Pickleball Rules of the Game: A Beginner's Guide - HowTheyPlay - Sports
Updated date:

Pickleball Rules of the Game: A Beginner's Guide

Stephanie is an enthusiastic sports participant and also loves to watch a wide variety of competitive sports.

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!

Pickleball courts await players

Pickleball courts await players

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.

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.

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?

Pickleball Strategies

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.

© 2012 Stephanie Marshall

Comments

John on June 22, 2019:

I was told that the only time you can go into the kitchen is when the ball bounces in it. If you touch the line or go in the kitchen it is automatically a loss of serve or point for the opponent. I thought you could enter the kitchen without penalty when the ball is in the air, or on the opponents side.

Me on April 04, 2019:

Um thanks I was very confused about the sort and now I know to take it very seriously and it is nothing to joke about, I need some good shoes to play this, so I'm hoping my dad buys those for me....... ;(

That grl on January 26, 2019:

I have to play pickleball in my school, i love it!!

Becky on October 08, 2018:

Can you hold the pickleball paddle by the head of the paddle and not by the handle? Is that legal?

Gary Liddick on September 10, 2018:

In doubles how does the serve rotation work. Does the 2nd server start serving form the side of the court he is playing on when it comes to his serve.

URSULA BEAN on July 02, 2018:

Just started playing this fun game after years of playing tennis. This is easier on an older body! The people I play with, men and women, love it as much as I. Now I have to decide on a paddle to buy- - there are too many to choose from. Here’s to many years of play!!

Billy on June 07, 2018:

I have played tennis since 1978. Won a few local tournament and love it. I played pickleball yesterday. I am now HOOKED on it. My wife who has never played a sport wants to learn. My son who played high school tennis wants to give it a try. I am actually sitting here waiting on my rackets I ordered the other night. Looking forward to playing again in the morning if I can move. Had not played tennis since 2015.

MOo on April 27, 2018:

Pickleball is a tough pickle

steven on March 20, 2018:

how many people are on a team

Megan Blount on December 01, 2017:

Hi I️ played this game but it has been a long a time since i’ve Played this game

Pat on June 24, 2017:

The most intriguing thing about Pickleball over Tennis is that when one goes to play they don't need to bring their own 4 person party usually. You show up, you wait until a game has complete, and they move those who are on stand by in for the next game. You are constantly changing partners, thus making it a far more social game then golf or tennis. Great social mixer!

Mark Tulin from Santa Barbara, California on March 02, 2017:

Why do they call it pickle ball?

Rudy Lopez on March 28, 2016:

A very interesting blog. I started playing by looking at YouTube videos, then went to the United States of America Pickleball Association (USAPA) site to find pickleball courts to play. I found one at Diamond Head Tennis Center, and am now part of a 12-15 player group on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and growing. Great fun!

Drew Lawrence on March 30, 2015:

This looks amazing

Gill Smith on January 14, 2014:

We have 20 keen pickle ball players in Kidlington England and 8 in Abingdon England , we need some more in Abingdon . Anyone interested?

Garth on December 20, 2013:

Any pickle ball in Australia ? Can't find any. Can anyone help?

garthallmand@shaw.ca

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on February 05, 2012:

Hi Annette,

I'll bet that pickleball was great fun as a college class! Writing this hub brought back memories for me too, and I am now inspired to find a place to play the game. Best to you, Steph

Annette Smith from Ocala, Florida on February 05, 2012:

Great hub, Steph! Reading it brought back some fun memories. I haven't played the game since my college days, when I took a badminton/pickleball class for one of my P.E. requirements (my other class was tennis). Voted up and awesome!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 29, 2012:

It is a great game! Let me know if you find pickleball courts in Sacramento. I would bet that you do. Cheers, Steph

Om Paramapoonya on January 28, 2012:

I had never heard of pickleball before. Sounds like a fun game and a nice way to exercise. Thanks for sharing this hub! I'm gonna google for pickleball courts in Sacramento. :)

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 28, 2012:

Thanks Susan! I'm glad to hear that there are pickleball courts nearby. Really hope you go see what the game is all about. Best, Steph

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 28, 2012:

Hi Kimberly,

Thanks! I am so happy to have found the helpful videos on pickleball. Hope you enjoy trying it one day! Best, Steph

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on January 28, 2012:

What a cool game. I've played squash, tennis, table tennis, but never pickleball. After watching the video it looks like it would be loads of fun to play. I see that we have courts right here in Ontario and only a 20 minute drive from where I live. I may just go and check this out.

