Pickleball is a widely enjoyed and rapidly growing sport in many parts of the world. In fact, it’s the fastest-growing sport in places like the US. However, as with any other sport, there are things many people haven’t quite figured out about playing it. One such is the service.
Pickleball is a service-out-side-scoring game, which means you can only score points when on the serving team, making the service a crucial part of the game. It’s pretty simple: can’t serve, Can’t score. And when you can’t score, you can’t win. This is why players must learn to serve. So, if you have yet to get the hang of how to serve in Pickleball, you’ve come to the right place. This comprehensive guide will tell you all about the service and the best ways to do it.
Basic Service Rules of Pickleball
The game of Pickleball versus other paddle sports has some unique and basic serving rules, and it is important that you know them so you can become a pro server. The first and most basic of these is that all servers must position themselves on either side of the centerline and behind the baseline to serve.
From here, the next step is to call the score before hitting the ball diagonally across the court and into the service area. Doing this well requires a bit of finesse, and you must know that the ball has to be served underhand and below the waist.
Now, there is a non-volley zone in the court and a line in front of the service area, and serves must neither land in the former nor touch the latter. If the service is successful, the server can continue and switch sides after each one. That being said, let’s look at some rules for specific forms of service, namely singles and doubles serving. We’ll also discuss the “two-bounce” rule and what a “let” means.
Typically, every scoring serve wins you more serves. And in a singles scenario, the rule applies such that each server continues serving and gaining points until they miss one serve.
In addition to these, there are a few other rules that apply:
You must switch to the left if your score is odd.
You switch to the right side if your score is even.
Say your opponent’s score before yours on every call.
In a doubles scenario, the rules are slightly different, with serving done on a turn-by-turn basis. It’s also easier to learn the game through a two-on-two practice as long as you play with someone who is experienced and can show you how to play. That being said, doubles games have the following extra rules:
Each team must have a first server and a second server.
The first server gets to do the side-switching based on even or odd scores.
At the start of any game, the second server on the first team will be skipped. After that, each team player gets to serve before a side-out.
If your team scores on a serve, whoever served last continues to do so until they commit a fault.
After every side-out, service must start on the right side of the court.
The player whose position correlates with the ideal position for serving under an even or odd score serves first for their team. So, suppose the team has an even score (including zero), then the right side gets to do the honors.
The Two-Bounce Rule
The two-bounce rule is one of several that have been established to make the game more balanced and enjoyable. Simply put, it specifies that both the service and its return from the opposing team must be groundstrokes. For example, when you serve, it must bounce before your opponent is allowed to return it; you must also wait for the return ball to bounce before you return it.
After this, players are allowed to return volleys (returning the ball before it bounces).
The continuous back-and-forth return of the ball that happens between a serve and a fault is known as a rally. And when a Pickleball rally is redone, no matter the reason, it’s known as a “Let.”
Lets usually result when something interferes with the game. For instance, there could be a broken racket, a player injury, or something as random as a cat running off with the ball. However, “service lets” are the most common. The “service let” occurs when a ball hits the net but still lands in the right service court.
If it rebounds into your court, it’s a failed service, and you lose a point.
If it hits the net and lands outside the service court, it’s also a failed service.
But play continues if the ball touches the net any other time than on a service. In any case, now we’ve seen the basic rules, let’s talk about how to serve.
How to Serve in Pickleball
As we’ve established, serving requires a bit of finesse, and you will need some good practice to master it. But these steps are the general idea of how to serve:
Assume the right position according to the relevant rules for doubles or singles games, as well as your score (odd or even).
Call out the score, saying the opponent’s before yours. In doubles games, the service number comes before the score.
Determine your best serving method (we’ll talk about the various ones later on) and take your aim.
Calm yourself and take a deep breath. If you have a relaxing routine that you go through before each serve or at the beginning game, use it.
Holding the ball in your other hand, hold it in front of you (at a level with your waist) and let it drop (don’t throw it).
As the ball drops, swing the racket underhand and send the ball off diagonally across the court.
Brace for your opponent’s return strike.
Next, let’s talk about advanced serving styles.
Virtually any game is boring if there is no room to finesse a little or show off your skill. Furthermore, advanced moves generally increase your scoring chances as they will be harder for your opponent (s) to return. So, as you become more adept, it’s important that you learn how to serve in Pickleball with advanced moves.
There are three types you should know of.
High soft serve
Spin serve move
We’ll discuss each with its merits and demerits and when it’s ideal to use.
