Hearing a lot about the silly named sport and curious to learn more? You are not alone! Our beginner’s guide to pickleball is designed to help folks learn about Pickleball by teaching you all of the essentials so you have the courage to get out to a court and play.
What Is Pickleball?
Pickleball could be described as a cross between tennis, badminton, and ping pong. Players play on a badminton-size court with a tennis net and use a paddle similar to ping pong. Confused yet? Don’t worry – it’s easy and FUN!
Pickleball is a low-impact sport that is enjoyed by people of all ages and all athletic abilities. The game is structured for limited movement on the court so there’s no worrying about sprinting from one side of the court to the next. Because of this game’s unique structure and rules, it’s no wonder pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the country. People of all ages can not only play pickleball easily, but they can play someone of any age. It’s not out of the ordinary to see seniors and kids on the same court! Because of its growing popularity, this sport is commonly played in local gyms, community centers, parks, and backyard courts.
If you’re on the lookout to try a quirky new sport that anyone can play, look no further! Keep on reading to learn how the sport was created, how to play, the rules and lingo, and the best pickleball equipment for you!
Rules of Pickleball
Although pickleball is played on a court, the rules of the game more closely resemble table tennis or badminton than traditional tennis.
- Pickleball can be played as singles or doubles
- Points are scored only by the serving team
- First team to 11 points with a lead of 2 points wins the game
- The score is called out as three numbers: 1) serving team score 2) receiving team score, and 3) server number (one or two)
- To start a match, the score is called out as “zero-zero-two”
- In normal doubles play, each player on a team gets to serve before the serve switches to the other team. On the first serve of the game, however, only one player from the serving team may serve before it switches to the other team. For this reason, the first player to serve calls out “zero-zero-two” to indicate that they are the final server on their team before it switches.
- If a point is scored, the server moves to the left side of the court and serves again and the serving team continues alternating as points are scored
- A team scores when it is their serve and their opponent faults
After deciding which team serves first, follow these serving rules:
- The first serve must be done at the right-hand court and alternates left/right sides with each new serve
- Server must call the score before serving and keep both feet behind the back line
- The serve must be an underhand swing
- During a serve, the ball must be hit while still in the air – do NOT have the ball bounce on the ground and then hit it
- The paddle’s contact with the ball must be below the server’s waist (belly button level) – do NOT serve overhand
- The serve is made diagonally across the court and must land within the confines of the opposite diagonal court
- Only one serve attempt is allowed
- If the serve is a fault in a SINGLES match, the serve goes to the other team
- If the serve is a fault in a DOUBLES match, the teammate attempts a serve. If they also fault, the serve goes to the other team
Looking for help when it comes to your serve? Check out these 9 video tutorials to help improve your serve!
- When the ball is served, the receiving team must let it bounce before returning, and then the serving team must let it bounce before returning – this two bounce rule is referred to as “double-bounce”
- After the ball has bounced once in each team’s court, both teams may either volley the ball (i.e. hit the ball before it bounces) or play it off a bounce
- You may never volley in the “kitchen”, the 7′ zone on either side of the net
- You may not step into the kitchen or on the kitchen line unless the ball has bounced in the kitchen. After you hit that ball, you must leave the kitchen immediately
- If a point is scored, the server switches sides and initiates the next serve from the left-hand court. This continues until a fault is made – then it is the next team’s turn to serve. (SINGLES: both teams switch sides. DOUBLES: only the serving team switch sides, the opponent stays on their side)
Court Size & Dimensions
Courts for Pickleball are 20 feet across by 44 feet long. The non-volley zone extends 7 feet on each side of the net. The court is divided in half by the center line. The centerline does not extend into the non-volley zone. There is no doubles-alley like in tennis. Singles and doubles play on the same court side.
The paddle for pickleball is larger than a ping-pong paddle and must be hard and smooth on both sides. The pickleball paddle is much lighter than a tennis racket. This means the game requires less arm and core strength than tennis.
The paddle cannot have holes. You can find pickleball paddles online or at your local sporting goods store. Not all commercially available paddles are USAPA Approved. Be sure to check if a paddle is approved before buying one if that is something you are worried about.
