What are the Rules of Pickleball?

Welcome to the fascinating world of pickleball—fast-paced, fun, and quickly garnering popularity among all age groups. If you’re eager to dive into this captivating sport, it’s crucial to become well-versed in the rules that govern it. In this comprehensive guide, we will shed light on pickleball’s essential regulations, scoring system, court specifications, and various best practices that will not only heighten your understanding but also help you excel and savor the game to the fullest.

What are the Rules of Pickleball?

The rules of pickleball entail playing on a court divided into zones: two service zones, a non-volley zone, and a centerline. Players use solid paddles to hit a perforated polymer ball over a net. Service is made underhand, diagonally, and must bounce before being returned. Faults occur in various circumstances, such as hitting the ball out-of-bounds or failing to clear the net. A point is scored by the serving side, only when it wins a rally, with a game typically played to 11 points. Doubles play has additional rules, such as alternating the server within the team and remembering the “two-bounce rule,” where each team must let the ball bounce once before hitting a volley.

Download the 2023 USA Pickleball Official Rulebook

Understanding the Pickleball Court

Before diving into the rules of pickleball, it’s essential to grasp the court’s layout, dimensions, and different zones. A pickleball court is 20 feet wide and 44 feet long, similar in size to a badminton court but with unique markings. Let’s examine the vital areas:

Service Zones

Akin to tennis, a pickleball court contains two service zones on each side of the court, establishing four service zones in total. Each zone is 15 feet long and 10 feet wide, separated by a centerline. The server must hit the ball diagonally into the opponent’s service zone to initiate a rally.

Non-Volley Zone (Kitchen)

Also known as the “kitchen,” the non-volley zone is a 7-foot-wide section that extends across both halves of the court with the net in the center. Players may not volley the ball (hit it without letting it bounce) while inside this zone or touch the non-volley zone line while executing a volley. The term “kitchen” showcases pickleball’s fun, informal nature.


Boundaries are marked lines defining the play area, with the specific dimensions being 20 feet (width) by 44 feet (length) for doubles, and 20 feet (width) by 40 feet (length) for singles. Any ball that lands outside these lines is considered out-of-bounds.

Scoring System in Pickleball

Scoring in pickleball follows a straightforward yet distinctive pattern. Acknowledging and acclimating to this system is crucial to mastering the sport. So let’s outline the critical aspects of the pickleball scoring system:

Point System

In pickleball, the serving side can score points, and matches are typically played up to 11, 15, or 21 points, depending on the competition format. A winning margin of 2 points is usually required, meaning that if both teams reach the match point, the game continues until one team secures a two-point lead.

Service Rules in Pickleball

One of pickleball’s unique features is the underhand service. By following the sport’s straightforward yet critical service rules, you can stay within the regulations and foster fascinating rallies:

Underhand Serve

Players must perform an underhand serve, ensuring that the paddle’s point of contact with the ball is below the waist. The server’s feet must be stationed behind the court’s baseline, and the paddle should move in an upward arc to contact the ball.

Double-Bounce Rule

The “double-bounce rule” or “two-bounce rule” is among pickleball’s most distinctive aspects. When a server initiates a rally, the receiver must let the ball bounce once before returning it; subsequently, the server must do the same. After these initial two bounces, the ball can be volleyed—that is, hit before it bounces—or played off a bounce, with the players exercising their judgment.

Doubles Play in Pickleball

Doubles play is highly popular in pickleball, emphasizing teamwork and camaraderie. To excel in this format, it’s crucial to comprehend the crucial rules of doubles play:

Alternating Server

During doubles play, teammates occupy alternate service turns. As long as a team continues winning points, the servers rotate positions after each point scored. When the opposition wins a rally, a side-out is the outcome, and the other team gains the serve. Keep in mind that the first service of a new game is single, switching to the alternating pattern after a side-out.


