Getting out on a pickleball court and playing some doubles seems to be a very popular activity nowadays. Communities are adding courts, the local tennis store is selling supplies and some of your friends may already being playing. Surely you’ve heard of pickleball, but do you really know what the sport is about? No, it doesn’t include any pickles but it certainly does include a ball.
Fitness is all the rage. We have watches to count how many steps we take. Digital mirrors to do virtual group workouts while you’re home alone. Apps to alert you to do a daily pushup or jump squat regiment. There are so many new ways to live a fit and active lifestyle; but what about new ways that aren’t so techy?
Sure, there are the old tried and true methods, but running is so monotonous. And yoga isn’t exactly the most exciting thing you’ve ever tried. Football is cool, but then again, concussions really aren’t that cool. Swimming is always good, but I don’t blame you if community pools aren’t your thing.
So what is a person to do? Well, how about a sport you’ve already heard of but maybe you’ve never actually thought about trying: Pickleball.
What is Pickleball?
As far as sports go, pickleball is a relatively new game but it’s been around long enough to have an established following and a legitimate history. Invented in 1965, pickleball is in the class of sports that involve 1 court, 1 net, 2 teams, and a ball. As far as “sports families” go, pickleball is cousins with volleyball, tennis, ping pong, and badminton.
For over a half-century, people in North America have been enjoying the game. Created in Seattle, Washington (by a group of dads to play with their sons) the game has enjoyed most of its popularity in the U.S. and Canada, with over 15,000 pickleball courts in the U.S. alone. But over the last couple of decades, it has risen to intercontinental ranks with pickleball courts popping-up in Europe and some parts of Asia, too.
There are a few stories on where the official name “pickleball” originated from, but an exact origin seems to be a topic of debate. Either way, the origins of the name really aren’t as important or interesting as the game itself and understanding the rules and flow play… so without further ado, let’s serve it up.
Here’s everything you need to know to pick up and play pickleball.
You’ll need one or three other people, a few pieces of equipment, and a court which can be located indoors or outdoors.
Pickleball Court Dimensions
A pickleball court at first glance looks a lot like a tennis court, but is actually closer to a badminton court in size and dimensions. A regulation court will run 44 feet long by 20 feet wide.
Pickleball Net Size
Directly in the middle of the court is a net that spans the full width of the court (20 feet) and stands 36 inches high. Some sagging in the net is normal and is within regulation as long as the center of the net stands 34 inches high (and not more than 2 inches sagging below the 36 inch official height).
There are a few other lines on a pickleball court that are important to know about. There is a line on each side of the net that is exactly 7 feet from the center of the court. This is the “No Volley Zone”. A volley is when a player hits/returns the ball before it is able to bounce on their side of the court.
The No Volley Zone (Non-Volley Zone, officially) is referred to as the kitchen. As you’ve probably guessed: It is illegal to volley a ball while in the kitchen/ no volley zone. The player must let the ball bounce before hitting it back across the net when in this zone.
Of the remaining court that is not the kitchen: it is divided in half (width-wise) and designates the “left service area”/ “right service area”. These two areas are each 10 feet wide.
The game can be played as doubles or singles, so an even number of players (either 2 or 4) is required to play. Each player must have a paddle (similar to a ping pong paddle, only blockier and more heavy-duty). There is one ball in play at a time; it is plastic with holes in it and similar to a wiffle ball in appearance.
The International Federation of Pickleball has some very specific requirements for a paddle to be considered legal. Using a tennis racket or anything like that will not cut it. Same goes for the ball, which means a tennis ball or a wiffleball (which is too light) also won’t do. Luckily, these are really the only stipulations- well, these and a pair of shoes of course, but I’d hope you were planning one wearing those to begin with.
Inexpensive pickleball paddles can cost as little as $10 – $15 each while more expensive one can be over $200 a piece.
The official pickleball ball is made of plastic. It’s typically yellow in color much like tennis balls, but any color is allowed as long as it is one color. The ball must weigh between .78 and .935 ounces and is between 2.874 and 2.972 inches in diameter.
Outdoor balls differ from indoor balls. Indoor balls are lighter, softer and have a harder plastic compared to outdoor balls. As outdoor balls are heavier, they are less affected by the wind. Outdoor balls have small drilled holes in them and more than indoor balls.
Playing the Game
Once you have all of the basics it’s time to start pickling! (For the record, that is not actually the terminology…it just sounds cool)
Divide yourselves into teams and take the court. Any method will do for deciding who serves first: a coin flip always works nicely.
The serving team will service from the Right Side of their respective end of the court. The serve must travel diagonally, across the net, and clear the opponent’s kitchen before landing in their respective Right Side.
A serve is performed by announcing the score, holding the paddle below the waste, and with the server’s feet (both of them) behind the rear (back) line the server hits the ball directly into the air and over the net. The ball must be hit below the waist for the serve to count.
If the ball lands anywhere other than the opponent’s (diagonal) box then the serve is “out”/ a fault. The server is allowed to have one fault only at the start of a new game.
A ball that comes in slight contact with the net but otherwise still reaches the proper box on the opponent’s side is a do-over.
Double Bounce Rule
“The Double Bounce Rule” is always in effect for the first two exchanges after the serve. This rule means that both sides must return the ball once before either side is allowed to volley.
Once the ball as been returned back over the net to the server, and then once again over the net to the opponent, volleys are allowed. Volleys, obviously, are never allowed to happen in the no volley zone/ kitchen.
