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How to Play Pickleball: The Basics of Play

In case you haven’t heard, pickleball is taking the nation by storm. But what exactly is pickleball? How do you play it? How does it differ from the other racquet sports?

Let’s start with the basics. In pickleball, players use a solid-surface paddle, rather than a racquet with strings, to hit a ball across a net. A pickleball net is slightly lower than a tennis net.

The layout of a pickleball court is essentially the opposite of a tennis court, with a few dimensional variations. The two blocks on either side of the net are called the “no-volley zones,” but they are commonly referred to as the “kitchen.” You can only stand inside this area, if the ball bounces in it. This is more of a safety precaution than anything, since it could be dangerous to smash a volley out of the air at such close quarters. 


The Basics of Serving

You must serve the ball underhand in pickleball. Hitting the ball below your navel is considered an underhand serve. You cannot bounce the ball and hit it; the serve must be hit out of the air.

In order for a serve to be considered in bounds, it must land inside the service square diagonal to the one you are standing behind. When it is your turn to serve, you must start behind the right service square and the ball must land within the opposite right service square boundaries. Should you win the point, you would move over to the left service square, and continue alternating until you commit a fault. (If your serve does not land inside or on the line of the proper service box, it is considered a fault and service will go to your opponent.) Unlike tennis, you do not get a second serve in pickleball; however, in doubles, if you serve a fault or lose the point, service goes to your partner. Once your team loses two consecutive points, service goes to your opponent.

A fault can be any of the following:


  • Hitting the ball into the net
  • Hitting the ball outside of the service or court boundaries - remember, even if the ball is 1% on the line, it’s 100% in!
  • Hitting a volley before a groundstroke (bounce shot) has occurred on each side of the court
  • The ball bouncing twice on the same side of the court before it is hit
  • Hitting a volley in the no-volley zone
  • Stepping on or inside the baseline before completing your serve

The receiver must let the serve bounce before playing the ball, and the server must let the return bounce before hitting the ball. This is called the double bounce rule, and it is meant to help points last longer. After this exchange, volleys may be played at any time. Just remember not to hit a volley when you’re in the kitchen!

Learn How to Keep Score

So how does scoring work in pickleball?

Only the serving team or player can score points. Games are played to 11 points, and you must win by two. It is the server’s responsibility to call out the score before starting each point. You can play either singles or doubles in pickleball, but note that doubles scoring varies ever so slightly from singles scoring. In singles scoring, the server only has to say their own score and their opponent’s score before starting the point (in that order), but in doubles the server says their team’s score, the opposing team’s score, and either a one or a two.

The one or two signifies what number try your team is on during your service. If your opponents start out the game serving, they would say “Zero, zero, one.” If they lost that point, the serve would go to you, who in turn would say “Zero, zero, one.” If you then lost that point, the serve would go to your partner, who would say “Zero, zero, two.” If you won, your partner would continue serving by saying “One, zero, two.”

Most matches are played best two out of three games. Some tournaments make the games winnable at 15 or 21 points, depending on the level of play.

If you're looking to get equipment of your own to start playing pickleball, you can click here to purchase. 


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