How to Play Pickleball by the Rules

Did you know that pickleball is a fast-paced and fun sport that can be played by children, grandparents, and everyone in between? But how do you play pickleball and what are the rules?

What is Pickleball?  

First, here’s a quick summary.

Pickleball was invented in 1965 by three dads – Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum – whose families were bored. Similar to badminton, pickleball equipment includes a whiffle-style ball instead of a shuttlecock and paddles instead of rackets. It’s played on what amounts to a condensed tennis court with a shorter net.

Most importantly, it’s growing in popularity because it’s fun and easy to learn to play.  

A young woman playing pickleball with intensity on a sunny day

What You Need to Play: Pickleball Equipment

To play pickleball, each player will need a pickleball paddle, which is smaller than a tennis racket but larger than a ping-pong paddle. The first pickleball paddles were wooden, but now they also come in aluminum and composite models. You’ll also need a net and a pickleball, which is plastic and has holes like a wiffle ball.

You Also Need to Know Pickleball Rules  

Pickleball is played by singles or doubles on a Badminton-size court of 20 feet by 44 feet. As in tennis, the ball is served diagonally, starting at the right service square. Points are only scored by the side that serves, which has its own set of rules (hint: a serve must be done underhand and below the waste).

Players on each side must let the ball bounce once before volleys, or shots hit in the air without first bouncing, are allowed. There is a seven-foot zone near the net where volleys are not allowed, keeping the ball from being spiked.   

The server continues to serve, alternating service courts, until faulting. Faults occur when a player touches any part of the non-volley zone on the serve, hits the ball out of bounds or that doesn’t clear the net, volleys from the non-volley zone, or volleys before a bounce has occurred on each side.   

After a fault, the other side gets a turn at serving.  

Side Out  

When playing pickleball doubles, each player on a team keeps serving until their team makes a fault. The other team then gets a turn to serve. This switch is called a side out.   

Double Bounce Rule  

In pickleball, each team must play their first shot off of a bounce. Once those two bounces have occurred, the ball can be played off a bounce or hit as a volley shot.   

Kitchen Rule  

Pickleball’s non-volley zone rule, or kitchen rule, stipulates that a player cannot touch the kitchen zone while volleying a ball. This is considered a fault. Touching this zone will result in fellow players shouting “Kitchen!”  

Dinks 

A dink is a soft shot hit on a bounce from the kitchen, or non-volley zone, intended to arc over the net and into the opposing kitchen. These are much harder shots to return than power shots, according to USA Pickleball. Dinks that land close to the net are the most difficult to return because of the steep angle required to get the ball over the net.

Drop Shots 

One of the more difficult shots to master, the drop shot is a soft shot hit off a bounce from deep in the court. Usually, it is hit to land in the opponent’s kitchen, preferably close to the net, making it difficult to return. 

Ground Strokes 

The forehand groundstroke is the most powerful and accurate shot and is used at or near the baseline. Move feet instead of reaching to make the shot. Step forward with the front foot and bring the paddle forward to contact the ball in front of the body before the ball reaches the top of its bounce. 

Lobs 

A lob shot is overhead and deep to catch an opponent off guard. 

Overhead Smash 

An overhead smash is a hard, overhand shot directed downward into the opponent’s court. Usually, this is the return of an opponent’s lob. 

How to Score in Pickleball  

Unlike tennis or badminton, pickleball points are only scored on serves by the serving team. At the start of the game, the player on the right serves diagonally. If a point is scored, the server moves to the left side and serves to the court diagonally across.   

The first side to score 11 points while leading by at least two points wins, though some players like to play until 15 or 21.

In or Out? 

Judging a ball in or out can be tricky. Generally, if you can see a gap between the ball and the line, it’s out. If you do not see a gap between the ball and the line, then it is in. 

Playing Pickleball 

If you’re familiar with tennis or badminton, you’ll catch on to pickleball quickly. The sport is easy to learn, and its rules are simple. 

One of pickleball’s plusses is that physical prowess isn’t a necessity. It’s popular with younger players as well as retirees.  An easy way to learn the sport is by taking lessons from a USA Pickleball-registered instructor. USA Pickleball can help in locating a teacher and also offers videos to help new players learn the game.  

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