended) as long as you are not volleying the pickleball.
- Shots on the Lines of the Pickleball Court Are “In” – With One Exception. If a pickleball lands on any line on the pickleball court, then the pickleball will be “in” and play will continue. The only exception to this general rule is that the serve may not land in the Non-Volley Zone or on the Non-Volley Zone line. If the served pickleball lands in the Non-Volley Zone, or on the Non-Volley Zone line, then the serve will be considered “out” and the server will have committed a fault and will lose the rally.
- “Out” Calls Are Made by the Pickleball Players on the Side of the Pickleball Court Where the Pickleball Bounces. Line calls in pickleball are made by the players on the pickleball court. Specifically, pickleball players make the line calls on their respective side of the pickleball court. In doubles pickleball, either partner may make line calls on their respective side of the pickleball court. Players generally should not question their opponents’ line calls. The exception to this general rule is if a pickleball game or match has a referee or both a referee and line judges.
- If the Pickleball Hits You, Then You Lose the Rally. You may only contact the pickleball with your paddle or your hand in contact with your paddle below your wrist. If you contact the pickleball with any other part of your body (including your hand in contact with your paddle above your wrist – such as your forearm), or anything that you are wearing, then you would have committed a fault and will lose the rally.
No two points are the same on the pickleball court. As a result, there are infinite point possibilities on the pickleball court. The rules of pickleball attempt to cover these infinite possibilities, and, at times, the rules of pickleball can get into some heavy detail about the game of pickleball. With that said, these 10 must know pickleball rules should cover a large majority of the pickleball points and will definitely be enough rules for a lot of fun on the pickleball court!
Want More Detailed Pickleball Rules?
For a deeper dive into the pickleball rules, check out the following Pickler pickleball rules blogs:
- Pickleball Rules – The Ultimate Guide to the Rules of Pickleball
- 10 Pickleball Rules Changes to Learn for 2021
- Pickleball Rules – Learn How to Start – 5 Things You Need to Play
- Pickleball Dictionary – Quickly Learn the Pickleball Vocabulary
- Pickleball Serving Rules – Master the Start of Every Pickleball Game
- Pickleball Scoring Rules – Learn How to Keep the Score in Pickleball
- Pickleball Kitchen Rules – Learn Important Non-Volley Zone Rules
- Pickleball Line Call Rules – How to Make the Right Call
- Pickleball Rules – Faults & Dead Balls on the Pickleball Court
- Pickleball Rules – Commonly Misunderstood Rules in Pickleball
- Pickleball Tournament Rules - Must Read Before a Tournament
- Singles Pickleball Rules - How to Play Singles Pickleball
- Wheelchair Pickleball Rules - How to Play Wheelchair Pickleball