Discover the Exciting World of Pickleball: A Beginner's Guide

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Ready to master the fastest growing sport in America? Join the club! Whether you're a beginner or in need of a little refresh, let us guide you through the basics.

How to Play Pickleball

What do you need to play pickleball?


Before you start playing pickleball, make sure you have the right equipment. You'll need:

  • Pickleball 101: Court Setup

Pickleball is played on a court that is the same size as a badminton court. That's 20 by 44 feet.

The net is higher on the sidelines (36 inches) and lower at the center (34 inches). Typically, pickleball is played with four people, two on each team. Each player is positioned to either the right or left of the centerline.

Pickleball Court Set Up

Two types of shots can be made in pickleball. Groundstrokes are made off the first bounce and are typically taken from the baseline. Volleys are hit from a position closer to the net, out of the air.

There is a designated area called the Non-Volley Zone, or "Kitchen," where players are not allowed to hit volleys. Not even one toe can touch the kitchen line during a volley (more on that later).

Now that we've covered the court basics, let's get started!

Rule #1: Start with a serve

Every pickleball game begins with a serve. The player standing on the right side of the court starts the serve. The ball should be directed diagonally to your opponent, into the right or left service area.

Pickleball Games, Always Serves to the Diagonally Opposite of the CourtPickleball Game Points Starts with the Serve

The serve must clear the kitchen line (including the line) for it to count.

Rule #2: Serve Underhand

Girl Serving Underhand

While serving in pickleball, players must hit the ball using an underhand stroke with contact below the waist. Your arm must move in an upward arc when you strike the ball.

You can either hit the ball out of the air or drop the ball on the ground and hit it.

The main goal of serving in pickleball is to put the ball in play. It's quite different than tennis, where the goal is to serve aggressively overhand to win.

3 Basic Faults In Pickleball

Wayne Dollard of Level Up Pickleball Camps created a helpful video on how to serve properly- check it out!

Guideline #3: keep playing until a fault occurs

After the initial serve, the gameplay persists until a fault is detected, marking the end of a point.

There are three primary types of faults in pickleball:

  • - Failure to clear the kitchen area (including the line) after a serve.
  • - Hitting a shot out of bounds beyond the sideline or behind the baseline.
  • - Hitting the ball into the net.
The Non-volley Zone or Kitchen

It is vital to note that there is no "let" in pickleball. Suppose a serve hits the net. In that case, there is no second try, and the ball is played as it lands.

As for two further advanced faults, we'll address those in upcoming rules.

Guideline #4: no volleys allowed in the kitchen area

Within the seven-foot space on both sides of the court, known as the kitchen zone, you cannot hit a volley, which is a shot hit in the air, while your body or any part of it is in the kitchen area. You also can't let your momentum carry you into the kitchen after hitting a volley.

Pickleball Groundstrokes in the Kitchen

This rule exists because players at the net have a unique advantage. With a powerful downward smash, they can hit any ball high enough. This strategy puts the opposition on the defensive.

When the creators of pickleball saw how standing on the net made volleys too easy, they brought in the "Kitchen" rule. The reason was simple: it was unfair, and it took the fun away from the defenders.

Guideline #5: groundstrokes are allowed in the kitchen area

If your opponents make a short shot, called a dink, and it lands in the kitchen, you can enter and hit the ball from there. Dinks are crucial in defensive play, and they're a significant part of pickleball tactics. It's often an excellent move to dink back to your opponent's kitchen after moving there to scoop up a dink.

Double Bounce Rule in Pickleball GameThe Ball must Bounce in Pickleball Games

Before you hit the ball out of the air or try for a volley, the ball must bounce at least once on each side. Suppose you're at the kitchen while your partner is serving. In that case, you're in a dangerous position. The returning team can hit the ball right at you, and if you respond with a volley, that's a fault, and you lose the point.

This rule ensures that the serving team must remain behind the baseline at the beginning. If this rule didn't exist, the serving team could quickly rush the net and gain an unfair advantage every time, making it a struggle for the return team never to get a serve.

Both Players Get the Opportunity to Serve in Pickleball Doubles

Guideline #7: You score points only on your serve

In Pickleball, you can only score points on your serve. You keep serving until you lose a point, at which time you switch sides with your partner and serve to the other opponent.

