The Rules

To download and read the official rules as determined by the International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) along with a summary of the main rule changes for 2021, click here.

The following is a quick overview of how the game is played……

  • The serve must be made underhand by the player dropping the ball from their hand and striking it before it hits the ground.  A forehand serve is most common while some players will use a backhand style serve as an alternative.
  • During the serve and the initial return of serve, the ball must bounce once on the court surface before each player makes contact with it.  After completing a return of serve, the ball can be hit out of the air (a volley) or it can be hit after only one bounce.  If a ball bounces twice before a player makes contact, that player has committed a fault and they lose that rally.
  • During a serve, the paddle surface must make contact with the ball while it is lower than the players wrist and while still below the server’s waist (navel level) and being struck in an upward motion.
  • New for 2021 is the introduction of an alternate serving style known as the “Drop Serve”.  For a legal drop serve, the server must simply release or “drop” the ball from one of their hands or the ball can be dropped off the server’s paddle face from any natural (un-aided) height.  After doing so, they can hit the ball after it has bounced up from the playing surface.   The ball can now be struck in any fashion and at any height or in any direction.  The only other condition is that the server’s release of the ball must be visible to the referee (if one is present) and to the receiver.  This new serve allows a better serve method for the physically impaired, such as someone who only has the use of one arm.  Other benefits are that this serve is easier to enforce by players and referees as you only need to verify that the ball is dropped correctly.  It’s also an easier skill to learn for beginners.
  • At the start of a doubles game and after determining which team is going to serve first, the first serve is initiated from the right side of their court.  By having the first serve advantage and the opportunity to start scoring points first, this advantage is offset by the fact that only one player from the serving team gets the chance to score points.
  • If a point is scored, the server switches sides and now initiates the next serve from the left-hand court.
  • As subsequent points are scored, the server and their playing partner will switch their positions back and forth between the two sides of their court until a fault is committed which results in the first server losing their serve.  Once they lose this initial rally, it is referred to as a “side out” and the serve now moves to the opposing team.
  •  From here on in, each team will get the opportunity for both of their players to continue serving and scoring points until each server loses their rally.  After both players have lost a rally, it results in another side out the serve switches back to the opposing team.  This pattern of serving and scoring moves back and forth between the two teams for the remainder of the game.
  • Games are played until one team reaches a score of 11 (or sometimes 15) and the winning team must win by two points.  This means that if the game is tied at 10 to 10, one team must win by a score of at least 12-10 or the game will continue until the score ends up with a victory margin of two points such as 13-11.
  • Both of the server’s feet must start from behind the baseline but they can step on or over the baseline after the ball is struck.  The first server can continue serving and scoring until the serving team commits a fault which results in a loss of serve and the receiving team now starts to serve.*
  • The serve direction is made diagonally cross court and must land within the confines of the opposite diagonal court.
  • A serve that either lands in the opponents Non Volley Zone or even touches their Non Volley Zone line is considered out-of-bounds and results in a service fault against the serving team.
  • Only one serve attempt is allowed.
  • Whenever the game is being played as singles, the player serves from the right-hand court when his or her score is an even number and from the left-hand court when the score is an odd number.

*At the beginning of each new game only one partner on the serving team has the opportunity to serve before faulting, after which the service passes to the receiving team.

  • Only the serving team can score points.
  • Games are normally played to 11 points and teams must win by 2.
  • When the ball is served, the receiving team must let it bounce once on their court before returning, and then after returning it, the serving team must also let it bounce once on their court before returning, thus one bounce on each side of the net.
  • After the ball has bounced once in each team’s court, both teams may either volley the ball (hit the ball before it bounces) or play it off a bounce (ground stroke).
  • The double bounce rule eliminates the serve and volley advantage and extends rallies.
  • The non-volley zone is the court area within 7 feet on both sides of the net.
  •  Volleying is prohibited within a player has one or both feet on or inside the non-volley zone. This rule prevents players from executing smashes from a position within the zone.
  • It is a fault if a player steps on the non-volley zone or the non-volley line when volleying a ball.  It is also a fault should the player’s momentum causes them – or anything they are wearing or carrying – to touch the non-volley zone or its associated lines.
  • After volleying, it is also a fault if a player is carried by momentum into or touches the non-volley zone – even if the volleyed ball is declared dead before this happens.
  • A player may legally be in the non-volley zone except when volleying a ball.
  • The non-volley zone is commonly referred to as “the kitchen.”
  • A ball contacting a line, except the non-volley zone line on a serve, is “in.”
  • A serve contacting the non-volley zone line is short and a fault.
  • A fault is any action that stops play because of a rule violation.
  • A fault by the receiving team results in a point for the serving team.
  • A fault by the serving team results in the server’s loss of serve or side out.
  • A fault occurs when:
    • A serve does not land within the confines of the receiving court
    • The ball is hit into the net on the serve or any return
    • The ball is volleyed before a bounce has occurred on each side
    • The ball is hit out-of-bounds
    • A ball is volleyed from the non-volley zone
    • A ball bounces twice before being struck by the receiver
    • A player, player’s clothing, or any part of a player’s paddle touches the net or the net post when the ball is in play
    • There is a violation of a service rule
    • A ball in play strikes a player or anything the player is wearing or carrying
    • A ball in play strikes any permanent object before bouncing on the court
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