Want to Learn How to Play Pickleball ?
Keep Reading To Learn The Basic Rules And Strategy
The objective of this guide is to help the pickleball beginner understand the basics of how to play pickleball.
If you are thinking about playing, I encourage you to keep reading. By the end of this guide, you will have learned the basics and hopefully be excited to play.
This guide covers:
- How to Play Pickleball
- Pickleball Serving Basics
- Pickleball Scoring
- Bottom Line
- 4 Pickleball Facts
- Pickleball Essentials
- Pickleball Terminology
- Unique Pickleball Rules
4 Pickleball Facts
#1 – Pickleball Is Just For Seniors (not a chance)
I hear this a lot. Pickleball is not just for seniors although there is a significant community of pickleball players who are in that retired age-range. This myth started because it became popular in retirement communities during the early days of the game.
However, there’s a wide age range of people playing, including young kids, young adults, 90+, and every age in-between.
Just check out this fantastic match in the 2019 U.S Open Championships of the mixed doubles, age category 19-49 with Anna Leigh Waters (12 yrs), and William Sobek (14 yrs) playing.
You may not be ready for the U.S Open, however, if you have a competitive edge and like a good game, pickleball offers as much or as little challenge as you want.
If you’re just looking for a social activity and some exercise, there are plenty of recreational pickleball clubs who are always happy for new players to join. The majority of players are playing recreationally, with a tournament or two thrown in, if you like that.
#2 – Pickleball Is Easy (sort of but not really)
There’s this belief that pickleball is an easy sport.
It is easy to pick up a paddle, hit a ball, and have some fun.
And because a pickleball court is only 22 feet wide by 44 feet deep (much smaller than a tennis court), it is easier to make your way around the court, with a reasonable fitness or skill level.
However, it’s not easy to get good at pickleball. It takes time and practice. The rules are different than most racquet sports, the paddles and balls are different. And although the court is reasonably small, it does help you on the court if you have a reasonable fitness level.
# 3 – Pickleball Is Easy On The Body (nope, injuries can happen)
A pickleball court is smaller than a tennis court which means you have less ground to cover. This does not mean that you should play pickleball because you believe that you won’t get injured. This is not true.
There’s still a reasonable amount of ground to cover which means there’s also side-to-side motion which can be hard on your legs, knees, and ankles. Players can also experience tennis elbow from playing pickleball.
Torn hamstrings, Achilles heel injury, sprained ankles are all possible. I’m not telling you this to scare you off but to inform you so that you can stretch before and after play. And it’s important to wear the proper shoes so that your feet and ankles have support.
#4 – Pickleball Is NOT Like Tennis
Quite often, tennis courts are converted into pickleball courts or they become shared courts with lines for both sports on the same court. This is simply out of necessity because pickleball is a newer sport and there aren’t as many courts available.
However, pickleball is a different game than tennis.
They have some common elements such as nets, courts, lines, and balls but the games are different. While some of the skills from tennis can help with your pickleball game, they are very different to play.
And a pickleball paddle, not a racquet, is used for playing pickleball. Completely different technology.
5 basic points about a pickleball court:
A pickleball court is 20’ x 44’ (much smaller than a standard tennis court) and the net is 36” high on the sides and 34” high in the center.
There are boundary lines
The service courts go to the baseline
The court size does not change for doubles or singles, it stays the same
There’s a non-volley zone or what is referred to as the kitchen, a 7’ area on both sides of the net. You can read more about the kitchen below.
There are many, many paddles on the market which can make it confusing and overwhelming when it comes to deciding on which one to buy. The 5 key points below give you the basics and you can learn a lot more in Pickleball Paddles Simplified (The Ultimate Buyers Guide).
If you are ready to begin your search for a pickleball paddle, have a look at Best Pickleball Paddles For Every Budget (And Game). It’s a thoroughly researched guide that will provide you with some suggestions on paddles that have already been narrowed down due to player acceptance and popularity.
5 Key Points About Pickleball Paddles
In pickleball, you play with a paddle, not a racquet. Pickleball paddles are made of solid material with a handle.
Pickleball paddles are similar to a table tennis paddle but much larger, with most being approximately 15” long and weighing anywhere between 7 – 14 oz with the average somewhere around 8 oz.
