11 Essential Pickleball Rules to Learn Before You Play

If you’re new to pickleball, understanding the basic rules is key before stepping onto the court for your first game. While mastering skills like serving, volleying, and scoring tactics will come with practice, knowing the essential pickleball guidelines will help you follow gameplay etiquette.

In this beginner’s guide, we’ll cover the 11 critical pickleball rules on court dimensions, equipment, serving, sequencing, scoring, and more so you can avoid common mistakes beginners make. Learning these rules inside and out will ensure you feel comfortable and confident for your inaugural matches!

The Pickleball Court Layout

Pickleball is played on a court that is 20 feet wide by 44 feet long for doubles play, similar to a badminton court. The court has specific lines that delineate boundaries and serving areas:

  • Baseline: The back line on each side, parallel to the net
  • Non-Volley Zone: A 7-foot zone adjacent to the net where volleying is prohibited 
  • Center Line: Splitting the court lengthwise into two halves 

Understanding court positioning is integral for rules around serving and shot plays later in games. Do not step on lines while volleying or serving, as this constitutes a fault. 

Approved Pickleball Equipment 

Pickleball paddles must be smooth and constructed of composite materials – not wood-like vintage tennis rackets. The lightweight, perforated plastic ball is akin to a whiffle ball versus the felt-covered balls used in tennis. The paddle dimensions and ball materials impact gameplay and rules around volleys and service.

Pickleball Terminology

Learning the unique vocabulary of pickleball will allow you to understand the game and communicate effectively when you start playing. Here are some key examples of terms you’ll likely hear on the courts:

  • Serve: The shot used to put the ball in play at the start of a point. In doubles, the serve must bounce once on each side before being struck.
  • Fault: A rule violation on the serve, which results in loss of that service turn. Common faults include hitting the serve out of bounds or long on the bounce.
  • Volley: Hitting the ball in the air without letting it bounce. Volleys are often struck near the non-volley zone.
  • Dink: A gently tapped volley shot that arcs just over the net, landing close to the net in the non-volley zone. Top players use the dink shot frequently to maneuver opponents.
  • Charge the Net: Quickly move forward into the non-volley zone to attack a ball and attempt to win the point with a decisive volley.
  • Drive: Hitting a deep, flat shot with a long follow-through. Drives are typically hit forcefully when the opponent is out of position.
  • Groundstroke: Hitting a forehand or backhand after the ball has bounced once on your side. Controlled groundstrokes keep the ball in play.

As we delve into essential skills and strategies later in this article, we’ll explore more examples of common pickleball terminology. These basic terms will help you follow the action and conversation on the pickleball courts right from your first game! Feel free to ask more experienced players to explain any phrases you need clarification.

Serving Protocols

Serving initiates play at the start of pickleball games and after faults. The server must keep both feet behind the baseline and within imaginary extensions of the center line while serving diagonally to the opponent’s service court. Games always start with the right-hand player serving from the right-side court.

If the serving side wins the point, the server switches to the other side of the court. When the returning side wins a moment, they gain the serve on their correct side. Servers announce the score before initiating play. Competitive matches require underhand serves, while casual play allows overhand.  

The Two Bounce Rule 

After the ball is served, it must bounce once on both sides of the net before players can return it – similar to ping pong rules. The initial server must call “play” or another marker once the ball bounces on their side before the returner strikes the ball on the second bounce.

Scoring Protocol

Pickleball follows an 11-point scoring system similar to ping pong rather than playing sets up to 6 games like in tennis. A player or team that scores 11 points first wins, provided they hold a 2-point lead over their opponents. In case of a tie at 10-all, the game continues until one side gains a 2-point advantage.

Servers must call out the score before each opening serve. Call outs use unique syntax, for example: “4-3, Blue leads, Eric to serve.” Score calling prevents disputes and allows spectators to follow game progress.

Volleying Guidelines 

Volleys involve hitting the ball mid-air before it bounces. Pickleball has strict volleying rules, prohibiting volleys within the 7-foot non-volley zone adjacent to the net. Beginners may let groundstrokes bounce before returning them. Advanced players can move toward the non-volley zone to block volleys coming from behind the zone.