The ball will be returned over the net for as many exchanges as it takes until one team makes a fault. Once a fault is committed the exchange ceases.
What is a fault?
1.) The serve touches the kitchen.
2.) The serve is not diagonal.
3.) When the serve is not in-bounds.
4.) The serve is not legal (too high, overhand, etc.)
5.) The serve hits the net and doesn’t go over.
6.) If the ball is volleyed before it bounces at least once on each side [the double bounce rule].
7.) Any time the ball doesn’t make it over the net.
8.) Any time a ball is volleyed from the no volley zone.
9.) Any time a ball is “double hit” by the same player/team.
10.) When the ball lands out of bounds.
11.) Any time a rule is broken.
Service Game Play
If the fault was committed by the same team that served, then no points are awarded. The ball now goes to the opponent’s court and it is their turn to serve.
If the fault was committed by the team that receive the serve, then one point is awarded to the team that won the exchange (the team that served). The ball is then served again by the same team, however this time it is served from the left side and must travel diagonally, across the net to the opponent’s left side.
This means that a team only scores points when they are the team that is serving.
The score is kept in a very logical, simple method. There is no “love/love, 15, 30, 40” nonsense here. A score is simply accumulated by 1 point at a time.
The scoring team is allowed to continue serving and scoring for as long as they can continue without committing a single fault. The score is always increased by only 1 point at a time, and the first team to reach 11 points wins the game. You can only score a point when serving.
The “win by 2” rule applies for pickleball, so the scoring will continue for as long as it needs to until one team has a point total of 11 or higher that is at least 2 points higher than the opposing team’s score. Once this criteria is met, the game is won.
When scoring in doubles, the player serving calls out the score in the following fashion: 7 – 3 – 2. What does that mean? The team serving has seven points, the opposing team has three points, and the second server on the serving team is serving. Both players on one side serve before it’s “side out,” and the opposing team serves.
Scoring Basics Video
Almost anyone can play
Pickleball is simple enough that virtually anyone of any age can play. There are even slight rule variations for people in wheelchairs or with certain physical disabilities: the standard bounce-limit is increased from 1 bounce to 2.
The beauty of pickleball is that it has a strict, cut and clear rule-set yet is easy and simple enough that any beginner can know the full extent of the rules within a few practice rounds.
Pickleball is also designed to eliminate certain actions that can/tend to intimidate or deter some players from other sports. There is a no volley zone in pickleball so that more-experienced or taller player can’t stand directly in front of the net and wail the ball back at your face (if you’ve ever played volleyball then you probably know what I’m talking about).
Because the equipment is so basic, that nobody is going to be able to flex a 600-dollar racket that blows your “acquired-at-a-garage-sale” racket out of the water (if you have a friend that is serious about their tennis game then you already know what I mean). Even a game as simple and ping pong can get lop-sided quickly if your opponent is experienced enough to have mastered the wicked serve that is so fast you know it’s over before it even began.
Pickleball is a game of finesse, coordination, fitness, and fun. It requires agility as much as it requires a firm, accurate touch.
How to start playing?
First, here is a great tool to locate courts in your area: Where to play pickleball in your area.
If you don’t have any courts near you, consider making your own. A portable net is actually very affordable and if you have a vacant blacktop or parking lot available all you need is some chalk and a tape measure to create your own personal court.
Paddles and balls are extremely affordable too. A brand new, quality paddle can be obtained for under $15. And a set of 4 paddles and balls can be acquired for less than $50. Check out our recommended paddle.
Although the game doesn’t dominate mainstream sports, it is easy to see just from learning a little bit about the basics that an afternoon game of pickleball between friends is going to be a great way to get in a fun workout, hone new skills, and sharpen your coordination.
Best of all, it is a sport that can span the gaps that can sometimes make other sports prohibitive depending on who the participants are. Fitness level, experience, age, size, and gender don’t dominate the skill-sets utilized in pickleball.
Your best bet to get off to a good start if you’re serious about the game is to play with someone better than you or to take some introductory lessons.
Winning Pickleball Strategies
1.) Identify strokes that your opponent is not proficient at and make the opponent hit those shots repeatedly at critical points in a game. Most players are not as good at their backhand as their forehand – use that to your advantage.
2.) Moving your opponent not only left to right but also back to front and back again.
3.) Keep your serve hard and deep. Angles for your opponent are reduced when you keep them far back on the court.
4.) Vary your shots and sequence of shot so you become less predicatable.
5.) Try to stay close to the center line and on the back 1/3 of the court when playing singles.
6.) Master the lob shot to your opponent’s backhand side for when your opponent is at the net.
7.) Serve from near the center line so that you’re in position to hit the return easily.
Developing your pickleball game
And depending on how much fun you have, there are many avenues for you continue playing and even grow your interest and involvement. There are leagues, tournaments, and even entire communities (online or possibly local) that welcome your participation.
So what are you waiting for? It’s a whole lot more fun than counting steps or riding the exercise bike… And you might even meet some interesting new people while you’re at it too.
— Tim Moodie and Mike O’Halloran
Tim is a writer, toy inventor and creative director. Mike is the editor of Sports Feel Good Stories and has been playing pickleball for two years. He’s happy that many of the skills and strategies from tennis carry over to the game.
You’re on Pickleball Court Dimensions, Rules, How to Play page.
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