Stacking is a legal and strategic maneuver in doubles play. Both partners from a team can occupy any position within their service zone, disregarding conventional court placement, provided that they do not violate the non-volley zone rules. This technique allows teams to maximize each player’s strengths, masking weaknesses and capitalizing on powerful serves, forehands, and other aspects.

Understanding Faults in Pickleball

A fault denotes an infringement of the game’s rules during play, prompting the conclusion of a rally. Being knowledgeable of the numerous fault instances and avoiding them is essential to sustaining and dominating a rally:

Hitting the Ball Out-of-Bounds

A common fault occurs when a player hits the ball beyond the court’s boundaries, either on the sidelines or beyond the baseline. However, in doubles play, if the ball touches the service zone line on a serve, it is considered in-bounds, and the server scores a point.

Non-Volley Zone Faults

Faults also transpire when a player strikes the ball on the volley while standing within the non-volley zone or touches the non-volley zone line while executing a volley. Additionally, if momentum from a volley carries the player into the non-volley zone, a fault is the result. This zone fosters longer rallies and cultivates the sport’s appeal.

Other Faults

Further faults include players obstructing an opponent’s attempt to strike the ball, switching hands with the paddle during a rally, and violating the double-bounce rule by volleying the serve or the resulting return.

Etiquette and Best Practices

Apart from the core rules and strategies, pickleball is laden with etiquette and best practices that not only maintain the sport’s traditions but also promote a friendly, competitive environment for participants:


As a social game emphasizing camaraderie and teamwork, pickleball’s backbone is sportsmanship. Be courteous and respectful to opponents, teammates, and referees, and showcase a helpful attitude, especially towards novices seeking guidance.


Especially in doubles play, effective communication with your partner is pivotal. Ensure that you’re both on the same page concerning strategy, player positions, and shot decisions, reducing confusion and boosting your prospects of victory.

Staying Alert

Pickleball can be fast-paced and intense, with rapid exchanges between players. Staying vigilant and maintaining situational awareness is essential for both safety and performance. By remaining attentive, you can react quickly to unexpected situations, precluding injuries and fostering fair competition.

Now that we’ve traversed pickleball’s rules, scoring system, court layout, and dynamics, you are well-equipped to enjoy this exhilarating, social sport. Keep the guidelines and best practices in mind as you embark on your pickleball journey, whether for leisure or competition, and savor the unique experiences that arise in this fascinating game.

Equipment Essentials in Pickleball

A fun and engaging pickleball experience hinges on utilizing the correct equipment, ensuring fair competition and adhering to the sport’s standards. Consider these crucial components when assembling your pickleball gear:

Pickleball Paddle

Selecting an appropriate paddle is essential, as it influences your gameplay and style. Pickleball paddles are typically made from wood, composite materials, or graphite. Consider factors such as weight, size, grip, and balance when choosing a paddle, and remember that different materials cater to different skill levels and playing styles.

Pickleball Ball

Pickleball balls are molded from durable plastic with round holes, similar to a Wiffle ball. Recognize that indoor and outdoor balls differ in size, weight, and hole count. Indoor balls are lighter with larger holes, while outdoor balls are heavier and more resistant to wind.

Proper Footwear

Investing in high-quality, supportive footwear is crucial to maintaining your health and optimizing your game. Non-marking court shoes with good lateral support and cushioning are ideal. Avoid using running shoes, as they lack the necessary lateral stability and may be unsafe for pickleball play.

Appropriate Clothing

Comfortable, breathable clothing that allows for swift movement is vital when playing pickleball. Athletic wear, such as moisture-wicking shirts, shorts, or skirts, can keep you cool and unrestricted during intense matches.

Basic Strategies for Success

In addition to understanding the rules and assembling the necessary equipment, familiarizing yourself with essential pickleball strategies can boost your performance and enjoyment. Mastering these tactics can pave your path to pickleball proficiency:

Mastering the Serve

Honing an accurate, consistent serve is the cornerstone of pickleball success. Aim for a low, deep serve that lands near the baseline, limiting your opponent’s aggressive return options.

