What Are The Rules Of Pickleball?

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Some people think that paddle sports are not as complex as other sports like basketball, hockey, soccer, etc. Is that theory true?

Let’s take a look at the rules of Pickleball.

What are the rules of Pickleball? The basics: pickleball is played both individually and as doubles; scoring may go to 11 (normally), 15 or 21 (tournaments), winning by 2 points difference; serving must be made underhand; the ball can be played off a bounce or volleys, except for the serve.

It may seem simple, but pickleball has many particularities that make the sport unique.

So, if you want to learn how to play and become an expert among your friends, you came to the right place.

The Rules of Pickleball: Overview

Now that we have seen some of the basic rules of the sport, it is time to go deep and explore every aspect of the game.

Basics

  • Pickleball can be played both individually and as doubles -same court size, same rules-.
  • It is played with a special perforated ball.
  • The court is a rectangle 20 foot (6,1m) wide by 44 feet (13,41m) with a tennis-type net.
  • The court is divided into right/even and left/odd service courts and non-volley zones.
  • 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 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.

Serving

  • Any fair method can be used to determine which player or team has the first choice of side, service, or receive.
  • When striking the ball in a serve situation, the ball must be below the server’s waist and must be underhand.
  • The serve must be initiated with at least one foot behind the baseline, not entering the court until the bull is struck.
  • The serving ball must land in the opposite diagonal court.
  • Only one serve attempt is allowed.
  • The first serve is made from the right/even court. If a point is scored, the next serve will be from the left/odd court. The server will continue switching until a fault is committed and loses the serve.
  • Except for the first service sequence of each new game, both players on the team have the opportunity to serve and score until they commit a fault.
  • 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.
  • When the first server loses the serve the partner serves from their correct side of the court.

Scoring

  • Typically, the first side scoring 11 points, and leading by at least a 2-point margin, wins. For example, if both sides are tied at 10 points, then play continues until one side wins by 2 points. Pickleball can be played as singles or doubles. Doubles are the most popular.
  • In tournaments, games may be up to 15 or 21 points.
  • In matches with 2 out of 3 games to 11 points, in the third game, sides will be switched when the first team reaches a score of 6, and serve will remain with the player holding the serve right.
  • In a game to 15 points, sides will be switched when reaching 8 points.
  • In a game to 21 points, sides will be switched when reaching 11 points.
  • When the serving team score is even, the player serving will be on the even/right side. Consequently, when odd, it will be on the left/odd side.

Faults

A fault is any action that stops play because of a rule violation and can be declared for the following:

  • The serve or service return does not bounce before striking the ball (Two-Bounce Rule).
  • Hitting the ball into the net on the serve or any return.
  • Hitting the ball under the net or between the net and the net post.
  • Hitting the ball out of bounds.
  • Failure to hit the ball before it bounces twice on the receiving player’s court.
  • Violation of any service rule.
  • A player, a player’s apparel, or a player’s paddle touches the net system or the net posts when the ball is in play.
  • The ball in play strikes a player or anything the player is wearing or carrying, except the paddle or the player’s paddle hand below the wrist. If the player is in the process of changing hands with both hands on the paddle or is attempting a two-handed stroke and either hand is hit below the wrist, then the ball is still in play.
  • A live ball that is stopped by a player before it becomes dead. Example: catching or stopping a ball in flight before it makes contact with the court.
  • A ball in play strikes any permanent object before bouncing on the court.
  • If the ball in play hits a permanent object after it has bounced on the court, the player who hit the ball wins the rally.
  • Violation of the non-volley-zone rules.
  • The serve is made by bouncing the ball before hitting it. Exception: a person with a physical disability, such as having the use of only one arm, may bounce the ball before making the service motion.
  • Once the ball is in play, a player hits the ball before it passes the plane of the net.
  • The player deliberately carries or catches the ball in play on the paddle.
  • The player deliberately touches the ball with the paddle more than once (double hit).

Dead Ball Rules

  • A dead ball is declared after any action that stops play.
  • A ball is declared dead once it has bounced twice before being returned or has violated one of the fault rules.
  • A hinder called by the referee or player will result in a dead ball. The referee will determine if the hinder called by the player was valid. A valid hinder will result in a replay.
  • A service let called by the referee or player will result in a dead ball.

Non-Volley Zone Rules

The non-volley zone is the court area within 7 feet (2,13m) are on both sides of the net.

  • All volleys must be initiated outside of the non-volley zone.
  • A fault will be declared if, in the act of volleying the ball, a player or anything contacting the player touches the non-volley zone.
  • The act of volleying the ball includes the swing, the follow-through, and the momentum from the action.
  • If the paddle touches the non-volley zone during the volley motion, before or after contacting the ball, it is a fault.
  • It is a fault if the player’s momentum causes the player to contact anything that is touching the non-volley zone, including the player’s partner.
  • It is a fault even if the ball is declared dead before the player contacts the non-volley zone.
  • If a player has touched the non-volley zone for any reason, that player cannot volley a return until both feet have made contact with the playing surface completely outside the non-volley zone. A maneuver such as standing within the non-volley zone, jumping up to hit a volley, and then landing outside the non-volley zone is prohibited.
  • A player may enter the non-volley zone at any time except when that player is volleying the ball.
  • A player may enter the non-volley zone before or after returning any ball that bounces.
  • A player may stay inside the non-volley zone to return a ball that has bounced. There is no violation if a player does not exit the non-volley zone after hitting a ball that bounces.
  • There is no violation if a player returns the ball while his or her partner is standing in the non-volley zone.
  • For non-officiated play, non-volley-zone faults may be called by any player on either team. The benefit of the doubt goes to the player who makes the call.

