How to play pickleball

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Follow this short guide to get started playing the fastest growing sport in America!

1. Overview

Pickleball is played by hitting a ball back and forth over the net until one side wins the pointHitting out of bounds, letting the ball bounce twice on your side, or not serving into the correct box are all things that can cost your team the pointFirst team to 11 points wins!

This guide is sponsored by your local instructor Jen Stine

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2. Equipment

With so many options, what paddle do you need? Does it even make a difference?All you need for equipment is a paddle for each player and a ballDropShot pickleball starter set paddles + balls

3. The court

Each side of the court has three boxes: the right box (1), the left box (2), and the non-volley zone (3)Except while serving, players can stand anywhere on their side of the net at any time during the game

4. Serving

To get the game going someone has to hit the ball first and this is called serving. Players take turns serving the ball throughout the gameIn pickleball the ball is always served underhand. It can be either dropped and then hit directly out of the air, or allowed to bounce once before hitting itTo serve, the server stands behind the box they are serving from and hits the ball into the box diagonally across from them. As long as it lands in this box the serve is good - even if it bounces off the top of the net first!If the serve is good play continuesIf the serve does not cross the net, does not land in the diagonally opposite box, or falls short into the non-volley zone the serve is a fault. There are no redos, no point is scored, and the serve is passed to the next player

5. The two bounce rule

Serve-Bounce-Hit-Bounce-HitUsually when the ball comes over the net you have two options - you can let it bounce once and then hit it or you can hit it right back over without letting it bounce at all (if you don’t let it bounce that’s called a “volley”)However there is a special rule that applies every time the ball is served and it’s called the Two Bounce RuleIt’s pretty simple. After the ball is served the next two players to touch it must let it bounce on the court before hitting it. If they don’t the other team wins the point. That’s it!After the ball has bounced once on each side of the net all players are allowed to hit it with or without letting it bounce until the next serveRemember this phrase:

6. The non-volley zone (aka the kitchen)

There’s a box right in front of the net called the non-volley zone, commonly referred to as the “kitchen”It has one simple ruleIf you are standing in this box or touching any part of it (including the lines) then you are not allowed to touch the ball until after it has bounced on your side of the netThis is basically so no one can stand right at the net and smack everything down as soon as it crosses the net - gotta let it bounce first if you’re gonna be that close!Most players stand right behind the non-volley line, only going close to the net if they need to return a short hit by the other team

7. Starting the game

To start the game, pick which team serves first. You can flip a coin, rock paper scissors, or whatever you agree uponThe player in the right box always serves first. Give this player the ballThe server makes sure everyone is ready, says the score (0-0 START), and serves the ball from their service area behind the right box

8. Who serves next

If the player who served wins the point they get to keep serving as many times as their team keeps winning! Their score goes up by one, the server switches sides with their teammate, and the same player serves again from their new position. In rare cases the same player could serve the entire game if they never lose a pointHowever, if the server does not win the point then no one scores and the next player gets to serve(You can only score points when you serve)In pickleball both players on a team get a chance to serve before the other team gets their turn. The first player serves until they lose a point, then their teammate serves until they lose a point, and then after that the other team gets to serve (starting with whichever player is in the right box)The only time this isn’t true is at the very start of the game. Since the serving team got the advantage of starting only the first player on their team gets to serve that time. Then both players on the other team get to serve, then both players on the first team and so on

9. Keeping score

One of the most confusing things for new pickleball players is understanding how to keep score, but it doesn’t need to be for you!Each team starts with zero points and races to 11 (win by 2)Only the serving team can scoreBefore each serve the server calls out their score, the opponents score, and then either “1” or “2” to say they are the first or second player to serve on their teamSince both players on a team get to serve before the other team gets a turn, that last number just keeps track of which player is serving first(1) or second(2) and if their teammate gets to serve next or if the other team does

10. Winning the game

Most games are played to 11 points, win by 2This means the game ends when one team is both ahead by at least 2 points AND has scored at least 11 pointsFor example
If the score is 11-9, the team with 11 points wins
If the score is 11-10, the game keeps going since the first team is only ahead by 1 pointIf the score reaches 12-10, the team with 12 points wins because they are ahead by 2 and have more than 11 points

11. Putting it all together

If you made it this far you now know everything you need to go out and play your first game!Sure there’s more to learn, techniques to practice, and skills to acquire. But that’s all part of the fun! Here’s a recap to review what you’ve learned

  • Play to 11 points, win by 2

  • Serve underhand

  • Both teammates get to serve when their team has the ball, except at the very start of the game then only the first person does

  • Only the serving team can score

  • Say your score, the opponents score, and then either 1 or 2 depending on if you are the first or second player on your team to serve

  • Player in the right box is the first server when your team gets the ball

  • Kitchen/non-volley zone: Can not hit the ball before it bounces if you are inside or touching the kitchen

  • Two bounce rule: after the serve the ball must be allowed to bounce before the next hit, and again before the next hit after that. Remember this phrase: serve-bounce-hit-bounce-hit

Take it from here

Want to learn more? Here’s a list of local instructors offering group or private lessons