What Is Pickleball? Here’s An Easy Primer

Have you ever heard a friend mention that they were going to play pickleball? If so, you may have had no idea what pickleball was. So let’s find out!

Pickleball combines elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis (ping pong). The result is an engaging game that is easy to play for people of all ages and one of the fastest growing sports in the country.

If you want to know more about pickleball and perhaps get involved in a game, read on. In the following sections, we’ll give you a brief history of pickleball then reveal the rules of the game. 

A doubles pickleball match

History of Pickleball

Unlike many other games, pickleball is a relatively new invention. Its humble origins date back to 1965. During that summer, a businessman named Bill Bell and a congressman named Joel Pritchard were looking for a game that could keep all members of their family entertained.

One day, at Pritchard’s home, they began to get creative with some of the sports equipment they had around the property. They had a badminton court but not enough rackets for everyone to play. So, they used table tennis paddles instead.

Then, they lowered the badminton net from 60 inches to 36 inches. They also replaced the badminton shuttlecock with a perforated ball made of plastic.

As the families played, they began bounding the ball against the surface of the court. A few days later, with the help of Barney MacCallum, the three men solidified the rules of their new game.

Through the following decades, their invented game gained recognition from multiple sports publications. By 1990, there were several pickleball tournaments, and people were playing the sport throughout all fifty states. 

Today there is an official USA Pickleball association that has tens of thousands of registered members. Despite that impressive growth, the game remains true to its initial intention of supplying fun for people of all ages. 

Pickleball Rules

Now that you know a little bit about the history of pickleball, you can proceed to learning about the rules of the game. As mentioned earlier, pickleball incorporates some rules from older sports and adds some new ones as well. Read on to see how those rules dictate the play of a pickleball game. We’ll begin with a quick description of a typical pickleball court and the main pieces of equipment.

Pickleball Court Dimensions

Pickleball takes place on a court that is quite similar to a badminton court. Like a badminton court, a pickleball court’s dimensions measure 20′ by 44′. A net, which is 36″ at either end and 34″ in the center, divides the court in half widthwise, leaving a 20′ by 22′ playing area for each team on either side of the court.

On each side, there is a non-volley zone. This zone runs the entire width of the court and has a depth of 7′ starting at the net. In this zone, players are not allowed to volley the ball. In other words, they must let the ball bounce before hitting it back towards the opponent’s side. The purpose of this zone is to eliminate spiking from the game.

The dimensions of a pickleball court

Pickleball Equipment

There is very little equipment that you will need to enjoy a game of pickleball. In keeping with the original intention of the game, this lack of equipment makes the game more accessible to players of all backgrounds and skill levels. Below are the essential pieces of equipment that are each a requirement to play the game.

  • A court with a net (as described in the last section)
  • Pickleball paddles, which are a bit larger than ping pong paddles
  • A pickleball ball, similar to a wiffle ball

During the very first pickleball games, players used table tennis paddles. Since then, those paddles have evolved.

The pickleball paddles of today are smaller than a tennis racket but larger than a table tennis paddle. They are often composed of composite materials with a light weight. 

The pickleball ball is also distinct from any other sports ball. This ball is made of a hard plastic ball that is hollow and has several holes. The ball is usually white or bright yellow.

Serving Rules

Every game of pickleball begins with a serve, and there are a few rules regarding how players must perform that serve. Unlike related sports like tennis or table tennis, the pickleball serve should not be an offensive move. Instead, the purpose of the pickleball serve is simply to get the ball into play. Here are three of the most important pickleball serving rules:

  • Serves must be underhand
  • The server must make contact with the ball below their waist
  • The head of the paddle cannot be above the server’s wrist at the point of contact

Those are the first three rules of serving. While the first one is fairly straightforward, the second two can take some time to get used to. But if you are dedicated to learning this game. You must get a handle on serving. Failing to follow any of those three rules makes for an illegal serve.

Additionally, the server should send the ball traveling diagonally across the court. Ideally, the ball will land deep into the opponent’s service box to force the opponent to be away from the net.

