The Top 10 Rules Of Pickleball
Pickleball is a relatively young sport that involves hitting a wiffle ball back and forth over a net with wooden paddles. Its basic structure resembles tennis, badminton, or table tennis. While the sport itself is still growing, there are a very specific set of rules that apply to pickleball.
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 perfect pickleball court must measure 44 feet by 20 feet, 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 perimeter of the court. Players may not hit the ball outside these lines.
Seven feet on each side of the net are two "non-volley lines" which designate the "non-volley zone," commonly known as the "kitchen". Players are not allowed to enter this zone to volley the ball.
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).
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 serve 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. In order 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 to this 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 serve 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. 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.
Each serve that happens from the right side ("even court") must land in the opponent's right service area. 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.
1. The serve must bounce once on the returning team's side
2. The return shot must bounce once on the serving team's side
3. 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 foot 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 line before or after actually 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 actually a very 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 his volleys from behind point-blank range 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 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.
The second bounce rule is one of the most fundamental elements of pickleball. It 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 foot area to land the ball into 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, 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 inches (or 3 feet) 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 inches. 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 by winning a volley or when the opposing team commits a fault. Both teams will still try to win every rally, though, the serving team to score points and the non-serving team to get the serve rotation going (so they can get the ball back, serve, and hopefully score).
Pickleball games are usually played to 11 points, but the winning team must win by 2. If a team reaches 11, but the other side is at 10, 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 still common, especially in tournaments. Teams in tournaments sometimes play to 11, 15, or 21, depending on the preference of the competition.
10. Call-out Rules
There is a very specific way to call out the score in pickleball. Calling out the score is a crucial part of the game; it is important just to help remember the score in general, but the call-out also helps with remembering who should be serving on any given point.
Unlike most sports where the score is called out, such as basketball, 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 is either a "Start," "1," or "2".
This third number indicates the serving rotation. 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.