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. Before analyzing the motion from the videotape, here’s what the 2022 International Federation of Pickleball Official Tournament Rulebook says about the volley serve:
>>READ MORE: Pickleball Serve Rules — The Volley Serve vs. the Drop Serve<<
Pickleball Serving Rules – 2022 International Federation of Pickleball Official Rulebook
The server’s arm must be moving in an upward arc at the time the ball is struck and may be made with either a forehand or backhand motion.
The highest point of the paddle head must not be above the highest part of the wrist (where the wrist joint bends) when it strikes the ball.
Contact with the ball must not be made above the waist.
Based on these official pickleball serve rules for a volley serve, there are 3 criteria which make it legal: (1) arm must be moving in an upward arc – or, in other words, the paddle needs to be going in an upward motion, (2) contact with the ball must be made below the waist and (3) the highest part of the paddle cannot be above the wrist.
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 Serve and the 2022 Rule Changes
In 2022, the rules committee permanently added the drop serve as an additional legal service option. (Rule #4.A.6). The drop serve allows a player to drop the ball and hit the serve after it bounces without adhering to the three criteria of the 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 as his volley serve is, indeed, legal), it would nevertheless remove the controversy.
See you on the courts!