Staying in the pickleball loop just got easier

    Get the 5-minute newsletter over 55,000+ of your pickleball friends read every week.

    guide to pickleball rules

    Pickleball Rules:

    Understanding the Pickleball Basics

    Pickleball combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong, creating a unique and fast-paced game that has rapidly gained popularity across the globe.

    At its heart, pickleball is a game of precision, strategy, and sportsmanship, governed by a set of rules designed to ensure fair and competitive play.

    This guide explores the foundational rules of pickleball, including the kitchen rules, line rules, the two-bounce rule, and specific regulations for singles and doubles play, as well as scoring, wheelchair accessibility, and the importance of respectful communication.

    The Non-Volley Zone: Kitchen Rules

    The “kitchen” in pickleball refers to the non-volley zone, a 7-foot area extending from the net on both sides of the court. The primary rule of the kitchen is that players are not allowed to volley the ball—that is, hit it out of the air before it bounces—while standing within this zone. The purpose of this rule is to prevent players from dominating the net play, ensuring longer rallies and a more strategic game.

    Players may enter the kitchen to play a ball that has bounced, and shots played from this area can include both soft dinks and hard groundstrokes aimed at the opponents’ feet. The kitchen rules encourage players to develop a nuanced, strategic approach to pickleball, emphasizing skill and precision over power.

    Line Rules: Boundaries of Play

    Pickleball line rules are straightforward and aim to maintain fairness and clarity during play. Here’s a summary of the key points regarding line rules in pickleball:

    • Serving: A valid serve must land in the diagonally opposite service box and is considered “in” if it touches any part of the service box lines. A serve landing outside these lines is “out-of-bounds.”
    • General Play: During gameplay, a ball is “in-bounds” if it lands within the court boundaries, including on any line. Conversely, a ball landing outside these lines is considered “out-of-bounds.”
    • Making Calls: Line calls should be made by active players, line judges, or referees, not spectators. The player closest to the ball usually makes the call, and in ambiguous situations, the benefit of the doubt goes to the opponent.
    • Line Calls in Tournaments: In competitive play, line judges and referees help make and oversee calls. Players can challenge line judges’ decisions, but the referee has the final say.
    • Etiquette: Players should only call balls “out” when certain and use proper hand signals to indicate their calls. Disputes should be resolved by giving the benefit of the doubt to the opponent, emphasizing sportsmanship.
    • Stepping on Lines: Generally, players can step on the lines during play, with exceptions during serving (must be behind the baseline) and when volleying in the non-volley zone (cannot step on the line).

    The Two-Bounce Rule

    The two bounce rule in pickleball is a pivotal regulation that ensures the ball bounces once on each side of the net at the start of each play, applying to both the serve and the return of serve. This rule is integral to the game, aiming to prevent dominance through aggressive serves and volleys by promoting longer rallies and more strategic gameplay. 

    Essentially, it mandates a bounce on the receiving side followed by one on the serving side before any player can volley the ball. This fosters fairness, encourages strategic positioning and shot selection, and levels the playing field among players of varying skill levels. The rule significantly impacts gameplay by deterring players from immediately rushing the net, thereby prioritizing precision, strategy, and skill over power and speed. 

    The two-bounce rule is distinct from the double bounce rule, which refers to a fault when the ball bounces twice on one side during a rally. Moreover, under the two-bounce rule, the ball can legally land in the non-volley zone, or “kitchen,” with no restrictions on the bounce location, ensuring the game’s accessibility and enjoyment for players of all ages and abilities.

    two bounce rule pickleball
    Image credited to: usapickleball.org

    Singles Play Rules

    Pickleball singles play adjusts standard rules to fit a one-on-one format, particularly affecting scoring calls, serving rules, and court positioning. The game begins with a serve decided by various methods, such as a coin flip or paddle spin. Serving in singles requires cross-court delivery, an underhand motion with the paddle below the waist, and only one attempt per serve, except for a let. Servers announce the score before serving, following a specific format (server’s score first, followed by the receiver’s score), and can only score points on their serve. The serve and return of serve must both bounce once before being volleyed, aligning with the two-bounce rule that applies to both singles and doubles play.

    The non-volley zone, or “kitchen,” prohibiting volleys within the zone unless the ball bounces first, maintaining fairness around the net. 

    Faults in singles include out-of-bounds shots, net faults, double bounces, serve violations, and non-volley zone faults. 

    Scoring in singles is straightforward, with only the server eligible to score points, and the game typically continues until a player reaches 11 points with at least a 2-point lead.