Common Faults

Several infractions constitute faults and a loss of serve if committed by the serving team:

  • Hitting the ball out of bounds 
  • Failure to clear the net
  • Stepping into a non-volley zone while volleying 
  • Hitting the ball twice before it clears the net
  • Court foot fault 

Double bounces also invalidate the return shot. Understand common faults to recognize errors impacting serve possession and scoring quickly.

Positional Play Basics

Ideal starting positions depend on your game role. Servers should start behind the baseline. Receivers will get into ready stances centered laterally and 1 to 2 feet behind the non-volley zone. Partners on doubles teams position themselves on diagonal courts adjacent to each other. 

Shift wide or narrow and move closer to the non-volley zone as rallies extend to cover more angles. Communicate regarding score clarifications, line calls, and claim faults across the net.

Etiquette & Unwritten Conduct Rules  

Beyond technical regulations, pickleball has unwritten rules around sportsmanship and attitude. Wait to return serves if players need to catch wayward balls from other courts. Given the friendly social nature of most pickleball environments, avoid trash talk or hostile competition. 

Support fellow players by acknowledging nice shots and providing encouragement regardless of skill gaps. Uphold a fun, community vibe that welcomes hobbyists rather than ego-driven displays of dominance.

4 Common Beginner Mistakes (and how to fix them)

You’ll inevitably make some mistakes when you’re just starting with a new sport like pickleball. Making errors is part of the learning process! However, knowing the most common pickleball beginner blunders will help you identify and correct them. Here are 4 frequent mistakes new players make, plus tips on overcoming them:

Illegal Serve

An illegal underhand serve is one of the easiest mistakes to make as a novice. The rules state you must start the serve motion below waist level and, at some point, the paddle head must dip below the wrist. 

Beginners often start their serving motion above the waist, resulting in a fault. Concentrate on initiating your movement with the paddle low, accelerate smoothly upwards, and let the head drop lower than your wrist at some point before contact. Develop this habit from the get-go. 

Hugging the Non-Volley Zone Line 

Another standard error is standing too close to the non-volley zone line (aka the “kitchen”) when your opponent is about to hit a volley. Since volleys can’t bounce before being hit, you rob yourself of time to react. 

The simple fix? Stay back 3-4 feet from the line until your opponent lets the ball drop, giving you space to field it. Be ready to charge forward then if they hit the volley. With practice, you’ll soon get a feel for safe positioning.

Never Varying Shots

New players often need help mindlessly driving shots directly back to their opponent with a medium pace and a little strategy. Varying placement, pace, spins, and patterns are key in pickleball. 

Try mixing up soft shots with hard, lofted balls with flat drives. Learning to hit a controlled backhand and forehand shots crosscourt or down the line also adds variation. Don’t give your rival an easy rhythm – disrupt it by changing things up.

Poor Ready Position  

Finally, continually being caught off-guard because your stance is not prepped for action spells defeat. You must be in the “ready position” from the instant a point begins. 

That means weight balanced evenly on the balls of your feet, knees bent, paddle up and out front at torso level. This athletic stance allows quick lateral hop steps and clean swings. 

Every great player holds this posture automatically. Drill it until you copy them.

Learning any new sport has a learning curve. Now that you know the most common beginner pitfalls and fixes in pickleball, you can fast-track your progress on the courts!

Ready to Start Playing?

As you gear up for your first-ever pickleball games armed with these rules, remember to set expectations according to your skill level. Enter social matches emphasizing friendly volleys and practice before prioritizing competition. Seek lessons on serving, scoring, and positional tactics to apply the guidelines.

Above all, embrace pickleball for the friendly, active lifestyle it facilitates. Now equipped with the top 11 pickleball basics, you can confidently take the court for lively fun with friends or family!


In mastering the top 11 essential pickleball rules, beginners gain a foundational understanding crucial for a smooth and enjoyable gameplay experience. 

This guide ensures newcomers avoid common mistakes, from court dimensions to equipment specifics, serving protocols, and scoring intricacies. Beyond technicalities, emphasizing sportsmanship and community spirit underscores the social nature of pickleball. 

As players step onto the court, armed with knowledge and camaraderie, they’re ready to engage in lively, friendly matches that epitomize this exciting sport’s active and sociable essence. Now equipped with these fundamentals, newcomers can confidently embark on their pickleball journey, blending skill development with the joy of play.

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