How to Play Pickleball

How to Play Pickleball

How to Play Pickleball

Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the United States. You can think of pickleball as a blend of other racket sports. The court looks like a tennis court that has shrunk roughly in half, although the lines are a bit different and players serve underhand rather than overhand. You could even describe it as a bigger version of ping pong where players are effectively standing on the table. 

Perhaps the biggest reason behind the growth of this sport is the ease of access that it provides. It’s pretty easy to get started, and most people are able to learn how to hit the ball successfully over the net with minimal practice. This makes pickleball  more approachable than something like tennis, which requires more refined skills to execute strokes and play rallies. With that said, there is still plenty of challenge to enjoy in pickleball, as advanced games can move quickly and be quite competitive. 

So how do you play pickleball? 

We’ll break it down in easy to understand terms that will have you out on the court in no time. 

There are various rules that govern play in pickleball. The general rule for starting is that one player stands behind the baseline of the court and serves the ball over the next into the service area, which is diagonal across the court and beyond the non-volley zone (the area of the court closest to the net). Play continues back and forth just like tennis, with only one bounce of the ball allowed before the ball must be hit back. 

Only the serving team scores in pickleball, so if the non-serving team wins a point, they take over control of the serve but don’t actually score. It is common to play to 11 points, with the winning individual or side needing to be ahead by two for the game to end. Here are some other basic rules to keep in mind –

  • The serve is an underarm action, and the paddle must be moving up when it strikes the ball. The ball must be lower than waist level when it is hit on the serve. The paddle must be below the wrist at impact.
  • There are not 2 faults allowed on the serve, unlike tennis. Each serve only is afforded one chance to land in the service area. 
  • The serve must be allowed to bounce before it is played. Then, the return of serve also must be allowed to bounce before it is played by the serving team. This is commonly known as the “two-bounce rule”. 
  • A ball landing on any part of the line is considered in the court, besides the kitchen line. Only when the ball misses the line entirely is it out and the point is over. 

Now that you have the basic rules down - how do you keep score?

As mentioned before, pickleball games are played to 11 points with a 2 point lead to win. The main note for keeping score is that points can only be scored on the serve; the receiving team cannot score points. 

The player(s) on the serving team will continue to serve until a fault is made by their team. Once a fault is made, the competing team gets control of the serve. A fault counts as any time the ball is inside of the non-volley zone of the pickleball court, is volleyed before the ball bounces once, is hit out of bounds, if it doesn’t get over the net, or if the serving player's foot crossed the baseline at impact. Balls that hit the net but still land within the court are played as long as they do not land within the kitchen (non-volley zone). There currently is no "let" like there is in tennis.

Score is always called as two or three numbers (for doubles) by the person serving the pickleball. The sequence for calling out the score is as follows: serving team score, receiving team score, and the server number as one or two (doubles only). Example: "1-0-2" means the serving team is up 1-0 and are on their second serve.

Check out The PCKLverse blog posts to better understand the game of pickleball and improve your game.