For complete RULES and DEFINITIONS, please click HERE to go to the USAPA website and download your free copy! The following is a SUMMARY to get you playing the game of Pickleball confidently and knowing a good 90% of the rules.

One of the origins of Pickleball is that its name is derived from the “pickle boat” – a rowing crew term meaning a “mix” of different teams. And it’s true, Pickleball is a mix of tennis, ping pong and badminton rules which you will see as you read these rules… and has several of its own unique rules, in particular the 1) non-volley zone/the kitchen, 2) underhand serve, and 3) double bounce rule.

The second origin of the funny name to this sport is that the family dog, Pickles, would run after the ball while they were playing this game. Both are claimed to be true by the founders of Pickleball.

View this video to learn more about pickleball!

Pickleball is played on a badminton size tennis court, which is 20 feet wide by 44 feet long. It has many similar rules to tennis where the outside lines are played as “in” if the ball lands on the lines therefore causing play to continue. Unlike tennis, there is a non-volley zone near the nets where the ball must bounce before you can hit it if in that zone. In addition, a served ball must clear the non-volley zone and its boundary lines and land in the correct serving court (or serving court sidelines and base line are also considered in) or it would be considered a fault. To see how this works, watch this VIDEO.

On a side note, the non-volley zone is also called “the kitchen” because of the phrase “best to stay out of the kitchen”. Yes, we can go into “the kitchen” anytime, but to WIN the game, STAY OUT of the kitchen unless the ball bounces in it – then you go in to hit it back – then get back out of the kitchen once again!

And last, the net is 2 inches lower than a tennis net. It is 36″ on the ends and 34″ in the middle. So if playing outside on a tennis court that has Pickleball lines, you will need to use the middle strap of the net to pull it down 2 inches. The sides will still be higher than they should be unless you bring them down 2 inches as well.

  • The NVZ is commonly referred to as “the kitchen” because we all know it is “best to stay out of the kitchen.”
  • Volleying is prohibited within the NVZ! This rule prevents players from executing smashes from a position within the zone. However, if a ball bounces in the kitchen, you can enter the zone and hit the ball, then it is best to exit the zone/kitchen.
  • When volleying a ball, it is a FAULT if the player steps in the NVZ zone, including all lines associated with the NVZ.
  • It is a FAULT when the player volleys a ball and his or her momentum causes them, or anything they are wearing, or the paddle, to touch the NVZ or its associated lines. This remains true even if the opponent has hit the ball to return it.
  • A player may legally be in the NVZ any time – other than when volleying a ball – but it’s not recommended as it will likely lead to a loss of point.
  • After entering the NVZ and hitting a bounced ball, BOTH feet must be re-established outside of the NVZ before that player can hit the ball again.
  • Due to the kitchen being what it is, the game of “dinking” becomes a very important part of the game.

Below are two great videos! One that explains every part of the non-volley zone and one is a great video on calling foot faults in the kitchen when the ball is volleyed.

  • Unlike tennis, the serve is underhand with two rules. One, the ball must be hit below the waist. Two, the ball must be hit below the wrist.
  • Like tennis, you must stand behind the baseline to serve as well as between the sideline and center line of the court.
  • Unlike tennis, your serve MUST land in the diagonal box from where you serve, or it’s a fault and it goes to the next server. There are no second chances to serve, so work hard to get your serves in.
  • If the ball hits the net and lands in the correct serving court, it is a “let” and the server will serve the ball again.
  • If the ball hits the net and lands in the kitchen or its associated lines, it is a fault and the ball goes to the next server.
  • The game goes to 11 points, but you must win by 2 points. If the game is closer, you continue play until a 2 point difference is achieved.
  • You SCORE POINTS ONLY WHEN SERVING. Another reason to make sure you get your serve in.
  • Tournament play can have different points, such as 15 or 21.
  • As 95% of all Pickleball is played as doubles, the following will be written from a doubles perspective.
  • Both players on the serving doubles team have the opportunity to serve and score points until they commit a fault -except for the first service sequence of each new game. At the beginning of each new game only one partner on the serving team has the opportunity to serve. This person will serve until a fault occurs, after which the service passes to the receiving team.
  • The first serve of each side-out is made from the right-hand court. That person becomes server one (1). The first score to be called is 0-0-2. The call of “0-0-start” was eliminated in January of 2016 when the rules were updated.
  • If a point is scored, the server switches sides and the server initiates the next serve from the left-hand court.
  • As subsequent points are scored, the server continues switching back and forth between right and left-hand sides of the court until a fault is committed and the first server loses the serve.
  • When the first server (1) loses the serve, the partner then serves from whatever side they are on at the time.
  • The second server (2) continues serving until that team commits a fault and loses the serve. The ball then goes to the opposing team as a “side out.”
  • Once the service goes to the opposing team, server one (1) also serves from the right side of the court and follows the rules as above until they also commit two faults and the serve returns to the other side.
  • In singles, the server serves from the right-hand court when his or her score is even, and from the left when the score is odd. All other rules are the same.
  • Who serves first? Any fair method can be used. Sometimes a local area will have a system. Examples: 1) play a rally like you do in ping pong to see who serves first, 2) north side always plays first, 3) flip a coin, etc. At the Onalaska YMCA, the side that is by the curtain always serves first.

For visual learners, watch this video. One note: this video says scoring begins with 0-0-start. A reminder, a change in rules has taken place and we now say 0-0-2. The rest of the video is excellent!

