Game Play & Rules
Click here for the official USAPA/IFP pickleball rules.
The game of pickleball is usually played to a score of 11. The winning team must win by two points or play continues until one team wins by 2. In tournament play, games can be played to 15 or 21. Unlike tennis or badminton, only the serving team can win a point. The receiving team must get the “side down” and get the serve back before earning points.
The server must serve underhand making contact with the ball below the waist. The top of the paddle face must be below the wrist and the server must have both feet behind the service line at the time of contact with the ball. The ball must be served to the diagonally opposite court, and it must be clearly in the service area. The ball cannot hit any part of the no-volley zone including the no-volley line. A serve that hits the net but lands in the service area is called a “let” and is reserved. Before serving the ball, the server should make sure all players are ready. Take a minute to check to make sure your partner is ready and that the opposing team is ready. If you are receiving the serve but you or your partner are not ready, hold up your hand or paddle. If the server serves to you anyway, do not swing at the ball and call for a “let” serve because you were not ready. Returning the ball indicates you were ready and the point stands.
Two Bounce Rule
The ball must bounce twice, once on each side of the court, before players can hit the ball in the air or on the “volley”. When the ball is served, it bounces in the receiver's service court, the serving team must stay back and wait for the ball to bounce again on their side before they can move up and play the ball in the air. This rule is instrumental in providing long rallies in the game of pickleball. The serving team cannot serve the ball deep and then run to the net and smash it at their opponents. They must stay back and wait for the return bounce. New players often forget this and start to move up quickly with the serve and get caught hitting the ball in the air. Teammates must remind both players on the serving team to stay back at the service line until the ball has bounced on their side. After the ball has bounced twice, either team can play the ball on the bounce or in the air.
No-Volley Zone "Kitchen"
The no-volley zone is that 7 foot rectangle in front of the net. A player cannot step into that zone to hit or smash the ball on the fly. A player may only play the ball in that zone if it bounces in there first. A player may enter the zone in anticipation of the ball hitting but must wait until it bounces before playing it. A player may not enter the zone, jump up smash the ball and then land in the regular court. The volley must be made with both feet on the court outside the no-volley zone. If in the course of making a volley shot a part of a player’s body or article of clothing lands on any part of the no-volley zone including the line, it is considered a fault; and the point or serve is lost. Normally, this means stepping in the no-volley zone or on the no-volley line but your paddle or article of clothing could hit the no-volley zone as well and be a fault. The player or the player’s partner must call this fault on themselves even if the opponents do not make the call. Players may wish to review the areas of the court and the names given to the various areas and lines.
Pickleball like most racquet sports relies on the integrity of the players in calling shots in or out. The rule of etiquette suggests that players will call the lines as honestly and fairly as they can. Players should call the lines on their side of the net and opponents will do the same on their side. Opponents should never make a call on the other side of the net unless they are asked. If a team cannot decide on a line call, then the benefit always goes to the opponent. If a team asks for an opinion from an opponent, that decision is final. Again, fairness is the rule of the day. Remember it is only a game. Keeping this in mind will prevent conflict on the court. Spectators are to never make a call or offer their suggestion on where the ball lands. They are to stay out of the game completely.
A point is earned or a serve is lost if a fault occurs. Remember, as in volleyball, a point can only be scored by the serving team. A fault occurs on a serve when the ball hits short of the service court including the no-volley line. If the ball is served to the wrong court, long behind the back service line or out of the bounds, that is a fault. After the serve, a fault occurs if a player steps in the no-volley court or on the no-volley line while making a volley shot. If the ball is hit into the net or other permanent object such as the pole, that is a fault. A ball that hit outside the boundary lines of the court are considered out and a fault. If the ball hits a player they have committed a fault. On the serve, if a ball is hit into the wrong court and the opposing player in that court is hit or catches the ball that is considered a fault on the receiving team. A player should not catch a ball that is heading out of bounds because that is considered a fault as well. Always let the ball bounce first. An indication of an out ball should be made by yelling out or by hand jester indicating out. This should be done quickly, within 30 seconds or the ball is considered in. Failing to hit the ball before it bounces twice is a fault; however, if the ball bounces twice off your racquet while you are making a continuous forward motion is not considered a fault.
Scoring in pickleball can be very confusing to beginners. The first rule of etiquette in pickleball is that the server and only the server should announce the score. The player that is in the right-hand service area of the serving team always starts. That player is server number 1 for this sequence only. The next time they get the serve, the partner may be in the right court to start, and they become server number 1. The sequence for announcing the score is as follows: serving team’s score first, opponents' score second, and server is the third number. So if the server announces 3, 4, 1, the serving team has 3 points, the opposing team has 4 points, and the serving team's first server is serving. If the serving team wins a point, the score would be 4, 4, 1. The partners on the serving team switch sides on the court after winning a point, but the receiving team stays as is. Remember the server only gets one fault, and they lose his or her serve.