The essential pickleball rules
Below I will summarize for you the ‘essential’ pickleball rules you should know as a player. Later you should certainly go read the latest version of the rules which can be found here. This will provide you with a very thorough review not only of the rules discussed here, but additional rules beyond the scope of what I’m calling ‘essential.’
Remember, knowledge is power! It’s not an overstatement to say that knowing the rules can win you points during your matches!
While these rules are officially IFP/USAPA tournament rules, they should be followed during recreational play as well (when possible) for consistency.
This rule states that once a ball is served to start a point, it must bounce twice before a volley can be attempted. This means that once a serve occurs, the ball must bounce before the receiver hits it. Then that hit ball must bounce when returning to the server’s side of the court.
After that second bounce any ball can be volleyed (hit before bouncing in the court).
Because of this rule, the receiving side has the advantage to start the point over the serving side. The serving side cannot ‘attack’ the return of serve (like a traditional serve & volley in tennis) but must wait (normally deep in their own court) for the ball to bounce before hitting it and trying to advance up to the kitchen line. The returning team will likely already be there and at a strategic advantage in the point.
This is also what makes if more difficult to score points. Remember that points can only be scored by the serving side.
There are several rules regarding the mechanics of serving. But once you’ve served correctly a couple of times, it will become straightforward. Afterwards, you might start experimenting with different serves keeping the basic requirements below in mind:
- Both feet must be behind the baseline prior to starting the serve
- The server’s arm must be moving in an upward arc when it strikes the ball. Although this could be a forehand or a backhand serve
- The ‘head’ of the paddle must be below the server’s wrist when the paddle makes contact with the ball
- The ball has to be struck below the bellybutton (or navel)
- The serve must be directed to the service area diagonally across from the server.
The server will continue to serve until they (or their partner) commit a fault (such as hitting into the net on a serve). The server will also lose their serve if the opposing team hits a winner.
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Player Positioning Rules
Players don’t have traditionally ‘set’ positions on the court. It may be advantageous for one player to play more on one side of the court or directly across from a particular opponent. In pickleball, this can be achieved through stacking or switching. Doing this allows a player to take up a side of the court that they normally would not be on. Much more detail on stacking and switching can be found at our article here.
Stacking is the more traditional alignment where one player begins the point off the court on the side they prefer and then will move into the court once the ball is struck.
Switching is more deceptive in that players start on their ‘traditional’ sides and then ‘switch’ by crossing one player in front of the other to their desired positions on the court.
Use this to your advantage! Position your team in the best possible alignment and note that you can start or stop stacking and switching throughout the point.
This kitchen (also called the Non Volley Zone or NVZ) extends out 7 feet from the net on both sides. You cannot volley a ball with any part of your body in the kitchen. This doesn’t mean you can’t step into the kitchen or even stand in the kitchen. You just can’t volley a ball while in the kitchen. You must wait for the ball to bounce before the ball is hit from the kitchen.
The pickleball rules are very specific when it comes to illegally entering the Non Volley Zone. Not only can no part of your body (or equipment or clothing) be in the non-volley zone when you volley, your momentum cannot carry you into the NVZ *after* you hit it (and even after the ball is declared dead on the other side of the court).
One way to ‘get around’ not being able to volley the ball while standing within 7 feet of the net is to execute an ‘Erne.’ The Erne shot is named after it’s inventor, Erne Perry.
At its simplest, the Erne shot is executed by jumping over the kitchen to the area of the court outside the court boundary by the net. As you’re not ‘in’ the kitchen at this point, you can volley/smash a ball from your opponents that was meant to be reset into your kitchen.
Surprise is the name of the game here. You don’t want to let your opponents know what you’re about to do. Even if your Erne shot is unsuccessful, it gets your opponents to be thinking more about what you ‘might’ do in the future and may cause them to commit some unforced errors.
This was not meant to be a comprehensive review of all the rules of pickleball. Rather we’ve presented a few of the key rules you should make yourself familiar with. Knowing these rules can provide you with a strategic advantage against opponents who don’t know them as well. As mentioned before, use these to your advantage and have fun!
Trey SizemoreTrey Sizemore is the founder of pickleballhut.com, and the host of the 'Dinking Out Loud' podcast. Trey has been playing pickleball for several years and loves helping others discover this great game and improve their skills. Trey has launched several online resources with the goal of helping players of all levels improve their game through multi-format instruction.
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