Chapter 1

The Basics of Pickleball

The basic concept of pickleball is simple: individuals or pairs—two or four players in a game—use pickleball paddles to hit a ball over a net.

The goal of pickleball is to hit shots that your opponent cannot hit back over the net to you. This makes it similar to other racket sports like tennis or badminton. However, some unique and fun rules make pickleball different from its racket cousins and contribute to its immense popularity.

Let’s dig into the basic rules governing pickleball, the United States’ fastest-growing sport.

pickleball mastery Quick Easy Exercises to Improve Hand Eye Coordination for Pickleball
The Basics of Pickleball

Serving Up Fun

The player on the right side of the court, when facing their opponents, serves first. Your serve must land in the box diagonal to you, bouncing once before the opposing player can legally return it.

Unlike tennis, you serve in pickleball with an underhanded stroke. You must contact the ball below the level of your belly button. While a tennis player uses the serve to start a point aggressively and often even tries for an unhittable “ace,” in pickleball, the server’s purpose is simply to get the point started.

In doubles, the most popular type of pickleball, each player on the team gets the opportunity to serve before the serve switches to the other side. A player keeps serving until their team loses a point. Then, the serve goes to their partner if they still need to serve in the current rotation or to the other side if each player on the first team has had the opportunity to serve.

The only exception to this is on the first point of the game. If side one serves, they only get that opening serve, until they lose a point. After that, instead of their partner getting the opportunity to serve, the other team gets the ball. Each of their players gets to serve. Then, side one gets the ball back for both players to serve.

From the beginning of a pickleball game, the serving would look like this:

  • Player One from Team One opens the game, serving until they lose a point.
  • After the point is lost, service goes to the other team, with Player One from Team Two serving until they lose.
  • After the point is lost, Player Two, Team Two serves.
  • After the point is lost, the serve switches back to the first side, with each player from Team One getting a serve opportunity.

Bounce House

Your serve must bounce before your opponent hits it. You must also let their return shot bounce before you hit it. In other words, the ball must bounce once on each side of the pickleball net before you are allowed to volley, which is the term for hitting the ball before it bounces on your side of the net.

Pickleball vs Tennis pickleball mastery
pickleball mastery How to Play Pickleball Singles The Differences You Need to Know

Who’s at Fault?

After the serve, play continues until one side commits a fault. There are four types of fault, each leading to a point for the other side or turnover of the serve:

  1. The serve lands in the “kitchen”.
    No, we aren’t talking about a ball smashing through someone’s windows and landing next to the refrigerator. The “kitchen” is a fun name for the no-volley zone, the area on either side of the net in front of the two service boxes. If your serve lands in the kitchen instead of making it into the opposite serving box, that’s a fault.
  2. A shot goes out of bounds.
    If you hit a ball outside the boundaries of the court, that’s a fault.
  3. A ball hits the net.
    The final type of fault occurs when the ball doesn’t clear the net.
  4. You volley in the no-volley zone.
    As the name suggests, this is not allowed. More on this below.


The 7-foot zone on each side of the net is the non-volley zone or “kitchen”. You cannot hit the ball in this area before it bounces. If any part of your body is in the kitchen or on the line, there’s no volleying.

If your opponent hits a short shot that bounces in the kitchen, this is known as a “dink.” You can legally enter the no-volley zone to return the ball because you wouldn’t be hitting a volley.

The Basics of Pickleball
pickleball mastery Ace Your Pickleball Vocabulary Fun Pickleball Terms and Phrases

Score! Or not.

Pickleball has its own scoring system. Thankfully, it’s much easier to understand than tennis scorekeeping.

As with sports like tennis and volleyball, you score on points where you are the server. You don’t receive a point if the opposing side serves the ball and they commit a fault. That would cause a change in the server, with no points awarded.

The first team to 11 points wins as long as they are ahead by two or more. If the score is 11-9, the game is over. If it is 11-10, you continue until one team is ahead by two points. That could happen at 12-10, or might take until 20-18, or more.

You now know the basic rules of pickleball and are ready to hit the court and play pickleball. One fantastic thing about pickleball is that the community of players tends to be very inclusive, supportive, and welcoming. Don’t be intimidated if it is your first time or you are still unsure about some rules. Find an experienced player to play against, or don’t hesitate to ask other players on neighboring courts if you have a question or two. You can learn more about the game as you go, but these basics should be more than enough to get you started.