The Rules of Pickleball and How to Play the Game
1. The first thing you need to play pickleball is equipment.
Regular gym clothes and any athletic shoes will work to play a game of pickleball. As you get more advanced, you may want to invest in sport-specific shoes. For pickleball, this just means finding a pair of tennis-specific shoes that are comfortable.
Running shoes may cause shin splints if you play in them too much.
2. Next, you're going to need a place to play.
Some cities have their own pickleball-specific courts or pickleball facilities.
If you don't have pickleball-specific courts in your area, you're still not out of luck. Almost all public tennis facilities now have pickleball lines painted onto tennis courts. Most towns even have pickleball being played indoors at community centers or gymnasiums.
3. Pickleball is played on a court a quarter the size of a tennis court.
A regulation-size pickleball court is 20 feet by 44 feet. That's two 20-foot baselines and two 44-foot sidelines. A ball out of bounds is any ball that lands outside the perimeter of the court. The net is 3 feet high (36 inches) and splits the court in half.
Each side of the court is 20 feet by 22 feet and has three main parts. The first area is a 7-foot non-volley zone. This space extends from the non-volley line (located 7 feet from the net) to the net and is also known as the "kitchen" in pickleball. Players cannot have any foot in this area when they volley, so it's important to be aware of the volley zone line.
Then, there are two service areas. The left service area is the left half of the court behind the non-volley line. The right service area is the right half of the court behind the non-volley line. Each service area is 10 feet by 15 feet.
4. Everyone gets a racket.
The rackets, or paddles, used in pickleball are similar to larger-size ping-pong paddles. You use them to hit a ball over a net slightly lower than in tennis.
The balls for pickleball are wiffle balls. But they are a little bigger and harder than the play-in-the-street variety, with either 26 or 40 holes drilled into them.
Most sporting goods stores have a beginner kit that includes a pair of paddles and balls. It shouldn't cost you more than $30-$40 for the starter kit, which you can also get on Amazon.
5. You can play with 2-4 players.
Pickleball can be played as a singles game or doubles game. A one-on-one game is known as singles. A two-on-two game is known as doubles. The court and rules are the same for both.
Most people usually play doubles with four players, two players per team.
6. You can determine who serves first however you want.
It can be as simple as a coin flip. The team that serves first gets one fault. If the team commits a fault, the serve switches over to the other team.
From that point on, each team gets two faults. If the first server faults, the second serve gets to serve. This gives each player an opportunity to serve before the serve goes to the opposing team.
7. A fault can happen in a few ways.
A fault happens when the ball touches any part of the non-volley zone on the serve (including the line), is hit out of bounds (not within the court), does not get over the net, is volleyed from the non-volley zone, or is volleyed before a bounce has occurred on each side.
8. There is a double bounce rule, or two-bounce rule, after each serve.
That means the person serving must serve into the diagonal service box, and the ball must bounce once before being returned. After the receiving team returns the ball, the serving team also must allow it to bounce once before the ball is hit back. This is the two-bounce rule.
Once the ball has bounced twice (each side has hit at least one groundstroke after a serve), anyone can volley the ball, or hit the ball in the air before it bounces, as long as they aren't standing in the non-volley zone, aka the "kitchen."
9. After that, play is very similar to ping-pong or tennis.
The biggest difference is the non-volley zone. It's illegal to step into the non-volley zone during volleys. The one exception is when a returned ball lands in this area.
When this happens, a player can step into the non-volley zone to hit the ball. But they cannot stay in the "kitchen." After returning the ball, they have to leave the non-volley zone area.
So just remember to stay out of the "kitchen."
10. Serves begin from the right side of the serving area.
Serves must be hit underhand from below the waist, and both feet have to be behind the baseline when you serve. The ball must be hit in the air, without being bounced, and land in the opposite diagonal service box beyond the non-volley zone.
After serving from the right side, you serve from the left side. The service sequence keeps alternating right/left/right/left until the serve switches sides.
11. A point is scored only when you are serving.
Whoever is serving can win points. If the team serving wins a rally that results in a point while serving from the right side of the serving area, their next serve is from the left side.
If the non-serving team wins the rally, the second server on a team gets to serve. If the non-serving team wins the rally after the second server's serve, it's called a side out, and the other team gets the ball back to serve.
This cycle continues until the game ends.
11. Before each serve, a three-part sequence of numbers has to be said.
The first number you say is the serving team's score. The second number you say is the receiving team's score. The third thing you say is "1" (when it's the first person serving on your team) or "2" (when it's second person serving on your team).
For example, if the serving team was up 5-3 and on the first serve, the person serving would say "5-3-1," then serve. You continue to alternate serve sides until a fault, then it goes to the other player.
If you are playing singles, you only have to say the serving person's score and the receiving person's score.
12. The first team to 11, 15 or 21 wins the game.
Most games are played to 11 points. But they also can be played to 15 or 21 points. You need to win by at least two points. You rotate sides of the net at 11, 15 or 21 combined points, depending on what you're playing to.
In other words, switch sides at 11, 15 or 21.
13. You can make your own court and play at home.
If you find yourself really getting into pickleball and have the space where you live, at your house or in your neighborhood, you can make make your own court. You can get a net for under $100, and with some measuring tape and chalk, boom, you've got your own court.
14. Have fun playing and socializing.
Pickleball is no longer a fringe game. There will continue to be more opportunities to engage with the sport.
If you're in the Midwest, we recommend checking out Chicken N Pickle, a chain of restaurants that have beer gardens and pickleball courts. They are wildly popular in Kansas, Missouri and Texas. And they are expanding into Arizona.
Just reserve a court ahead. Most locations fill up their court spots quickly. It will run you between $20-$40 per hour, which is pretty affordable with four players.
15. Pickleball is good for you.
While you're having a blast playing pickleball, you're also doing something pretty amazing for your health. Playing pickleball can burn up to 700 calories per hour, depending on your height and weight.
This kind of exercise has extra benefits as well. Better sleep, weight loss and better mental health.
See you on the courts.