What are the 5 Rules of Pickleball That Any Beginner Must Know?

Pickleball is an addictive game with a quirky name, that’s rising in popularity. In fact, it has been dubbed America’s fastest-growing sport for quite some time now. If you want to know the basics of the game 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 as follows:
1. Serving must be done underhand and behind the baseline
2. The ball must stay inbounds and not hit the net
3. The ball must bounce once per side
4. You cannot volley in the no-volley zone
5. The game is played to 11

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Rule #1:  Serving Rules

This first rule is three mini-rules rolled into one because it’s that important.  The serve must be done underhanded, behind the baseline, and land beyond the opposing team’s Non-Volley Zone line.

If you execute all three requirements, you’ve performed a legal serve and the game is on!  However, if you fail to execute any one of these three aspects, the serve is invalid and a fault has occurred.

Beginners tend to have the hardest time hitting the serve beyond their opponent’s no-volley zone line.  New players tend to hit their serve too soft or into the net.  

Rule significance:  This rule is significant because it reinforces one of the most fundamental strategies in pickleball – hitting the ball deep!  Hitting a deep serve is crucial so the return team has a harder time getting to the net.

This rule is also important because hitting underhand immediately sets pickleball apart from tennis.  There are no overhead serves in pickleball.  So, even from the opening serve, you know the game is all about power AND precision.

Rule #2: The Ball Must Stay in Bounds and not Hit the Net

As with most racquet or paddle sports, the ball in pickleball can’t land out of bounds or fall dead into the net. 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 serve to the other team. So, you’ll want to keep the ball in play and not hit it out of bounds.  Along with hitting the ball out of bounds, hitting it into the net or under it is also against the rules in pickleball.

All three of these mistakes are known as ‘faults’.  A fault in pickleball either earns you a point or takes away your ability to serve.  This is what makes pickleball different. You can only score when you’re serving—more on scoring in a minute.

Any good pickleball coach will tell you, the easiest way to give your opponents an easy point is to hit the ball out or into the net.  

It should be noted that on serves if the ball hits the net but still lands “in”, the ball is still live.  In this scenario, the rule is that the serve is good and should be played like normal.

Rule significance:  This may sound like I’m stating the obvious but not hitting the ball out of bounds is a rule that is closely tied to another fundamental strategy in pickleball…keep the ball in play. 

Not every shot is going to be a put-away winner.  Sometimes you just need to keep the point alive.  Not hitting it into the net or out is the easiest way to do that.  

Rule #3: The Two-Bounce Rule

The two-bounce rule is arguably the most unique and important rule in all of pickleball. That is why it’s so commonly called the “Two Bounce Rule”.  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 hitting 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.

Related Content: For the most complete explanation of the double bounce rule and why it’s even a rule – click here.

Rule significance:  This rule is significant because unlike in tennis, it takes away the advantage of serving.  In tennis, the server has the edge.  But in pickleball, the roles are reversed.  The two-bounce rule gives the return team the advantage because they get to the net first.

The serving team is playing catch-up from the start because of this rule.  


Rule #4: The Non-Volley Zone Rule

The non-volley zone is a unique area on a pickleball court that no other racquet or paddle sport has.  The non-volley zone; also called “the kitchen”, requires a specific type of shot when hitting from this area. 

The Non-Volley Zone rule states that you’re not allowed to volley the ball when you’re standing in this section of the court.  This is why it is affectionately called the “No Volley Zone”. 

A volley is when you hit the ball directly out of the air without letting it bounce.  But, if you go into the kitchen area, you must let it bounce before returning it over the net. 

This is a straightforward rule, but one that beginners forget about.  New players will fly over the kitchen line and smash a volley back over.  This is illegal in pickleball. 

Rule significance:  This rule is significant because it forces the game to be played from the inside, out.  Because no one can stand at the net and smash volleys, the game emphasizes shots with touch. Due to the no-volley zone rule, the game of pickleball is usually won or lost at the kitchen line.

Rule #5: Scoring

When it comes to scoring in pickleball, there are a few rules to know.  The first is that only the serving team is awarded points.   The scoring rules in pickleball state that if the serving team wins the rally, then a point is awarded to them.

However, if the return team wins the rally, they don’t earn a point.  They simply earn the right to serve.  

When playing doubles pickleball, both teammates on the serving team get a chance to earn points.  If the first server loses the rally, the serve goes to his or her partner.  The second server then gets a chance to win a point. 

If both players on the serving team lose their rallies, the serve is then awarded to the return team.  

Another unique aspect of pickleball’s scoring rules is how the game starts and how many serves you get. Instead of getting two serves, to start the game the serving team only gets one serve.  This is why the score is 0-0-2 to start any game of pickleball. 

This represents 0 serving to 0, second server.  0-0-2. 

