I’ve been playing pickleball for over six years now and despite coming from a tennis background, I realized that learning the game of pickleball was a lot easier when I broke it down to these 7 simple rules.
The 7 rules of pickleball are:
1. The serve must be done underhand
2. The serve must land beyond the no-volley zone line
3. There are no “lets” on the serve
4. The serve and return must bounce
5. Only groundstrokes in the no-volley zone
6. Points are earned only when you’re serving
7. The game is played to 11
Most of the 7 rules of pickleball that I focused on are unique to the game of pickleball versus other racquet sports.
Which is why if you know these 7 rules like the back of your hand, you’ll pick up the game a lot faster, be able to play recreationally in no time and even teach your friends the game.
Let’s get started.
Rule # 1-The Serve Must Be Done Underhand
Unlike any other paddle sport, pickleball requires that all serves must be done underhand, with the wrist below the waist line.
Put simply, there are no overhead serves of any kind in pickleball.
Once you get accustomed to an underhand serve, making sure your point of contact with the ball becomes the next important step.
No serve, even if done underhand can be made above the waistline or navel area.
During a serve in pickleball, contact should be made below the waist while swinging underhand.
It’s also important to note that as of Jan 2021, a drop serve is allowed. You are allowed to drop the ball from any height, let it bounce then hit your underhand serve.
Related: Want to win more games? Check out my effective strategies with simple illustrations included.
Rule #2 - Your Serve Can't Land In The Kitchen
In pickleball, hitting the line is still considered an “in" ball, but the one exception is during the serve and No-Volley Zone line.
The no-volley zone line, also known as the kitchen line is the only line that if a serve hits it, the ball should be called out or "short".
During a serve in pickleball, you can hit the sideline, baseline or centerline and it’s still considered “in”.
However, if your serve fails to land beyond the kitchen line and actually hits the no-volley zone line; it’s considered a fault and the serve is lost.
Keep in mind, all serves must also be done with your feet outside the baseline. Serving with one foot on your baseline, even if the serve lands beyond the kitchen line, is also a fault.
Remember, when it comes to line calls in pickleball, on the line is “in” except during the serve and the kitchen line.
Rule #3 - There Are No Lets In Pickleball
Let’s are often a confusing topic in pickleball.
Because, the rule actually changed in January 2021.
Since Jan 2021, there are no “lets” in pickleball. Meaning if your serve lands out, hits the net without landing in or hits the no-volley zone line, it’s no longer considered a let.
Instead, these are all now considered faults and the serve is lost.
In fact, there is only one scenario where a serve can hit the net and still be considered a live ball.
If the serve hits the net, but lands beyond your opponent’s kitchen line, it is considered “in” and must be played.
This is why the strategy to serve deep is so important.
Rule #4 - The Serve And Return Of Serve Must Bounce
Pickleball is the only mainstream racquet or paddle sport that has the “two bounce rule.”
The two bounce rule in pickleball means that the serve and return of serve must be allowed to bounce.
If the serving team doesn’t allow the return of serve to bounce, it is a fault and the serve is lost.
The two-bounce rule in pickleball actually takes the advantage of serving away from the serving team. This is in stark contrast to tennis where the server has a clear advantage.
By requiring the return of serve to bounce, the return team now has the clear advantage of getting to the net first where most points are won or lost.
Quick tip: Most pros and coaches will say that since the server has to let your return bounce, the deeper the return of serve, the better in pickleball.
Rule #5 - No Volleys Are Allowed In The Kitchen
Pickleball is unique in the sense that there is an area on the court that doesn’t allow for any volley strokes of any kind.
This area on the court is called the non-volley zone.
The no-volley zone, or the kitchen as it’s affectionately called in pickleball, is the seven foot strip of court on either side of the net where only groundstrokes are allowed.
For more on the kitchen and its rules, click here.
To keep things simple for this article, let’s just focus on the main rule that applies to the kitchen line in pickleball.
When you step inside of the kitchen line, you are not allowed to hit the ball out of the air (aka a volley). You must let the ball bounce before you hit it within this area.
You might be wondering - "can I stand in the non-volley zone or do I have to stand at the line?" Actually, contrary to popular belief, you can stand in the kitchen. That is not illegal or a fault.
But you never see anyone do this because you’ll essentially become target practice for your opponents.
Because even if you don’t hit the ball while standing in the kitchen, if the ball hits you before bouncing, it’s a fault and the point is lost.
This is the reason why you see everyone standing AT the kitchen line and not inside of it.
Another important part to the kitchen line in pickleball is that even when standing at it or even outside of it, if you hit a volley and your momentum brings you into the non-volley zone, it’s a fault.
So, if you're volleying outside of the kitchen, make sure you don’t fall forward into it. However, if you let the ball bounce before hitting it and you then fall into the kitchen, that is perfectly legal.
Rule #6 - Points Are Earned By The Serving Team
One of the things that makes pickleball so fun and yet so addictive is it’s scoring methodology. Unlike traditional racquet or paddles sports, points in pickleball can only be scored by the serving team.
So if you’re serving, you’ve got the chance to put points on the board. If you win that particular serve or rally, you get a point! If you don’t win the rally as the server, the ball either goes to your opponent or if you’re playing doubles, the serve then goes to your partner with the chance to earn points.
In doubles, if you and your partner fail to win the rally, the ball goes to your opponents. So if you’re the return team, you’re fighting to earn the serve back. Winning rallies as the return of serve team doesn’t earn you points but it does get you closer to earning your serve back where you can score points.
This is what makes pickleball so fun! This unique dynamic that only the serving team can score points but is also at a disadvantage because they can’t get to net as quickly, is what makes scoring in pickleball so challenging yet so rewarding at the same time.
No other racquet sport does it like this. Not even tennis.
The two fundamental differences between pickleball and tennis are 1 - the serving team are the only ones allowed to earn points, and 2 - are also at a disadvantage to getting to the net sooner because they’re serving.
It’s a totally unique scoring/advantage dynamic the game has created and that is why people love it!
Rule #7 - The Game Is Played To 11
The final rule to touch on for the 7 rules of pickleball also has to do with scoring. In most cases, pickleball is played to 11. There are rare scenarios where the game is played to 15 in some tournaments but this is becoming less and less frequent.
Whether you’re playing at you’re local courts, or competing in a tournament, pickleball games are almost always played to 11.
But there’s a caveat. You must win by two points.
Meaning if the score is tied 10 to 10 and the serving team wins a point, the game is not over. The score would be 11 to 10 but game point. One more point in that scenario and the game would be over.
Most games to 11 last a healthy 20 to 25 min. But, it all depends on the skill level of those playing.
But overall, playing to 11 fits pickleball perfectly. Scoring to 21 like in ping pong would be too much and scoring like they do in tennis would be too short.
So games to 11 in pickleball is like the goldilocks of scoring…it’s just right.
7 Rules Of Pickleball - Final Thoughts
If I had to choose one of these 7 rules of pickleball to designate as the most important, I’d probably choose the two bounce rule where both the serve and the return of serve must bounce. This is the one rule that new players, even former tennis players tend to forget about the most.
But, in reality all 7 of them are important especially for someone just learning the game of pickleball for the first time.
Again, the 7 rules of pickleball that a every beginner should know are:
1. The serve must be underhand
2. The serve must land beyond the no-volley zone
3. No “lets” on the serve
4. The serve and return of serve must bounce
5. Only groundstrokes are allowed in the no-volley zone
6. Points are earned only when serving
7. The game is played to 11