The Rules of the Game

An Intro to Pickleball

Pickleball is a fun game that’s a combination of tennis, ping pong, and badminton, with its own unique set of rules mixed in. It can feel daunting to try to learn the rules of any sport by observation alone, which is why we’ve pulled together this article to help you learn the ins and outs of this fantastic sport faster than you want on your own. We take a look at the basic rules that you need to follow, court setup, how to serve a perfect serve and a look at some of the more advanced rules that might leave you scratching your head otherwise. There are few things to keep in mind before you start learning the rules of pickleball. First, while a pickleball volley can get going at a decent speed, it is a gentler game than tennis or badminton, allowing you a bit more time to react, while also working with specific bounce rules that you need to follow to keep the game friendly and competitive. The general bounce rules are a bit more complicated than a tennis match, which is why it’s important to pay attention to what you can and can’t do during the game, especially when it comes to returning volley from an area called the kitchen, which is the space in front of the net on either side. The next thing to keep in mind is that there are several faults to pay attention to. It’s a good idea to try to learn these faults before you start playing the game, to help you avoid making newbie mistakes. While this may seem daunting at first, read on to get a beginner’s introduction to the game, as well as some tips and tricks to help you serve and play at your very best.

The Basics

Pickleball is a game where you hit a ball back and forth across the net using specialized paddles. This puts it in the same category as tennis, ping pong, and badminton, but pickleball has its own unique ruleset that sets it apart from these other sports. The first rule, which is common to all these net-based sports, is that your ball can’t go out of bounds. The out-of-bounds area is dictated by the white lines on either side of the court. If the ball goes out of bounds on your hit without you serving it back, the ball goes back to the other side, and you end up at a disadvantage. While this fault doesn’t necessarily mean you will lose the game, it does put you at a bit of a disadvantage, especially when looking to earn points later in the game. If you’re looking to win at pickleball, causing fewer faults is crucial, but it’s understandable for the beginning player to make some of these mistakes when starting out. Even professional pickleball players hit a serve into the net sometimes.

Let it Bounce

The next thing you should know is that in pickleball, the ball has to bounce while serving, and when returning that serve. This helps keep the volley from becoming too intense and gives you more time tactically to set up your next swing. With this in mind, it’s important to remember that you cannot hit the ball into the net or under it. This is another kind of fault and will result in the ball going to your opponent.

Another key thing to keep in mind when playing pickleball is that the ball must bounce once on your side. If it bounces twice, that is a fault and the ball goes to your opponent. This rule is in place to ensure that pickleball volleys stay somewhat less intense than a tennis match while remaining interesting. If the ball bounces twice on your side, you have lost the serve, give your opponent a point, and may fall behind. So make sure that the ball stays moving!

How to Win

The game ends at 11, 15, or 21 points. This may seem confusing at first, but the side has to win by two points. That means if you are at 11 points, but your opponent is at 10 points, you keep going until you either hit 15 or 21 with a two-point difference. To throw a bit of complexity in there, games played to 11 points usually have teams switched sides when someone manages to score 6 points. Higher scoring games switch at eight points, on average.

We know we’ve thrown a lot at you in this section, so to summarize:

  • Faults gain your opponent points, these are things like letting the ball go out of bounds on your side or hitting the net/going under it.
  • The ball has to bounce when serving, and can only bounce once per side. Avoid the dreaded double bounce!
  • Games end at 11, 15, or 21 points, but the winning side needs to win by 2 points.
  • Players switch sides at 6 points for an 11-point game, and 8 points for a 15 to 21 point game.
Thankfully, these are the main rules of pickleball to pay attention to. There are some specific rules to look into when serving, which we will get into shortly, but for the most part, your goal is to return your opponent’s volley, until you can get them to commit a fault, such as missing the ball or not letting it bounce on a serve.

Stay out of the Kitchen

One of the benefits of pickleball is that you can play on a regular tennis court, with a few alterations. The first thing you need to keep in mind is there needs to be space in front of the net called the “no volley zone,” or colloquially referred to as “the kitchen.” This space ensures that there are no high-intensity spikes during the game, and helps keep the players from crowding around the net. Not only can you not step in the kitchen unless a ball lands in there, your serve must go past this area, or the ball goes to your opponent. However, once the serve gets going, you can return the ball into your opponent’s kitchen in a move called a drop shot. This move puts your opponents at a disadvantage, as it requires them to think on their feet and play in a zone they may not have been paying attention to previously.

Serving up the Perfect Serve

Pickleball has some specific regulations that you should follow when serving. The first thing you need to do is figure out which side will serve first, either using a random number generator or by flipping a coin. Thankfully, serving in pickleball does not give you a distinct point advantage right out of the gate, so there’s no reason for it to cause any arguments. The next thing you need to know is that you must keep the ball underhand and below your waist when serving. One foot goes outside of the baseline, to ensure you are standing far enough away to start the serve. You are serving diagonally to your opponent. In a singles game, this serve alternates from right to left until the end of the game. Unfortunately, pickleball doesn’t give you that many serving do-overs. If you mess up, the serve goes to your teammate if you’re playing doubles, or it immediately goes to your opponent. However, once you master a serve in pickleball, and the spin, you are well on your way to becoming a pickleball master.

Now that you know the basic rules, how to avoid making faults, the best way to serve, and how to score points, you’re almost ready to start playing pickleball. Of course, you want to make sure you have the right equipment, and a grasp of some of the most popular pickleball strategies out there to up your skill level, but having a proper grasp of the basic rules can put you leaps and bounds ahead of your opponent when it comes time to take to the court. So get ready to grab your paddle and take to the court, it’s time to show your opponents what you’re made of.

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