It’s the fastest-growing sport in the United States, with an estimated nearly 5 million players across the country, but pickleball is still a mystery to a lot of people. What do you actually need to know if you’re thinking of picking up a paddle today? What are the 5 rules of pickleball that are absolutely essential to learn?
There are a lot of things to figure out about this quirky and exciting new sport, like how many points you need to score in order to win, how many times the ball has to bounce before you can hit it, and what, exactly, the ‘kitchen’ is.
If that all sounds a bit baffling, don’t worry – we’ve got you covered. In this article, we’re going to go over the top 5 most important pickleball rules, so that you can understand the key dos and don’ts when you’re out on the court.
What Are The 5 Rules Of Pickleball?
Pickleball has quickly become the game that everyone is talking about, but it’s still a relatively new concept for most people. You probably have a good idea of the most significant rules for sports like basketball, baseball, and football, but not as many people know how to play pickleball, and what is and is not allowed on the court.
One of the best ways to start getting your head around the game is through its 5 essential rules, which every beginner pickleball player should learn before they take their paddle out for a spin. By learning these rules, you will understand almost everything that you need to know about how the game is played, scored, and won.
These 5 rules of pickleball are:
- The ball cannot go out of bounds
- You must serve underhand and from the baseline
- The ball has to bounce once on each side
- A serve cannot land in the ‘kitchen’ (more on that later…)
- A winning score can either be 11 or 15 points
Although these rules are relatively simple, they can be pretty confusing without a bit of an explanation – particularly the part about the kitchen! – so read on ahead to discover what each of these basic tenets of the game actually means.
1. The ball can’t go out of bounds
This first rule is probably the easiest to understand, as it is very similar to other racket/paddle sports – like tennis, badminton, and table tennis.
Essentially, the ball must remain in bounds at all times, which means that it can’t hit the ground outside of the lines of the court.
That will probably come as no surprise, but the key is what happens when you make an error (otherwise known as committing a ‘fault’). A fault, like hitting the ball out of bounds, does not always mean that the other team scores a point. This only happens if the other team are serving the ball.
You can only score a point in pickleball when it is your team’s serve. If you are serving and you hit the ball out-of-bounds, you don’t concede a point. Instead, you lose the serve and the other team will serve to you, giving them the chance to score.
If you are not serving, and you commit a fault, that’s when the other team gains a point. Makes sense so far, right?
2. You must serve underhand and from the baseline
Now that we’ve learned that you can only score when you are serving, it might seem like having the serve is a huge advantage. Well, there are some specific rules in place to make scoring while serving a little trickier than you might think.
First, you cannot serve overhand and, second, you have to serve from the baseline. The underhand rule also states that you have to strike the ball below waist height.
This basically means that you are not driving the ball directly toward the ground, it has a much more leisurely arc that is pretty easy to return.
When it comes to where you serve from and where the ball needs to go, the rules are pretty similar to those you find in tennis. You need to have one foot behind the baseline, and the ball needs to be hit diagonally across the court to the opposite side.
So, what happens if you make a mistake on your serve? Well, there are no second serves here. In doubles, you pass the service to your teammate, and in singles, you pass it straight to your opponent. Of course, you don’t give away a point on an illegal service as you can still only gain points when you are the one serving the ball.
3. The ball has to bounce once on each side
This is another rule that reduces the overall advantage that you might have for being the one serving the ball.
You have to let the ball bounce once on each side of the court before hitting it, after which you can start using volleys.
This means that, when you are serving, your opponent has to let the ball bounce before they return it to you, and then you need to let it bounce before hitting it back again. Then, your opponent can start hitting the ball without letting it bounce, if they choose to.
It’s a very well-thought-out rule that makes scoring in the game much more balanced and interesting.
Because of this rule, the first person who has a chance to hit a harder volley shot is actually the person returning the serve, not the person serving. Therefore, you are at a slight disadvantage when your team has the ability to score, and the service is more likely to keep changing sides.
4. A serve cannot land in the ‘kitchen’
The next most important rule is also related to serving, and it incorporates one of the more unique aspects of the pickleball court.
When you serve, it cannot land inside the kitchen area of the court. If you’ve ever heard anybody speak about pickleball court, this is probably the term that confused you the most. What is the ‘kitchen’, and how does it work?
