In this article, I’ll go over the absolute essentials of playing pickleball, so you can start your first game quickly.
- Materials you need to play pickleball
- Pickleball Layout Breakdown
- 5 essential pickleball rules you have to know
- A step-by-step guide on how to play pickleball
- Additional resources for the more serious players
Without further ado, let’s dive in.
Gear you need to play pickleball
To play pickleball, you will need the following equipment:
A pickleball paddle
To get started you can grab any paddle you have at hand. Or grab a paddle from my Best Pickleball Paddle for Beginners list.
A pickleball ball
Pickleball balls are similar to whiffle balls, but slightly smaller and heavier. They have holes that allow them to fly through the air with less resistance.
The only thing you need to know is there are different types of pickleball balls for indoor and outdoor play. Indoor balls are softer and have larger holes, while outdoor balls are harder and smaller.
Pickleball shoes (optional)
If you don’t have pickleball shoes you can go with athletic or tennis shoes.
The diagram above shows the layout of a pickleball court. The dimensions are in feet, and the lines are 2 inches wide.
Other than the service areas you’ll be moving around most time in your games. There’s the non-volley Zone, also known as the kitchen.
The non-volley zone is the area between the net and the non-volley line, where players cannot hit the ball in the air (or volley).
You don’t have to memorize the court layout at this point. This diagram is something you can refer to when I use some terms describing the court.
For players that want to dive deeper or set up their own court, you can check out my Pickleball court dimensions and plan article.
5 basic rules of pickleball
There are hundreds if not thousands of pickleball rules.
You don’t need to know all the rules to start playing pickleball. You just need to understand these five rules then you can hop onto the game.
As a server, you need to stand behind the baseline of the court (if you can’t remember what baseline is you can refer to the court diagram above).
Unlike tennis, you can only do underhand serve. It means that your paddle needs to be below the waist and the ball below the navel at the time of contact.
You must hit the ball in the air (no bouncing) and aim for the opposite diagonal service court.
Only one attempt per serve.
There are no “let” rules, meaning that if you hit the net the ball lands in the service court, the game will continue instead of restarting.
The kitchen rule means that you cannot volley while standing in or touching any part of the non-volley zone or its extensions.
You can enter the non-volley zone to hit a ball that has bounced or to return to your position after hitting a volley outside of it, as long as you avoid contact with any part of it while volleying.
The kitchen rules can get really complicated, especially in a double pickleball game. One example is, if your partner is in the kitchen, you can’t touch him/her when you’re volley.
So, if you want to learn more about it, check out my Non-Volley Zone Rules article.
The two-bounce rule means that each team must let the ball bounce once on their side before hitting it back. This applies to the serve and the return of serve. After that, either team can hit the ball in the air or after one bounce.
Pickleball is usually played to 11 points, win by 2. There’s deuce just like other racquet sports.
Some games may be played to 15 or 21 points, depending on the preference or tournament format, but it’s rare.
Only the serving team can score points by winning a rally (or exchange of shots).
If the serving team loses a rally, they lose their serve but not a point. If both players on a doubles team have served and lost their serves, then it is side out and the other team gets to serve.
How to Play Pickleball – Step by Step
1. How to start a pickleball game – Serve
To start a pickleball game, you need to decide who will serve first. You can do this by tossing a coin, spinning a paddle, playing rock-paper-scissors, or any other fair method. Once you have decided who will serve first, you need to follow these steps:
- Stand behind the baseline and inside the right service court. Make sure your feet clear the baseline or the centerline until you hit the ball.
- Hold the ball in your non-dominant hand and toss it up slightly in front of you. Do not bounce or drop the ball before tossing it.
- Hold your paddle in your dominant hand and swing it underhand to hit the ball. Make sure your paddle is below your waist and your arm is moving upward at contact.
- Aim for the opposite diagonal service court on your opponent’s side. Make sure your serve clears the net and lands within the boundaries of the service court.
- If you make a good serve, get ready to return your opponent’s shot. If you make a bad serve (a fault), you lose your serve and either your partner serves (if you have one) or your opponent serves (if you don’t).