There are several different shapes including a standard rectangle with rounded corners, along with wider paddles, slimmer paddles and tear-drop. Most people start with the standard paddle shape or a wider version.
Paddle cores (the inside of the paddle) are made of Nomex™, aluminum, wood, or composite material which is the most common core material.
The face of the paddle wraps the paddle core and is usually made from graphite or fiberglass.
A pickleball is a small, hollow plastic ball with holes in it. They come in various sizes and some have smaller holes or more holes. The balls with fewer and smaller holes are for outdoor play and help the ball move through the wind.
A pickleball is completely different than any other ball used in a racquet sport such as squash, tennis or racquetball and it bounces much less.
According to the USAPA, a regulation ball needs to have a minimum of 26 holes and a maximum of 40 holes.
Typically, outdoor balls have 40 holes and indoor balls have 26 although there is no set number.
Indoor and outdoor balls can both vary in size
About Pickleball Shoes
A pickleball court is smaller than a tennis court which means you have less ground to cover.
However, there’s still a reasonable amount of ground to cover which means there’s also side-to-side motion which can be hard on your legs, knees and ankles.
In order to reduce the risk of rolling over on your ankle, wear court shoes, not running shoes. Court shoes are designed to support your foot during the side-to-side motion and minimize the chances of rolling on your ankle or falling. Here are a couple of shoes that are suitable for playing pickleball.
The Kitchen (Non-Volley Zone)
The kitchen or what’s formally called the non-volley zone, is one feature that is unique to pickleball and not found in any other sport.
It’s a 7’ area on both sides of the net and players are not allowed to stand in the kitchen and volley the ball.
What this means is that if you are standing in the kitchen or on the kitchen line, you must let the ball bounce once before hitting it. This means that you must volley that ball (when you hit the ball in the air over the net, without letting it hit the ground) or it’s a fault.
This is the simple explanation about the kitchen. If you want to learn more about the kitchen rules, read my article called Pickleball Kitchen Rules Explained So You Stay Out of The Kitchen (Almost Always).
The Dink Shot (Dinking)
The dink shot is key and one of the most important shots to master.
A dink shot is when you stand just outside of the kitchen and you lob the ball, low over the net so that it lands in the kitchen.
The idea behind this shot is to keep your opponent up at the kitchen line for the return shot because if they have to return a low ball, it’s extremely difficult if not almost impossible for them to make a hard return or smash it back over the net.
Remember, that the higher you hit a ball, the easier it is for your opponent to smash it back over the net making it difficult for you to return the ball.
2 Rules That Are Unique To Pickleball
Many of the rules in pickleball are similar or the same as other racquet sports.
There are court lines that the ball must stay within. The ball can’t bounce twice. If you hit the ball into the net, it’s a fault.
However, there are two rules that are very different from other games.
These rules are unique to pickleball and were created to keep the game fair and encourage playing with skill not just power.
Double Bounce Rule
The double bounce rule does not refer to not allowing the ball to bounce twice on your side of the net, although, this is not allowed either.
The double bounce rule in pickleball means that when you are serving the ball, your opponent must let the ball bounce once on their side of the net before making a return shot.
When the return shot is made over the net to the original server’s side, the ball must also bounce once before the shot is returned.
This rule exists to discourage players from making smash shots immediately after the first serve and quickly ending the play.
3 Non Volley Zone Rules (Kitchen Rules)
The non-volley zone (NVZ) also known as the kitchen is a 7’ area on both sides of the net.
A volley is when you hit the ball in the air over the net without letting it hit the ground.
You’re not allowed to touch the non-volley zone (NVZ) meaning that you can’t stand in the kitchen or on the kitchen line while volleying the ball.
Both feet must contact the playing surface outside the NVZ before and after you hit a volley.
No part of your body or what you’re wearing, can contact the NVZ when volleying, including your partner.
The non-volley zone rules (kitchen rules) are confusing for a beginner and it does take a while to adjust your playing to ensure you aren’t breaking the kitchen rules.
This video from Pickleball Channel does a great job of explaining these rules. If you want to learn more about the non-volley zone rules, you can read my article called Pickleball Rules: 7 Must Know Rules That Will Surprise You.
How To Play Pickleball – Basic Strategies
Although at first glance pickleball appears to be an easy sport to learn, it definitely does get a little bit more involved as you are learning how to play.