The ‘kitchen’ is a nickname that is given to the zone closest to the net on both sides of the court. It is also known as the ‘no-volley’ zone, and it extends 7 feet on either side of the net.
Serving beyond this zone is not particularly challenging. What’s more of a challenge is not breaking the ‘no-volley’ rule in this area during the rest of the game. Essentially, you cannot hit the ball from inside the ‘kitchen’ without letting it bounce first. This includes touching the ‘kitchen line’ with any part of your body, clothing, or equipment before, during, or after you hit the ball.
So, if you take a big volley and then stumble forwards into the no-volley zone, that actually counts as a fault, and you lose the serve or concede a point.
5. A winning score can either be 11 or 15 points
Now that you know the first four rules, you understand how to serve, how to score, and how to play. The only thing that’s left to learn is how to win.
In pickleball, there is not a single score that every game is won at. Usually, you need to score 11 points to win a game, but some people choose to play to 15 or even more.
It’s really up to whoever is playing. Generally speaking, though, 11 is the most common score that most people play to.
What doesn’t change is that you also need to be at least 2 points ahead of your opponent to take the win. If the two teams are within 1 point of each other, the game continues, until one team extends their lead to at least two points ahead and has more than 11 in total (or 15 if that’s how much you have chosen to play to).
Another related rule to this is that around halfway through the game, the teams will switch sides. For an 11-point game, this would happen when the first team reaches 6 points in total and, for a 15-point game, it would be when the first team reached 8 points.
Are There More Rules In Pickleball?
Although those 5 rules do teach almost all of the basics of the game, they are definitely not the only rules that exist within pickleball. There are many smaller rules and little traditions within the sport that will almost definitely come up if you are playing for long enough.
Some of the most significant additional rules include:
- No second bounces. The ball can only bounce once before it is hit. If it is allowed to bounce for a second time then the team that hit the ball takes the next serve (and scores a point if they are already serving).
- You cannot touch the net. If you touch the net with any part of your body, clothing, or equipment, then that is considered to be a fault.
- The ball cannot touch you. If you are struck by the ball at any point, that counts as a fault.
- Calls should be made immediately. Any player from either team can call a fault or a score, but it should be done as soon as possible.
- The 10-second rule. Once the score has been called for a point, the serving player has 10 seconds to take their next serve. This rule is designed to keep the game moving and prevent long pauses.
How Do You Know Who Is Serving In Pickleball?
One of the slightly more complicated aspects of pickleball is deciding exactly whose turn it is to take a service, and how you rotate between the different players so that everyone is serving at the right time – and from the right position.
Most people toss a coin to decide who serves first, but you might play a single point that allows the ball to cross the net at least four times.
Only one person from a team will actually serve until they make a fault. The server needs to switch their position so that you are never serving to the same person (or the same box) twice in a row. If either member of a team makes an error – or a fault – then the service is swapped over to the other team.
The same applies to the next team and, when the service is swapped over again, it will be the second player’s turn to take their serve.
Conclusion: What Are The 5 Rules Of Pickleball?
So, what are the 5 rules of pickleball? Technically, there are more than 5 rules in the game overall but 5 are considered to be the most essential, and they do help you to learn practically everything about the game.
The 5 main rules are that the ball must remain within the court, you have to serve from the baseline and underhand, the ball has to bounce once on either side before you can volley, a service cannot land in the no-volley zone, and you must score 11 or 15 points in total to win.
Going through the specifics of these 5 rules does cover almost all of the information that you need to know in order to get started and start enjoying America’s fastest-growing pastime.
Can you hit overhand in pickleball?
Yes, you are allowed to hit the ball overhand in a game of pickleball, with the exception of when you are taking a serve. Serving the ball must be underhand.
Can you step in the kitchen in pickleball?
The kitchen is the non-volley zone, and you cannot stand in it or touch the ‘kitchen line’ when you are volleying, even after hitting the ball. You can step inside the kitchen, but only once the ball has already bounced.
What are the four faults in pickleball?
The four main faults in pickleball are when a serve lands outside of the receiving court, the ball hits the net, the ball is volleyed before it has bounced on each side, and when the ball is hit out of bounds.