Pickleball is one of the most popular and fastest growing sports in the U.S. at the moment. From its humble beginnings of a backyard sport it has grown in popularity due to it being easy to play and easy on the body.
You may be wondering what the rules of pickleball are and how you can start playing at your local pickleball court. Well, wonder no more as we explain all of the pickleball rules below!
What is Pickleball?
Pickleball is a racket sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis to create a game that can be enjoyed by people of any age or experience level.
Pickleball is played on a badminton sized court, but uses a net the same height as a tennis net to make the game more user friendly.
One of the main aspects of pickleball that makes it unique is the fact that players use a hard, perforated ball (much like a wiffle ball) and a hard bat. The bat is similar to a paddle and is usually thinner and made from either wood or polyester.
Most racket sports like tennis, squash and badminton use strung rackets with frames, and even paddle tennis uses paddles made from a slightly pliant material. Whereas, pickleball bats are notoriously hard, making for a more powerful contact.
You therefore don’t need a lot of power or even that much control to play pickleball, especially compared to other racket sports.
This is because the ball is so light and flies through the air so easily due to its perforation. The hard bat means that virtually all of the energy that you put into swinging transfers to the ball and pushes it up and over the net.
In tennis, squash, table tennis and badminton, there is a little more cushioning and pocketing that goes on between the strings (or rubber cushioned bat) and the ball or shuttlecock.
This means you have to swing comparatively harder to get the desired result in these sports compared to pickleball.
Pickleball is definitely a sport that can be heard before it is seen, as the sound of a plastic pickleball whacking against a hard bat does create a distinctive noise!
So much so that there have been reports in recent years of residents living near pickleball courts complaining of noise so loud it induces stress!
However, noise aside, pickleball is a great sport that has become popular for a great number of reasons. First of all, it is a very easy sport to pick up, so the pool of players that can play the game is much wider than a lot of traditional racket sports.
This is due to the fact that you don’t need a lot of fancy technique to be able to play pickleball. In reality, if you can bunt a wiffle ball over a net a few metres away from you, you can play pickleball!
What’s more, pickleball is a very social game to play. It can be enjoyed in either a singles or doubles format and is a great way to get kids who may otherwise engage in other sports into racket sports.
Pickleball is also very easy on the body since the lightweight ball requires so little force to hit over the net and the court is pretty small compared to a tennis court.
The Pickleball Rules
Now you understand what pickleball actually is, let’s dive a bit deeper into the pickleball rules so you know how to play the game!
As with all racket sports, the points start with a serve. However, the pickleball serve is much more like a table tennis serve than a traditional tennis or badminton serve, as you must serve the ball underarm below the height of your waist.
Not only this, but the ball has to bounce on both sides of the court before the rally can be played. So, if you are serving, of course the ball has to travel over the net cross court into your opponent’s service box.
An important point to note is that a new server must always serve from the right hand side and serve diagonally into the left hand service box on the opponent’s side of the court.
Once the serve has landed past the ‘no-volley zone’ on the opponent’s side of the court, the opponent can hit the ball back wherever they like on the server’s side of the court.
The ball must bounce back on the server’s court for the rally to commence, so serve and volleying is not allowed in pickleball. This is known as the two bounce rule.
However, where the serving rules differ quite significantly from other racket sports is how points are won and lost.
This is because points can only be won when a player or doubles team is serving. Therefore, a ‘point’ is actually called a ‘rally’ in pickleball, since not all exchanges actually lead to points being scored.
For example, if a player is serving and they win the rally, they score a point. However, if the server loses the rally, they do not actually lose the point, they simply relinquish their right to serve to their opponent, who then has the opportunity to score points on their own serve.
Serving rules are also slightly different in pickleball doubles compared to singles.
Whereas in singles a loss of a rally on serve means you hand the sering rights over to your opponent, in doubles if one player in the team loses a point on their serve, the other player serves next rather than the opposing team. This is known as the ‘second-serve’.