Some of the rules are different than the typical racquet/paddle sport so it does take some time to get familiar with and understand the pickleball specific rules. Here is a quick summary of how to play pickleball:
The person on the right serves the ball to the person diagonally across the net keeping the ball within the court boundaries
The opponent lets the ball bounce once and then returns the ball
The first return shot must bounce before the second return shot is made
After the second return shot is made, play begins as usual but typically at this point, it’s about playing up by the kitchen (using the dink shot ) making it more difficult for players to smash the ball.
If you want to learn more about pickleball basics, look at this video which does a good job at explaining the basic strategy for playing pickleball.
A volley means that you hit the ball in the air without letting it bounce.
This is a common term in racquet sports but in Pickleball there is a slight twist to the meaning because when you are volleying the ball, you and all parts of your body, must stay out of the kitchen when volleying.
As a reminder, the kitchen is the area that is 7 feet on both sides of the net.
One of the key strategies to playing and winning in pickleball is to play very close but outside the kitchen line. This often involves volleying the ball over the net.
A fault is when a player does something that is not considered legal because it’s breaking a rule and there are many reasons why a fault can happen in pickleball.
There are way too many to list here but if you want to learn more about pickleball rules, you can read my article called Pickleball Rules: 7 Must Know Pickleball Rules That Will Surprise You or you can read the USAPA Rules book.
Here are 5 common reasons why a fault can be called in pickleball:
The ball is hit outside the boundary lines
A serve is hit outside the boundary lines or outside of the serving zone area
When the ball is served, it lands in the non-volley zone (or into the kitchen)
A player volleys the ball while standing in the non-volley zone (the kitchen)
The ball hits the net
Understanding how serving works in pickleball is extremely important in helping you understand how to score in pickleball.
Here’s an explanation that hopefully makes it simple to understand how to serve.
For the purpose of explaining how serving and scoring works, we will have 2 teams, each with 2 players.
Team A with Player 1A and Player 2A, and
Team B with Player 1B and Player 2B
Here’s how it works:
When it’s a team’s turn to serve, the player on the right always serves first.***This is very important to remember***
When Player 1A serves and wins a point, Player 1A and Player 2A switch sides.
Player 1A continues to serve (and switch sides with Player 2A) each time after winning a point until their team (Team A) makes a fault or the score gets to 11 points and is 2 points ahead of the other team.
When Team A makes a fault, the second player (Player 2A) serves.
Player 2A continues to serve (and switch sides with Player 1A) each time after winning a point until their team (Team A) makes a fault or the score gets to 11 points and is 2 points ahead of the other team.
Player 2A continues to serve until their team (Team A) makes a fault, then Team A no longer gets to serve and that’s called ‘side out’. The other team (Team B) now gets to serve.
Pickleball Scoring And Why There Are 3 Numbers In the Score
Scoring in pickleball is different than other racquet sports which causes a lot of confusion particularly among newer players and recreational players.
I’ve included some examples below that will help clarify how to score in pickleball and clarify why there are 3 numbers to call out when announcing the score.
But, in summary, the 3 numbers represent each player’s score and then the 3rd number represents whether the player who is serving is the 1st or 2nd player to serve in that rally.
9 Key Points For Keeping Score:
Keeping score can be difficult and confusing for new players. It just takes time to learn. Here are the basics:
Scoring is done sequentially (1,2,3,4 etc)
The score goes to 11 points (in some tournaments, the score goes to 15 or 21)
The server must always say the score before serving
The winning team must win by at least 2 points. So, if the score is 10 – 10, the winning team must get at least 2 more points to win or in this case, at least 12 points
Only the team that is currently serving can score points
Each team gets to serve at least twice, once per player. Except for the very first serve of the game who only gets one serve
You score a point when your opponent doesn’t successfully return the ball
When you score a point, you switch sides with your partner and serve again
You continue to serve and score points until your team misses a shot
If you want to learn more about scoring in pickleball, read my article called How to Keep Score In Pickleball which explains in an easy to understand way, how to keep score, along with some examples to help you better understand scoring.
Hopefully you have found this guide helpful and you now have a better idea of how to play pickleball.
Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the USA, if not world-wide and players of all ages and caliber, from the very young to those who are retirement age, are finding pickleball to be a fantastic recreational and competitive sport.
Not only that, people easily get hooked on the game (I know I am).