Pickleball Serving Rules: Serve To Win

There are quite a few pickleball serving rules and I’ve summarized them here to make them simpler and easier to understand.

Pickleball Serving Rules

1. The entire score must be called before the ball is served

This is something that many beginner players don’t know or don’t remember. It’s important and if the rule is broken, it’s considered a fault.

Often not a rule that’s strictly enforced in rec play but it’s a key one to remember if you’re playing with more competitive players or in a tournament. (Rule 4.A.1)

In pickleball, an underhand stroke is used when serving. The USAPA rulebook states the paddle must connect with the ball below your waist and your arm and paddle must be below where your wrist joint bends. Your arm must move in an upward arc, with either a forehand or backhand.

2. Serve with an Upward Arc Motion

Regardless of the type of serve you use, your paddle must always move in an upward arc motion from low to high.

If you use a different motion, the serve is deemed illegal. This applies to a forehand or backhand swing. (Rule: 4.A.5.a)

3. Pickleball paddle must connect with the pickleball below the waist

Pickleball has some very strict rules about paddle placement.

One of those rules is that the paddle must connect with the pickleball below the waist. It’s a scooping motion, something like digging a hole in the sand, which is different than the side-to-side motion that you see in badminton. (Rule 4.A.5.c)

The idea behind these rules is to minimize or discourage players from smashing a ball during the serve and ending the rally or game prematurely.

Remember, the original intent behind pickleball is for it to be a game that is fun and enjoyed by people of all ages and skills.

4. Highest point of the pickleball paddle head must be below the server’s wrist joint where it bends.

This is an important rule to keep in mind and is different than racquet sports such as squash, racquetball, and tennis. It’s a different feeling and one that takes some time to adjust to. (Rule: 4.A.5.b.)

5. Serving Cross-Court 

  1. Serving cross-court in pickleball means that a serve must go over the pickleball net and land in the opposing team’s service court that is diagonal to the server. 
  2. The ball can touch the net but it can’t land in the non-volley zone or on any part of the non-volley zone line. The ball must land in the area that is enclosed by the sideline, the baseline, the centerline, and the non-volley zone line. 
  3. If the ball lands in any part of the non-volley zone or on the non-volley line (also called the kitchen line), it’s a fault. If it lands on the sideline, the centerline, or the baseline, it’s a good serve.

(Rule 4.A.2)

6. Line rules when serving

  1. When serving in pickleball, one foot must remain in contact with the ground, behind the baseline at the time when your paddle connects with the pickleball. This means that the server can not jump in the air at the same time as serving the ball.
  2. Neither of the server’s feet may touch the baseline or inside the baseline.
  3. Neither of the server’s feet may touch the imaginary extensions of the sideline or the centerline.

(Rule 4.A.4)

7. If a serve hits or touches the receiver or the receiver’s partner, serving team gets a point

Yes, this is an interesting one.

Imagine somehow getting in the way of the serving team’s ball.

You’ve just committed an unforced error and the serving team gets a point. Stay clear of the ball when it’s being served.

This means that as the receiving team, the player who is standing near the non-volley zone should give the server adequate space to aim and put the ball in the proper service court and not hit them.

(Rule 4.A.3)

8. Serve alternate sides

The server moves to the other service court every time they earn a point.

Players continue to serve on alternate sides of the pickleball court until their team makes a mistake. When a fault is made, the second player serves until their team makes a fault and then the other team starts serving.

The exception is when it’s the first serve of the game. The starting team only has one server. Once they lose the rally, the ball goes to the other team and then serving with two players begins.

(Rule 4.B.4)

9. The server continues serving until their team commits a fault

In pickleball doubles, each team member gets one serve before the pickleball ball goes to the other team to serve.

The first server serves, their team commits a fault and then the second server gets to serve. Once another fault is committed, the ball goes to the other team to serve. And the cycle continues.