If the second player in the team wins their service point, the team will score a point and the pair will continue serving.
However, if both players on that team lose both of their service points consecutively, they hand their serve over to their opponents for at least two consecutive points. This is known as a ‘side-out’.
In both singles and doubles play, each player only gets one opportunity to serve the ball into the correct area of the court, so if you miss, you lose your opportunity to serve!
One final thing to mention about the serve is that up until 2021, lets were played in pickleball, but they were abolished due to wanting to retain the spirit of the game.
Therefore, if the ball clips the top of the net and still goes into the correct area of the court, it is fair game and the rally continues as normal.
So, we hope this clarifies the serving rules in pickleball so you know what you are doing when you step up to the baseline! Now, let’s delve into winning and losing points.
Winning and Losing Points
One of the most important things to know before you start your first game of pickleball is how you actually win and lose points!
Let’s start on a positive note as to how you win a point in pickleball. Really, it is quite straightforward.
If you hit the ball over the net and into the court and your opponent either fails to hit the ball back into your court area, or misses the ball completely, you win the point.
You also win the point if the ball bounces twice on your opponent’s side of the net, your opponent hits the ball into the net, if they touch the net, if the ball hits them on any part of their body and if they hit a volley within the ‘no volley zone’ (also known as the kitchen).
These rules will be pretty familiar to anyone that has played tennis or badminton before.
If we look at how you would lose a point in pickleball, the rules largely constitute the opposite of how to win a point.
For example, hitting the ball into the net, outside the court lines, hitting a volley in the no volley zone, missing the ball completely and failing to hit the ball after just one bounce.
However, you can also lose a point by hitting the ball twice in succession and if the ball hits any part of your body other than the racket.
Another thing that may not occur very often but also causes you to lose a point is what’s known as a ‘carry’.
This is when you hit the ball in such a way as to scoop the ball on your paddle rather than to bounce off of it. This is deemed an unfair advantage and results in a fault.
One final thing to mention when it comes to winning and losing points in pickleball is the scoring conventions.
To win a pickleball match, a player or doubles team must win two sets quicker than their opponent or opponents. They win a set by winning 11 points faster than their opponents, and must also win by at least 2 points.
So, if the score is 10-10 a player must get to at least 12-10 in order to win the set. You must also remember that points can only be scored when a player is serving, so holding serve is incredibly important in pickleball!
There are a few key terms and phrases you should be aware of if you want to feel at home on the pickleball court. Here are some of the most important!
This is a term referring to a powerful shot that clips the top of the net and goes over to the opponent’s side of the court.
However, this typically will change the speed and direction of the ball massively, creating a difficult shot for an opponent to return. This is typically unintentionally as it is very difficult to do.
A dink is a soft shot that tends to land in the no volley zone. It is usually hit with an open paddle face and is similar to a drop shot in tennis, badminton or squash.
One of the more bespoke pickleball terms, an Erne is a volley played by a player close to the net but outside of the court, so to avoid hitting in the no volley zone. This can be hit at an acute angle or even around the net post and is sometimes done whilst diving!
A foot fault occurs when a player contacts the ball on their serve with their foot in front of the baseline.
It also occurs when a player fails to keep at least one foot on the ground when serving or when a player hits a volley with one foot or more inside the no volley zone. These all result in a lost rally.
A rally of soft shots hit back to each player in an easy to return manner.
A colloquial term for the no volley zone.
A serve that is deliberately hit at a net player in doubles in order to win a point. This is generally considered an unsporting play.
A shot that lands outside of the entire pickleball court, including any surrounding fences or barriers.
A term used for a net player crossing over onto their partner’s side of the court to hit a volley from a more advantageous position.
Since pickleball has grown in popularity in recent years, more and more people are playing the sport for the first time. It is therefore important to understand the rules of pickleball if you want to be a competent and knowledgeable player on the pickleball court!
We hope this guide has helped you understand what the game of pickleball is, how to play it and how you can speak all of the right pickleball lingo!
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