    Score calling in singles involves the server announcing their own score followed by the opponent’s, determining the serving side based on the server’s score being even or odd.

    Doubles Play Rules

    Pickleball doubles introduces some variations to the rules applicable in singles, particularly in serving and scoring. In doubles play, each team member serves before a side-out, which is a transition of serve to the opposing team. The serve must be underhanded and below the waist, starting from the right side if the score is even and from the left if it’s odd. 

    A point causes the server to switch sides with their teammate, and the serve alternates between team members upon losing a rally or committing a fault. The first server is designated if they start serving from the right-hand side at the team’s first serve opportunity in a game.

    Scoring in doubles involves announcing the serving team’s score, the receiving team’s score, and the server number in the format “server score, opponent score, server number.” This method, encapsulated by the mnemonic “Us, Them, Server,” helps keep track of the game flow.

    Pickleball Wheelchair Rules

    Wheelchair pickleball modifies standard rules to accommodate players with disabilities, promoting inclusivity and competitive play for all. This adaptive version of the game allows for a double bounce, adjusts the non-volley zone rules, and recommends a larger court size for better mobility. Key adaptations include:

    • Court Size: The standard court remains 20×44 feet, but for wheelchair play, a larger size of 74×44 feet is recommended to provide more space for maneuvering, especially in doubles. Stadium courts for adaptive play may extend to 80×50 feet.
    • Double Bounce Rule: Wheelchair pickleball permits the ball to bounce twice on each side to account for the extra time needed by players in wheelchairs to reach the ball.
    • Non-Volley Zone (NVZ): Players in wheelchairs can have their front wheels touch the NVZ during a volley shot, with the requirement that both rear wheels exit the NVZ before a volley return is made.
    • Serving: Players serve underhand with the paddle below waist level, ensuring both rear wheels are behind the baseline. The two-bounce rule applies, with the second bounce allowed anywhere on the court.
    • Faults: Faults are adjusted for wheelchair movement, including three-bounce violations, NVZ faults if rear wheels are in the NVZ during a volley, and service faults related to wheelchair placement.

    Scoring in Pickleball

    Pickleball scoring is straightforward, with only the serving team able to score points. Games are played to eleven points, and to win, a team must lead by at least two points. Scoring calls vary slightly between singles and doubles. 
    In singles, the score is announced with the server’s score first, then the receiver’s. In doubles, the score includes the serving team’s score, the receiving team’s score, and the server number, reflecting which player on the team is serving. 
    Points are won through opponents’ faults, such as the ball going out of bounds or not clearing the net. The serving team switches sides from right (even score) to left (odd score) after winning a point. In doubles, after the first server’s turn ends, the second server serves. A “side out” occurs when the serve switches to the other team. The game continues until one side wins by a two-point margin. 
    Faults include out-of-bounds shots, net errors, incorrect serves, illegal volleys, and double bounces.

    Respectful Communication Rules

    Respectful communication in pickleball is key to ensuring a positive, friendly game environment. It involves clear, positive interactions, whether calling scores, making line calls, or coordinating with partners.

    Here’s how to maintain respectful communication:

    1. Score Announcing: Clearly state the score before serving, following the format of serving team’s score first, then receiving team’s, and in doubles, indicating the server number.

    2. Making Calls: Loudly and promptly call balls “in” or “out” to avoid confusion, doing so respectfully.

    3. Using Hand Signals: In doubles, employ pre-arranged signals to communicate strategies without speaking.

    4. Verbal Cues: Use short, clear phrases like “Mine!” or “Yours!” to avoid collisions and clarify actions.

    5. Positive Partner Communication: Encourage and support your partner, focusing on positive reinforcement.

    6. Celebratory Gestures: Use quick, positive gestures to celebrate points, maintaining high spirits.

    Yelling in pickleball can be part of the game for communication or celebration but should not be aggressive or disruptive. Positive expressions are encouraged, but negative yelling or arguing is considered poor sportsmanship.

    Maintaining respectful communication with opponents involves starting and ending games with goodwill gestures, using polite language, and giving the benefit of the doubt in unclear calls. Acknowledging good plays and listening actively to opponents also contributes to a respectful match atmosphere.

    In case of disputes, stay calm, use polite language, listen to the other side, refer to official rules, and if needed, offer to replay the point. Agreeing to move on, regardless of the outcome, helps keep the game enjoyable.

    Check below for our in-depth articles on each section in our pickleball rules guide.