Half the battle for beginner picklers is learning the rules of the game. Pickleball’s dictionary is playful — dink, kitchen, erne — but those same quirky words and the rules around them can create confusion for people new to the sport.
Confusion shouldn’t stand between you and a good time on the court. The better you understand the rules, the more fun you’ll have — and the more likely you are to take home the W.
Here are the top five pickleball rules that trip up beginners:
- Both teammates get to serve every possession — except for the first service of the game
Beginners can struggle to know when they’re supposed to serve. And that’s understandable — because the first serve of the game sets a confusing precedent.
If your team serves first in a game of doubles, the person standing on the right side of the court will serve first. And when you lose the point, the other team gains possession of serve. That’s the only moment of an entire game when you and your teammate don’t get a chance to serve.
After that moment, you and your teammate will get an opportunity to serve every time your team has possession of the ball. But the person standing on the right side of the court will always serve first for your team.
- You can only score points while serving
We get it — scoring is strange when first learning to play pickleball. It’s not as satisfying when you make a remarkable play to only learn you didn’t get any points from it. But if you can count by ones, you can keep score in pickleball.
Before every serve, the server will say three numbers.
The first number is the serving team’s score.
The second number is the other team’s score.
And the third number is what number serve it is for the current possession — always one or two.
If your opponents are serving, and they hit a shot into the net, it is not your point. It is just the end of their serve.
Your team can only score points while serving.
- The return has to bounce before you hit it
After they serve, many beginners get too eager and try to hit their opponent’s return out of the air. But the ball has to hit the ground on both sides of the court before you can start volleying (aka hitting the ball out of the air).
When you serve, the ball has to hit your opponent’s side of the court. Their return must then hit your side of the court. Once you return the ball, it becomes fair game for volleying.
Tip: Because of the two-bounce rule, you should stay behind the baseline once you serve. It’ll give you more space to hit the return off the bounce.
- You can’t step in the kitchen (if the ball doesn’t bounce in it)
The kitchen is the most iconic space of a pickleball court. It’s what makes pickleball more than miniature tennis.
The kitchen is the non-volley zone of pickleball. In other words, it’s the part of the court where you can’t hit the ball out of the air. This prevents you from standing at the net and smashing every ball out of the air.
If you want to hit the ball out of the air, your feet must be behind the kitchen line. Your paddle can be over the kitchen, but your feet can’t. If you hit the ball out of the air while standing in the kitchen, it’s a fault. The play is over, and the serve or point goes to the other team.
Here’s a common mistake we see beginners make: their momentum taking them into the kitchen after they hit the ball. That’s also a fault.
There’s only one acceptable reason to hit the ball while standing in the kitchen — when the ball bounces in it.
- You can step in the kitchen (if the ball bounces in it)
Many beginners get so spooked by the kitchen that they’re too afraid to step in it. Maybe they’ve been scarred by losing points from foot faults. So they treat the kitchen like kids playing the “floor is lava” game. However, there are many times when stepping into the kitchen is allowed and advantageous.
Whenever the ball bounces into the kitchen, you are allowed to step into the kitchen. As long as you step back out of the kitchen before the next time you hit the ball. And yes, your momentum is allowed to carry you into the kitchen if the ball you hit bounced into the kitchen.
The ball bouncing into the kitchen is the key that grants you access to the kitchen. No ball in the kitchen = no feet in the kitchen.