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 just confused?  Here is an overview of the pickleball rules to help you love the game even more.  Let's go!

Basic Pickleball 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

Pickleball Scoring Rules

  • 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/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 Rules: Serving

Serving in pickleball is critical and one of the first skills worked on by beginner players. Serving starts the point and is done by all players on the court. The pickleball serving rules are fairly straightforward, however there are a few nuances which must be understood and adhered to.


  1. The ball must stay inbounds
  2. There should be one bounce per side
  3. Serving must be done at the baseline
  4. The serve can’t land in the no-volley zone
  5. The game ends at 11, 15, or 21 points


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

  • 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”
  • Rock – Paper – Scissors

The winner of the decision method will have the option to choose side or to serve or receive.


  • 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; and neither foot may contact the baseline or court until after the ball is struck
  • The serve is made diagonally crosscourt and must land within the area of the opposite diagonal court
  • Only one serve attempt is allowed unless a point is won, then the server changes sides and serves again


NOTE: 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.

  • 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 stars with the second server)
  • The first serve of each side-out is made from the right-hand court
  • If a point is scored, 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 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-hand court when his or her score is even and from the left when the score is odd. 


  • Scoring a point can only happen for the serving team
  • Each match is typically played as best two out of three games played to 11 points (win by 2 points), with game three being played to 15 points, win by 2 points
  • 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


  • When the ball is served, the receiving team must let it bounce before hitting their return, and 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)
  • 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, player’s clothing, 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. Well, we’re here to discuss pickleball kitchen rules 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 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)

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

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 Superstore
Pickleball Superstore