How to Play Pickleball
Here's how to play America’s fastest-growing sport.
HOW TO PLAY PICKLEBALL
Learning a new sport can be intimidating, challenging, or outright time-consuming. Fortunately, all sports are not created equal. The reason pickleball has exploded in recent years isn’t just because it's so much fun to play. It's also very easy to pick up and learn the basics.
But be careful! Pickleball can be absolutely addictive and may very well become your newest obsession. You’ve been warned…
What You Need
Of course, you also need a place to play. Pickleball courts are popping up all over the place (it is the fastest-growing sport in America!) so check to see if there’s a community court in your area. Pickleball is played on a rectangular 44’ by 20’ court that is divided in half by a low net. Sidelines run along the long sides of the court while the front and back lines are the baselines. Centerlines are on each side, perpendicular to non-volley lines that create a non-volley zone – known in pickleball as the kitchen. The centerline divides the back of the court into two service courts: the left service court and the right service court.
Okay, you’ve got your equipment and your court. Now, how do you play? Pickleball can be played as singles or doubles and the rules are pretty simple. It’s similar to how you’d play tennis or ping-pong – but with a few key caveats:
- Like all paddle sports, it all starts off with a serve!
- In pickleball, the serve must be made with both feet behind the baseline. All serves are underhand, and the paddle must make contact with the ball below the waist. There’s no bouncing on the serve – you must hit the ball out of the air.
- Serves are diagonal, so if you’re serving from your right service court, then the ball must bounce within your opponent’s right service court. If your serve does not land in the right service court, then that’s a fault and you do not get a second serve. However, if on your serve the ball hits the net and then lands in the correct service court, it is a let and the serve is replayed. If the served ball hits the net and then lands in the opponent’s kitchen, it is a fault for the service team.
Okay, this is where things can get a bit tricky – so pay attention!
- At the beginning of a game, the first server continues to serve until his or her team commits a fault – then the other team is awarded service via side-out (switching of serve from one team to another). From that point on, both players on each team will have the opportunity to serve.
- After a side-out, the serving team will serve from the right side of the court. If they commit a fault on the first point, then the partner will serve from the left side. But if they win the point on the first serve and commit a fault on the second, the partner would then serve from the right side. Servers alternate from each side of the court after each point is earned.
- We started with doubles because it’s always better to get the harder stuff out of the way first, right? If you’re playing singles, the serve simply alternates between players – whenever the serving player commits a fault, it’s the other player’s turn to serve. Also in singles, the player serves from the right service court if his or her score is even, and the left service court if it’s odd.
The Double Bounce Rule
- Immediately after one player serves, the Double Bounce Rule goes into effect. Simply put, the ball must bounce once on each side of the net before either team can start volleying the ball in the air. So, if Team A is serving to Team B, Team B must let the ball bounce before returning it to Team A, and Team A must also let it bounce before returning it back to Team B. Once that sequence is complete, the ball can either be volleyed (hit out of the air without a bounce) or returned after a single bounce. If one team fails to abide by the Double Bounce Rule, they commit a fault and the point is over.
- In pickleball, the non-volley zone, the part right by the net, is referred to as the kitchen. Players cannot hit the ball while standing in the kitchen, unless the ball has already bounced on their side of the net. This is to prevent striking, and it also applies to when a player’s forward momentum carries him or her across the line and into the kitchen. If a player hits from within the kitchen, or touches or reaches over the net, the team has committed a fault and the point is over.
If your team scores 11 points and wins by at least 2 points, then you’ve won the game – though tournament games can be played to 15 or 21, and can require a best-of-three or a best-of-five to advance. Important to note, you can only win a point on your serve – so if your opponent commits a fault on their serve, that doesn’t mean that you get a point, it just means that they don’t. Before each serve, the server typically announces the score by addressing the point total for each team, followed by the service number. In singles, the service number is not announced since there is only one serve per side.
Time to Play!
Can the serve sequence be a little confusing? Sure. Does it seem like a lot of rules? Maybe. But as long as you keep out of the kitchen, observe the double-bounce rule and know how to serve, the rest of the game is pretty easy to pick up.
And we guarantee that once you’ve played, you’ll be itching to get back out there and play some more!