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How To Play Pickleball

how to play pickleball; pickleball for beginners; pickleball basiscs

Pickleball was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, just outside of Seattle, Washington.  The sport is a combination of tennis, ping-pong, and badminton that is played on a court about one-third the size of a tennis court (same dimensions as a badminton court) with a net that is 34 inches high at the center. Pickleball is played with a paddle (think over-sized ping-pong paddle) and perforated ball – somewhat similar (but not really) to a Wiffle Ball, with 26-40 round holes (most common balls have 40 holes).

Pickleball Overview

Pickleball is played on a court: 20’ x 44’ in dimension. The ball is served diagonally (starting with the right-hand service-square), and points can only be scored by the side that serves.  More on serving below.

Players on each side must let the ball bounce once before volleys are allowed (called the double bounce rule), and there is a seven-foot no-volley zone on each side of the net, to prevent “spiking.” The server continues to serve, alternating service courts on their side of the court, until he / she faults. The first side scoring eleven points and leading by at least two points wins (this is the typical scoring structure but other formats exist). Pickleball can be played with singles or doubles.

Pickleball Serving

Pickleball serves should always be done underhand with the paddle below the waist, and the server must keep both feet behind the back line when serving. A drop serve is legal, meaning the server can drop the ball then hit their serve, or the serve can be hit out of the air by the server. The serving side will continue to serve until the there is a fault on the service, at which point the service will be given to the opposing side. 

The service is made diagonally cross court and must clear the non-volley zone, including the line (a serve that hits the non-volley zone line is a fault). Only one serve attempt is allowed - no mulligans like in golf. 

At the start of each new game, the team serving first is allowed only one fault before giving up the ball to the opponents - this occurs only at the beginning of each game. Thereafter, both members of each team will serve and fault before the ball is turned over to the opposing team - a sideout. When the receiving team wins the serve, the player in the right hand court will always start play.

Pickleball Scoring

If you are a pickleball beginner, scoring might be the strangest part of the game. Keep playing and you’ll get used to it quickly. There are a couple simple items to remember:

  • Points are only scored by the serving team
  • Both players on the serving team will serve before a side out occurs (unless it’s the beginning of the game)
  • The server calls out the score before serving the ball

Starting the Game

To start the game, the player on the right side of the court (even side) serves to the diagonally opposite court. The starting server says the score out loud before he/she serves. The typical starting phrases are:

  1. “Zero, Zero, Two “, or
  2. “Zero, Zero, Start”

Players on the serving side continue to move from the right to left or left to right each time a point is scored. Once a side out occurs, the receiving team becomes the serving team.

Calling the Score

In recreational play, and tournament play without a referee, the server says the score out loud prior to serving the ball. Forgetting to say the score or saying the wrong score can be called as a fault by the other team.

Once the score has been called, the server has 10-seconds to serve the ball. The score should be called as three numbers. The proper sequence for calling the score is: server’s score, receiver’s score, then, for doubles only, the server number: 1 or 2.

For singles play, there is only one server per side and that server continues to serve until a side out or fault occurs.

Pickleball Scoring Rules

If for some reason the score is incorrectly called, anyone on the court can call for a correction (or challenge). However, if play is stopped before the return of serve is hit, but the score was called correctly, then the player who stopped to challenge the score will have committed a fault and will lose the rally.

With that said, Rule 4.K of the 2020 Official Rulebook for USA Pickleball is a good rule to know on the pickleball courts. Rule 4.K provides:

  • If the wrong score is called by the server (or the referee), any player on the pickleball court can stop play, and ask for the correct score to be recalled, before the return of serve is hit.
    • If play is stopped before the return of serve is hit, and the score was called incorrectly, then the server (or the referee) will recall the correct score and re-serve the pickleball with no penalty.
    • However, if play is stopped before the return of serve is hit, but the score was called correctly, then the player who stopped to challenge the score will have committed a fault and will lose the rally. 
  • If a player on the pickleball court stops play after the return of serve is hit, then the player who stopped play will have committed a fault and will lose the rally. 


Pickleball Kitchen / Non-Volley Zone

What is the pickleball kitchen or non-volley zone (NVZ)? It’s the area that extends seven feet on both sides of the net. It’s vital to know that it’s the flat, physical space on the ground, not the air above it. (for court dimensions, please refer to this article)

The kitchen/Non-Volley Zone means you cannot step inside the kitchen AT ALL to volley. The ball must bounce first before you cross into the kitchen.

However, it is more involved than just that, so keep on reading.

The main rule of the kitchen is: you cannot be standing in or otherwise make contact with the kitchen zone or kitchen line while volleying a ball. This includes the initiation of a volley.

The International Federation of Pickleball’s (IFP) official tournament rulebook says: “9.B. A fault will be declared if, in the act of volleying the ball, a player or anything the player is wearing or carrying touches the non-volley zone or touches any non-volley line.”

Nothing that is a part of you can touch or pass into the kitchen. When they say nothing, they mean nothing. Even your momentum after hitting a volley is considered a fault. Even dropping your pickleball paddle into the kitchen during or after the rally is a fault.

As the IFP rulebook states: “9.C. A fault will be declared if, in the act of volleying the ball, the player’s momentum causes the player or anything the player is wearing or carrying to touch the non-volley zone or any non-volley zone. It is a fault if the player’s momentum causes the player to touch anything touching the non-volley zone, including the player’s partner. It is a fault even if the ball is declared dead before the play touches the non-volley zone.”

Don’t step in the kitchen after you hit the ball. Even when the ball is dead, do not step into the kitchen. Don’t fall into the kitchen. Stay away from the kitchen.

Remember, all these rules are for balls that have not bounced yet.

There’s one more rule that complicates things a bit and is often forgotten: “9.D. A fault will be declared if the player violates the intent of the non-volley zone rule. All volleys must be initiated outside of the non-volley zone. A maneuver such as standing within the non-volley zone is prohibited. If a player has touched the non-volley zone for any reason, that player cannot volley the return until both feet have contacted the playing surface completely outside the non-volley zone.”

Basically, you can’t stand in the kitchen, jump up to volley and then land outside of the kitchen. This goes back to where the initiation of your volley is also part of the rule.

You might be thinking: what can I do in the kitchen? Pretty much anything you want as long as it’s not a volley. Let the ball bounce first, and you can step in the kitchen without penalty. Don’t camp out in the non-volley zone; it’s easy to reach for a reflex volley while so close to the net.

Knowing these different facets of the kitchen rule can help you understand what to do and what not to do on the pickleball court. The non-volley zone can be challenging to navigate at first, but with these rules in mind, you’ll be able to steer clear of it to avoid turning a point over to your opponents.

Pickleball Volleys

To volley means to hit a ball in the air without first letting it bounce. In pickleball, this can only be done when the player’s feet are behind the non-volley zone line (seven feet behind the net).  It is a fault if the player steps over the line on his volley follow-through.


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