Pickleball is a fun game with a quirky name, that’s rising in popularity. In fact, it has been for quite some time. Even a pandemic hasn't slowed it down. If you want to know the basics and learn the 5 most common rules in pickleball, you’re in the right place. Learning the basic rules of pickleball will allow you to learn the game a lot faster, enjoy it more, and compete at a higher level.
The five rules of pickleball are:
1. The ball must stay inbounds
2. Serving is done underhand at the baseline
3. The ball must bounce once per side
4. The serve can’t land in the no-volley zone
5. The game is played to 11, or 15
There are other minor rules, including one in which the ball can’t bounce twice like you'd find with other paddle sports but we'll get to those a little later.
Throughout this article, you’ll also learn the following information about the 5 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.
Also, if you're looking for a simple rules sheet you can print easily, I've created one for you! Just click and print!
Editor's Note: There are now 7 basic rules to pickleball that are considered the most important for a new player to learn.
Rule #1: The Ball Must Stay Inbounds
As with most racquet or paddle sports, the ball in pickleball can’t land 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. So, it goes with out saying that you'll want to keep the ball in play and not hit it out of bounds.
This may sound like I'm stating the obvious but not hitting the ball out of bounds is a rule that is also closely tied to a fundamental strategy in pickleball...keep the ball in play.
Along with hitting the ball out of bounds, hitting it into the net or under it are also against the rules in pickleball. 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 rally as the return of serve team, you get the ball and the chance to score a point; now as the serving team.
Fewer faults are crucial. The fewer faults you cause, the better your chances of winning. 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.
Pro Tip: 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. For more simple strategies for any new player, I recommend this guide here.
Quick Tip: Did you know making a pickleball court in your own driveway is super easy? If you need a little extra practice time, check out my guide on how use temporary pickleball court lines to make a court anywhere you want!
Rule #2: Serving Is Done Underhand At The Baseline
As explained by Proiest, the serving rules in pickleball are quite simple. When it comes to serving properly in pickleball and how to get started, here is what you need to know:
- 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 must be struck underhand and below the waistline. Serving overhead like in tennis is illegal in pickleball. Keep one foot behind the baseline and aim for the service area diagonally opposite of you.
- Hit the ball diagonally to the opposite side of the court. You can’t hit it directly across, or it’s a fault. All serves start on the right side of the court then the left if the point is won. Then back to the right and so on.
- The serve must also land beyond the no-volley zone line. More on that in rule #4 below.
- Unfortunately, if you make an illegal serve or a it lands out or in the net, the next serve either goes to your teammate if you're playing doubles or it goes directly to your opponent in singles. There are no second serves or lets.
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 in bounds and beyond the kitchen line to the opponent across from you, you'll be good to go.
Rule #3: The Ball Must Bounce Once Per Side
The two-bounce rules is arguably the most unique and important rule to pickleball. That is why it's so commonly called the "Two Bounce Rule" in pickleball. And it's one that newcomers often forget; especially if they're the ones serving. Let me explain.
In pickleball 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 also 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: Serves Can't Land In The No-Volley Zone
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.
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.
It's also commonly known as the "kitchen line". You’ll know where the kitchen line is because you'll notice that this is where the game is primarily played from after the serve and return of serve have been hit.
You'll hear people say "stay out of the kitchen" meaning you cannot enter this section of the court unless the ball bounces inside this quadrant first. In simpler terms, to step into the kitchen, the ball must land in the kitchen but only after a legal serve has been executed.
In terms of serving, aim beyond the kitchen line and aim for the baseline towards the back of your opponent's court. 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.
For a simple definition of what a volley actually is - click to read my helpful guid here.
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 looks easy on serves, but it’s one of the most difficult shots to hit consistently. Especially for a beginner.
Hit your serve beyond the kitchen line and aim deep. If it's not deep enough, you're inviting your opponent to come charging in and get to the kitchen line quickly. Which gives them an advantage.
On the other hand, hit it too deep and you run the risk of the ball going too far and landing out of bounds. Getting it just right, takes practice.
Rule #5: The Game Ends at 11 or 15 Points
A traditional game of pickleball ends at 11 points. However, the winning team has to win 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. But this rare and is usually reserved for some rare tournaments.
Whether you're in a solo game of pickleball or playing doubles, the most common score to play to is 11.
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 switch whenever the first team hits 8 points.
What Are The 7 Rules Of Pickleball?
For beginners, it's often easier to break down the basic rules of pickleball into 7 simple, easy to remember rules.
The 7 rules of pickleball are as follows:
1. The Ball Must Stay In Bounds
2. The Ball Must Bounce Once Per Side
3. Serve Behind The Baseline
4. The Serve Cannot Land In The No-Volley Zone
5. Games Are Played To 11, 15 or 21
6. Only Groundstrokes Are Allowed In The Kitchen
7. Serve Must Be Underhand
What Are The 5 Rules Of Pickleball - Conclusion
Pickleball is a simple, fun game that anyone can pick up and play but yet its deep in strategy. 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.
In Summary, the 5 basic rules of pickleball are:
1. The ball must land inbounds
2. Serving must be done underhand at the baseline
3. The ball must bounce once per side
4. The serve must land beyond the kitchen line
4. Most games are played to 11 points
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