  • The entire score and server number must be called BEFORE serving the ball or it is a FAULT and the serve goes to the next person even if it’s the opposing side.
  • Once the score has been said, the server has 10 seconds to serve the ball or it is a FAULT.
  • When the serving team’s score is even (0, 2, 4, 6, etc) the player who was the first server in the game will ALWAYS be on the right-hand side of the court when serving or receiving the ball.  So what happens if the person serves from the wrong side? Rule B.6 says: “If the ball is served by the wrong team member or from the wrong court, the service is a fault.  If the fault was by the first server, then the first service is lost and the correct second server serves from the correct service position. If the fault was by the second server, then it is a side out. A point made from an incorrect service position or an incorrect server will not be retained unless play has continued and another point has been scored or the opposing team has served.” For additional clarification on this, see this article.
  • When the ball is served, the receiving team must let it bounce before returning the serve, and then the serving team must let it bounce before returning the ball, thus two bounces.
  • After the ball has bounced once in each team’s court, both teams may either volley the ball (hit the ball before it bounces) or play it off a bounce (ground stroke).
  • The double bounce rule eliminates the serve and volley advantage and extends rallies.
  • A ball contacting any line, except the kitchen lines on a serve, is considered “in.”
  • A serve contacting the kitchen lines or the kitchen/NVZ zone is short and considered a fault.
  • If not sure if a ball was in or not, the rules say to call it “in.” If you and your partner disagree on the line call, it is appropriate to ask the other team what they saw. What that team says for the call is then the final say. If a referee is available, and the ref is asked, the ref’s call stands as the ref saw it.
  • A fault is any action that stops play because of a rule violation.
  • A fault by the receiving team results in a point for the serving team.
  • A fault by the serving team results in the server’s loss of serve or side out.

A fault occurs when… (there are many more listed in official rulebook)

  • A serve does not land within the confines of the receiving court.
  • A ball is hit into the net on the serve or any return.
  • The ball is volleyed before the double bounce rule.
  • A ball is hit out of bounds.
  • A ball is volleyed from the NVZ.
  • A ball bounces twice before being struck by the receiver.
  • A player, player’s clothing, or any part of a player’s paddle touches the net or the net post when the ball is in play.
  • There is a violation of a service rule.
  • If you hit the ball and it hits the net and trickles over and drops and hits the horizontal bar, that ball is still in play and the opposing team must try to play it.
  • Same scenario, but the ball gets stuck between the horizontal bar and the net.  That is a let and you replay the point.
  • Same scenario, but the ball drops over and hits the center foot of the net instead of the horizontal bar. That is a let and you replay the point.
  • You hit the ball and it hits the horizontal bar on your side of the net.  That is a fault and loss of the rally.

Did you know you don’t have to hit the ball OVER the net to win a rally? If a dinked ball is hit wide, a person can return the ball to the other court without going over the net. This is called an “around the post shot”. It is demonstrated in the video below. For another “slow motion” video of this shot, click HERE.

In addition, there is also what is called an “Erne Shot” that is also demonstrated in this video. Because the kitchen is only the “floor” and not the air space, you can jump over the kitchen to make a shot.

All ages are playing Pickleball!

Meet the youngest player ranked at 5.0!

The next time some young players show up at the courts wanting to learn to play, just think – you could be giving the next professional Pickleball player their first lesson!

AMIDST ALL THESE RULES, and doing your best to learn to play, you will encounter players better than yourself, and players that are not at your skill level. What to do?

CJ Johnson gives tips for both types of players in this VIDEO.

How do higher skill players get better by playing with lower skill players?

Try this. Hit half the shots to each player. Give them a shot they can handle easily. You are working on your speed and placement skills here. They should hit a ball back with some authority. That is good for you as you need practice hitting good shots. Give them some easy shots up around their shoulders. Let them slam you. If you are so good, get them back. Don’t even try slams or put away shots. The idea is for them to return the ball so you can work on your skills. Or, tell them you are going to hit all your shots slow and into the NVZ. You need the practice from all over the court. They will be able to return most of those. The lower skill players become your training team. Fun and productive for all skill levels.

And you are being an Ambassador for Pickleball when you help others learn to play!

Aspen Kern, Pickleball Pro player, recently posted this story on Pickleball Forum. It’s about being invitational to those who come to play Pickleball… it’s about being compassionate. It’s about being in a sport that welcomes everyone.

“Whenever the discussion about playing with other level players arises on the forum it usually heats up pretty fast, so I would like to mention something that happened to me years ago. I was drilling overheads with my coach (Dad) when 2 boys, probably 6 or 7 years old, came on the court and asked if they could join in. I knew my dad would say yes, he always does. One boy had glasses that kept falling off and if I remember right the other one had one shoe that was built up so he could walk better. They stayed for about 45 minutes and as usual my dad had us lose a game to them. When they walked over to their bikes one of them stopped and gave me a high five. On the drive home I mention to my dad that I thought I didn’t get a good practice in and I felt cheated. He told me, today you practiced compassion, other days you practice hitting a yellow plastic ball, you tell me which is more important? He said he was more proud of me for giving that boy a high five than if I had hit 100 overhead winners. Now when I think I only have time to play with my “level” I remember the boy with the loose glasses and the boy with the thick shoe sole, and I find comfort in not taking the sport so serious that I lose touch with what is really important. Have some fun out there guys.”