An illegal pickleball serve

Pickleball rules 101: Illegal Pickleball Serves

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Welcome back to our pickleball rules series! Today, we’re looking at something that every pickleball player faces at sometime: illegal pickleball serves.

Learning to serve is one of the most crucial parts of learning to play pickleball. It’s one of the first things that beginner pickleball players learn and it’s something even professional pickleball players work on.

Once you’ve found a good pickleball paddle and sorted out your pickleball wardrobe, you’ll probably spend much of your court time working on your serving technique.

What makes learning to serve well even harder is that there’s often a fine line between legal and illegal pickleball serves. If you’ve been playing pickleball for any length of time, you’ve no doubt had several debates mid-game!

RELATED READ: Avoid any slip-ups with our guide to pickleball etiquette.

So, what is a legal pickleball serve? And – more importantly – what is an illegal pickleball serve?

Illegal pickleball serves

Pickleball rules are generally quite straightforward. The one time that things can get confusing – and controversial! – is when it comes to serving rules.

Here are some things that make a pickleball serve illegal:

  • Using an overhand stroke. This isn’t tennis – pickleball serves are made with an underhand stroke.
  • Serving above waist level (i.e. naval level). If the point of contact is made below waist level, it is an illegal serve.
  • A paddle head above the wrist. Now, this is where things can get confusing. When serving in pickleball, only the paddle handle can be above the wrist.
  • A serve that takes longer than 10 seconds. Every pickleball serve begins with a recount of the score. Once this has been called, you have 10 seconds to serve or it’s technically illegal.
  • Landing in the kitchen. When serving in pickleball, the ball must clear both the net and the kitchen – including the line. Otherwise, this is a serving fault.
  • Standing in front of the baseline. The server must always be behind the baseline.
  • Hitting the ball anywhere but the adjacent service box. This is one area where the rules of pickleball are similar to tennis.

How to avoid illegal pickleball serves

We all make errors – it’s part of being human – and you can’t always avoid being guilty of an illegal serve. However, you can reduce your chances.

Here are some of the best ways to reduce the number of illegal serves you make on the pickleball court:

1 – Practice makes perfect!

When it comes to perfecting your pickleball serve, nothing beats putting time into it.

If you want to become a better player, it’s essential to make time for pickleball drills. There are plenty of pickleball drills you can do alone, so there’s no excuse not to get your practice in.

2 – Work on your agility

Getting good at pickleball isn’t all about the time you spend on court. The exercise you do away from the court is important, too.

Here are six exercises every pickleball player should do. They’re improve your agility and control – both of which will help you avoid illegal serves.

3 – Watch and learn

Perfecting your pickleball serve doesn’t just happen on the court. One of the best ways to improve your serve – and reduce your number of illegal serves – is by watching others.

When you’re watching other pickleball players, take a look at how they serve. Observe the motion they use, how they start the serve and where the point of contact is. You’ll probably learn more than you might think!

4 – Brush up on the rules

Even if you’ve been playing pickleball for a while, it doesn’t hurt to brush up on the rules. A little bit of reading could spark a thought that helps your technique next time you play.

A legal pickleball serve
A legal pickleball must use an upwards stroke, have a point of contact below the waist and only the handle above the wrist.

Legal or illegal pickleball serve?

What is considered a legal vs illegal pickleball is laid out by the rules of pickleball. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be a cause of contention on court.

Every pickleball player has a story about a contested serve. Whether they were the server or the opponent, debating what counts as legal vs illegal serve is something you’re sure to face as some point.

You’re no doubt already familiar with some of these illegal pickleball serves. However, it’s important to be aware of all the rules in pickleball.

This is especially true if you plan to play in tournaments, where pickleball rules are enforced strictly. Unknowingly playing an illegal serve could even cost you the game!

Is it illegal to put spin on the ball as you serve?

As long as you abide by the pickleball serving rules, there’s nothing to stop you putting spin on the ball as you serve.

TIP: If you like to put spin on the ball, it might be worth investing in a pickleball paddle that’s good for spin.

Is it illegal to throw the ball in the air before a serve?

Some pickleball players like to throw the ball in the air before serving, as you might do in table tennis. There’s currently no rule forbidding this, so it would not be an illegal pickleball serve.


How confident are you in identifying illegal pickleball serves? Have you ever had a dispute on court? Let us know below or join our Facebook community of pickleball players to connect with other picklers and share tips.

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