The final scoring rule to pickleball is that games are played to 11 points and the winning team must win by two. 

Rule significance:  This rule is significant because pickleball is scored slightly differently than other racquet sports.  Pickleball scoring is vastly different than tennis. Games being played to 11 is fairly common but unlike tennis or ping pong, pickleball enforces a service scoring system.  This is one of the similarities pickleball has with badminton.  

Implementing The 5 Rules of Pickleball

Putting all 5 of the basic rules to pickleball is what it is all about!  From the start of a point in pickleball to the end of one, you’ll be incorporating most if not all of the rules I’ve mentioned above. 

A complete rally in pickleball will feature all the rules we’ve covered here.  It starts with a legal underhand serve from behind the baseline.  The then lands beyond the opposing team’s kitchen line and bounces.  From the two-bounce rule goes into effect. 

The serving team then lets the return of serve bounce and hits it back over the net.  The two-bounce rule is achieved and the rally gradually moves inward.  This means both teams avoid hitting the ball out or into the net and move up to the kitchen line.  

From here dinking begins and both teams only hit the ball in the non-volley zone area when the ball has bounced.  This part of the rally could end quickly if someone pops a shot up too high or could last for many minutes. 

The point ends with someone hitting a great putaway shot or by hitting a shot into the net or out.  There you have it, all 5 basic pickleball rules were in effect!

A Brief History of the Rules of Pickleball 

Pickleball was created in the summer of 1965 in Bainbridge Washington by three dads looking to occupy their kids.  The rules originally were based on ways to get their kids outside and play on the old badminton court in the yard.

But the game quickly evolved from a simple kids’ game to a game the whole family was interested in.  Soon, the adults were solidifying rules and aspects of the game like net height, the kitchen line, and how scoring should be kept.

It didn’t take long for the kids and adults to enjoy the game that borrowed rules from tennis, ping pong, and badminton.  But they didn’t just cherry-pick rules from those three sports.  They altered them to fit the game they were creating on the fly.  For instance, the “service line” on the badminton court was moved back to 7ft from the net and became the no-volley zone.  

This no-volley zone kept taller players from camping out at the net and smashing shots at their opponents.

By 1976 the first tournament was held and by 1984, the USAPA became the official governing body and handled all the rule duties. 

Click the link for more on when pickleball exploded in popularity!


How Pickleball Rules Have Evolved

Pickleball and its rules have changed drastically over the last three decades.  Many new players don’t realize the evolution that has occurred in pickleball’s rules over the years.  But I’ll break it down for you.  

Over the years the one aspect of pickleball that has had the most rule changes behind it is the serve.  The serve in pickleball has evolved and to some degree, had some controversy behind it. 

Back in the 80s and 90s, there was less nuance to the serve.  The only real rule behind serving in pickleball early on was that it must be done below the navel.  In the early 1980s, as long as the serve was done below the waist, it was legal.  Even standing with one foot inside the baseline was legal back then!

But by 1990, more serving rules were put into effect.  The rule where both feet had to be outside the baseline was implemented.  We also got the rule that enforced how the paddle face had to be held below the wrist. 

Slowly but surely, rules that took away any competitive advantage around serving were implemented.  But, it didn’t end there.

As recently as 2021 to 2023, more specific rules around imparting spin on the serve got massive headlines.  These were rules that strategically took away the “chainsaw serve” technique.  This is a serve that uses either your non-paddle hand or the paddle itself to impart spin during a drop serve.

This, combined with a topspin serve technique, put loads of spin on the ball right from the start.  Some players got so good at it, that some serves were unreturnable!  These serves are now completely illegal. 

What is the Golden Rule of Pickleball?

The Golden Rule in pickleball is often debated.  Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get a different answer.  But one thing is for certain, the Golden Rule of Pickleball is less about a “rule” and more about “strategy.’

You’ll hear pickleball coaches say the golden rule of pickleball is “communication.”  Or to always be moving and always be in the “ready position.”  These are all valid points.

But in my opinion, for any beginner, the golden rule of pickleball is to keep the ball low and keep the ball alive.  That’s it.

Technically, that’s two things but you get the idea.  As someone brand new to the game, if you focus on not popping the ball up, you’re going to win more points.  Additionally, if you simply keep the ball alive and let your opponent make the mistake, you’ll win more rallies.

For me, those two aspects have been my golden rules of pickleball and have accelerated my development tremendously.

where did the name pickleball come from

Common Pickleball Rule Misconceptions

There are two misconceptions around two pickleball rules that every beginner should be aware of. 

The first is that you’re allowed to stand in the non-volley zone or kitchen area.  Yes, you read that right.  Even though everyone stands at the kitchen line, you are in fact allowed to stand in this area of the court for as long as you want.

