The following pickleball rules and scoring are in abbreviated form to give a quick overview of how the game is played.
- Pickleball is played either as doubles (two players per team) or singles; doubles is most common.
- The same size playing area and rules are used for both singles and doubles.
- The server’s arm must be moving in an upward arc when the ball is struck.
- Paddle contact with the ball must not be made above the waist level (navel level).
- The head of the paddle must not be above the highest part of the wrist at contact.
- The serve is initiated with at least one foot behind the baseline; neither foot may contact the baseline or court until after the ball is struck.
- The serve is made diagonally crosscourt and must land within the confines of the opposite diagonal court.
- Only one serve attempt is allowed, except in the event of a let (the ball touches the net on the serve and lands on the proper service court; let serves are replayed).
- A new provisional rule allows for a “drop serve.” The server has the option of dropping the ball and hitting it after the bounce. The ball can be dropped from any height but cannot be thrown, tossed, or otherwise released with any added force to bounce it.
- Both players on the serving doubles team have the opportunity to serve and score points until they commit a fault *(except for the first service sequence of each new game).
- The first serve of each side-out is made from the right/even court.
- If a point is scored, the server switches sides and the server initiates the next serve from the left/odd court.
- As subsequent points are scored, the server continues switching back and forth until a fault is committed and the first server loses the serve.
- When the first server loses the serve the partner then serves from their correct side of the court (except for the first service sequence of the game*).
- The second server continues serving until his or her team commits a fault and loses the serve to the opposing team.
- Once the service goes to the opposition (at side out), the first serve is from the right/even court and both players on that team have the opportunity to serve and score points until their team commits two faults.
- In singles the server serves from the right/even court when his or her score is even and from the left/odd when the score is odd.
- 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.
- Points are scored only by the serving team.
- Games are normally played to 11 points, win by 2.
- Tournament games may be to 15 or 21, win by 2.
- When the serving team’s score is even (0, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10) the player who was the first server in the game for that team will be in the right/even court when serving or receiving; when odd (1, 3, 5, 7, 9) that player will be in the left/odd court when serving or receiving.
- When the ball is served, the receiving team must let it bounce before returning, and then the serving team must also let it bounce before returning, thus two bounces.
- 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 two-bounce rule eliminates the serve and volley advantage and extends rallies.
Non-Volley Zone (The Kitchen)
- The non-volley zone, called the kitchen, is the court area within 7 feet on both sides of the net.
- Volleying is prohibited within the kitchen. This rule prevents players from executing smashes from a position within the zone.
- It is a fault if, when volleying a ball, the player steps into the kitchen, including the line and/or when the player’s momentum causes them or anything they are wearing or carrying to touch the non-volley zone including the associated lines even if the volleyed ball is declared dead before this happens.
- A player may legally be in the kitchen any time other than when volleying a ball.
- A ball contacting any line, except the non-volley zone line on a serve, is considered “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.
Determining Serving Team
Any fair method can be used to determine which player or team has first choice of side, service, or receive. (Example: Write a 1 or 2 on
the back of the score sheet.)
January 1, 2023
- If a serve clips the net and lands in, you must return the ball or lose the point.
- The drop serve is legal for everyone, not only players without the use of one arm. Players can drop the ball from any height, without tossing the ball up or pushing the ball down, and hit the ball off the bounce. There are no restrictions on the swing. This rule is provisional and will be evaluated for possible continuation next year.
- The one-handed spin serve is now prohibited. The one-handed spin serve is where a player would use his or her non-paddle hand to impart spin on the ball. Spin imparted on the ball only with your paddle upon contact is still permitted.
- Replay for a Violation of the Service Motion or Ball Release Rules (this rule applies to tournament play): A violation of the service motion or ball release rules (making contact with the pickleball above your waist) may result in a replay, if the referee so deems. This new replay rule does not apply to service foot faults.
- If the server or referee calls the wrong score, then any player may stop play at any time before the return of the serve to correct the score. However, if any player stops play after the return of the serve (or if any player stops play and the score was actually correct, then that player would be committing a fault. So, if the wrong score is called, correct it fast, or wait until the end of the rally.
- As a sportsmanship guideline, players should “avoid wearing clothing that closely matches the ball color.” Further, if there are any close colors in a pickleball tournament, the tournament director may require a player “to change apparel that are inappropriate, including those which approximates the color of the ball.
- During a tournament, the referee can award an equipment time-out to accommodate any necessary equipment adjustment or replacement, so players are not forced to used their time-outs. During non-officiated play, players are encouraged to work together to provide the same reasonable accommodations.
- Several revisions are made to clarify when line calls are to be made, what happens when a player is hit by the pickleball, what happens when a pickleball is “degraded”, and what questions players may ask of a referee.
- Players cannot call a ball out “unless they can clearly see a space between the line and the ball as it hits the ground.”
- The most significant rule change is the removal of the words ‘deliberately’ and ‘unintentional’ in Rules 7.L (the carry rule) and 11.A (the double hit rule), respectively. It eliminates having the referee determine intent. Any carry is now a fault; there is no longer the need to determine whether the carry was deliberate or not. Please also note that double hits are still permitted. Players should make sure they understand the definitions of and the difference between a carry and a double hit. See Rules 3.A.1 and 3.A.8.
- For non-officiated play, if players feel their opponents are using an illegal paddle, they are now specifically authorized to ask the Head Referee or Tournament Director to determine the legality of their opponent’s paddle.
- Additional clarifying criteria have been added to Rule 11.E to cover ‘degraded’ and ‘soft’ balls, both of which can potentially result in an ‘out of round’ ball. The bottom line is for non-officiated play, a replay of a completed rally is only permitted if the ball is cracked or broken, and, in that case, all players must agree the cracked or broken ball affected the outcome of the completed rally. If the ball is merely ‘degraded’ or ‘soft’, there is no replay of the rally, but if all players agree, the ball can be replaced. The rule for officiated play is similar.
- Players may now use any remaining regular timeouts after a medical timeout. The 2023 rule implies that if a player cannot resume play after the 15-minute medical timeout, the player must retire. The rule change for 2024 allows a player to use any remaining regular timeouts after the medical timeout to extend the time to resume play.
Download a copy of the 2023 USAPA 2023 Rulebook