Thanks for introducing pickleball to us.

Kimberly Lake from California on January 27, 2012:

This sounds like a great spring and summer sport. I have never heard about this game before it does sound like fun I love the fact that you included the videos great hub socially share from youtube

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 27, 2012:

Stephanie,

So glad to hear from someone who is familiar with pickleball - even if you haven't tried it. :) It's a really great, fun game. Do let me know if you give it a whirl. Cheers, Steph

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 27, 2012:

Tom, that is hilarious!! You totally cracked me up. Now, I wonder what a 40+ year old pickleball tournament would look like? Thanks for sharing your story and memories. Cheers, Steph

tom hellert from home on January 26, 2012:

steph,

Holy crap i haddn't thought about pickleball in 23 years before last month and then i come across your hubb this month-in 12th grade we had a tournament- we me n Bil Fix had crushed everyone...eVERYONE for weeks leading up to it we on two matches per day three on gymn days for 3 weeks...then the lights came on an bill couldn't "get it up" over the net...we were knocked out in round two. still stings :(

TH

Stephanie Henkel from USA on January 26, 2012:

Pickleball is quite popular at some of the campgrounds we visit, and seems to be gaining ground. I've never played, but maybe after reading your article, I won't be so hesitant about trying it.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 26, 2012:

Hey dipless - thanks! Do let me know if you find a local pickleball court in your area... and if you try a game! Cheers, Steph

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 26, 2012:

Thanks Veronica - pickleball should be a natural next step for you! I have been hoping that at least someone here at HubPages has heard of the sport! :) Best to you, Steph

dipless from Manchester on January 26, 2012:

Wow in all my 27 years I have never heard of this, I am going to go and try to find somewhere to have a game it looks great, thank you so much for sharing this.

Veronica Roberts from Ohio, USA on January 26, 2012:

Wow this sounds like fun! I played badminton and table tennis growing up, and play tennis now. I guess the next step is pickleball! You did an excellent job of explaining how to play, the rules, and equipment needed! Thank you!

Up, useful, & interesting!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 26, 2012:

Hi Marie,

Sorry to hear about your pain playing sports! There are some definite similarities between pickleball and raquetball, though. Glad to have brought out some memories for you. Cheers, Steph

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 26, 2012:

Hi Simone,

I am not surprised that you haven't of pickleball! It looks like the game is played more in areas like Palm Springs/Palm Desert and Arizona, here in the U.S. It was interesting to learn about all the other countries where pickleball is gaining in popularity, too!

Marie Gail Stratford from Kansas City, MO on January 26, 2012:

Sounds like oodles of fun! I've never been a big player of any sport because of a birth defect that causes severe pain when I run about, but I remember a few summers when my sis and I would play racquetball a lot. This reminded me of those fun tomes.

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on January 26, 2012:

How cool! This was my first time reading or hearing of pickleball, but it sounds like so much fun! I am surprised that I've not seen more people playing it. I wonder if it's more popular in certain areas of the States than others.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 26, 2012:

Hi Melvoy,

Funny, huh? :) When I saw the WTI, I wondered if there were still pickleball courts and places to play the game. I was so pleasantly surprised to find that the sport is becoming quite popular. I especially loved that video of the CBS coverage of pickleball. Let me know if you find any local courts in your area. Cheers, Steph

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 26, 2012:

Thanks Cliff - I hope you get to try it some day. With the WTI and writing this hub, I am personally inspired to find a place to play pickleball this spring. Going to introduce my kids to the sport too! Best, Steph

Yvonne Spence from UK on January 26, 2012:

If you hadn’t included all those Amazon links and the video I truly might have thought you were making this up!! I’ve never heard of pickle ball before. Yet, strangely, when we were kids we had table tennis paddles but no table, so we used to play ping pong in way that bore some resemblance to pickle ball. This is a really interesting hub, and I now want to know if there are any pickle ball courts near us!