The Power Serve
The power serve involves a powerful strike at a low angle, sending the ball deep into your opponent’s court at high speed. It’s a very effective advanced move, especially when paired with a few tactics. For instance, you could serve the ball directly at your opponent, as a ball coming directly at a player is harder to return than one slightly to their side. And even if they manage to hit it, they have a high chance of failing to return it successfully.
Alternatively, you can aim the ball at the forehand or backhand corner, depending on which one your opponent is less adept at using.
Pros and Cons
This advanced serving technique offers quite a few advantages but has a few downsides.
On the one hand, it allows you to take advantage of the fact that any opponent you meet likely has less proficiency with either the fore or the backhand. As such, you can target that direction with full power, forcing them to either mishit the ball or use their full arsenal of shots.
Additionally, the low arc and the speed will make it hard for your opponent to return the ball and reduce their capacity to put spins on it or set up dangerous shots. And finally, the speed keeps your opponent behind the baseline and makes it hard for them to enter the non-volley zone.
However, on the other hand, this technique requires a lot of training in strength and precision. Furthermore, if your opponent is very skilled, they might be able to return it with equal force. Alternatively, they might send it too deep inside your court for you to reach it in time, and that’s a weakness.
When to Use
This move is ideal when:
Your opponent has a weak backhand
Your opponent is not so fast (this is when hitting the ball straight at them is best)
You can also pair the move with others like the high soft serve for greater effect, as we will explain.
The High Soft Serve
This move involves sending the ball deep into your opponent’s court such that it traces a high arc as it goes. It’s a very versatile move compared to others, and it’s quite easy to learn if you’re a beginner or under level 5.0. And due to its versatility, it’s the perfect serving move for changing the game’s pace and keeping your opponent on their toes.
You can aim the ball at the back or front of the serving area when doing the high soft serve. This will make your opponent move out of their position and ruin their composure.
Pros and Cons
The high arc of this technique is good for keeping your opponent off-balance (especially with direction). It also keeps them away from the net (from which position they can launch a dangerous strike). It essentially keeps them guessing what the next move will be and sets things up for you to make a decisive shot. Furthermore, it puts all the work on your opponent, making them put their own speed on the ball, increasing the odds that they’ll make a mistake.
However, it also leaves you vulnerable if your opponent is very skilled (and tall enough). They might be able to take advantage and send a straight downward shot in your weak direction.
When to Use
Power serves and other moves are quite common among people looking to complicate the play a little. As such, your opponent likely will get used to those moves. When it becomes apparent that they have, that’s your cue to change the play and introduce a versatile move like the high soft serve.
Additionally, you can also use a few well-placed high soft serves to get your opponent moving forward. And when they are sufficiently close to the net, a powered shot right at their feet would be near impossible to return.
The Spin Serve Pickleball Move
The spin serve essentially means making the ball spin in service, and it’s perhaps the least-used among the advanced moves. It’s easy to see why: it takes more finesse to set a ball spinning in flight than it does to do a power shot or an arc serve. This move has two types:
The backspin serve, which rotates the ball backwards, so it bounces at a higher angle
The topspin serve, which makes the ball rotate forward, making it bounce lower
The side spin, which rotates the ball sideways and makes it bounce to the side
Each of these spin pickleball moves requires you to swipe the ball on contact in the direction you would have it go.
Pros and Cons
If you can get this move right, even if your opponent manages to hit the ball, it doesn’t matter. The physics of the spinning ball will make it hard for them to redirect it accurately, that all but assures you a colorful win. However, the main downside of this move is its technicality. You have to be precise and get it right, or you might just be handing the game to your opponent. Furthermore, especially with the side spin, it’s how well you can do the move depending on which is your dominant hand. For example, you might find it hard to do a right spin if you’re left-handed.
When to Use the Spin Serve Pickleball Move
In principle, the spin move works under almost any circumstances. The only real danger is your ability to use it and your opponent’s skill level and experience. If they’re experienced with returning spin moves, they might set you off-balance with a well-placed return.
These are the essential things you should know about how to serve in Pickleball games. And as we’ve seen, there are quite a few ways to do it with style. The keys are calmness and precision. If you can learn to keep a calm disposition while playing and be accurate and skilled with your service, the game is yours.
Can I score on the returning team?
You can only score if your team is serving.
Can I serve with any kind of hand motion?
You can use either forehand or backhand motion in your service.
Where can I serve?
The positioning rules on how to serve in Pickleball specify that you must serve from behind the baseline and be on the left or right side.
Tom is an accomplished writer, with years of experience producing buyer’s guides and tutorials for athletes online.
And it goes without saying – he’s sports-mad.