Pickleball Rules of the Game: A Beginner's Guide
What Is Pickleball?
My favorite summer memories as a young teen include the hours I spent on the pickleball court at the local beach with my friends. Match after match we'd play, even coming up with competition brackets and our own playoff games. Afternoons would stretch into evenings, but my competitive nature would keep me on the court until my parents came to drag me home for dinner. I loved that game!
You must be thinking, what is pickleball? Is it something my friends and I just made up? Nope.
Pickleball is a real sport and really fun! Think of it as table tennis, meets traditional tennis, meets badminton. You have a net, a court, paddles, and a lightweight ball (similar to a whiffle ball). Players can face off as singles or doubles, just as in traditional tennis.
Anyone from school-aged children to elderly retirees can enjoy the game of pickleball. Because the court is smaller than a tennis court, play is more compact and slightly less strenuous. Yet because of its non-threatening nature, pickleball is a great way to get outside and have fun. You won't even notice that you are exercising as you play the entertaining game!
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.
- The game begins with one side serving the pickeball, using the paddle (which is wood or composite and larger than a ping pong paddle) to hit the pickleball (which is a light, plastic, hole-covered whiffle ball).
- To properly serve the ball, the player must keep one foot behind the back line and strike the ball with an underhand swing, aiming at the service court located diagonally over the net, and clearing the no-volley zone.
- Service starts from the right hand court. Only one fault is allowed.
- In the case of doubles, both players get to serve once, and then the serve is taken over by the opposing team.
- Both sides must allow the pickleball to bounce first before hitting it with the paddle at least one time from the start of the game. Thereafter, players may volley the ball (hit it without allowing it to bounce), provided they are not within the no-volley zone within seven feet of the net (marked on the court).
- A player or team scores points only when they are serving. A pickleball game is played to 11 points and a win must be by two points.
Similar to tennis, the following moves are faults in the game of pickleball, which cause a loss of a point:
- Failing to clear the net.
- Hitting the ball out of bounds.
- Volleying the ball from within, or while a foot is in the no-volley zone.
- Volleying the ball before it has bounced on a first serve or first return.
Beginner's Guide to Pickleball
Pickleball Equipment and Court
All you need to play pickleball is a couple of paddles, a whiffle ball, and a net. You can draw your own court with sidewalk chalk (at least that's what we did many years ago). Fortunately, however, you can find official pickleball courts at many playgrounds, community centers, and private clubs, as the game is growing in popularity.
A pickleball court is approximately one-third the size of a regular tennis court, and is laid out according to the dimensions of a badminton court (20 feet x 44 feet). A net divides the court, hung at 36 inches in height on each end. On either side of the net, there is a seven-foot area (marked with a line on the court) called the no-volley zone. The playing area of the court (20 feet x 15 feet) is divided into two equal rectangles, side by side (10 feet x 15 feet).
The main reason for the no-volley zone is to take away opportunities for smash volleys or drop shots, making the game more reliant on careful placement of shots. Of course, the rule also creates opportunities for the other side to fault, which adds to the fun of the game!
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 Pritchard's 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.
How to Play Pickleball: Instructional Video
Have You Ever Played Pickleball?
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, 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 other 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?
Playing Pickleball is Addicting!
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 week 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.
For more insight into the game, check out this article on more pickleball strategies.
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Stephanie Hicks