The Top 10 Rules Of Pickleball
Pickleball is a relatively young sport that involves hitting a unique ball similar to a Wiffle ball back and forth over a net with paddles. Its basic structure resembles tennis, badminton, or table tennis. While the sport is still growing and changing, there is a specific set of rules set in place for pickleball. Read on to learn all about the most important rules of the sport!
What Are the Most Important Rules of Pickleball?
- Court Rules and Dimensions
- Serving Sequence Rules
- Serving Rules
- Double Bounce Rule
- No-Volley Rule
- Second Bounce Rule
- Out of Bounds Rule
- Net Rules
- Scoring Rules
- Call-Out Rules
1. Court Rules and Dimensions
Before a game of pickleball can even begin, the court must be set up properly. A standard pickleball court must measure 44 feet long by 20 feet wide, with a 36-inch high net dividing it into two 22-foot by 20-foot sides. This means there should be two 44-foot sidelines and two 20-foot baselines that make up the court’s perimeter. Players may not hit the ball outside these lines.
On each side of the net are the “non-volley lines,” which designate the “non-volley zone,” commonly known as the “kitchen.” These lines are seven feet from the net on each side. Players are not allowed to enter this zone to volley the ball. Each non-volley zone is bordered by a 20-foot line (the non-volley line) that divides it from the two service areas.
The remainder of the court is divided into four sections, with right and left service areas measuring 10 feet by 15 feet on each side. The right and left sides are divided by two centerlines (one on each side of the court), which do not extend into the non-volley zone.
2. Serving Sequence Rules
Each pickleball point is started with a serve. One of the most complicated aspects of pickleball is understanding when and where to serve the ball from.
At the beginning of the game, the first server serves the ball from the right side. If this service results in a point, the server serves again from the left side. Any time a point is won, the same server serves again from the opposite (right/left) side.
Only the serving team can score points. For the other team to score, they must earn the serve back and then win a rally. If the non-serving team wins a rally, the ball is passed to the second server. The only exception is the first change of service, which follows the circumstances below.
If the second server starts a rally that the non-serving team wins, the ball is passed over the net (a “side out”), and the other team serves from the right side of the court. This cycle continues until the end of the game.
3. Serving Rules
Once you figure out who is serving the ball and from where, there are more rules to regulate the service itself.
Every serve must be dropped with one hand and hit with the other underhand from below the waist without bouncing, pass over the net, and bounce (past the non-volley line) within the diagonally opposite court. A server can hit the ball in either a forehand or backhand motion, so long as the serve is underhand. The next serve must be taken within 10 seconds of the score being announced. If any of these rules are violated, the server has committed a fault and must surrender service duty to their teammate or opponent according to the service sequence rules.
The server must stay entirely behind the baseline and directly behind the right or left service area (according to whichever side they are serving from) while serving. The ball may not land anywhere other than the diagonally opposite serving court. This means that each serve that happens from the right side (“even court”) must land in the opponent’s right service area and each serve from the left side must land in the left service area.
4. Double Bounce Rule
One unique pickleball regulation is the double bounce rule. This rule is present in every standard game of pickleball.
When a player serves the ball, the returner must let the ball bounce once before returning it. This returning hit must also bounce once on the serving team’s side before they can continue the rally. Once this is done, the rally may continue normally.
- The serve must bounce once on the returning team’s side
- The return shot must bounce once on the serving team’s side
- The ball may then be legally returned after a single bounce, or volleyed
Throughout this process of serving and returning, standard rules of where the ball must land still apply. If a fault is committed during the process of the double bounce, it still counts as any other regular fault would. The double bounce rule prevents points from ending quickly.
5. No-Volley Rule
After the double bounce rule has been observed and players can start volleying the ball in a rally, the no-volley rule plays a crucial part in the sport.
On any pickleball court, there are two 7 ft spaces on either side of the net. Together they form the no-volley zones, commonly known as the kitchen.
The no-volley rule states that a player is not allowed to enter the kitchen to volley the ball. This includes even stepping on the non-volley line before or after completing the volley. If a player violates the no-volley rule, it is counted as a fault against the volleying player or team.
While the no-volley rule seems like it might take some excitement out of pickleball, it is an important rule to keep the game running smoothly. If players were allowed to volley from inside the kitchen, many rallies would end via quick, powerful volleys. Making players stand back and hit volleys from farther behind the net makes the game more fun and encourages players to be more creative with their shot selections.