Focusing on Placement

While power plays a role in pickleball, accurate placement of the ball is often more critical. Focus on hitting the ball with precision and delivering shots that force your opponent into uncomfortable positions, opening up opportunities for winners and unforced errors.

Effective Use of the Dink Shot

The dink shot – a soft, controlled shot played into the non-volley zone (kitchen) – is a valuable tool in disrupting your opponent’s rhythm, forcing them to hit upward or letting the ball bounce, which can create attacking opportunities for you.

Patient Gameplay

Patiently constructing points and waiting for the right moment to attack is a crucial aspect of pickleball strategy. Avoid impulsive or premature shots, and focus on gradually shifting your opponent out of position, opening up the court for eventual aggressive play.

Armed with the fundamental rules, essential equipment, and a robust collection of tactics, you are now poised to embrace pickleball in all its glory. Remember, practice makes perfect; continue refining your skills and strategies to make the most of your experiences on the court.

Frequently Asked Questions

Our FAQ section addresses common questions and concerns surrounding the rules and strategies of pickleball. Equip yourself with these insightful, straightforward answers to enhance your understanding of the game and resolve any uncertainties.

1. Can pickleball be played as a singles game?

Yes, pickleball can be played both as a singles and doubles game. Singles pickleball follows the same rules but has slightly smaller court dimensions, measuring 20 feet (width) by 40 feet (length).

2. What is the recommended age for playing pickleball?

Pickleball is suitable for all age groups, from children to seniors, as it is an inclusive and adaptable sport. It offers various skill levels and playing styles, catering to players of all ages and physical abilities.

3. Can you hit the ball twice in pickleball?

No, double hits or carrying the ball on the paddle are not allowed in pickleball. You must cleanly strike the ball with a single, distinct motion.

4. What happens if the server serves out of turn in a doubles match?

If the server serves out of turn in a doubles match, a fault occurs, resulting in a side-out. The opposing team gains the serve, and the correct order resumes on subsequent service turns.

5. Is it a fault if the ball hits the net and goes over in pickleball?

As long as the ball lands within the correct boundaries, it is not a fault if the ball touches the net before passing over during a rally. However, the ball must completely clear the net on a serve.

6. How many times can a team serve in a doubles match?

Each team member serves once during a service turn, alternating serves, except for the first service of a match. If a team wins a rally when serving, they continue serving until a side-out occurs.

7. Can you score a point when not serving?

No, in pickleball, only the serving team can score points. If the non-serving team wins a rally, they do not score a point but instead gain the serve, presenting an opportunity to score points.

8. How do I know if a ball is in or out during a match?

A ball is considered in if it lands within the court’s boundaries, including the line. If the ball lands outside the court or on the non-volley zone line during a serve, it is considered out.

9. What is the penalty for committing a fault?

If a player commits a fault, the rally concludes. If the serving team is responsible for the fault, a side-out occurs, giving the serve to the opposing team. If the receiving team is at fault, the serving team scores a point.

10. Can a player switch hands while holding the paddle during a rally?

Yes, switching hands is permissible during a rally. However, the paddle must not be held in both hands simultaneously, and the shot must be completed in one fluid motion without carrying the ball.

11. Is there a line judge in pickleball?

Line judges are typically present in tournaments or high-level competitions, responsible for determining if a shot is in or out. In casual play or less formal settings, players might rely on their opponents’ honesty or have spectators serve as unofficial line judges.

12. Are there different ball types for indoor and outdoor play?

Yes, indoor and outdoor pickleball balls possess unique characteristics. Indoor balls are lighter with larger holes, while outdoor balls are heavier and boast smaller holes, catering to diverse playing environments.

13. Can I volley the ball in the non-volley zone?

No, volleys are not allowed within the non-volley zone (kitchen). You must let the ball bounce before playing it in this area, promoting extended rallies and reducing aggressive play near the net.