Types Of Serves

  1. Pickleball Volley Serve (traditional serve)
  2. Pickleball Drop Serve (new as of 2021)

The volley serve and the drop serve have four rules that are common between them: (1) forehand or backhand swing can be used, (2) line rules for feet apply, (3) correct service court must be used, and (4) the serve must happen within 10 seconds of the score being called.

Pickleball Volley Serve (Traditional Serve)

The pickleball volley serve rules state that the server can only use one hand to release the ball and the server’s arm must move in an upward arc, contact with the ball must happen below the waist and the paddle head must not be above where the wrist joint bends.

The volley serve is the most common serve. In order to give yourself time to line up and connect with the ball, lift it high in front of you, then toss it or drop it in the air, swing, and hit it before it bounces.

Pickleball Volley Serving Rules:

  1. Your arm must be moving in an upward motion at the time the paddle hits the ball.
  2. Contact between the paddle and the ball can not be made above waist level.
  3. The serve must be made without bouncing it off the pickleball court.
  4. The highest point of the paddle head must not be above the highest part of the wrist joint when it hits the ball.
  5. Only one hand can be used to release the ball.
  6. If the ball is spun, the release must be visible to the referee and receiver.
  7. Either a forehand or backhand motion is allowed.

(Rule 4.A.5)

Pickleball Volley Serve Tips:

  1. If you don’t like your toss, don’t hit it. Once the score has been called you have 10 seconds to serve so pick it up and toss it again. 
  2. For more experienced players, add some spin to your serve.
  3. Lift the pickleball up high or toss it before hitting it with your paddle. You should be able to hit the ball from a higher point of contact than if you just held it directly in front of you. This should give you more momentum to hit a stronger ball.

Pickleball Drop Serve

The pickleball drop serve is now legal. The server can drop the ball from any natural height, let the ball bounce, and then hit it. It’s recommended that the server hold the ball out in front as high as they want to get a higher bounce before hitting it.

The drop serve was provisional in 2021 and was made official in 2022.

It was originally introduced to give players who were having difficulty connecting with the ball in a volley serve another serving option. It was also introduced to give players with a physical disability such as only one functioning arm, a serving option.

There are fewer restrictions with the drop serve than with the volley serve. 

Because the ball won’t bounce very high when dropped on the pickleball court, the same volley serve rules don’t apply with the drop serve. The key rule is that the ball must be released from one hand or dropped off the paddle face.

Then, the ball must bounce before the server can hit it. 

Pickleball Drop Serve Rules:

  1. There is no restriction on how many times the ball can bounce. So, technically, you can let the ball bounce twice and then hit it. Not likely a great idea because you’re not going to get much height on the second bounce.
  2. There is no restriction on where the ball can bounce on the playing surface.
  3. The release of the ball must be visible to the receiver and in matches with a referee, the release of the ball must visible to the referee.
  4. The ball can’t be thrown downward, tossed, or hit upward with a paddle.
  5. A forehand or backhand swing can be used but the restriction of paddle height when swinging and connecting with the ball does not apply. This is because the ball will only bounce so high and not above waist level – pickleballs balls don’t have enough bounce in them to go any higher.

(Rule 4.A.6)

Scoring Points & Announcing The Score

When to serve in pickleball:

The serving side must say the entire score before serving. Once the entire score has been said, the server has 10 seconds to serve the pickleball. The score should not be called until both the serving team and the receiving team are in the right positions and ready to play.

Keep in mind that sometimes a server will say the score and start the serving motion before finishing the score. In rec play, this is not as big of an issue but it’s important to keep this in mind if you’re playing with more advanced players or in a tournament.

It will be called a fault.

However, it’s not a fault unless the server’s paddle connects with the ball while still saying the score. 

As an example, the server could start the score while getting into position to hit the ball but only connect their paddle with the ball once they have said the entire score.