Voted up.

Cliff Mendrez from Philippines on January 25, 2012:

Awesome hub, steph! You covered everything really well. I have never played pickleball but it looks fun!

Related Stories

basic-rules-nhl-hockey-visual-guide

Basic Rules of NHL Hockey: A Visual Guide

This basic guide for rules in the NHL covers everything from the field of play to stoppages and penalties.

how-to-play-cricket-a-beginners-guide

How to Play Cricket: A Guide for Beginners

So you want to play cricket but don't know much about it. Don't worry, this article will explain all you need to know on how to play cricket.

a-beginners-guide-to-cricket

A Beginner's Guide to Cricket

Cricket is England’s national sport and is hugely popular in other countries such as Australia and India. It can appear daunting to the newcomer, so here is a simple guide to the game.

girls-lacrosse-for-beginners

Girl's Lacrosse For Beginners

Learn how to play girl's lacrosse! Learn about the equipment, players, field markings and basic rules of girl's lacrosse!

how-to-play-dodgeball-a-beginners-guide

How to Play Dodgeball: A Beginner's Guide

Dodgeball—the sport where YOU are the target! No longer the reserve of school PE lessons, dodgeball is a rapidly growing sport in both the UK and the US. Requiring no particular skill set, dodgeball can be played by all. Learn how here!

12-singles-tennis-strategy-tips-to-help-your-game

13 Singles Tennis Strategy Tips to Help Your Game

I have a lot of experience on the courts over the years. Here are my 12 singles tennis strategy tips to help you to improve your game.

basketball-rules-for-beginners

Basketball Rules for Beginners: Common Offensive Violations

This article is a simple guide to the rules of basketball with illustrations and videos for beginning players. This guide will explain the most commonly violated rules on offense.

cricketfordummies

A Beginner's Guide to Understanding Cricket

This article will offer a basic introduction to cricket for those that know nothing about the sport.

the-olympic-games-explained

The Olympic Games Explained: A Kids' Guide

Take a look at some of the history and trivia associated with the Olympic Games. Learn when the first Olympics was held (Ancient, Wenlock and Modern), what the medals are made of and the most successful athletes and countries in Olympics history...and much more!

how-to-play-some-serious-pick-up-basketball

The Unwritten Rules of Pick-Up Basketball Games

It takes more than game if you want to get picked up at your local gym, park, or blacktop basketball court. You have to adjust to your conditions. These rules weren't written down until now.

fantasyautoracing101

Beginner's Guide to Fantasy Auto Racing

Learn the basics of playing Fantasy NASCAR.

how-to-play-handball-the-street-rules

How to Play Handball: The Street Rules

Handball is a very challenging yet fun sport. In this article is a list of rules and terms used in handball I have compiled.

what-to-wear-and-bring-to-a-major-golf-tournament

What to Wear and Bring to a Golf Tournament: A Spectator's Guide

Attending one of the four major golf tournaments is a big occasion, so you need to know how to dress and what to bring. Learn how to balance appropriate attire with comfort for the perfect spectator outfit. Find out which items you will need and which ones are prohibited.

Control

Playing Squash: Basic Lessons and Tactics for Beginners

In this article, you'll find some basic tactics, advice and get out of jail cards for squash beginners, from what to avoid when playing, where to stand and what to wear on your feet!

dont-look-at-the-pins-bowling-tips-for-beginners

Bowling Tips for Beginners

Learn the basic things that all bowlers should know. This covers bowling etiquette, where to look on the lane, and how to begin the path to having a hook.