Pickleball offers a unique twist on racket sports with its underhand serves, differing from the overhead action of tennis, and a smaller court that minimizes running, making it more accessible. This versatile game can be enjoyed both indoors and outdoors, requiring only a paddle—which is larger than a racquetball paddle—and a lightweight, perforated ball like a whiffle ball, simplifying the gameplay. The ease of hitting the ball and the sport’s relaxed pace have made pickleball a popular and enjoyable activity for players of all ages and skill levels.
Pickleball features a net that stands 36 inches tall at the sidelines and dips to 34 inches in the center, creating an ideal setup for the sport’s signature gameplay. Typically, it’s played in doubles format with teams of two, positioned on either side of the centerline, but singles play is also an option. The court includes a 7-foot non-volley zone on each side, known as the ‘kitchen,’ where players are prohibited from volleying the ball. Strictly enforced, players must ensure that not even a toe crosses the kitchen line during a volley, adding a strategic element to the game.
The Two Types of Shots
Groundstrokes are executed after the ball bounces, typically from the baseline area of the court, while volleys are strikes made directly from the air, usually played from a stance nearer to the net.
- Starting the Game and Match: Each pickleball match and the subsequent rallies are initiated with a serve. It begins with the player positioned on the right side of the court, who serves the ball diagonally across to the opponent’s service area, targeting either the right or left section. For the serve to be valid, it must travel beyond the non-volley zone, commonly referred to as the kitchen, and must not touch the kitchen line.
- The Serve: In pickleball, you serve by swinging your arm below your waist and hitting the ball with a low to high motion. You can either hit the ball while it’s in the air or let it bounce once before serving. The main point of serving in pickleball is to start the rally, unlike in tennis where you serve forcefully overhand trying to score right away.
- The Rally: The game of pickleball keeps going after the serve until someone makes a mistake, called a “fault,” which stops the rally. There are three main mistakes you can make: if the serve doesn’t go past the non-volley zone or ‘kitchen’ area, if someone hits the ball out of the playing area, or if the ball hits the net and doesn’t go over. In pickleball, if the ball touches the net on the serve but still lands in the right area, the play continues—there’s no second chance serve.
- Even After the Serve, You Can’t Volley in the Kitchen.
- You CAN Hit Groundstrokes in the Kitchen. Dinks play a crucial defensive role in pickleball and are vital to the game’s strategy. When you step into the kitchen to respond to a dink, the smartest strategy is often to return the favor by dinking the ball back into your opponent’s kitchen area.
- The Ball Must Bounce on Both Sides Before Either Team Can Volley. In pickleball, there’s a rule called the ‘double bounce rule’ which means the ball must bounce once on each side of the net before anyone can hit it out of the air, or volley. If you’re near the net and someone serves, you could be in trouble. That’s because if the ball comes at you and you hit it before it bounces, you’ve made a fault and lost the point. This rule is important because it stops the serving team from just rushing to the net and getting too strong of an advantage, making it hard for the other team to have a chance to serve and score.
- You Only Win Points on Your Serve.
- Scoring: In pickleball, during a team’s turn, both players get to serve one after the other. The score has three parts, like “Zero, zero… two”. The first two numbers are the current score, and the third number tells you which team member is serving. So, if the score is 3-3 and you’re the first to serve, you say “3-3-1”. If you don’t win the point, your partner then serves and says “3-3-2”. If they also don’t win, the other team gets the ball and starts with “3-3-1”. But remember, at the very start of the game, the first server says “0-0-2” because each team only gets one serve at the beginning to keep it fair. It might sound complicated, but it’s easy once you start playing!
- You Must Win By 2 Points: The game of pickleball goes on until one team scores 11 points, but there’s a twist – you must win by at least 2 points. This means if the score is tied at 10-10, simply getting to 11 won’t cut it; you must keep playing until someone leads by 2 points. That’s why sometimes games might end with scores like 12-10, 15-13, or even 21-19. And while these longer games might be a real workout, they’re usually the most exciting ones to play!