Official rules of pickleball from the USAPA rulebook

Pickleball takes table tennis right to a tennis lawn without trading the paddle for a tennis racket but replacing the ping-pong ball with a lightweight ball that is almost similar to a whiffle ball.

The rules also closely resemble table tennis instead of traditional tennis.

It is played either as singles or doubles at the same-size playing area. Between the two variations, doubles are commonly played.

So how do you play pickleball?

The pickleball serve

The serving team or the team to make the first choice on receive, service, or side can be determined by any fair method.

The service must be done underhand where the player hits the ball at navel level or below their waist.

During service, at least one foot should be behind the baseline. Both feet should not step on the baseline after the ball is struck.

Service must be made diagonally cross-court. The ball must land within the boundaries of the court that is diagonally opposite.

A player is only allowed one serve attempt. The only exception is during a “let” where let serves are allowed to be replayed.

Note: Let happens when the ball touches the net during a serve and lands on the appropriate service court.

The pickleball service sequence for doubles

According to the USAPA rules summary, only one player from the team serving during a doubles game can do the serve until a fault happens. This is applicable at the beginning of each new game. When a fault does occur, the turn to serve is then passed to the team who was receiving.

Overall, in doubles, both players have the chance to execute a serve and score points up until a player commits a fault.

Faults can be:

  • Any action that violates the rules and stops the play.
  • Any fault committed by the receiving team, giving the serving team a point.
  • Any fault committed by the serving team, resulting in a loss of serve or side-out.

At each side out, where the service is moved to the opposing team because both players of the serving team committed a fault, service must be made from the right/even court.

The server will switch sides if a point is scored. The next serve is then initiated from the left/odd court.

The server will continue to switch back and forth as subsequent points are scored until a fault is made. This results in the first server losing the serve.

Following the loss of the first server, their partner initiates a serve from their proper side of the court.

The second server continues to serve until their team commits a fault. The team then loses the serve to the opposing team.

For example, if player A serves first and wins the rally, he scores a point. He will then switch places with his partner and then serve from his new spot.

If he loses the rally, his partner, player B, will serve from his side of the court. Player B will continue to switch places with player A until he commits a fault.

Since both players A and B committed faults, the opposing team now gets to serve.

At side out, the first serve is made from the right/even court and both players in the team can serve and score points until two (2) faults are committed.

The pickleball service sequence for singles

A serve is made from the right/even court if the server’s score is even.

A serve is made from the left/odd court if the server’s score is odd.

How scores are made in pickleball

Only the serving team scores points until they commit a fault.

Games are played to 11 points, but a team is declared a winner only if they win by 2 points.

In tournaments, games are played up to 15 or 21 points and won by 2 points.

A ball on a serve is considered “in” if it hits any line but the lines on the non-volley zone.

The serving team’s score will determine which court a service will be made or received.

  • If the score is even, the first server for the team must serve in the right/even court. The opposing team must receive in the same right/even court across.
  • If the score is odd, the first server for the team must serve in the left/odd court. The opposing team must receive in the same left/odd court across.

Remember that a service must be made diagonally cross-court.

Non-volley zone

The non-volley zone, commonly referred to as the kitchen, is the court area on either side of the net that measures 7 feet. Volleying is prohibited in this zone.

Within the zone, a player can’t execute a smash. But they can return the ball from the non-volley zone if it bounces there first.

It is a fault if a player:

  • Steps on the non-volley zone while volleying
  • Steps on the line or associated lines of the non-volley zone
  • What they are carrying or wearing touches the non-volley zone
  • Touches or carried by momentum into the volley zone even after a volleyed ball is declared dead.

When a player is not volleying a ball, they can be in the non-volley zone without incurring faults.

Two-bounce/double-bounce rule

When a ball is served it must first bounce (1) before the receiving team returns it. When it is returned, it must first bounce (2) before the serving team returns it.

After the two-bounce rule has been satisfied, both teams may either play off a bounce or volley the ball.