Pickleball is one of the newest and fastest-growing sports in America and is very similar to already popular older sports such as tennis and badminton. Read on below to learn the fundamentals of pickleball.
Pickleball was invented by a family from Washington state in the 1960s. It was originally played exclusively as a recreational sport but now has increasingly prestigious organized competitions, most notably the US Open Championships.
Pickleball is a singles or doubles sport played with hollow plastic 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.
Games are usually played to 11, 15, or 21 points. Like in tennis or badminton, points are scored by the serving side when the opposing side commits a fault.
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 pickleball clothing and 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 has specific rules for serving the ball, returning the ball, and committing faults, including:
- 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, the ball must bounce again on the server’s side of the court before being returned again.
- The ball may be volleyed (outside the non-volley zone) or hit after one bounce during the rally.
- Faults describe when an illegal action occurs, usually 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 courts.
- 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.
- All lines are inclusive, meaning a ball that hits a line is considered to have landed in the area which that line encloses.
- 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 who is currently the server.
In singles, the server serves from the 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 doubles.
In doubles 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 the “serving” or “receiving” court, and each side of each court is either “odd” or “even” (the left half is odd and the right half is even). Games begin with service from an even court. This puts the server’s teammate in the odd service court, the opponent directly across the net in the odd receiving court, and the diagonal opponent in the even receiving court.
If a point is scored in a doubles match, 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 that only the serving side can earn points. The opposing team must win the serve back via a side-out before they can earn points.
Some important pickleball terms to know revolve around positions and hitting the ball. These are the most important terms to know when playing pickleball:
- Side-out: when the serving side commits a fault, and the serve is given to the opposing team
- Even court: the right side of the court
- Odd court: the left side of the court
- Volley: a shot that is hit directly out of the air
- Rally: when the ball is hit back and forth between the two players or teams multiple times
- Non-volley zone: also known as “the kitchen”, an area of the court where volleys cannot be hit
How does pickleball work?
Pickleball is a classic racket sport played in singles and doubles competitions. Games are typically played to 11, 15, or 21 points. Points are scored when the opponent commits a fault, which also causes service to change to the next player. Though it started as a purely recreational activity, it has grown into an organized sport.
What equipment do I need to play pickleball?
The most important equipment you need to play pickleball is paddles, balls, and a net. Many experienced players prefer specialized pickleball shoes. You will also need athletic clothing and may want sunglasses and a hat if you are playing outdoors on a sunny day. Bring a water bottle to stay hydrated.