How to Play Pickleball and How to Score
Pickleball is played on a badminton-sized court (20’ x 44’) and can be played as singles or doubles game; the court and rules are the same for both.
The ball is served diagonally starting at the right-hand service square. Points can only be scored from the serving side.
The receiving team must allow the ball to bounce only once before a volley. Courts include a 7-foot no-volley zone (known as the kitchen) on each side of the net; this prevents “spiking.”
The server can only score points. The player who starts serving continues to do so until he or she makes a fault.
The procedure differs slightly for doubles matches. Each player on a team continues to serve until their team makes a fault. The right to serve then passes to the opposing team, which is known as a Side Out.
Before each serve, the score must be declared out loud, stating the serving team’s score first. For doubles matches, both players on a team have a chance to serve. The order of players is also indicated. For example. If the serving team was winning 6 to 2 and the server is the second server on the side, he or she would call “6 – 2 – 2”.
How to Serve
Can you hit overhand in pickleball? No. Unlike tennis, the ball must be hit with an underhand swing once the ball falls below hip height.
It’s essential players pay attention to where to stand in pickleball matches. The server must place him/herself behind the baseline, serving diagonally into the adjacent service box. The server cannot bounce the ball first, then serve off the bounce. At the beginning of a new game, the first serving team is allowed just one fault before handing the ball over to their opponents.
After that, players are allowed only one serve and the ball must clear the 7-foot non-volley zone. If the ball is hit out of the court, into the net, or the no-volley area (including the line), this results in a Side Out. However, if the ball hits the net, but lands in the appropriate service court, the server maintains the serve. The pickleball line rules don’t enforce penalties for a ball bouncing on a centerline, sideline or baseline.
When the receiving team wins the serve, the player in the right-hand section of the court starts to play.
In doubles matches, each player will continue to serve until a point is lost. At this point, the other team gets to serve.
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To volley means hitting a ball in the air without first letting it bounce. A ball can only be volleyed when the player’s feet are behind the non-volley zone line.
No Volley Zone
Seven feet from each side of the net is the No-Volley zone. Players are forbidden to hit the ball if he or she is within this zone unless the ball bounces first.
If a player strikes the ball while standing outside the No-Volley zone, but the momentum draws him or her into the area, the point is lost.
If a player’s foot touches any part of the No-Volley zone, he or she is considered inside the area. Players are allowed to reach for a ball in the zone, providing their foot remains behind the line. Should a serve hit the No-Volley line, the serving team loses the point.
The Double Bounce / Two Bounce Rule
The receiving player of a serve must allow the ball to bounce once before striking. The same rule applies on return. Once the ball has bounced once on each side, the ball can then be volleyed without bouncing (providing you’re not within the no-volley zone) or played off the bounce.
How to Remember the Score
At times, when playing doubles, the scoring gets muddled. Players inevitably lose track of the score. To simplify things and be sure who should be serving, what side of the court you should be on, and what the score is, use these three tips to help you:
1. Note Your Starting Position
Pay attention to what side you and your partner start on. When facing the net, is your partner on your right, or your left?
The player on the right-hand side of the court serves first at the beginning of each game. However, once the opposing team scores a point, you will swap sides with your partner, which changes the position of the server.
2. An Even Score Means You Serve on the Right Side of the Court
When you begin serving on the right-hand side, that means that when your team’s score is even, you will be positioned on the right-hand side of the court.
Moreover, when your team’s score is odd, you’ll be on the left-hand side of the court. Players commonly refer to the right-hand side of the court as the ‘even’ side and the left-hand side, the ‘odd’ side.
Another tip regular players recommend; when playing mixed doubles, the women serve first to make scoring simpler to remember!
3. How to Determine the First Serve or the Second Serve
Let’s say your partner has served a few points in a row, and you can’t remember if they were the first server or the second. If they were the first server, your team still has one more chance to serve. Otherwise, they are the second server, and it will be a Side Out.
If your team’s score is even when you get the ball after a Side-Out, you will be the first server for the next round. When you call out the score, the last number will be a 1.
For some general tips to help improve your game, check out the official Pickleball site: the USAPA. With our guidelines for Pickleball: How to Play, you can begin to see why it’s becoming so popular. It’s much easier to learn than tennis, and much easier on the joints!
Not just for the oldies, this sport is excellent for families. Why not join the other 2.8 million Americans who are spending more and more time playing this uniquely named game? You may just love it!
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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