Pickleball is a fun game that’s rising in popularity. In fact, it has been for quite some time. Even a pandemic hasn't slowed it down. It’s very similar to tennis, but there’s a handful of differences that make it unique. If you’re not a pro or want to learn the basics, you’re in the right place. Learning all of the regulations of pickleball will allow you to compete at a higher level and learn the ins and outs of the game a lot faster.
So what are the 5 rules of pickleball?
The five rules of pickleball are that the ball must stay inbounds, there should be one bounce per side, serving must be done at the baseline, the serve can’t land in the no-volley zone, and the game ends at 11, 15, or 21 points. There are minor rules, including one in which the ball can’t bounce twice.
Throughout this article, you’ll also learn the following info about the five rules of pickleball:
- Details about each of the 5 rules of pickleball
- How you can avoid making rookie mistakes and have a good time
- Why these rules are designed to progress the game
Let's get into it.
Must Read: I wrote the most complete, play tested guide to the best pickleball paddles I've ever used over the last 5 years! Check it out here.
Rule #1: The Ball Can’t Fall Out of Bounds
As with most racquet or paddle sports, the ball in pickleball can’t fall out of bounds. The white lines on either side of the court dictate where you can and can’t hit the ball.
If you hit the ball out of bounds, you lose your serve or give the ball back to the other team. Unfortunately, this error puts you at a disadvantage. Furthermore, it can alter the remaining course of the game.
The good news is that if you make the mistake of hitting the ball out of bounds, you’re not completely doomed. Pickleball is unique in that it requires that the ball bounce both during the serve and the return of serve, which takes away some of the benefits of serving.
So even if you hit the ball "out" on your serve, you have a better chance at getting to net when you're returning; which is where most points are won.
This simple alteration is one of the main differences between pickleball and other net-centric sports.
Along with hitting the ball out of bounds, hitting it into the net or under it are also problematic. All three of these mistakes are known as ‘Faults’.
A fault gives the ball to the opposing team, which is what makes pickleball different. You can only score when you're serving. If you win the point as the return of serve team, you get the ball and the chance to score a point.
But fewer faults are crucial.
The fewer faults you cause, the better your chances of winning will be.
Experts will tell you, if you make fewer mistakes; you'll win more games. Even 5.0 players tend to hit plenty of safe shots and let their opponents make the error.
Error free pickleball is winning pickleball.
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Rule #2: You Must Follow Proper Serving Regulations
As explained by Proiest, the serving regulations are quite simple. If you want to know how to get started with a game of pickleball, follow these steps:
- Determine the server by the flip of a coin, a randomized number selection, or something similar. Fortunately, there’s not much of a benefit for the server, making it a balanced playing field for both parties.
- The ball has to be held underhand and below the waistline. This formation is necessary for the game to get started. Keep one foot behind the baseline to ensure that the service is starting from the proper distance.
- Hit the ball diagonally to the opposite side of the court. In singles play, you can’t hit it directly across, or it’ll cause a fault. It has to happen from the right side of the court; then, the next service is the left side, and so on.
- Unfortunately, if you make an incorrect serve or a fault, the next serve either goes to your teammate if you're playing doubles or it goes directly to your opponent.
Related Content: Want to know the one paddle that gives me the most consistent, on-point serves? Click here for the paddle I currently play with and love!
As you can see, the serving rules aren’t too complicated. As long as you hit your serve within bounds and have the aforementioned proper placement, you won’t have to worry about losing points or giving them to the opposing team.
If you want to learn more about serving and going back and forth, proceed to the next section.
Rule #3: There Needs to Be One Bounce per Side aka "The Two Bounce Rule "
This is arguably the most unique and important rule to pickleball. And it's one that newcomers often forget; especially if they're the ones serving.
An easy way to give the ball back to the other team (which is obviously not what you want) is to let the ball bounce twice on your side. If you’re serving or hitting it back to the other side, you need to make sure that it only bounces once on your side. When the ball bounces twice, your serve is over.
On that note, there has to be at least one bounce per side on both the serve AND the return of serve. When the ball is coming in your direction after the serve, you need to make sure that you let it bounce once before you hit it.
In addition, and this is unique to the game of pickleball, the return of serve must be allowed to bounce. So, if you served, and your opponent blasts a deep return your way, you MUST let the ball bounce before playing it.
After the two-bounce rule has been completed, either side may play the ball in the air or let it bounce.
This rule applies to both singles and doubles.
For the most complete explanation of the double bounce rule and why it's even a rule - click here.
Rule #4: During The Serve The Ball Can’t Touch The No-Volley Zone
The no-volley zone is anywhere inside of the lined box that sits 7 feet off from the net. There’s a no-volley zone on both sides of the court, one for each team.
You’ll know where the kitchen line is because it’s the only place in the whole area of play that has highlighted regions. It's also commonly known as the "kitchen line".
For a simple definiton of what a volley actually is - click this to read my helpful guid here.
You'll hear people say "stay out of the kitchen" meaning you cannot enter this section of the court unless the ball bounce inside this quadrant.
If the ball touches the no-volley zone on the serve, you lose your serve. You must serve beyond it. After that however, you are free to drop the ball into the kitchen area. This is called a "drop-shot" and it's a signature shot in the game of pickleball.
However, in terms of serving, aim beyond the kitchen line and aim for the baseline. The deeper the serve the better. In fact, keeping your opponent at the baseline while you're at the kitchen line is a fundamental winning tactic for any skill level.
In simpler terms, to step into the kitchen, the ball must land in the kitchen but only after a legal serve has been executed.
Related Content: Click here for 25 tips to improve your game as a beginner.
Takin Sports mentions that hitting the ball beyond the no-volley zone is easy on serves, but it’s also one of the most difficult shots to hit consistently.
Hit your serve beyond the kitchen line but not deep enough and you're inviting your opponent to come charging and get to the kitchen line quickly.
On the other hand, hit it too deep and you run the risk of serve the ball too far and hitting it out of bounds. Getting it just right, takes practice.
Rule #5: Pickleball Ends at 11, 15, or 21 Points
A traditional game of pickleball ends at 11 points. However, the winning team has to be winning by at least 2 points. If you’re at 11 points and the other team has 10, the game continues.
Some pickleball games extend the score to 15, whereas others go all the way up to 21. In a solo game of pickleball, 11 or 15 are the most common point totals. When you’re playing doubles, 15 or 21 are the most common point totals. You’ll be able to discuss the total with your team and the opponents.
There aren’t too many rule differences based on the point total. When you’re playing a game to 11 points, the teams switch sides whenever the first team hits 6 points. On the other hand, games that play to 15 or 21 points switch whenever the first team hits 8 points.
Editor's Note: It's also worth noting that you can only score a point when you're serving. If we were to add a 6th rule, because of its importance, this would be it.
What Are The 5 Rules Of Pickleball? - Conclusion
Pickleball is a simple, fun game. However, there are a few essential rules that every beginner needs to learn. Fortunately, this article contains everything you need to know to get down to the court and start playing pickleball right away.
Here’s a quick recap of the post:
- Pickleball games are played to 11, 15, or 21 points.
- The winning team must be winning by 2 points for the game to end.
- An underhand serve must land beyond the volley zone.
- Both the serve AND return of serve must bounce
- In order to step into the kitchen during volley play, the ball must land in the kitchen
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