Pickleball Rules and Guide

Contents

Pickleball Players image by TheVillagesFL, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Pickleball – Key Facts

Pickleball is a racket (or paddle) sport that is played on a small court with a net in either singles or doubles.

What is Pickleball?Pickleball is a game played with paddles and a perforated plastic ball on a small court around the same size as a badminton court.
Objective of the gameThe first player (or players if playing doubles) to score 11 points wins the game
Team or Individual Sport?Both! Can be played as singles or doubles.

What is Pickleball?

Pickleball is a sport that originates in the United States.  It is one of the USA’s fastest growing sports and has seen huge increases in participation in recent years.  The number of people searching for Pickleball worldwide has exploded since 2021.

Global searches for “Pickleball” from 2015 to 2023

The sport is played on a badminton court using a hollow, plastic polymer ball with holes in it.  Players use a solid paddle to hit the ball over the net.  It is commonly described as a combination between tennis, badminton and table tennis.

Pickleball can be played both indoors and outdoors as either singles or doubles.  Doubles is the most common way to play it, although it is not uncommon to see people playing singles too.

What is the object of Pickleball?

The object of pickleball is to be the first team (or person if playing singles) to score 11 points.  Some tournaments may play up to 15 or 21 points.  Points are scored in a game of pickleball by your opponents committing a fault whilst your team has the serve.

What are the rules of Pickleball?

Pickleball has a comprehensive set of rules.  It is played both recreationally and competitively with the same set of rules. Some of pickleball’s rules bear some resemblance to those of tennis and badminton.  Here is a lowdown of the main rules in pickleball.

  • The first pair to score 11 points wins the game.  Teams must win by 2 clear points or the game continues until one team has the winning margin.
  • Players can only score points on their own service.
  • Service must be made diagonally (as in tennis) and must bounce.  The return of service must also bounce.
  • The serving team continues to serve if they win a point.  If the serving team loses a rally, then the service switches to the second player, who then continues to serve until they lose a rally.
  • Once both players on a team lose their serve, the opposing team then gains the serve and can attempt to score points.
  • Players can play the ball after the first bounce or on the volley – with several exceptions.
    • A player cannot volley a return of serve, the serve must bounce.
    • The return of serve must also bounce, the serving side must not volley the return
    • No player may play a volley within the “non-volley” zone, which is the area from the net which is 7 feet long.  Players will also fault if they volley from outside the non-volley zone but then end up in the non-volley zone after the shot is played.

Players and Equipment needed for Pickleball

Pickleball is generally played in the doubles format, but it is also quite common for people to play individually in singles.

In order to play pickleball, you do of course need to find somewhere to play.  As well as this, the only real equipment you will need is a paddle and a ball.

Pickleball courts

Dimensions of a pickleball court

A pickleball court is generally 44 feet long by 20 feet wide (13.4m x 6.1m approximately).  The court is divided up into three areas on each side of the net (which stands at 36 inches at the sides and 34 inches in the middle), which are the left service court, the right service court and the non-volley zone.

Pickleball balls

Pickleball balls are made of a moulded and durable material, generally a plastic polymer and must have between 26 and 40 holes in them.

Pickleball paddle and pickleball balls – Image by OvertAnalyzer, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Pickleball paddles

The paddles used in pickleball must be of a specific size.  The maximum length is 17 inches.  The maximum length plus the widths is 24 inches.  Paddles generally do not have a weight limit but they must be of a single piece of smooth durable material.

Pickleball Gameplay

A game of pickleball starts by the serving side being chosen by any fair method, such as tossing a coin.  The server then serves from the right side of the court – behind the baseline – and must serve diagonally into the right side of their opponent’s half of the court.  If the server wins the rally, they score a point and then they switch to serve from the left side of the court.  The server continues to serve, swapping from one side of the court to the other, until they lose a rally.  

In singles, if the server loses a rally, their opponent gains the serve and can then score points.

In doubles, if the server loses a rally, their teammate (the second server) then serves, continuing in the same manner until they lose a rally.  There is an exception on the very first service of the game, whereby only one of the serving pair gets to serve, before service is turned over.  After both players on the team lose their serve, their opponents then continue to serve in the same manner.

It is normal – and mostly required – for the server to “call” the score before each service.

In singles, the server announces the score, with the server’s score first.  For example, if the server is winning 3-1, they would simply announce “3-1”

In doubles, the server does the same, but must also call whether they are the first or second server.  So, in the same example as above, if the server is the second server and they are leading 3-1, they would call “3-1-2”.

The game ends when one team reaches the winning score (usually 11, but can be 15 or 21) by 2 clear points.  If one team reaches the winning score but is only 1 point clear, play continues until one team is ahead by 2 clear points.

Where can you play pickleball in the UK?

Pickleball is still in its infancy in the UK – with the vast majority of participation worldwide happening in the USA.  

However, if you do wish to play pickleball, you can check out Pickleball England’s club locator.

If you are in Scotland, check out Pickleball Scotland’s club locator.

In Northern Ireland, you can find Your nearest club here

In Wales there is unfortunately no single place to see all the clubs in Wales, but you can find many clubs throughout Wales through a quick Google search.

If you don’t have access to a pickleball court – and let’s be honest – they are not a common sight in the UK at all, it is quite possible to have a game of pickleball on a tennis court.  To do this, you would still need your pickleball bats and balls, and a few cones or other way of marking out the non-volley zone.  You would simply use only the service boxes on a tennis court (you can make them narrower as a pickleball court is narrower than the width of a tennis court’s service boxes – but this is not essential).  However you would need to mark out the non-volley zone in some way or other, as this is an essential part of a pickleball court which does not exist in tennis.  A few cones or some tap could do the trick – but don’t use any permanent or semi-permanent markings without asking permission from the court owner!

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