How to Play Pickleball (The Hottest Game Going!)

Like me, you probably saw pickleball and thought, “huh, that looks pretty fun!” Logically, the next step is to determine: How is pickleball played?

While pickleball can seem straightforward at face value, there are actually quite a few irregular pickleball rules that surprised me.

So without any further ado, let me help you learn how to play pickleball.

Read Next: Best Pickleball Set

 

How To Play Pickleball: The Basics

how to play pickleball

You can understand the pickleball basics in a few minutes. Pickleball is often considered a mix between tennis, badminton, and table tennis, as it draws similarities from each sport.

You play the game on a 20ft x 44ft court (the same size as badminton). Each player uses a hard face, stringless paddle, and hard balls with holes in the middle.

Much like tennis and table tennis, players strike the ball after it bounces on their side of the court. However, they may also volley the ball if they are outside of the non-volley zone. This is the most basic pickleball rule.

Pickleball Rules and Scoring

Service

Like most other racket sports, you decide the serving team randomly by a coin toss. The winner can serve first or relinquish the first serve to the opposing team.

Pickleball serving rules are different from most other racket sports. As they are underarm, you can’t win many points outright from serving, and also, as a server, only you can win the point, not the opposing team. As such, pickleball serve rules are quite restrictive and promote longer games than other racket sports.

  • The ball must be struck underhand with contact occurring below the waist.
  • Serves are struck cross court to beyond the non-volley zone.
  • One foot must remain behind the baseline, and neither foot can touch the baseline until the ball is hit.
  • There are no second serves unless the first is a let point whereby the serve lands in the correct area but touches the net.
  • The serving motion must be in an upward arc with the top point of the paddle head below the wrist.
  • Only the serving team is eligible to win a point.

Read More: Best Pickleball Paddles

Service Sequence

how to play pickleball
  • In singles play, if the team’s score is even, the serve is taken from the right, and if the score is odd, it is taken from the left.
  • In singles play, the service switches to the opponent when the server loses the point.
  • In doubles play, both players serve until a point is lost on each of their serves. This excludes the first service of each game. In this scenario, serving is given to the opposing team after the first server loses their serve.
  • In doubles play, whenever a service change occurs, service begins on the right side.
  • In doubles play, when the second player begins serving, they serve in the correct position according to their score: even from the right and odd from the left.
  • When a point is successfully won, the server switches to serve cross-court to the opposing side.

Volleys

Volleys refer to striking the ball before it bounces on your side of the court. They are great for speeding up play and putting your opponent under pressure. However, there are limitations on when you can use them.

  • No player may volley the ball in the non-volley zone adjacent to the net, also known as the kitchen. This specifies the shot in its entirety, including the follow-through.
  • It is considered a fault if a player contacts anything in the non-volley zone while volleying. This includes the player’s partner.
  • If a player has entered the non-volley zone, both feet must touch the ground outside of the volley zone before playing a volley. Jump volleys originating within the non-volley zone that land outside of the non-volley zone are illegal.

Read More: Best Pickleball Balls

Faults

All fault balls result in a service change (from player 1 to player 2 in doubles) if the offending team is serving and a lost point if they are receiving.

  • If the ball is struck before it bounces for a serve or service return.
  • If the ball does not go over the net and land on the opposing side on the first bounce.
  • If the ball is not returned before bouncing twice or thrice for wheelchair players.
  • If any serving or non-volley zone rules are violated.
  • If the ball strikes an item of clothing or body part before contact with the ball is made. This excludes contact with the playing hand during a shot.
  • Any means of interrupting play, such as catching the ball.
  • Striking the ball before it has cleared the net.
  • A hinder which is deemed invalid by the referee.
  • A live ball striking any permanent object, e.g., the ceiling, referee, lights, etc.
how to play pickleball

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Additional Rules

  • Double hits are permitted, provided they are unintentional and occur during a continuous shot.
  • Players can switch their paddle to their other hand or play two-handed shots.
  • The point continues if an injury occurs during a rally until a winner emerges.
  • If, as a result of wind or backspin, a ball returns over the plane of the net from where it was struck, the receiver may cross the plane of the net to make a return. They may not touch the net, the opponent, or the opponent’s side of the court.
  • Intentional distractions are not permitted. Any distraction deemed intentional will result in a fault.
  • No player may contact the net while the ball is in play.
  • Shots around the net are permitted.
  • A player must be in control of their paddle when striking the ball. No throwing is allowed.

How Scoring Works

Pickleball scoring is fairly straightforward when you get your head past the fact that you can only score when you/your team is serving!

  • Each team can only score points when they begin the rally serving.
  • Games are usually played first to 11 points with a 2-point clearance. However, some games are played first to 15 or 21 points.
  • If a match goes down to the deciding game, the player’s swap ends when one player reaches 6 points.
  • Each match is usually played best of three games. However, if games are up to 15 or 21 points, just a single set is usually played.

Now Get Out There and Play!

While some of these basic pickleball rules may be a little confusing initially, you’ll become familiar with how to play pickleball in no time. So get out there and put some hours in. Playing pickleball is a tonne of fun, and you don’t want to miss out!

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FAQs

How Do You Play Pickleball (In Simple Terms)?

  • For serves, strike the ball underarm upward from below waist level.
  • Let the ball bounce when receiving a serve or the second ball, after which you are free to volley the ball unless you are touching the non-volley zone.
  • Most of the other rules of pickleball are the same as tennis.

What Is the Most Important Skill in Pickleball?

It’s tough to pinpoint a particular skill as a lot goes into pickleball. That being said, I’d say consistency is the top quality. Pickleball rallies tend to last longer than many other racket sports, so you mustn’t be making a lot of unforced errors.

What Does Poaching Mean in Pickleball?

Poaching refers to crossing over to your partner’s side of the court to take a shot that they would otherwise hit. Poaching is a bit of a controversial topic. Some players are all for it, while others are strongly against it. However, if used well, it can help you win points, and you can simultaneously keep your partner happy.

Is Pickleball Easier Than Tennis?

Pickleball is far easier than tennis. This is because the court is smaller, so less physicality is required. The margin for error is also much larger.

How Many Points Is Pickleball Played To?

How many points pickleball is played to depends on the setting and your preference. While most games are first to 11 points with a 2-point clearance, some games are first to 15 or 21. Games first to 15 or 21 usually consist of just one set.

Although first to 11 points best of 3 games is the norm, it’s recommended that you establish agreed pickleball instructions before commencing a game!

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Alex Horscroft

Freelance writer. Table tennis enthusiast. Lover of all things online. When I’m not working on my loop game I’m probably binge-watching some fantasy show.