(Rule 4.A.1)


image of a pickleball score

When stating the score in doubles, the first player to serve in a game will announce the score: 0-0 start or 0-0-2. Saying ‘start’ or the number 2 means they’re the first and last server and it’s the start of the game. Once a fault occurs, the other team serves.

The score consists of the serving team’s score, the receiving team’s score, and either server 1 or 2. This means a score will have 3 numbers. Example: 1 (serving team’s score), 4 (receiving team’s score), and 1 (first player to serve during that rally). 1 – 4 – 1.

Partner Positions

In pickleball doubles, with the exception of the server, there is no restriction on the position of any player as long as players are on their team’s side of the net. The server must serve from the correct service court and the correct receiver must receive the serve.

Pickleball Doubles vs Pickleball Singles

The serving rules for doubles and singles are the same with the only difference being that when a fault occurs in singles, the ball goes to the other team (opponent).

When a fault occurs in doubles, if only one team member has served on the serving team, the second server will serve. If the second server has served, then the ball goes to the other team once a fault has been committed.

In pickleball singles, if the player’s score is even (0, 2, 4…), the server serves from the right/even service court and the serve is done cross court. If the player’s score is odd (1, 3, 5 …), the serve is made from the left/odd service court and served cross court.

In pickleball doubles, both players get to serve once before a side-out is called. The exception is the start of a game, when the serving team only serves once.

If the player’s score is even (0, 2, 4…), the server serves from the right/even service court and the serve is done cross court. If the player’s score is odd (1, 3, 5 …), the serve is made from the left/odd service court and serve cross court.

Pickleball rules on service faults

A service fault is when a rule is violated and the serving team/server loses the serve. Examples of a service fault:

  • A fault is any action that stops play because of a rule violation.
  • A fault by the receiving team results in a point for the serving team.
  • A fault by the serving team results in the server’s loss of serve (serve goes to the 2nd player) or side out (if the fault occurs after the 2nd player has served – the ball goes to the other team).

Here is a list of service violations that will cause a server to lose their serve:

  • One or both feet touch the baseline or one or both feet are inside the service court
  • One or both feet touch the area that is part of the imaginary extension lines of the sideline or the centerline. The server must be standing behind the baseline but only within the imaginary lines of their service court
  • At least one foot is not touching the ground behind the baseline when the paddle connects with the ball
  • The serving player is serving from the wrong service court
  • The server doesn’t use a legal serving motion (upward arc, the paddle must not be above the wrist joint, paddle can’t connect with the ball above the waist level)
  • The served pickleball lands in an area that is outside the correct service court or touches any part of the non-volley zone
  • The server connects their pickleball paddle with the ball before they’ve said the entire score
  • The served pickleball touches any permanent object other than the net before hitting the ground
  • The served pickleball touches the server or their partner, player’s clothing or anything they are wearing
  • The incorrect player on the serving team serves the pickleball
  • The server hits the pickleball before the entire score has been called
  • Once the paddle connects with the pickleball, the serving team asks for a timeout or ask for score confirmation. Once the ball has been hit, this can’t be done or it’s a fault.
  • A serve does not land in the correct service court
  • The ball is hit into the net and doesn’t land in the correct service court
  • A ball is volleyed on either the first or second serve

Read the pickleball serve rules in the USA Pickleball Association Rulebook

Double Bounce Rule

The double bounce rule refers to when the ball bounces twice on one side of the net before being returned.

Two-bounce Rule

The two-bounce rule means that after the ball is served, each side must make one ground stroke before volleying the ball or before the third shot. The idea behind this rule is to discourage players from smashing the ball early in the game and ending the rally quickly.

Service Lets

Service lets don’t exist in pickleball. If the ball touches the net, band, or other parts of the pickleball net and lands in the correct service court, play continues.

If the ball touches the net, band, or other parts of the pickleball net and lands outside the correct service court, then a service fault is called, and either the second player serves or the ball goes to the opposing team.

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