2023 Basic Rules of the Game

Pickleball is a paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis. It is played on a court with the same dimensions as a badminton court, and it can be played in singles or doubles.

Here are the basic rules of pickleball:

  1. Court and Equipment:
    1. Pickleball is played on a rectangular court that measures 20 feet wide and 44 feet long for doubles, or 20 feet wide and 22 feet long for singles.
    2. The court is divided into two equal halves by a net that is 36 inches high at the sidelines and 34 inches high at the center.
    3. Players use solid paddles made of wood or composite materials, and they hit a perforated polymer ball similar to a wiffle ball.
  2. Serving:
    1. The serve must be made underhand, and the server must keep both feet behind the baseline while serving.
    2. The serve is made diagonally across the court and must land in the opponent’s service court.
    3. The server must hit the ball below waist level and make contact with the ball below the server’s waist.
    4. The serve is made from the right-hand side of the court for the first serve, and then from the left-hand side for the second serve.
    5. If a point is scored, the server switches sides and continues serving. If the serving side fails to score a point, the opposing side takes over the serve.
  3. Return of Serve:
    1. The receiving team must let the serve bounce before returning it.
    2. Once the serve is returned, both teams can either volley (hit the ball before it bounces) or play the ball after it bounces once.
  4. Double Bounce Rule:
    1. After the serve and return, both teams must let the ball bounce once before either side can volley the ball (hit it before it bounces).
    2. Once the ball has bounced once on each side, both teams can either volley or play the ball after it bounces.
  5. Non-Volley Zone (Kitchen):
    1. There is a seven-foot non-volley zone on each side of the net called the kitchen.
    2. Players cannot volley the ball (hit it before it bounces) while standing inside the kitchen, except if the ball bounces in the kitchen area.
    3. If a player steps into the kitchen during a volley, it is considered a fault.
  6. Scoring (no calculator needed):
    1. Points can only be scored by the serving team.
    2. A team earns a point when the opposing team commits a fault (such as hitting the ball out of bounds or into the net) or fails to return the ball properly.
    3. Games are usually played to 11 points, and a team must win by at least two points.
    4. In tournament play, games are either played to 11, 15 or 21 points.
    5. The score must be announced before each new server, and it must be loud enough so that all players can hear the score. It is considered a fault by not calling out the score prior to serving.  It’s just good sportsmanship to do so.

Doubles Scoring

  • Points are scored only on the serve; the receiving side cannot score a point.
  • At the start of the game, the player on the right side (even court) serves to the diagonally opposite court.
  • If a point is scored, the server moves to the left side (odd court) and serves to the diagonally opposite court.
  • Players on the serving side continue to move from the right to left or left to right each time a point is scored.
  • Players on the serving team do not alternate sides unless a point is scored. The receiving side never alternates sides.
  • The first server continues to serve until the serving team loses a rally by committing a fault; then the serve passes to the second server on the team. [See * below for an exception]
  • When the second server loses the serve, the serve goes to the other team and the player on the right serves first. That pattern continues throughout the game.
  • Calling the Score:
    • The score should be called as three numbers.
    • Proper sequence for calling the score is: server score, receiver score, then, for doubles only, the server number: 1 or 2. A helpful trick is Us/Them/Me.
    • To start a match, the score will be called as: zero – zero – two*
  • The server number (1 or 2) applies for that service turn only. Whoever is on the right side (depending on the score) when the team gets the serve back is the first server for that service turn only. The next time that the team gets the serve back, it might be the other player that is on the right and is therefore the first server for that service turn only. Beginning players often mistakenly assume that the player keeps the same server number throughout the game.
  • *First Server Exception: To minimize the advantage of being the first team to serve in the game, only one player, the one on the right side, gets to serve on the first service turn of the game. Since the serve goes to the other side when that player loses the serve, that player is designated as the second server. Therefore, at the start of the game, the score should be called, “0-0-2.” The “2” indicates the second server and means that the serve goes to the other side when the serve is lost.
  • When a team’s score is even, the player who served first in that game must be on the right (even) side of the court and on the left (odd) side when the score is odd. Or, expressed alternately, when the first server of that game is on the right side of the court, that team’s score should be even. If this is not the case, then either the players are positioned on the wrong side of the court or the called score is inaccurate.

Singles Scoring

  • Singles scoring is very similar to doubles except that there is no second server.
  • The serve is always done from the right side when the server’s score is even and from the left side when the server’s score is odd.
  • It is the server’s score that determines serving position, not the score of the receiver. The receiver lines up on the right or left side according to the server’s score.
  • The score is called simply as: server score, receiver score.

Rally Scoring

Sometimes you may want to speed up the game for various reasons such as time constraints or you have additional people in your group that you get involved in a faster manner.  If so, you can utilize rally scoring where a point is awarded for every rally winner instead of only being awarded a point while serving.

These are the basic rules of pickleball. There may be additional rules or variations depending on the level of play or specific tournament regulations. It’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the specific rules of the event or venue where you plan to play.  Enjoy and have fun!