The Basic Rules of Pickleball

February 12, 2021

Pickleball is a fun, popular combination of tennis, ping-pong and badminton. Its name is actually derived from the rowing crew term “pickle boat,” which means a mix of different teams (plus, one of the founders had a dog named Pickles who was always running after the ball!).

As one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S., pickleball includes the best of all three of the racquet sports it came from. It also has a few unique rules of its own.

The great thing is that the rules of the game are simple and straightforward — that’s why it’s such a beloved pastime across all generations and levels of athleticism. Let’s break down the basics so you can hit the court and enjoy yourself!


Pickleball court & equipment

Pickleball is played on a badminton sized court, so there’s less ground to cover than in a traditional game of tennis. The net is also two inches shorter.

Unlike textured tennis racquets with strings, pickleball paddles are either completely smooth or have air holes. You’ll also notice that pickleball uses a lightweight, small plastic ball with holes in it, similar in appearance to a wiffle ball.

Though it can be played in singles or doubles, the latter is more popular. Pickleball tends to be a social game that brings people (‘picklers’) together!


The pickleball serve

Pickleball has been described as “playing ping pong where you get to stand on the table”…which isn’t a bad analogy!

The game kicks off with a diagonal serve, which starts with the right-hand service-square. You can determine who serves by flipping a coin or something similar. What’s unique about pickleball is that there isn’t necessarily a huge advantage to serving due to the double-bounce rule (which we’ll get to in a minute). However, the side that serves is the only side that can score.

Here’s what to know about serving:

  • The server must be standing behind the baseline, and between the sideline and center line of the court.
  • The server should always call the score before making contact with the ball.
  • Serve must be underhand. It must be hit below the waist.
  • The ball must be hit in the air without bouncing first.
  • The ball must land in the diagonal box from where you serve (or it’s a fault).
  • The serve must clear the seven-foot non-volley zone in front of the net.
  • There’s no second serve in pickleball (unless in the case of a let). A fault goes to the next server.
  • The player who is serving will continue to do so until a fault is made by their team.

Curious what what the non-volley zone in the 6th bullet point is about? Basically, this seven-foot area is located on both sides of the net to prevent spiking. It’s also known as “the kitchen.” Once the serve clears this area, players can begin to volley until a fault is committed. However, if the ball drops into the kitchen on the serve, you lose the serve.


Double-bounce rule

The double-bounce rule (also known as the two-bounce rule) is unique to pickleball. Basically, the team receiving the serve must let the ball bounce before returning it. Then, the serving team also must let it bounce before returning.

Once the two bounces are achieved, its time to volley or hit your best groundstroke! This rule is in effect at the start of every point.


Pickleball faults

A fault is an action that stops play and gives the ball to the opposing team. There are various ways for a fault to happen.

Faults occur when the ball is hit out of bounds, doesn’t clear the net or is volleyed before a bounce has occurred on each side. Another common fault is when a player (or their clothing, paddle, etc.) touches the net when the ball is in play.


Winning a pickleball game

So, how does one win a pickleball match? The first side to score 11 points wins. They must have a two point lead to win. If the game is closer, you’ll continue to play until the two point difference happens.

Some players prefer to play to 15 or 21 points. The only difference here is when you switch sides. If playing to 11, you’ll switch at six points; if playing to 15 or 21, switch whenever the first team hits eight points.

Typically, matches are played two out of three games…though it’s totally up to you and your friends how to enjoy pickleball!


Play pickleball at CA

For more on playing pickleball, check out our blog on the benefits of the sport and make sure to follow CA Tennis on Facebook.

Ready to play? Owen Brown has six newly built pickleball courts waiting for you! To reserve a spot at Owen Brown, call Long Reach Tennis Club at 410-423-4120.


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