Have you ever wanted to try pickleball but didn’t know where to start? While there are some helpful pickleball tips you should know before you play, learning how to play pickleball is easier than you think. Here’s what you need to know about the general rules of pickleball.
How to Serve in Pickleball
First and foremost, you need to know how to serve in pickleball. To correctly serve in pickleball, the player must be standing behind the baseline and use an underhand swing to hit the ball diagonally crosscourt. The server must hit the ball in the air below the navel, and you cannot bounce the ball prior to hitting it.
Unlike in tennis, where you receive two faults before losing a point, pickleball only allows for one service fault. If the ball doesn’t get over the net or land within the adjacent box, it’s a fault, and the player’s serve is over. However, if the ball hits the net and lands in the adjacent box, it’s a let serve, and you get one additional opportunity.
The first serve of the game and the first serve after each side-out (i.e., the end to the opposing server’s turn) is made from the right side of the court. If a point is scored, the next serve is made from the left side, and you’ll move back and forth as points are scored. Once the ball is served, the rules are similar to those in ping-pong or tennis. Each team must return the ball over the net and in bounds for play to continue. Once one player is unable to do so, the point ends and either the server is awarded one point or there is a side-out and the receiving side then serves.
One intricacy to keep in mind is that when playing doubles, teams are afforded two serving opportunities, one by each player. The first server will serve and be able to win points until their team commits a fault. When a fault occurs, the serve stays with the serving team and the second server will then have the opportunity to score points. The second serve does not need to start serving from the right side of the court.
Now that you know how to serve, you need to know how to keep score. Pickleball games are played to 11 points and must be won by 2. An individual or team can only score when they have serve. How exactly can you earn points or end service runs? By forcing faults, or errors. A fault will be called when the ball:
- Bounces twice on one side of the court
- Lands out of bounds
- Doesn’t clear the net
- Is hit before bouncing
- Is played within the no-volley zone
If the receiving team commits the error, a point will be awarded to the serving side. If the serving side commits the error, a side-out is earned and the serve will move to the other side of the court and no points will be given.
Note: In doubles, serving teams are given two chances to serve—one by each player. You must side-out twice to earn the serve if you’re on the opposing side.
How to Keep Score in Pickleball
There may be a lot of movement and long rallies in pickleball, but keeping score during a game is similar to ping-pong. Before each serve, the server will call out the game score and the service number, if playing doubles. For instance, if the serving team is leading 5-3 and it’s the first server’s turn, the score would be called out as “5-3-1.” If it were the second server’s turn, it would be “5-3-2.” Failure to announce the score or the service number of your team is considered a fault.
Remember that points cannot be scored from the non-serving side. So if the score were 5-3, and the serving team lost both serves without scoring any points, the opposing side would then serve and announce a score of “3-5-1.”
Rules to Remember
While an easy game to pick up and play for fun, pickleball does have some trickier rules. As you’re getting ready to play, be sure to understand these two intricate rules to ensure your game goes smooth.
The first seven feet on each side of the net are the no-volley zone or “the kitchen.” Players cannot volley (i.e., hit the ball before it touches the ground) in this area. It must be allowed to bounce first. This prevents players from blocking or smashing shots directly at the net. If a player volleys in the kitchen, it’s a fault. It’s also a fault if a player volleys the ball from a legal area but their momentum carries them or any of their equipment into the kitchen.
This is the pickleball rule that most commonly trips up newcomers. When the ball is served, the returning team must allow it to bounce. Upon return, the serving team must then allow the ball to bounce on their side of the court, thus two bounces. After that, both volleys and groundstrokes are allowed. If either team attempts a volley before two bounces, it’s a fault.
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