Need clarity on what happens if you lose a point on your serve? Look no further than Rule #8:

    Rule #8: Serving Alternates

    In doubles, both players get a chance to serve in each turn. When announcing the score, you'll hear three numbers, including a third number that designates which of the two players on a team has the serve.

    Let's say you're tied at 3-3 and serving from the right side. You would announce "3-3-1" to indicate you're the first player serving in rotation. If you lose the point, it goes to your teammate who will announce "3-3-2." If your partner loses the serve, the ball goes back to your opponents who start again at "3-3-1." To prevent any one team from gaining an unfair advantage, the first player to serve in the game announces "0-0-2," indicating the starting team gets only one serve.

    Pickleball Gamers Starting the Pickleball Game with a Serve

    Feeling confused? Don't worry—once you start playing, the rules become clear.

    Rule #9: Winning by Two

    The game continues until one team reaches 11 points, but you must win by 2. So if the score is tied at 10-10, the game will continue until one team wins by a 2-point margin. This means games can last for quite some time, with final scores like 12-10, 15-13, or even 21-19.

    Starting a Game

    The game always begins with a serve, but there are no set rules for deciding which player or team serves first. You can flip a coin, follow local court rules, or establish your own method. Once the serving side is determined, the player on the right side of the court goes first and announces the starting score as "0-0-2." The "two" indicates the starting team serves at position 2 and gets only one serve on the first rotation to prevent any advantage. The server then serves underhanded to the diagonal side, and if the serve is "in," gameplay continues.

    For more information on pickleball scoring, check out our guide on How Pickleball Scoring Works.

    To determine the serving side, either local rules or a coin toss can be used. The player on the right side of the court serves first and announces “0-0-2” as the starting score. The player can serve underhanded, either out of the air or off the bounce, to the diagonal side. If the serve is good and lands beyond the kitchen line but inside the baseline and sidelines, the first point continues.

    5 Key Pickleball Single Scoring RulesPickleball Player Playing for a Singles Game

    If you are wondering if you can play singles pickleball, the answer is yes! The game is played similarly to doubles, but with just one player on each side. The scoring is the only difference, where the server calls out only two numbers, the server’s score first, then the opponent’s score. In singles, there is no second server, so if you lose the point on your serve, it goes straight to your opponent.

    Pickleball Singles Serve Positioning Graphic

    To determine which side of the court to serve from in pickleball singles, the rule is simple: the serve is always taken from the right side of the court when the server has an even number of points (0, 2, 4, 6, 8, or 10 points). When the server has an odd number of points (1, 3, 5, 7, 9), the serve is taken from the left side. All other rules on serving, faults, line call, and the Non-Volley Zone, or Kitchen remain the same in singles as they are in doubles.

    Doubles is the most popular way to play pickleball. In doubles, there are two players on each team that share a side together, and each player has the opportunity to serve. The scoring is called out with the serve number indicating which server on the team has the serve. For instance, if a team has three points and their opponent has two and is starting the serve, they call out “3-2-1” and proceed to serve. If a point is lost, the serve moves to their partner, and the score becomes “3-2-2.” If the team loses another point, they give up the serve to their opponents, which is called a “side out.”

    Starting Player Positioning for Pickleball DoublesHow to Play Pickleball Doubles

    During pickleball doubles, the ball must bounce once on each side before any player can volley, meaning if your partner is serving, you will stand back at the baseline. If you started at the kitchen, your opponent could hit a line drive return to you, and if you volley, it will be considered a fault. For more information on how to play pickleball singles, including winning strategies, check out this article by The Pickler.

    Looking to make a comeback in pickleball? When your opponent serves to you, take a position behind the baseline so you can return their hit. However, if your partner is receiving the serve, you should be right up at the kitchen, ready to volley. This way, the ball will bounce once on your side, and your partner can hit the return, allowing you to easily volley.

    How Pickleball Scoring Works

    To maximize your chances of winning, always play up at the kitchen in pickleball. After your partner has hit their return, quickly move to the kitchen and put the serving team on the defensive.

    Understanding Pickleball Scoring

    Scoring can be a challenge for beginners in pickleball. The score consists of three numbers:

      The first number is your team's score, the second number is your opponent's score, and the third number is the confusing one, indicating who's serving. This number will always be either 1 or 2. In doubles, each player on the team serves, so it's essential to know which player is serving to maintain proper communication. Because you switch sides after each point, you can't rely on court position to determine who is serving.