6. Second Bounce Rule
One of the most common faults in pickleball is a second bounce. The second bounce rule means the ball cannot bounce on the same side of the net twice before being returned. Failure to return a shot after its first bounce results in a fault. The only time the second bounce rule does not apply is in wheelchair pickleball, which is played between players who use wheelchairs. In this form of pickleball, players are allowed to return a ball that has bounced twice.
In non-wheelchair pickleball, the second bounce fault also applies to shots that have one legal bounce inside of the area and another outside it. Only the first bounce must be inside the opponent’s area. If it is not, the out-of-bounds fault has already been committed, and the second bounce is irrelevant.
The second bounce rule allows bounced shots to be hit from the kitchen, which is perfectly legal. It also adds a necessary speed and progression to the game by giving players a deadline (if they don’t hit the ball, it will bounce twice).
7. Out of Bounds Rule
In pickleball, each hit is supposed to bounce within the perimeter of the opponent’s side. This gives players a 20 by 22-ft area to land the ball in on any non-serve shot. Failure to do so results in an out-of-bounds fault.
In pickleball, a shot is counted as inbounds if it is touching any part of the inbounds surface from a bird’s eye view when it bounces. Even if the ball touches the line, it must be at least partially inbounds when it bounces. If the ball touches the inbound parts, the line, and out-of-bound parts of the court, it is still counted as inbounds.
The out-of-bounds rule allows the game to be played in a reasonable amount of space. Skilled players may try to make the ball bounce as close to the boundary as possible so that it’s harder for the opponent to return it adequately.
8. Net Rules
One of the most noticeable features of any pickleball court is the net. The net makes players shoot the ball over it so that the ball bounces upward on the other side and play can continue.
Without a net, players could easily make shots that are impossible to return, and there wouldn’t be much of a game. The net is a simple obstacle that undeniably improves the quality of a pickleball game.
A regulation-sized pickleball net is 36 in (3 ft) high at the sidelines and covers the entire centerline on the court. Pulling the net almost (but not quite) completely taut makes it sag in the middle: the net's height at its center is 34 in. This sag prevents too many balls from being caught by the net at its center, but also encourages shots in the center of the court instead of the outside.
9. Scoring Rules
In pickleball, only the team that is serving may score. They score by winning a rally or when the opposing team commits a fault. Both teams still try to win every rally, as a win by the non-serving team means they will regain service and the potential to score.
Pickleball games are played to 11 points, but the winning team must win by two. If a team reaches 11, but the other side is at ten, the game continues until one team has a two-point lead. The game is not over until one team gains a two-point advantage over the other.
Other scoring totals are common, especially in tournaments. Teams in tournaments sometimes play to 11, 15, or 21, depending on the rules of the competition.
10. Call-Out Rules
There is a specific way to call out the score in pickleball. Calling out the score is a crucial part of the game because it is important to help remember the score, but the call-out also indicates which side will serve next.
Unlike most sports where the score is called out, the pickleball call-out includes three numbers. The first number indicates the serving team’s score, the second is the opponent’s score, and the third indicates the serving rotation.
This third number called out will be either a “1” or a “2.” If it is a 1, the serving team is still on their first server. A 2 means the second server is serving, and so the next fault for the serving team will result in a side-out.
What is a “dink” in pickleball?
In pickleball, the term “dink” is an unofficial but widely-used term to describe a soft shot that is hit on a bounce from near the no-volley line. It is intended to land within the opponent’s no-volley area, making it more difficult to return. To be effective, a proper dink should land as close to the net as possible and have a downward arc. The shot should always be soft and controlled, either aiming for diagonally crosscourt or directly across the net.
What is the 10-second rule in pickleball?
The 10-second rule in pickleball states that once the score is called, the server has 10 seconds to take their serve. If the server fails to get their serve off within this 10-second window, they are called for a fault. This rule stands regardless of whether the opposition is ready to receive the serve or not. Once the score is called, everyone on the court must be ready and attentive to where the ball is on the court.
Can you hit overhand in pickleball?
According to pickleball rules, yes, you are allowed to hit overhand shots after the initial serve. However, hitting an overhand serve is prohibited in pickleball at all times. The rules state that you must hit your serve from below the waist to be considered a legal serve.