Basic Rules of Pickleball

Basic Rules of Pickleball

Pickleball’s nationwide surge in popularity owes a ton to the sport’s accessibility. The simple rules of the game allow anyone, young or old, to pick up a paddle and play at their own pace. The rules of pickleball also draw from the rules of several other net sports, like tennis, badminton, and volleyball. Pickleball’s rules vary from singles to doubles play, so this article will cover the rules of both.

The Objective

Pickleball Objective

In pickleball, both players or teams paddle a hollow ball back and forth over a short net, trying to get it to drop on their opponent’s side of the court without being returned. The first side to reach 11 points (while up by two) wins the game.

Basic Rules

Pickleball Basics

Below are the basic rules of pickleball:

  • Only the serving side can win each point. If the serving side loses a rally, the other team gets the serve for the next rally (singles), or the serve moves to the second server on the team (doubles).
  • A rally ends when the ball bounces twice on one side of the court or lands out of bounds.
  • On the first two hits of a rally, both the receiving team and serving team must wait for the ball to bounce once. After this, neither team has to hit the ball on a bounce.
  • Similarly to tennis, a serve has to be sent diagonally over the center stripe, to the opposite service court.
  • Unlike in tennis, there’s no such thing as a “let.” If the ball hits the net but reaches the correct service court, the rally is played on with no need to redo the serve.

The Court and Equipment

Pickleball Equipment

At 20’ by 44’, a pickleball court is small enough that several of them can fit over a tennis court. The pickleball court has three zones on each side: two service boxes that are 10’ by 15’ and the “kitchen,” which extends seven feet outward from either side of the net. Neither player or team can stand in the kitchen in order to return a volley. 

The ball used for pickleball contains holes throughout: more smaller holes in outdoor balls and fewer, larger holes in indoor balls. In lieu of specific equipment, a wiffle ball is often used. Pickleball paddles generally come in three different sizes, with midweight paddles offering balance for beginners, heavy paddles increasing power, and light paddles improving control and reaction speed.

Singles Pickleball

pickleball singles

Compared to the more commonly played doubles pickleball, singles pickleball is more physically demanding, since each player has to cover all 20 feet of their side of the court. Beyond this, the rules of singles pickleball don’t differ significantly from doubles. The dimensions of the court and scoring requirements are exactly the same.

Uniquely to singles, the server has to serve from the right service court when their score is even, and from the left court when their score is odd. In singles play, it’s more common to hit the ball on a bounce, or what’s known as a groundstroke, because of the additional ground covered. 

Doubles Pickleball

Pickleball Doubles

Doubles pickleball is by far the more popular format of pickleball, because it’s more casual than the intensity of singles pickleball. The small dimensions of the court make it easier to guard all parts of the net. There are some pickleball rules that are particular to doubles.

For instance, after the first rally won by the receiving team, both players on a team will get at least one serve in one cycle. The receiving team has to break two serves, by the first and second players on the opposing team, before getting a chance to serve again. The first server on the team is always the one in the right service court.


pickleball scoring rules

Only the serving team can get the point for a rally. When a serve is broken, the serving and receiving sides swap, akin to volleyball rules. The scoring system is otherwise extremely simple, because you can only score in increments of one at a time. In both singles and doubles matches, the team who gets to 11 points wins, provided they’re up by at least two. If the score is tied at 10-10, one team needs to go up by two (12-10, etc.), but otherwise, the serving rules remain the same.

The standard format for saying doubles scores goes, “server score, receiver score, one or two.” The last number refers to how many serves the serving team has left; if it’s two, that means they’re on the second serve and need to win the rally to hold serve. For example, a pickleball score of “8-5-2” means that the serving team has eight points, the receiving team has 5 points, and the serving team is on their second serve, having lost their first serve.


What are the basic rules of pickleball?

In pickleball, the server starts a rally by shooting diagonally to the opposite service court. A rally ends when the ball bounces twice on one side of the court, or a player steps into the forbidden “kitchen” area near the net. Only the serving side can get a point for a rally. If the other side breaks their serve, the serving and receiving teams swap (in singles), or the serving team’s second server (in doubles) steps up to serve until they also lose their serve. The game is played to at least 11 points, though the match will only end when a team is up by at least two.

How do you play pickleball?

Use a paddle to volley a wiffle ball back and forth over the net. Pickleball combines elements of tennis, volleyball, and badminton, so anyone with a background in any of those sports will have an easy time familiarizing themselves with pickleball. The small size of the court and popularity of doubles play make it easy to socialize with friends around the net.