2. Remember the Two bounce rule
The two-bounce rule (or double-bounce rule) is one of the most important rules of pickleball. It means that each team must let the ball bounce once on their side before hitting it back to their opponent. This applies to both the serve and the return of serve.
The purpose of this rule is to prevent players from rushing to the net and volleying every shot, which will make pickleball more like tennis and less like its own unique sport. The double bounce rule also creates longer rallies and more strategy in pickleball.
The double bounce rule only applies to the first two shots of each rally (the serve and the return). After that, either team can hit the ball in the air (volley) or after one bounce (groundstroke). However, they still have to follow another rule: the non-volley zone rule.
3. How does pickleball scoring work?
Now the game begins, and the rally continues until a fault happens.
A fault happens in three situations:
- The ball is out of bound
- The ball bounces more than once before the player returns it
- A player violates the rules
When a fault happens the point ends. Then one of the two things will happen – a point win, or a side out.
If you remember the rules I just mentioned, only the serving team can win a point. So, if at this point the returning team makes a fault, the serving team will win a point. And they keep serving.
If, in contrast, the winning team makes a fault, a side-out happens. It means that the serving team loses the right to serve the returning team, but the scores remain the same.
However, things are that simple when it is a double game because both players on the team get an opportunity to serve before a side-out happens.
And that’s what I’m going to talk about in the next section.
How to play pickleball doubles
In doubles pickleball, both players on a team get to serve until they lose their serves or score points.
Except for the first serve of each game. The team that serves first only gets one serve, and then it is side out.
The first serve of each side is always from the right court, and the server switches to the left court after scoring a point.
Pickleball doubles Scoring
The score determines the serving position.
In pickleball doubles, there are three numbers in the scores.
The numbers refer to the serving team’s score, the receiving team’s score, and the server number (1 or 2).
For example, 3-2-1 means the serving team has 3 points, the receiving team has 2 points, and it is the first server’s turn.
The rules and scoring are similar to singles pickleball, except that there are some differences in the serving sequence and the court positioning.
To play pickleball doubles, you need to follow these steps:
1. Decide who to serve first
The player on the team who serves first is called the first server, and the player who serves second is called the second server.
The first server stands behind the baseline and inside the right service court. The first server serves the ball underhand to the opposite diagonal service court on the other team’s side. Make sure your serve lands within the boundaries of the service court.
If you make a good serve, get ready to return your opponent’s shot.
2. Rally until a fault
If you make a bad serve (a fault), or your team loses the point, you lose your serve and your partner becomes the second server. If both players on a team lose their serves (two faults), it is a side out and the other team gets to serve.
If you win the rally while serving, you score points and switch service courts with your partner. If you win the rally while receiving, you do not score a point but you get to serve.
The first server of each team always serves from the right court, and the second server always serves from the left court. The score determines the serving position. It consists of three numbers: the serving team’s score, the receiving team’s score, and the server number (1 or 2). For example, 3-2-1 means the serving team has 3 points, the receiving team has 2 points, and it is the first server’s turn.
The first team to reach 11 points and lead by at least 2 points wins the game. You can also play to 15 or 21 points, depending on your preference or tournament format.
How to play pickleball singles
Things are much simpler in a single pickleball game, as there are only two servers.
The server’s position is determined by the score of the serving team.
If the score of the serving team is an even number, then the server serves from the right side of the court. The Opposite happens when the score is odd.
For example, if you’re serving, and your score is 1, then you’re serving from your left side of the court.
Where to play pickleball
If you can’t find a formal pickleball court, you can consider a tennis court, or badminton court, or DIY yourself in any space that has a hard surface.
You just need to mark the lines for the pickleball court using chalk, tape, cones, or any other temporary method.
However, if you want to play pickleball on a dedicated pickleball court with a permanent net and lines, you can find one near you by using online resources such as Places 2 Play.
This article serves as a quick intro to help you get into the game quickly.
If you want to learn more about the game, here’s a list of additional resources.