That is a somewhat comprehensive overview of a basic pickleball serve. But, players should know that as of this year, there has been an expansion to the pickleball serving rules.

The Drop Serve

As of January 2021, there has been an update to the pickleball serving rules. This update allows for a drop serve

A normal serve in pickleball involves the server hitting the ball out of their hand. The drop serve allows the player to drop the ball and serve it, using the same underhand motion, after a single bounce.

It is important to know that the server cannot throw the ball in any way. They can only drop the ball from a height of their choosing. Other than that, all other pickleball serving rules remain the same. 

Double Bounce Rule

After you master the rules of pickleball serving, you must understand another crucial rule that comes into play just after the serve. The double bounce rule, also called the two bounce rule, mandates that each team must allow the ball to bounce before playing their first shot. 

After that, they are allowed to volley the ball. To add further clarity, here is a breakdown of how that rule plays out in a game:

  • Team one serves the ball to team two
  • Team two allows the ball to bounce then returns it to team one
  • Team one allows the ball to bounce then returns it to team two

After that, the teams are allowed to volley the ball as long as they are not in the non-volley zone. While this rule may seem strange at first, know that it is in place to make the game as fair as possible for both teams. While one team must serve, the double bounce rule makes it so that there is neither an advantage nor disadvantage to being the serving team. 

Keeping Score in Pickleball

Scoring in pickleball is very different from any other sport, including the sports with which it is closely related. A team gains a point any time that their opponent commits a fault. To begin your understanding of pickleball scoring, let’s cover what those faults are.

Faults in Pickleball

There are numerous ways to commit a fault in pickleball. Some of these are obvious and very similar to point-scoring opportunities you might find in tennis or table tennis.

For instance, a fault occurs when a team attempts to return the ball and the ball fails to clear the net. Likewise, if the team hits the ball out of bounds, that is a fault as well.

If the ball touches the non-volley zone, that is a fault as well. Volleying from the non-volley zone and volleying in violation of the double bounce rule are both faults, too. 

Pickleball Scoring System

A game of pickleball ends when a team reaches 11 points and is ahead by two points. As mentioned above, during a game, teams earn points when their opponent commits a fault. However, only the serving team can score points. 

In a game of doubles, if the serving team commits a fault, the second team member gets a chance to serve as well. If the second server also faults, the other team gets their chance to serve. Based on that rule, it is possible that a team could score 11 points and win the game without the other team ever getting the chance to serve. 

It is common for pickleball teams to play a match rather than a single game. A match consists of up to three games. The first team to win two games wins the match.

In some settings, such as tournament play, pickleball teams will play single games instead of full matches. That change saves time so that more teams can compete against one another. When teams play single games, they often play to 15 or 21 rather than 11. 

It is also important to know that the only person who can announce the score of a pickleball game is the person serving. While this does not affect gameplay, it is an important point of pickleball etiquette. 

Kitchen Rules

If you are interested in taking up pickleball, you should also know about kitchen rules. The “kitchen” is another term for the non-volley zone. There is a specific set of rules surrounding what a player can and cannot do in the kitchen. 

The most important of these rules is that a player cannot perform a volley while making any contact with the kitchen. However, a player’s arm or paddle can be above the non-volley zone during a volley as long as their feet do not touch the zone or the lines defining the zone.

Additionally, players cannot begin in the kitchen, then jump out during a volley and land outside the kitchen. They cannot let the momentum of their body carry them into the kitchen during a volley, even if the ball is dead by the time they land. Also, a player performing a volley cannot make contact with their teammate during the volley if their teammate is in the kitchen at the time.

Pickleball kitchen rules are very strict. But they are also very important in preventing players from using their power to spike the ball. Because of that importance, experienced pickleball players are very aware of the kitchen and its rules. 

Final Thoughts

The concept of pickleball may be foreign to many people. But those who know the game recognize how fun it can be. Hopefully, the information in this article has given you a clear idea of what this game involves. Now that you have had an introduction, there is nothing stopping you from enjoying this great pastime.

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