Essential Pickleball Rules Every Player Needs to Know

These days, there’s been a surge in new pickleball enthusiasts, yet grasping and implementing the game’s rules can pose a challenge.

Here, we’ll delve into some fundamental pickleball rules to grasp, whether you’re a novice or a seasoned player.

Bear in mind, this isn’t an all-inclusive compendium of pickleball rules. We’re focusing on key rules in this post.

Alright, let’s explore the rules.

In Pickleball Rules, the score is maintained by tracking three numbers

Before each serve, the server must vocally announce three numbers in sequence, ensuring they are audible across the entire court.

  1. The first number denotes the serving team’s score.
  2. The second number represents the receiving team’s score.
  3. The third number indicates the serving order, relevant only in doubles matches, where it is either a 1 or a 2. A 1 signifies the first server, while a 2 denotes the second server.

For instance, if the serving team has scored 7 points, the opposing team has 3 points, and the second player on the serving team (i.e., the first server has already lost a rally on their serve), they would declare the following before executing the serve:


At the start of a match, the first person to serve starts out as the second server

They announce this by stating “0-0-2,” or sometimes they’ll say “0-0-start.”

The reason for starting as the second server is because their team begins with an advantage as the first team capable of scoring points.

To offset this advantage, the team that serves first is limited to one person serving instead of two.

Once the first team loses a rally and finishes serving, it results in a side out. Subsequently, both teams will reset their serve order with a 1 (they will announce the current scores followed by a 1), and each teammate will have a chance to serve.

When a team starts serving, the initial serve will always be executed by the player positioned on the right side of the court.

In doubles pickleball, when a team begins their first round of serving, the player positioned on the right side of the court serves first.

For instance, if your team is set to start serving after the opposing team has completed their serving turn due to a side-out, then the player from your team stationed on the right side of the court will initiate the serve.

Points are only scored when the serving team wins a rally

If the serving team wins a rally, they will gain one point.

However, if the receiving team wins a rally, the score remains unchanged, but the serving privilege shifts to the opposing team.

In doubles, when one team has lost rallies on both of their serves, it results in a “side out.” Subsequently, the opposing team will serve and have the chance to score points in the following rally.

The serve must be executed with the server’s arm moving in an upward arc.

Each point in pickleball commences with a serve. During the serve, hitting the ball while your arm is descending is not allowed; it must be in an upward motion.

Additionally, the paddle must connect with the ball below waist or navel level. While you’re allowed to swing vigorously and have your paddle follow through above your waist, the ball must be struck and bounce before your swing rises above your waistline.

Moreover, when contact is made, the head of the paddle must be below the highest part of the wrist.

You must follow the double bounce rule in pickleball

Many beginners find the double bounce rule challenging in pickleball.

Put simply, this rule mandates that both the serve and the return from the receiving team must bounce before being struck.

If you’re on the receiving team, you must let the served ball bounce before hitting it; no volleying it out of the air.

Conversely, if you’re serving, you must allow the return of the serve to bounce before striking it; no volleying it out of the air.

Once the ball has bounced on both sides of the court, it’s permissible to volley it out of the air without requiring it to bounce again.

You can’t volley a ball out of the air while standing in the kitchen (Non-Volley Zone)

A volley occurs when you strike a ball out of the air before it bounces.

If you intend to hit the ball while positioned in or touching the kitchen/non-volley zone (including the line), you must allow the ball to bounce first. Failing to do so results in a fault, and the point will be awarded to the opposing team immediately upon your hit.

It’s essential to understand that you can enter the kitchen/non-volley zone before the ball bounces. Some mistakenly believe that you must wait for the ball to bounce before entering the kitchen.

However, ensure the ball bounces first if you’re hitting it from inside the kitchen.

There are multiple violations that result in a fault (i.e loss of a rally)

Many people wonder: what constitutes a fault in pickleball?

In pickleball, a fault occurs when a team loses a rally due to certain occurrences. These include:

  • Hitting the ball out of bounds.
  • The ball bouncing twice before being struck by the receiving player.
  • The ball hitting a player below their playing-hand’s wrist (if the ball incidentally hits the player’s paddle hand above the wrist and bounces back over the net, no fault is incurred, and the ball remains live).
  • A player’s body, clothing, or paddle touching the net or net post while the ball is in play.
  • Violation of serve rules (such as incorrect serving form, the serve hitting the net, landing in the kitchen, or outside the receiving court).
  • Volleying the ball at the wrong time (e.g., when the player is in contact with the kitchen/NVZ or before the ball has bounced twice according to the double bounce rule).
  • The ball contacting any permanent object before bouncing on the court (e.g., a roof, basketball hoop, tree branch, etc.).

It’s a fault to catch or stop a ball that hasn’t bounced even if it’s headed out of bounds

Even if a player hits the ball and it’s clearly on its way out of bounds, if it’s touched by the opposing team, the point goes to the player who hit the ball.

Many recreational players tend to overlook this rule for convenience, but it’s important to remember that the ball remains live and in play until it touches the ground, regardless of its trajectory.

It’s advisable to discuss and clarify this rule with your recreational group. Some groups allow players to catch a ball if it’s obviously headed out of bounds to save someone from retrieving it.

However, be cautious about making this a habit, especially in more competitive matches. In such scenarios, touching the ball in this manner can result in a violation being called against you.

Line calls are made by the team that’s on the receiving of the court

In pickleball, it’s the receiving team that has the authority to determine whether a ball lands in or out.

Neither the opposing team nor observers on the sidelines have the jurisdiction to make these calls. Even if the team hitting the ball across the court insists on a certain outcome, according to the rules, they do not have the final say.

However, in recreational play, there’s often flexibility with this rule. It’s advisable to establish an agreement before the game or resolve any initial conflicts regarding who decides on calls.

If someone persists in making calls from the opposite side of the court, you can remind them that, as per the rules, it’s your call to make, not theirs.

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