This post has been updated in 2024 according to the USA Pickleball Official Rulebook (2024).
It’s a common refrain heard at YMCA’s and rec centers wherever pickleball is played: “Your pickleball serve is illegal!” And, unfortunately, the illegal serve accusations frequently come from those who have never even picked up an official rulebook (and, more than likely, from those who were not able to successfully return the serve in the first place). Recently, the controversy enveloped my dad and his volley serve.
In April – after seemingly several years of “resistance” – my mom and dad started playing pickleball. They joined their local senior center and now play a couple of times a week.
Pickleball Serving Rules – the “Controversy”
As is the case with many beginners, “mastering” the pickleball serve had been a challenge. What made it even more challenging, however, was the fact that several of the people at the senior center were telling my dad that he had an illegal serve – and he needed to change his serving motion. Shown immediately below is a video of his volley serve. Is it a legal serve? Or is it an illegal serve?
Let’s Go to the Videotape – How my Dad Hits his Pickleball Volley Serve
Last week I visited my parents and played with them for the first time since they picked up the sport. Like any good son, I videotaped my Dad’s volley serve to better determine its legality – or illegality as some have said.
USA Pickleball Official Rulebook (2024)
Before analyzing the motion from the videotape, here’s what the 2024 USA Pickleball Official Rulebook says about the volley serve:
The server’s arm must be moving in an upward arc at the time the ball is struck with the paddle.
The highest point of the paddle head must not be above the highest part of the wrist (where the wrist joint bends) when the paddle strikes the ball.
Contact with the ball must not be made above the waist.
The Verdict – Legal Serve!
As you can see when pausing the videotape, all three criteria are met – the arm is moving in an upward arc, contact is made below the waist and the highest part of the paddle is not above the wrist. Therefore, this is a legal serve – and it’s a pretty darn good one at that! Nice serve, Dad!
A Note about the Volley Serve and the Drop Serve
Back in 2022, the rules committee permanently added the drop serve as an additional legal service option. The drop serve allows a player to drop the ball and hit the serve after it bounces without adhering to the three criteria of arm movement in an upward arc, paddle below the wrist at contact, and contact below the waist.
While I wouldn’t advise my dad to switch from the volley serve to the drop serve (because of the principle of the matter is his volley serve is, indeed, legal), it would nevertheless remove the controversy.
See you on the courts!
Todd is the talent behind PickleballMAX. He knows pickleball and demonstrates it on the court as a 4.5 – 5.0 player. In addition to creating content and running the PickleballMAX business, Todd is IPTPA Level II certified. As an instructor at the Ohio Pickleball Academy, he instructs students and runs adult and youth clinics. He also manages tournament desks throughout the tri state for tournaments ranging from 100-500 participants.