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Pickleball 101

Pickleball 101: How to Play Pickleball

by Luke Burton on

Pickleball is a hybrid sport that mixes elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis. It’s typically played on a tennis court surface or gym floor. The pickleball court is 20 feet wide and 44 feet long, roughly a third the size of a tennis court. The game is played with paddles and plastic pickleballs that resemble wiffle balls. It can be played as a singles game with two people or a doubles game with 4 people.

Let's start out with the basics:

photo credit: Official APP Tour

How to Play Pickleball

To start a game, the first server will serve diagonally into the service square of the opposing team. The serve must be hit from behind that baseline and bounce before it can be returned by the opponent.

The return of the serve must bounce on the server’s side of the net before it can be played out of the air. After the second bounce, the ball can be played out of the air as a volley or off the bounce like a traditional tennis point.

The point ends when:

  • A ball bounces twice on the same side of the net
  • A ball is hit into the net
  • A ball is hit out
  • A fault is committed

A unique aspect of the game is the non-volley zone (NVZ) aka the kitchen that is marked by the horizontal line 7ft from the net. Players cannot volley the ball when they are in the kitchen, so it is recommended to stand just behind the NVZ line. If a player volleys a ball from outside the kitchen, they cannot enter the kitchen until their momentum from hitting the shot is stopped.

How to Serve

Pickleball serves are performed in an underhand motion. The server can toss the ball and hit it out of the air OR drop the ball and hit it off of the bounce. The server cannot step into the court until they have served. No part of the paddle can be above the server’s wrist when contacting the ball and contact must occur below the server’s waist.

Is Your Pickleball Serve Legal? | The Definitive Guide
Pickleball serve rules: A definitive guide on how to hit a legal serve in pickleball. Use this checklist to make sure you are serving properly.

How to Keep Score

Pickleball uses side-out scoring where only the serving team can score points. Games are usually played to 11 points win by two.

Scoring in singles is pretty straightforward. One point is awarded to the server for each point won. If the server loses the point it is considered a side-out and their opponent starts serving. If the server has an even score the point is started from the right side of the court. If the server has an off score, the point is started from the left side of court.

Scoring in doubles is slightly more complicated because it includes the server number.

How to Keep Score in Pickleball
. The name of the game, “pickleball,” sounds silly to start with, and the scoring isn’t easy when you’re first learning, but there’s a reason so many new players are becoming addicted to the game. It’s fun, you can have some success the first time you take

The Third Shot Drop

One of the most common pitfalls of new players is the third shot. It is a unique part of pickleball that separates the beginner and intermediate players. Because the ball has to bounce on both sides of the court to start a rally, the third shot decides which team takes control of the point.

If the serving team can land their third shot into the kitchen, they are on the right path. If they give the other team an attackable third shot, the point could be over quickly. Mastering the third shot drop and drive are the fastest ways to improve your game.

Third Shot Drop Crash Course
The third shot drop carries a lot of weight in the game of pickleball. It’s the key to neutralizing the returning team’s advantage and advancing towards the NVZ.
Luke Burton

Luke Burton

Luke is the Chief Growth Officer at The Dink as well as the producer for the pickleball podcast Tennis Sucks. He picked up pickleball in 2020 and now plays competitively in the state.

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