What is Pickleball

Pickleball (sometimes spelled Pickle-Ball) is a paddleball sport (similar to a racket sport) that combines elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis. Two or four players use solid paddles made of wood or composite materials to hit a perforated polymer ball, much like a waffle ball, with 26–40 round holes, over a net. The sport shares feature of other racket sports: the dimensions and layout of a badminton court, and a net and rules somewhat similar to tennis, with several modifications.

Pickleball is a paddle sport played using a special perforated ball on a 20-foot-by-44-foot court with a tennis-type net. The court is divided into right/even and left/odd service courts and non-volley zones.

The ball is served diagonally across the net to the opponent’s receiving court using an approved motion. The ball is struck back and forth across the net until a player fails to return the ball in accordance with the rules.

Points are scored only by the serving side when the server or the server’s team wins the rally, or the opposing side commits a fault. The server continues to serve, alternating service courts, until the serving side loses the rally or commits a fault.

Typically, the first side scoring 11 points and leading by at least a 2-point margin wins.

Pickleball can be played as singles or doubles.

The Players

Pickleball is a game that requires cooperation and courtesy. A sense of fair play from giving the opponent the benefit of any doubt is essential in maintaining the game’s underlying principles of fun and competition. To that end:

  • All points played are treated the same regardless of their importance; the first point of the match is as important as match point.
  • Either partner in doubles can make calls, especially line calls; there is no place in the game for one partner telling another, “that was my call, not yours”. USA PICKLEBALL & IFP Official Rulebook (2021) 2
  • Prompt calls eliminate the ‘two chance option’. For example, a player cannot claim a hinder from a ball rolling on the court after they hit a ball ‘out’; they gave up their ability to call the hinder by choosing instead to hit the ball.
  • Players strive to cooperate when confronted with a situation not covered by the Rulebook. Possible outcomes can be a replay, allowing the rally to stand, or in extreme cases, asking for a referee to resolve a dispute.
  • Where possible, rules accommodate players with various adaptive needs

Unique Features

  • (Wheelchair) A wheelchair player may allow the ball to bounce twice before returning the ball. The second bounce can be anywhere on the playing surface.

Court

The pickleball court is similar to a doubles badminton court. The regulation size of the court is 20 feet by 44 feet for both doubles and singles. The net is hung at 36 inches on the ends and 34 inches at center. The court is lined like a badminton court, but the serving line is seven (7) feet from the net (six inches further than the badminton service line). The pickleball serving line is part of the non-volley-zone or "kitchen", which extends seven (7) feet from either side of the net.

The following is an abbreviated form of the rules to give a quick overview of how the game is played. If there is a conflict between this summary and the official rules, the official rules prevail.

Basic Rules

  • Pickleball is played either as doubles (two players per team) or singles; doubles is most common
  • The same size playing area and rules are used for both singles and doubles

The Serve

  • The server’s arm must be moving in an upward arc when the ball is struck.
  • Paddle contact with the ball must not be made above the waist level.
  • The head of the paddle must not be above the highest part of the wrist at contact.
  • A ‘drop serve’ is also permitted in which case none of the elements above apply.
  • At the time the ball is struck, the server’s feet may not touch the court or outside the imaginary extension of the sideline or centerline and at least one foot must be behind the baseline on the playing surface or the ground behind the baseline.
  • The serve is made diagonally crosscourt and must land within the confines of the opposite diagonal court.
  • Only one serve attempt is allowed per server.

Service Sequence

  • Both players on the serving doubles team have the opportunity to serve and score points until they commit a fault *(except for the first service sequence of each new game).
  • The first serve of each side-out is made from the right/even court.
  • If a point is scored, the server switches sides and the server initiates the next serve from the left/odd court.
  • As subsequent points are scored, the server continues switching back and forth until a fault is committed and the first server loses the serve.
  • When the first server loses the serve the partner then serves from their correct side of the court (except for the first service sequence of the game*).
  • The second server continues serving until his team commits a fault and loses the serve to the opposing team.
  • Once the service goes to the opposition (at side out), the first serve is from the right/even court and both players on that team have the opportunity to serve and score points until their team commits two faults.
  • In singles the server serves from the right/even court when his or her score is even and from the left/odd when the score is odd.
    • *At the beginning of each new game only one partner on the serving team has the opportunity to serve before faulting, after which the service passes to the receiving team.

Scoring

  • Points are scored only by the serving team.
  • Games are normally played to 11 points, win by 2.
  • Tournament games may be to 15 or 21, win by 2.
  • When the serving team’s score is even (0, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10…) the player who was the first server in the game for that team will be in the right-side court when serving or receiving; when odd (1, 3, 5, 7, 9…) that player will be in the left-side court when serving or receiving.

Two-Bounce Rule

  • Two-Bounce Rule. After the ball is served, each side must make one groundstroke prior to volleying the ball.
  • When the ball is served, the receiving team must let it bounce before returning, and then the serving team must let it bounce before returning, thus two bounces.
  • After the ball has bounced once in each team’s court, both teams may either volley the ball (hit the ball before it bounces) or play it off a bounce (ground stroke).
  • The two-bounce rule eliminates the serve and volley advantage and extends rallies.

Non-Volley Zone

  • Non-Volley Zone (NVZ). An area that extends 7 feet from the net on each side, within which a player is not allowed to strike the ball without it first bouncing. This rule prevents players from executing smashes from a position within the zone.
  • Volleying is prohibited within the non-volley zone. 
  • It is a fault if, when volleying a ball, the player steps on the non-volley zone, including the line and/or when the player’s momentum causes them or anything they are wearing or carrying to touch the non-volley zone including the associated lines.
  • It is a fault if, after volleying, a player is carried by momentum into or touches the non-volley zone, even if the volleyed ball is declared dead before this happens.
  • A player may legally be in the non-volley zone any time other than when volleying a ball.
  • The non-volley zone is commonly referred to as “the kitchen.”

Line Calls

  • A ball contacting any part of any line, except the non-volley zone line on a serve, is considered “in.”
  • A serve contacting the non-volley zone line is short and a fault.

Faults

  • A fault is any action that stops play because of a rule violation.
  • A fault by the receiving team results in a point for the serving team.
  • A fault by the serving team results in the server’s loss of serve or side out.

Determining Serving Team

Any fair method can be used to determine which player or team has first choice of side, service, or receive. (Example: Write a 1 or 2 on the back of the score sheet.)