Pickleball’s quirky rules start before the first hit of the ball.
In every sport, a moment signals the players that the game has started. For a race, you hear the classic remarks, “ready, set, go.” For basketball, there’s the tipoff, where the referee tosses the ball up in the center of the court between two opposing players. And for pickleball, it’s the three words the first server says before they hit the ball: 0-0-start. Or is it 0-0-2?
Depending on who you play with, you hear one of those two phrases to start a pickleball game. While the two phrases mean the same thing, one is technically correct.
According to the USA Pickleball Official Rulebook, 0-0-2 is the correct way to start a pickleball game.
Why does it matter what you say to start a pickleball game?
Well, for recreational play, it doesn’t. It’s an official rule, but it doesn’t affect the game in any way other rules do. So if you’re going to break one rule in pickleball, this is the one that’s socially acceptable to break in most open-play settings. (We say most because we know some of you recreational heroes are rule sticklers. But this is pickleball, the world’s most accessible sport, not Wimbledon.)
For official tournament play, you should stick with the rule of saying 0-0-2. You don’t want to give your opponents (or officials) any margin to nitpick your game and get in your head.
Why does the game start on 0-0-2?
The rules advocate for you saying 0-0-2 rather than 0-0-start because it creates clarity. The phrase reminds players that the team serving first gets to use only one server to start the game. The rule is in place to diminish the advantage of serving first.
How do you decide which team serves first?
Most recreational communities will establish their own rule for knowing which team serves first. Some communities choose a designated side of the court that serves first. Like the side closest to the road or the side where the sun is in your eyes. It doesn’t matter what you decide or how you decide it as long as it’s consistent. Consistency creates clarity.
You could also make a game out of it. For instance, have someone put one or two behind their back. And have one player say one or two. If they guess correctly, they get to choose if they want to serve first or second.
Like any other pickleball rule, don’t let the words you say to start a game get in your way of having fun. If your group enjoys saying 0-0-start, then keep doing it. After all, the professional leagues banned the language, so somebody has to keep the fun phrase alive.