I collected the essential pickleball rules every pickler needs to know and put them here.

The rules come from USA Pickleball Rulebook. While it is detailed, some of the sessions are difficult to understand.

In this article, I try to explain the rules in simple terms. With the help of pictures and diagrams, I hope you will find those complex rules easy to understand.

Here is the table of contents we will cover.

Serving Rules

Pickle Ball paddle and ball held by player

Serving Sequence

The serving sequence differs in a single game than in a double game. 

Single Pickleball Game:

In singles, the server serves from the right court when his score is even and from the left when the score is odd. A player keeps serving until he loses a point. 

When a game starts, the score is 0-0, so the scores of both players are even. A player begins serving on the right side of the court. Two things could happen depending on the outcome of this point.

If the server wins, the score becomes 1-0, so the server score becomes odd. In the next point, he will serve from the left side of the court.

If the server loses, the score will still be 0-0 because only the serving team can win a point in pickleball. In the next point, the other player will serve the ball, and he will serve from his right side of the court (diagonally opposite to the server’s right side). 

And this will continue until the game ends.

Double Pickleball Game:

pickleball rules - scoring system in double

Things are different in a double pickleball game because there is an extra server. 

There is an extra digit in the scoreboard called the server number. The score will look something like this: 0-0-2, in which the third digit is the server number.

Each player on a team is assigned a server number, either 1 or 2, before every point. The server number will keep changing throughout the game, depending on the scores. 

The players’ position after a “side out” determines the server number of players.

A “side out” means losing the serving opportunity to the other team. In a double pickleball game, players on the same team can serve until they commit a fault, except at the beginning of a new game. 

After both players on the same team have committed a fault, a “side out” happens. During a side out, the player on the right side of the court will serve first and become server number one, and the other player will become server number two. 

If the serving team wins a point, the players on the team will switch sides. If they lose a point or commit a fault, they will stay in the same position during a service, and server number two will serve the ball. 

There is one exception to the rule: at the beginning of a new game, only one player on the serving team can serve before committing a serve. 

Step-by-step example of how serving sequence works

The starting score of a double pickleball game is 0-0-2. The player on the right will be the server. Two things can happen depending on the result of the first point. 

First, the serving team wins, the score becomes 1-0-2, the players on the serving team switch side, and the same player that did the first service will now serve on the left side.

Second, the serving team loses, and the score is now 0-0-1. “Side out” happens, and the players on the other team now have the opportunity to serve. The player on the right side of the court (from the other team’s perspective) will be server number one and serve first, and the other player will become server number two. 

Position

When serving the ball, you need to stand behind the baseline.

When the ball is served, at least one of your feet should be on the area behind the baseline. Also, neither of your feet should touch the space inside the baseline, on the baseline, or outside the virtual extension of the sideline or centerline.

Drop Serve and Volley Serve

Two types of services are legal in a pickleball game: drop serve and volley serve. They have different requirements.

Volley Serve

To perform a volley serve, you strike the ball without bouncing off the playing surface. A volley serve must be underhand, with these three requirements:

  1. The server’s arm must move upward when he strikes the ball with the paddle.
  2. When striking the ball, the highest point of the paddle head must be even or below the highest part of the wrist.
  3. When striking the ball, the contact point must be above the waist. 

Drop Serve

To perform a drop serve, you strike the ball after it bounces off the playing service. The ball can bounce as many times as you want and wherever you want before you hit it. Also, a drop serve doesn’t have to be underhand as long as these two requirements are satisfied:

  1. The server must only release the ball from one hand or drop it off the paddle face from any natural height.
  2. The ball shall not be propelled downward, tossed, or hit upward with the paddle.

Placement

The server should serve to the diagonally opposite service court.

If you serve from the right side, you must hit the ball to the left service box and vice versa.  

The served ball must land in the service area. 

A server ball can land in any area of the service area or on the centerline or sidelines, but it cannot contact the kitchen or the kitchen line. The ball can also touch or clear the net if it lands in the service area.

Scoring Rules

Only the serving team can score

Only the serving team or player can win a point. If the serving team loses, they lose the opportunity to serve the ball, but the opponent team will not get the point. 

Games are usually played to 11 points

For nonofficial matches, 11-point games are the most popular. In the tournament, there are 15 and 21-point games.

The team wins when they first get the winning point and is ahead by 2 points. Deuce occurs when the score is 10-10 in an 11-point game. Any team ahead by two points after the deuce will win the match. 

Equipment Rules

The color player’s apparel cannot be similar to the ball color

Wearing clothes the same color as the pickleball will make some shots hard to see. As pickleball is mostly yellow, avoid wearing apparel in the same color. 

You and your equipment cannot contact the net or the opponent’s court.

When the ball is live and in play, if any player’s body, apparel, or paddle touches the net posts of the opponent’s court, it is a fault. 

Line Call Rules

Except for serving, a ball that lands in the court or touches any part of any line is “in.”

A served ball contacting the non-volley zone, including the lines, is a fault

Fault Rules

Violating any rules, including the most common one I’ve mentioned in this article, will result in a fault. 

If the receiving team commits a fault, the serving team will win a point. And if the serving commits a fault, the server will lose the opportunity to serve, resulting in a side-out.

Two-Bounce Rule (AKA Double-Bounce Rule)

The two-bounce rule states that after the service, each team must play their first shot off of one bounce before they can volley.

Kitchen Rules (Non-Volley Zone Rules)

The Kitchen rule states that when you are in the Kitchen (Non-Volley Zone), you cannot volley. This rule prevents players from smashing the ball in an area too close to the net.

Anything you are in contact with cannot touch the kitchen when you are volleying.

This includes your body and equipment, including your paddle, hat, sunglasses, and even your partner.

The kitchen rules apply to the swing, the follow-through, and the momentum of a volley.

After volleying a ball, if the player’s momentum causes them or their equipment to touch the non-volley zone, including the non-volley zone line.

Even if the volleyed ball dies before this happens, it is still a fault.

A player can stay in the non-volley zone anytime other than when volleying a ball.

If this sounds confusing, here is a complete guide on the kitchen rules.

Unspoken Rules

These rules are not in the official rulebook, but you should consider following them to make your pickleball sessions more enjoyable for you and other players. 

Always call out the scores loudly before serving the ball.

Calling out the scores will make it more explicit and, more importantly, ensure that the opponents are ready before serving the ball.

Avoid hitting someone in the face.

In pickleball games, there are a lot of smashes and volleys, and it’s hard to avoid hitting someone’s body, but you should always avoid aiming the ball at someone’s face. 

Don’t lob when playing against people with low mobility.

When playing against older people or someone slow, refrain from performing a lob; they will be grateful to you. 

If your ball goes onto another court, do not follow the ball onto the court.

Following the ball onto the court might interrupt an ongoing game or even run into other players. You should wait a minute for someone to toss the ball back to you or wait until the point ends. 

What’s Next

I hope you find the rules easy to understand. Check out my complete pickleball terms to expand your pickleball glossary.

FAQ on Pickleball Rules

Can you stand in the kitchen in pickleball?

Yes, but you cannot volley the ball in the kitchen.

Can you bounce the ball before serving in pickleball?

Yes., it is known as the drop serve. To perform a legal drop serve, the server must release the ball from one hand or drop it off the paddle face from any natural height. Also, the ball shall not be propelled downward, tossed, or hit upward with the paddle.

What are the pickleball let-serve rules?

In pickleball, there are no “let” rules. A let-serve is legal if the ball lands in the service area.

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