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how to play pickleball: a basic guide

want to try america’s fastest-growing sport? here are all the basic rules you need to know for how to play pickleball the right way.

Pickleball has exploded in popularity over the last few decades. In only the past two years, it’s been labeled the fastest-growing sport in the United States. Whether you’re new to pickleball or you want to learn how to play better, here’s a quick guide.

Looking to meet some pickleball athletes to play with? Join Philly's pickleball community to connect with players in your area! 

What is Pickleball and How Do You Play?

Pickleball is a paddle sport typically played on an indoor or outdoor cement court. The game combines elements of table tennis, regular tennis, and badminton for a fun, easygoing experience. Anyone can play, no matter what age or fitness level. Pickleball culture tends to be socially welcoming with a healthy dose of competition. 

Pickleball courts are the same size as badminton courts: 44 feet long and 20 feet wide. Unlike badminton courts, though, the net is 36 inches high instead of 60.

The game is often played as doubles—two teams of two players each. But it can be just as fun played as singles, meaning one-on-one. 

To win the game of pickleball, you must be the first player or team to earn 11 points or more. You must win by two points. 

Let’s look at the rules so you can start playing!

Rules of Pickleball

To play effectively, remember the five rules of pickleball:

  1. Keep the ball in bounds.
  2. The ball must bounce once per side after a serve.
  3. Serving must occur at the baseline with proper rotations.
  4. Stay out of the no-volley zone.
  5. The first team (or player) to gain 11 points wins.

While the main rules are simple, there are some nuances. Learn more below to become a pickleball hobbyist in no time.

Serving

To start a pickleball game, stand behind the right-hand service line and toss an underhand serve diagonally over the net onto the other team’s service area. 

After one bounce, the other team hits the ball back to the server’s side. The serve must not fall within the non-volley zone, called “the kitchen”.

Two Bounce Rule

During a serve, the Two Bounce Rule must be followed. This rule states that the ball must bounce for both the serve and the return. After that, both teams are free to bounce the ball once or volley the ball in the air over the net. 

Kitchen (Non-Volley Zone)

The “kitchen” in pickleball is the zone on the court that extends seven feet out from each side of the net. You aren’t allowed to volley the pickleball if you step foot in the kitchen. 

The only time players are allowed to hit the ball from the kitchen is if the other team hits it into your kitchen. You must get out of the kitchen immediately after you volley it back. 

Faults

In pickleball, points are earned when the opposing team faults. 

Faults in pickleball include:

  • Double bounce: the ball bounces more than once on your side of the court
  • Out of bounds: the ball goes out of bounds on your receiving turn. A player calls “out!”
  • The ball hits the net
  • The ball hits someone (other than below their paddle wrist)
  • The ball is volleyed from the non-volley zone
  • The ball bounces on any object other than the court 
  • The ball fails to land in the receiver’s court
  • A player or their paddle hits the net

Keep track of the faults for accurate scorekeeping. Remember to verbally announce the score.

Pickleball Court Rules

A pickleball court is divided into two “service areas” per side: right and left. 

For doubles, each team has a right and left service area. For singles, opposing players remain in opposite service areas for serving but can move about their side of the court during the game.

For a complete list of pickleball court rules, check out the official USA pickleball rules here.

Scoring 

Scoring can be a bit confusing, but we’re here to clear it up.

Teams (or singles) receive points when the other team faults. Only the serving team can score.

Whenever a team wins a rally, meaning the other team commits a fault, the two players switch sides (or boxes) in their service area. The same server then serves again from the other box. 

At the start of a game, the server calls out “Zero-Zero-START”. For scorekeeping during play, this format remains—for example, “1-4-2”. In order, these numbers mean:

First number: The serving team’s score

Second number: The receiving team’s score

Third number: Which service turn the serving team is on (1 or 2)

Pickleball Singles

Singles games are rare but still fun. The rules are the same. However, when someone faults in a singles game, both players switch service areas on their side of the court. During a serve, players are always diagonal from each other. 

Pickleball Doubles

When playing doubles, the team player on the right side of the court makes the first serve. Remember, the serve must be underhand and direct. It must also reach cross-court, which means the ball lands on the other team’s right-side service area. 

The only time servers on the same team switch is when there’s a fault during the serve. Then, the other team member gets a chance to serve. 

What to Wear When Playing Pickleball 

A lot of pickleball players wear comfortable athletic clothes and tennis shoes. Attire is similar to tennis clothes. Wear whatever is comfortable and breathable. And if you wear glasses, it might help to get some prescription safety glasses for playing pickleball competitively. 

Pickleball: Places to Play and Learn

With so many people getting into pickleball today, we get it if you’ve been wanting to learn! It’s a fun, athletic, and social game that anyone who can move can enjoy.

Where do you find places to play? Whether you’re a pickleball beginner or you’re ready to compete in the championships, find a pickleball court near you. Join Philly's pickleball community to find local pickleball games and people to play with. 

We’re making it easy to connect every sport to every one, so get out there and play!

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want to try america’s fastest-growing sport? here are all the basic rules you need to know for how to play pickleball the right way.