In pickleball, standing in the kitchen area is NOT illegal.  But, hitting the ball before it has bounced while standing in the kitchen IS illegal.  

So, stand there all you want.  It’s perfectly legal.  You just can’t hit the ball.  But beware, you’re opponent will make you the target and force you to volley the ball and commit a fault.  This is why everyone stands at the kitchen line.

The other big pickleball rule misconception has to do with where your partner can stand when you’re serving.  Many players like to hit from a certain side of the court based on whether they’re right-handed or left-handed.  

So, if you’re serving from the left side but want to shift over to the right side after your serve, that’s perfectly legal!  You and your opponent can both stand on the left side during the serve.  Yes, that’s right.  Your partner can stand right next to you when serving.

So, if you serve from the left side and then shuffle over to cover the right quadrant while your partner stays to cover the left side, that’s legal!  It’s called “stacking” and it’s common when a team has a left-handed player and a right-handed player.  This allows you to have two forehand shots down the middle of the court. 

What Are the 5 Rules of Pickleball – Conclusion

The 5 rules of pickleball are that the serve must be done underhanded and behind the baseline.  The ball must stay in bounds and bounce once per side.  Also, you cannot volley in the non-volley zone and games are played to 11. 

To make the rules of pickleball easy to understand and easy to implement, I’ve covered each of the 5 rules of pickleball in great detail.  The goal was to provide you with a comprehensive look into these 5 basic pickleball rules and explain why they’re significant.

I hope that after reading this, you’re more confident to get on the courts and mix it up!

Other Pickleball Rule FAQs

1.  What Rule is Most Difficult For Beginners?

The most difficult rule for any beginner to remember is the two-bounce rule.  Most brand-new pickleball players bring their “tennis habits” to the court.  By this, I mean they forget that the ball must bounce once on each side of the net before a volley can occur.

When I teach new players the game, this is the one rule they forget the most.  The most common mistake happens when a new player serves to their opponents.  But then doesn’t let the return of serve bounce.  Instead, they go running up to the kitchen line and hit it out of the air.  This is a fault and the point is lost. 

2. How Does the Double Bounce Rule Work in Pickleball?

In pickleball, the ball must bounce once on each side before players can engage in a volley. This is known as the two-bounce rule, and it helps ensure fair play and allows for rallies to develop.

It also takes the “serve and volley” strategy commonly found in tennis out of pickleball.  In other racquet sports, the serving team has the advantage.  Due to the double bounce rule in pickleball, the return team has the advantage.  After they hit the serve back over, the return team can get to the kitchen line first. 

3. What is the Service Sequence in Pickleball?

The serving team in pickleball must maintain the serve until they commit a fault. The service sequence starts with the first server, followed by the second server if the first serve is lost. The serving team must also switch sides after every even total of points.

4. What is the “Kitchen” in Pickleball?

The non-volley zone, also known as the kitchen, is the area on each side of the net in pickleball where players are not allowed to volley the ball. It extends 7 feet from the net on either side of the court to prevent players from gaining an unfair advantage near the net.

5. Are the 5 Basic Rules of Pickleball Different for Singles Pickleball?

No, whether you’re playing singles pickleball or doubles pickleball, the rules are the same.  All 5 basic rules of pickleball apply to single and doubles play.  The only exception would be if both players in a singles match decide to forgo the traditional scoring system and go with “rally scoring”.  

Rally scoring in pickleball is sometimes done in singles pickleball when a point is awarded regardless of who served.  This speeds up how long a singles match of pickleball lasts. 

6.  Ways To Easily Remember the 5 Basic Rules of Pickleball

If you’re a beginner, it can be difficult to learn and remember the 5 rules of pickleball.  But, I have you covered!  I created a helpful pickleball rules guide that was designed to be printed and brought to the courts.  Just click the link and hit the download button to bring your simple pickleball rules guide (complete with pictures) with you to the court today!

7.  What is the “Let” Serve Rule in Pickleball?

Technically speaking there is no “Let Serve” rule in pickleball.  This means that if the ball lands in the net and doesn’t make it over, the point is lost.  The server doesn’t get a second try.  However, if the serve hits the net, but still makes it over and lands beyond the kitchen line, then the serve is good.  At this point, the ball is live and played like normal.  The USAPA changed the “let” rule in pickleball in 2021.

About Me

I’m just a lover of all sports that involve a racquet, net and a ball. My whole family loves and plays pickleball regularly. I started this website to help give people like you the performance tips and buying info they need to make an educated and informed purchase.

The products I recommend here have been researched, analyzed, compared and in a lot of cases bought, worn and used. If it’s a bad product, I don’t recommend it. Any small purchase made from this site gives me a small commission that helps fund the growth of the site to provide you more helpful information.



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