The balls are made of hard perforated plastic much like a wiffleball and Pickleballs are bigger than a baseball but smaller than a softball. They are also lighter than a tennis ball which makes them easier to hit. If you come from a sport like tennis or ping-pong, you may be surprised by how little the balls bounce. This slows the game down and makes the game more about finesse than speed.
There are a variety of types of pickleball balls including indoor, outdoor, and quiet balls. Check out our complete guide to pickleball balls to learn more.
The net in Pickleball is 36 inches high at the sideline and 34 inches in the center. The net is slightly lower than a tennis net which sits at 42 inches at the sideline and 36 inches in the center. The pickleball net should extend several feet outside the sidelines of the court.
Many casual players will use a tennis court to play pickleball due to their prevalence. You can tighten the center strap on a tennis court to lower the net slightly and make it closer to a regulation pickleball court.
In pickleball you may not touch the net. This is rarely a problem because the non-volley zone keeps players back away from the net.
*In the market for a net? Checkout Selecting the Best Pickleball Net
Why Is It Called Pickleball?
There are two predominant theories as to how this sport got its name. The game was created by Washington politician Joel Pritchard to entertain his bored family during the summer of 1965. According to Joel, his wife, Joan, described the sport as looking like the pickle boat in rowing. This refers to a crew of oarsmen who are leftovers from the other boats. The second theory is that it is named after the Pritchards’ dog, which was named Pickles. The dog would chase the ball and run off with it.
According to Joan Pritchard, Pickles the dog did not come around until two years after the game was invented. Therefore, the dog was named after the game. However, it’s possible the game simply didn’t have a formal name until the dog came around to inspire it.
Where Can You Play Pickleball?
With the growing popularity of pickleball, you can easily find a place to play the game in every state across the U.S. In fact, the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) has a list of all addresses and names of places at which you can play pickleball, organized by state. The sport is also gaining in popularity in the UK, Canada, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Thailand, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia.
There is a growing list of pickleball leagues organized through local recreation districts, YMCAs, and private clubs. First, check the USAPA list or places to play, and then search local directories for your hometown to see if there is a pickleball league in your area. If not, perhaps you can get one started!
If you can’t find an official pickleball court, use a badminton court and simply lower the net to a height of three feet! Or, you can create your own court in your driveway or another blacktop surface. Because you don’t need much area (compared to a tennis court), it’s easy to find a suitable area on which to draw the service courts and no-volley zone, and then hang a net in the middle!
Once you have introduced pickleball to your friends and colleagues, chances are they will love the game too! In fact, as more people learn about this sport, the number of courts, leagues, and tournaments increase each year. The family-friendly game is enjoyed by people of all ages.
If you don’t already play pickleball, why not start now?
If you are new to playing pickleball, you may be interested in some strategies for your game. Here are some tips to keep in mind on the court.
- If you notice an opponent has a weak forehand or backhand, try to serve on their weak side. It would ideal to serve deep in the court. Be careful not to hit it out though.
- Be sure to be in a ready position after every volley you hit back.
- When playing doubles, hit the ball down the middle of the court. This will cause your opponents to quickly decide who will go for it, leading to potential errors on their side.
- Surprise your opponent with a different kind of shot. Use one type consistently before surprising them with another that throws them off.
- Try to avoid hitting the ball to your opponent. Use shots that force them to move!
A little competition can be good, but this game is all about community and having fun. Keep these few things in mind when you play and you’ll be sure to have a great time and make lasting friendships along the way!
- Play with integrity: one of the unique things about pickleball is that players can call the shots in the game they are playing. Be honest if the ball is in or out – and if you’re unsure, give the person the benefit of the doubt. Remember, this game is about having fun!
- If a ball from another court comes onto your court, toss back their ball – do not switch balls.
- Need to pass a court that has a game going? Wait until play has come to a stop. Walking behind active play is rude and can be dangerous.
- There’s no room for sore winners in this friendly game. If your opponent misses a shot or hits the ball out of bounds, refrain from yelling and celebrating at their expense.
- Graciously accept play with other players: it’s likely that you will play a match with those below or above your skill level. Don’t steer clear of these players! Instead, kindly accept and play a match or two.