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Pickleball Rules: An Overview

by Pickleball Superstore October 05, 2022

Pickleball Rules - guide to understanding pickleball rules and how to play the game; pickleball rules for beginners

New to pickleball or looking for a refresher on basic pickleball rules? Here is an overview of the rules of pickleball to help you love the game even more.

With this brief review and the right paddle and shoes, you’re on your way to playing pickleball. Let’s go!

Basic Pickleball Rules

Overall, the rules of pickleball are easy to understand, especially if you’ve played similar racket or paddle sports before. New players can get up to speed with basic pickleball rules in an hour or even less time. The two most foundational pickleball rules are:

  • Pickleball can be played as singles (one vs. one) or doubles (two vs. two). Doubles pickleball is the most common way the sport is played.
  • The playing area and rules do not change between singles and doubles pickleball play – except in doubles, each player gets to serve on every exchange of serve

Pickleball Scoring Rules

  • Under the rules of pickleball, only the serving team can score points.
  • Games are normally played to 11 points. A player or team must win by 2 points.
  • 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/even court when serving or receiving. When odd (1, 3, 5, 7, 9), that player will be in the left/odd court when serving or receiving.


Pickleball Serve Rules

Serving in pickleball is critical. Everyone has to serve, and a serve begins at each and every point. That means serving is one of the first skills worked on by beginner players.

The pickleball serving rules are fairly straightforward. However, there are a few nuances in this part of the pickleball rules which must be understood and adhered to.


  1. The ball must stay inbounds.
  2. There must be one bounce per side before players can volley the ball (i.e. hit it before it bounces).
  3. Serving must be done at the baseline.
  4. The serve can’t land in the non-volley zone (more on that later).
  5. The game ends at 11, 15, or 21 points.


Players use a variety of methods for choosing which team will serve first. These include:

  • Tossing a coin.
  • Holding a hand behind your paddle with 1 or 2 fingers up, having your opponent choose “1” or “2.”
  • Writing a “1” or “2” on a piece of paper, having your opponent choose “1” or “2.”
  • Playing rock –paper –scissors.

No matter the method used, the winner has the option to choose their preferred side of the court, or to serve or receive.


  • The rules for pickleball clearly state that the serve must be made underhand.
  • Paddle contact with the ball must be below the server’s waist (navel level).
  • The serve is initiated with at least one foot behind the baseline. Neither foot may contact the baseline or court until after the ball is struck.
  • The serve is made diagonally crosscourt. It must land within the designated area of the opposite diagonal court.
  • Only one serve attempt is allowed unless a point is won. In that case, the server changes sides and serves again.


In pickleball singles, only one serve is completed from each player unless a point is won.

Once a fault occurs, the opposing player begins their serve. There are many side-outs in pickleball singles. Learn more about pickleball singles rules.

The pickleball rules for doubles in the service sequence are:

  • Both players on the serving team have the opportunity to serve and score points until they commit a fault (except for the first service sequence of each new game, which starts with the second server).
  • The first serve of each side-out is made from the right-hand court.
  • If a point is scored, pickleball serve rules state that the server switches sides and the server initiates the next serve from the left-hand 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 (a side- out), the first serve is from the right-hand court. 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-hand court when his or her score is even and from the left when the score is odd.


    • When the ball is served, the receiving team must let it bounce before hitting their return., Then, the serving team must let it bounce before returning. Thus, two bounces must occur before a rally begins.
    • 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).
    • This isn’t a pickleball rule, per se, but is important for understanding the game: The double bounce rule eliminates the serve and volley advantage and extends rallies.


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


      • 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.
      • A fault occurs when:
        • A serve does not land within the area of the receiving court or sideline or baseline.
        • The ball hits the net on the serve and does not land in the serving zone.
        • The ball is volleyed before a bounce has occurred on each side.
        • The ball is hit out of bounds.
        • A ball bounces twice before being struck by the receiver.
        • A player’s clothing (including shoes), or any part of a player’s paddle touches the net or the net post when the ball is in play.
        • There is a violation of a service rule.
        • A ball in play strikes a player or anything the player is wearing or carrying.
        • A ball in play strikes any permanent object before bouncing on the court.

Pickleball Rules: The Kitchen

Even if you haven’t stepped on a pickleball court or picked up a pickleball paddle, you’ve probably heard of the kitchen. No matter where you play pickleball (we have a pickleball court locator to help with that), every court has a kitchen.

The pickleball kitchen rules are especially important to understand because they are unique to pickleball.

The pickleball kitchen rules are easily the most infamous rules that pickleball has. There’s nothing greater than seeing someone step in the kitchen before the ball bounces and hearing an entire court yell, “KITCHEN!” In pickleball tournament play, the referee will yell out “FAULT!” instead.

Pickleball Kitchen / Non-Volley Zone

What is the pickleball kitchen? It’s the area that extends seven feet toward the baseline from 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.

Looking for more info about court dimensions? We can help with that.

The kitchen isn’t the technical term used in the USAPA & IFP Official Rulebook. The official phrase for the kitchen is the “Non-Volley Zone.”

The kitchen/Non-Volley Zone is an area that you cannot step inside the kitchen AT ALL to volley. The ball must bounce first before you can be in the kitchen area and hit the ball.

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

The main pickleball rule when it comes to 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 into the kitchen. When they say nothing, they mean nothing. Even your momentum after hitting a volley is considered a fault if you step into the kitchen area. 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 pickleball kitchen rules apply to 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.

More About Pickleball and its Rules

This overview of the rules of pickleball is a great place to get started or to refresh your understanding of the basics of pickleball play.

You can always refer to USA Pickleball’s complete set of pickleball rules for more information. As the governing body for pickleball in the US, they published the first-ever set of pickleball rules and continue to update them. That includes not just the rulebook and rules summary, but a list of rules revisions and pickleball equipment specifications as well.

Want to find a place to play? Check out our pickleball court locator, powered by PicklePlay, to get started!

Wondering what to look for in a pickleball paddle? We have you covered with our Ultimate Pickleball Paddle Buying Guide.

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