Pickleball The Basics
Pickleball was invented by a family from Washington state in the 1960s. It was originally played exclusively as a recreational sport, but it now has some organized competitions.
Pickleball is a singles or doubles sport played with hollow plastic wiffle balls and wooden paddles. Each individual or pair takes a side of the court on each side of the net.
Players attempt to hit the ball over the net. This continues in what is known as a rally. A rally is broken when one player or team is unable to return the ball over the net and into the opponent’s court. This is called a fault. In this way, pickleball gameplay resembles tennis or badminton, but the simpler equipment materials make it more of a recreational sport.
Games are usually played to 11, 15, or 21 points. Points are scored by the serving side when the opposing side commits a fault.
Pickleball Equipment and Gear
The most essential pieces of pickleball equipment are paddles, balls, and a net. It is impossible to play pickleball without these items. Each player needs a paddle and each game needs at least one ball, although it is good to have extras on hand in case items are broken or lost. A pickleball net is 36 inches high and stretches across the entire center of the court.
Useful clothing accessories to consider include a shirt, shoes, shorts, sunglasses, or a hat. These pieces of clothing can help pickleball players maximize their movement and vision on the court.
There are other helpful items, such as pickleball paddle covers and bags, that are useful for transporting equipment.
Pickleball Penalties and Rules
Pickleball has specific rules for serving the ball, returning the ball, and committing faults.
The server of the ball must hit an underhand shot from below the waist. Each serve must land inside the service area of the diagonally opposite court.
When returning the ball, the receiver must let the ball bounce once in their service area before hitting the ball back over the net. Once returned, it must bounce again on the server’s side of the court before being returned again. Afterwards, the ball may be volleyed (outside the non-volley zone, of course) or hit after one bounce during the rally.
Faults describe when an illegal action occurs. Usually this involves the ball being hit out of bounds or bouncing twice on the same side of the court.
When a fault is committed by the receiving side, the serving side is awarded a point and the server switches between even or odd court. If the serving side commits a fault, service rotates to the next player.
The non-volley zone is the area of a court within seven feet on each side of the net. Within this area, no player may volley the ball out of the air. Doing so results in a fault.
All lines are inclusive, meaning a ball that hits a line is considered to have landed in the area which that line encloses. This is similar to soccer, where the ball must be completely over the line to have crossed it. However, this rule does not apply to the non-volley lines on serves. Serves must clear the non-volley lines entirely.
There are two main player positions in pickleball: the server and the receiver. The roles of each player change based on the server.
In singles, the server serves from even court when their score is an even number and odd court when odd. The serve changes sides when the serving player commits a fault.
Since there are only two positions in singles, each player is responsible for covering twice the space. This makes defense more difficult for singles than pairs.
In pairs competitions, players are further classified based on which side of the court they are occupying and the order of servers. Each side of the net is designated as “serving” or “receiving” court, and each side of each court is either “odd” or “even” (left half is odd, right half is even).
Games begin with service from an even court. This puts the server’s teammate in odd service court, the opponent directly across the net in odd receiving court, and the diagonal opponent in even receiving court.
If a point is scored, the server switches from even to odd court (or vice-versa). Both players on a team will serve the ball during a rotation. When the first server fails to win a point, it becomes the second server’s turn. After the second server fails to win a point, the receiving team wins the serve (a side-out) and service starts from their even court. The exception to both teammates serving occurs at the start of a game, when only one player gets to serve before the first side-out. Remember: Only the serving side can earn points. The opposing team must win the serve back via a side-out before they can earn points.
Important Pickleball Concepts
The most difficult concepts to understand in pickleball are the service and scoring rules. Once those are understood, it’s much easier to focus on getting the ball over the net.
Understanding the court is another critical component to knowing where and how to hit the ball.
Finally, proper technique is also important to winning pickleball games. Having the skill to hit the ball correctly is invaluable.
- Court dimensions
Pickleball 101 Terms
Some important pickleball terms to know revolve around positions and hitting the ball.
A side-out occurs when the serving side commits a fault and the serve is given to the opposing team. Even and odd courts are terms for the right and left sides of each half, respectively.
A volley is a shot that is hit directly out of the air. There are restrictions about when and where a player can volley a shot.
A rally is when the ball is hit back and forth between the two players or teams multiple times. Most pickleball serves become rallies, which are then ended by faults.
One of these restrictions is the non-volley zone (also known as “the kitchen”). Players may not volley the ball from inside this zone because of its proximity to the net, and doing so results in a fault.
- Even court
- Odd court
- Non-volley zone