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The pickleball serving rules can look complicated at first, but they’re the fundamentals upon which the entire game of pickleball is built.
In this guide, we will break down all of the serving rules in pickleball in an easy to understand way.
Whether you’re new to pickleball or just want to make sure you’re clued up before you next hit the court, these are the serving rules for pickleball you need to know.
Why the pickleball rules for serving are crucial
In pickleball, serving is what kick starts each turn and, ultimately, determines how the turn will play out.
More importantly, though, you can only score in pickleball when you are on the serving team. That means that a poor serve – or worse, a fault – can hold you back from scoring and cost you the game.
At the very least, it will cost you your serve, and you won’t be able to gain points until after the opposition’s next turn.
A serve sets the state of play for the entire turn. A good serve in pickleball can pick up the pace, increase the tension and lead to a more satisfying game. A weak or illegal pickleball serve, on the other hand, can slow down the action and lead to frustration for all players.
Making sure you comply with the pickleball rules for serving will ensure the pace of the entire pickleball game remains enjoyable for everybody involved. Because that’s what pickleball is all about, after all!
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What are the pickleball serving rules?
Pickleball is a relatively straightforward sport, but it does have some rather unusual rules. Understanding the pickleball serving rules is crucial to becoming a better pickleball player, no matter what stage you’re at.
While they may be hard to remember at first, they will soon become second nature as you practice pickleball. We recommend taking time to practice pickleball alone if you want to progress as quickly as possible.
These are the serving rules for pickleball you’ll need to keep in mind if you want to bring your A-game to the court!
Pickleball serve rules for hitting the ball
No matter when or where you’re playing pickleball, there are four main pickleball serving rules you need to keep in mind:
1 – Pickleball serving must be made using an upward motion.
While there are several types of pickleball serves that you can make legally, a pickleball serve instantly becomes illegal if you’re not moving in an upward motion, from low to high.
This is defined by pickleball rule number 4.A.5, which states that the “server’s arm must be moving in an upward arc at the time the ball is struck”.
Pickleball serving tip: Some players assume that this pickleball serving rules means you have to serve with a forehand motion. That’s not always the case, though.
In pickleball, you can serve with either a forehand or backhand motion, as long as your hand is moving in an upward arc at the time the paddle makes contact with the ball.
2 – The pickleball paddle must make contact with the pickleball ball below waist level.
As well as getting the movement of the pickleball right, you’ll also need to focus on its position.
Pickleball rule number 4.A.7 states that the pickleball paddle must be below the server’s waist level when they hit the ball.
This is often confusing to new pickleball players and can be one of the hardest things to remember and control when you’re in the heat of the action.
However, “waist” is defined as the naval. It’s a good idea to practice some solo pickleball drills to get used to what is – and what isn’t – below waist level.
Pickleball tip: If you’re struggling to hit the ball below waist level when you serve, you may want to film yourself and watch it back in slow motion. Keep going until you get a feel for what is allowed!
3 – The pickleball paddle head must be below the server’s wrist
According to the official pickleball rules, you can only strike the ball if the pickleball paddle head is lower than your wrist. Otherwise, you will be guilty of an illegal pickleball serve.
Again, this can be tricky to get right. According to rule number 4.A.6, your pickleball serve is legal if the highest point of your pickleball paddle is below the highest part of your wrist (i.e. where your wrist bends).
This is arguably the hardest pickleball serving rule to get your head around. It certainly requires some practice to get a feel for!
It’s also the serving rule that’s mostly likely to lead to arguments on the court… something that every pickleball player experiences from time to time. Just make sure you’re aware of these pickleball etiquette rules before that happens to you!
4 – You only get one shot (literally!) at a legal pickleball serve
Failing to abide by any of these pickleball serving rules can lead to a fault. As with any fault in pickleball, you will lose the serve if you’re found guilty.
Therefore, you can’t afford to break any of these pickleball serving rules without sacrificing your serve. So, be aware!
Pickleball serving line rules
In addition to the pickleball serving rules above, which relate to how you serve in pickleball, there are a few pickleball serving line rules you will need to obey, too.
1 – You must serve with both feet behind the baseline
Positioning is important in pickleball, especially when it comes to serving.
Make sure neither foot touches or crosses the baseline until after your serve, or it will be considered a fault.
2 – You must serve diagonally across the pickleball court
Every pickleball serve should be made diagonally across the court. You always serve into the diagonally opposite non-volley zone/service court.
Again, these pickleball rules can be hard to remember when you’re first starting out. However, they should soon become second nature as you spend more time on the pickleball court!
Other pickleball serving rules
1 – Each player continues serving until they commit a fault
Unlike other racket and paddleball sports, where everybody gets an equal chance at serving, the server in pickleball gets to continue serving until they commit a fault.
Because you can only score when you’re on the serving side, this can mean that scores can quickly become unbalanced!
2 – Where you serve from depends on your score
When you’re playing singles, you serve from the right side of the court if you have an even score (including zero, at the start of the game) and from the left side of the court if your score is odd.
3 – The server alternates sides for each serve
After the first serve, you must switch to the other side of the court for each consecutive serve.
Therefore, your first serve may be from the right side of the court, the second from the left, the third from the right, and so on.
This continues until you commit a fault.
4 – The server should call out the score before each serve
Before serving, you need to call out the score of the game.
Since pickleball can move quickly and involve lots of switching sides, this makes it easier for everybody to keep track!
To score, you simply state the serving side’s score, followed by the opposing side’s score.
Check out our guide to how to play pickleball for a simple breakdown on how to do this.
5 – A let serve is the one time you get a second chance
A let serve is when the ball hits the net and then lands in the opponent’s court. This is the one time when you are allowed to replay a serve.
Pickleball doubles serving rules
The pickleball rules are essentially the same for both singles and doubles games. However, there are a few differences to be aware of – especially when it comes to the pickleball doubles serving rules.
1 – Both players have a chance to serve before serving passes back to the other team…
When the service passes to a team, both players get a chance to serve before the service passes back to the other team.
Since you can only score when you are the serving team, you have the chance to score as many points as you can before the other team even has a chance to try.
That means you want to keep serving – and scoring – for as long as possible to get ahead of your opponents!
2 – … Except for the first service sequence of a new game
In any pickleball game, only one player from the first team can serve before the service gets passed to the other team. After this, both players get a chance to serve before it is passed back.
This is one of those quirky pickleball rules that can make pickleball seem complicated at first. But don’t worry – you’ll forget you’re even doing this soon!
3 – Serving begins with the player on the right
Unlike in a pickleball singles game, the pickleball doubles serving rules determine that service always begins on the right side of the court.
Therefore, the player who happens to be on the right side of the court when service is taken is the one who serves first.
Like a singles game, you switch sides after every serve.
4 – You should state which server you are before serving
When you’re playing pickleball doubles, you need to add one extra piece of information to the score you call out before serving: your server number.
This will either be “1” or “2”.
This depends on who serves first for each service, and therefore you can be Server 1 in some turns and Server 2 in others. It all depends who is on the right side of the court when your team takes service!