      For instance, suppose you're the one serving and your team has earned two points while your opponent has one. In that case, you'll announce, "2-1-1." Suppose your team loses the next point, in that case, the serve will go to your partner, and they will announce "2-1-2." This lets all players know that, if lost, the opponents will gain the serve, and a side-out will occur. Remember, unlike tennis, you only score points on your serve. Therefore, your opponent winning the next point would mean they'd announce the same score as you earlier, "2-1-1."

      Pickleball Legal Serve Example

      The only exception to this rule is the first serve of the game, where the score starts "0-0-2." This indicates that the starting serve team only has one serve. This rule ensures that the serving team doesn't have an unfair advantage.

      Always remember to call out:

      • - Your score
      • - Your opponent's score
      • - Your serve position - either 1 or 2
      • After a few games, you'll become a pro at keeping score!

      Mastering the Pickleball Serve

      Every pickleball point begins with a serve, but unlike tennis, the serve's purpose is to start play, not score points. According to the Official USA Pickleball Rules, the serve must be made with an underhand stroke and hit the ball with contact below the waist.

      The paddle must move in an upward arc, and the paddlehead's highest point must be below the wrist upon striking the ball. Additionally, the highest point of the paddlehead should never be above the wrist's bending joint.

      In essence, the underhand serve is an upward motion. Check out Pickleball 411 to learn the basics.

      Pickleball Player Serving Strategy

      Typically, the pickleball serve is hit out of the air. However, in January 2021, the USA Pickleball Association updated the rules to include a "drop serve." This means that you can drop the ball and hit the serve off the bounce if you are more comfortable with that.

      How to Serve in Pickleball

      In the game of pickleball, the serve must be aimed at the service court opposite diagonally. Ensure that your serve completely clears the kitchen line and lands between the sideline and baseline to score points. Shots that land on the line for the baseline and sideline are good, but not on the kitchen line.

      Where to Stand when Serving

      To serve in pickleball, you must stand behind the baseline, and your foot cannot touch or pass the line during your serve. Stay behind the baseline until a third shot is hit to avoid violating the double bounce rule if you run up to the kitchen after serving.

      Winning Serving Strategies

      While the primary objective of serving in pickleball is to place the ball in play, you can use it to your advantage. Deep serves help put the opponent on the defensive, so serve low and add spin to the ball to throw your opponents off guard, causing unforced errors on their return.

      Understanding the Double Bounce Rule in Pickleball

      The double-bounce rule requires the ball to bounce at least once on each side before any player can volley the ball out of the air. The returning team must allow the return shot to hit on their side to satisfy the double-bounce rule. Starting at the kitchen area on the serving team's side is not ideal; the only player typically starting at the kitchen is the person not receiving the serve on the returning team.

      A Beginner Learning to Play Pickleball

      Where To Learn Pickleball Near You

      America's fastest-growing sport is easy to learn. To practice your game, find pickleball courts near you, which you can do in three ways.

      1) Using the Pickleheads Court Finder

      An easy way to find a court near you is to use the Pickleheads Court Finder. Browse over 6,000 pickleball courts and see the hours of operation, amenities and other details. Remember to check local court rules, pay a small fee, or wait to play if the courts are busy as the court finder does not guarantee a reservation.

      Visit Tennis Center for Pickleball Sessions

      2) Check your local parks

      Parks and recreation centers across the country manage pickleball courts. Often these courts are free to play, but always make a reservation or pay a fee in advance.

      3) Visit tennis centers

      Many tennis centers have added pickleball by either building new courts or converting existing tennis courts with pickleball lines. Check to see if they offer open play sessions or if you need to bring your own net.

      Pickleball Players Showing Sportmanship after the game

      Remember these basic rules to play pickleball:

      • - Every point starts with the serve
      • - Serve underhand
      • - Play until a fault
      • - Stay out of the kitchen, unless it's a dink
      • - The ball must bounce once on each side before you volley
      • - You only win points on your serve
      • - Both players serve unless you're the first to serve
      • - Score up to 11 and win.
      • Happy playing!
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