Two-Bounce Rule

  • After the ball is served, each side must make one groundstroke prior to volleying the ball. This rule is known as the “two-bounce” rule.
  • This rule was created with the purpose of reducing the advantage of the serve and volley. Consequently, it increases the chances of playing extended rallies.
  • Therefore, after the ball being served, the receiving team must let it bounce before returning, and then the serving team must let it bounce before returning, resulting in two bounces.
  • After the ball has bounced once in each team’s court, both teams may either volley the ball or play it off.

Line Calls

  • Except for the serve, any ball in play that lands in the court or touches any court line is in.
  • A ball contacting the playing surface outside of the baseline or sideline, even though the edge of the ball overlaps the line, is considered out of bounds.

Players are allowed to make line-calls. This responsibility is regulated by the Code Ethics for Line Calling, which basic elements are:

  • Players will call the lines on their side of the court.
  • The opponent gets the benefit of the doubt on any line calls made. Any ball that cannot be called “out” will be considered “in.”
  • A player should not question an opponent’s call, although any player may appeal a call to the referee before the score is called to start the next point.
  • Spectators should not be consulted on any line call.
  • All “let” or “out” calls must be made “instantly”; otherwise, the ball is presumed good and still in play.

Time-out Rules

  • A player or team is entitled to two time-outs per 11- or 15-point game. For games to 21 points, each team is allowed three time-outs per game.
  • Each time-out period may last up to 1 minute unless players are ready before that minute occurs.
  • The referee will give the players a warning when there are 15 seconds remaining. At the end of the time-out, the referee will call “time in”, and announce the score to begin the 10-Second Rule even if all players are not on the court and/or not ready to play. If the server does not serve within 10 seconds after the score is called, and no additional time-outs are called or available, a fault will be called.
  • Hydration Break. The tournament director may authorize referees to allow players to quickly drink water or other hydration as long as it does not impact the flow of the game. During this time, partner communication is not allowed.
  • A time-out may be called at the start of the second or third game in a two-out-of three-game match

Other Rules

  • Double hits: balls can be hit twice, but this must occur during an unintentional, continuous, single-direction stroke. If the stroke is not continuous or not in a single direction, the hit is not allowed and a fault will be declared.
  • Missed Shot: a player completely missing the ball when attempting to strike it does not create a dead ball. The ball remains in play until it bounces twice or until any other fault has occurred.
  • Broken or Cracked Ball: play continues until the end of the rally. Players may appeal to the referee to determine if a broken or cracked ball impacted the rally. If in the judgment of the referee, a broken or cracked ball impacted the outcome of the rally, the referee will call for a replay with a replacement ball. In the non-officiated sanctioned play, if the players do not agree, the rally stands as played.
  • Distractions: players may not distract an opponent when the opponent is about to play the ball. (Examples: making loud noises, stomping feet, intentionally waving the paddle around in a distracting manner, physically interfering with your opponent’s ability to hit the ball.)
  • Exception: if the ball bounces into a player’s non-volley zone with enough backspin as to cause it to return over the net, the player may reach over or around the net to hit the ball but may not touch the net system or the opponent’s court. If the player does not touch the ball, the team that last struck the ball wins the rally.
  • Paddle Possession: a player must have possession of the paddle when it makes contact with the ball.
  • A ball contacting the net, the net cable, or rope between the net posts remains in play.
  • There is no restriction on the height of the return, so a player may return the ball around the net post below the height of the net.

Can You hit Overhand in Pickleball?

The answer is YES, you can hit overhand in pickleball.

There is however one exception to this rule. As we have seen in the section SERVING, when a player serves, the paddle contact with the ball must be below the server’s waist or navel level.

What is a Let in Pickleball?

A let in pickleball is a serve or a rally that must be replayed for any reason.

  • The most typical let in pickleball occurs when a serve hits the net cord and lands in the service court. Let serves are replayed, just as in tennis.
  • There is no limit to the number of lets a server may serve.
  • Any player calls a service let. If the referee determines that a service let called by a player did not occur, a fault will be declared against the offending player.

Do you get 2 serves in Pickleball?

No, in pickleball we only get 1 serve.

Only in the case that the server hits the net and the ball goes into the service box, then it is allowed to repeat the serve (also known as let). If the ball lands on the non-volley zone, then it is considered out and the server loses the serve.

Are the Lines in or Out in Pickleball?

Except for the serve, any ball in play that lands in the court or touches any court line is IN.

When serving, the ball served that clears the non-volley zone and lands in the correct court or on any correct service court line is IN.

What is Poach in Pickleball?

Basically, poaching is stealing your partner’s shot.

Although sometimes you and your team might benefit from this action, it can also be the cause of many arguments. It is indeed a controversial topic among pickleball players.

It is VERY IMPORTANT to use poaching only as a part of your team’s strategy, otherwise, it can be very upsetting to your partner. 

Therefore, we strongly recommend communicating with each other about it before the game starts.

As well as many other actions in pickleball like spin shots, third shot drives, and lobs, poaching should be used only on selected occasions. We can think of it as a tool. Make good use of that tool.

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