basic rules of pickleball
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5 Basic Rules of Pickleball Every Beginner Should Know

This post has been updated in 2024 according to the USA Pickleball Official Rulebook (2024).

Pickleball, similar to virtually every sport, has several unique rules. While there is a robust, 80-page USA Pickleball Official Rulebook devoted to the intricacies of the game, there are five overarching rules unique to pickleball with which you should become immediately familiar.

These five basic rules include the legal considerations of the volley and/or drop serve, other serving considerations, the double bounce rule, the non-volley zone rules and how to keep score and rotate positions with your partner.

1. Legal Serves

There are two different ways to serve that are considered legal in pickleball – a volley or drop serve.

The volley serve is a serve that is hit without letting the ball bounce before striking it. In order for the volley serve to be considered legal, there are three criteria that must be met: (1) the server’s arm must be moving in an upward motion at the time the ball is struck, (2) contact with the ball must be made below the waist and (3) the paddle must be below the wrist at contact.

With the drop serve, a player can simply drop the ball, without propelling it upward or downward, and hit the serve after it bounces. The three aforementioned criteria that apply on a volley serve do not apply to a drop serve.

For either serve, a player only gets one attempt to serve it into the correct service box.

2. Serve Within the Boundaries

Regardless of the type of serve attempted, a serve must be made diagonally across the court and land within the diagonal service court on the opposite side of the net.

The server needs to be positioned behind the baseline when serving.

The served ball must go past the Non-Volley Zone (kitchen) line. If it touches this line, it is considered a fault. However, if the ball touches any other line (the middle line, sideline or baseline), it is considered “in.”

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3. Double-Bounce Rule

After the serve, both the serving team and the receiving team must let the ball bounce once before returning it. After the two bounces, the ball can be volleyed (hit in the air) or played off a bounce. If the ball does not bounce once on each side it is a fault on the team who struck it before letting it bounce a total of two times.

4. Non-Volley Zone (Kitchen)

The Non-Volley Zone is the two-dimensional, 7-foot area located on each side of the net and bound by the sidelines. It’s also affectionately known as the kitchen.

Players cannot volley the ball (hit it in the air without it bouncing) while standing (or with a foot touching the line) within this zone. However, they can enter the zone/kitchen to play a ball that has already bounced.

5. Scoring and Rotation

There are two different ways to score when playing pickleball – traditional (side-out) scoring and rally scoring. When playing recreationally, traditional scoring is most often used. Rally scoring is typically used in a team format or, perhaps, to speed up a game.

In traditional scoring, points are scored only by the serving team, and games are usually played to 11 or 15 points, with a two-point advantage required to win. The score must be called out before serving. When a player wins a point, they rotate sides with their partner. For example, if the serving team won the point when serving on the right side, the next serve is executed from the left side by the same server. Players do not rotate if they did not win a point.

In rally scoring, a point is awarded after each rally – regardless if the rally was won by the serving team or receiving team. While there are different variations when using rally scoring, players typically stay on their own side without rotating and the player on the right serves when their score is an even number and the player on the left serves when their score is an odd number. Because games go faster as points are awarded after each rally, games are typically played to 15 or 21.

Basic Rules of Pickleball

Once you’ve played a few games, these rules will become easy to remember. Until you become comfortable with them, other players on the court should be able to help you during a game.

As we have stressed, although we have shared five unique rules to pickleball, there are many more that address the various nuances to the game. Click here for more information on pickleball rules or visit USA Pickleball. In the meantime, you should now feel comfortable hopping on the court as a beginner. Have fun!

FAQs: Basic Rules for Beginners

What are the 5 rules of pickleball?

While there are many more than five rules in pickleball, five unique-to-pickleball rules to familiarize yourself with include the double bounce, when to stay out of the Non-Volley Zone, where to serve the ball, how to serve the ball legally, and how to keep score and rotate.

What is the double bounce rule in pickleball?

After a player serves, both the receiving team and the serving team must let the ball bounce once on their side before returning it. After the ball bounces once on both sides, the ball can be volleyed or played off a bounce for the remainder of the game.

Can you step into the kitchen in pickleball?

Players can step into the kitchen whenever they want. However, they cannot volley the ball (hit it in the air without it bouncing) while standing in the kitchen. In addition, they cannot let momentum take them into the kitchen after hitting a ball out of the air.

Can you serve the ball in the kitchen in pickleball?

You cannot serve the ball in the kitchen. The kitchen line is considered part of the kitchen. Therefore, the served ball must go beyond the kitchen line into the service box. If the served ball hits the kitchen line, it is considered a fault.

What is an illegal serve in pickleball?

For a volley serve, it is one that does not adhere to the three legal requirements for a volley serve: (1) contact below the waist, (2) upward swing motion at time of contact and (3) paddle below wrist at contact. These three requirements do not apply to the drop serve, however. For a drop serve, it would be illegal to propel the ball upward or downward when dropping it.

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About Teresa

Teresa is the idea-maker behind PickleballMAX. Teresa joins Todd to manage and market PickleballMAX. She creates pickleball content and assists with pickleball tournaments. In 2023, she wrote a pickleball devotional book titled Pickleball Is [Not] Life

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