Must-Know Pickleball Serving Rules

As a new player, learning the must-know pickleball serving rules is a crucial part of pickleball. It’s one of the first things that beginner pickleball players should know, and believe it or not; it’s something even professional players continue to work on.

Once you’ve sorted out your pickleball wardrobe and found a pickleball paddle, you’ll probably spend the majority of your time on the court working on your serving technique. The pickleball serving rules seem pretty simple when you read them, but it can be tricky to apply them when you practice them. Don’t let that scare you off; it’s one of the only things about the game that you need to wrap your head around!

What makes learning pickleball harder than the rest of the things you know about the game is that the pickleball serving rules are constantly changing. If you’ve been playing pickleball for a short time or even a long time, you can no doubt have had several debates about serves! So, what are the must-know pickleball serving rules?

A Brief History of Pickleball

First, let’s quickly go over the history of pickleball. Like many of the world’s great inventions, pickleball accidentally came about. Former congressman and lieutenant governor Joel Pritchard invented the game with his friends Bill Bell and Barney McCallum one afternoon at Pritchard’s home on Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA. 

The group wanted to play badminton but could not find the shuttlecock. So they improvised. Finding a perforated plastic ball, they lowered the net to ground level and fashioned some impromptu paddles from leftover plywood. 

In other words, they created the game by stitching elements from several different games: hard paddles like ping-pong, played on a badminton court with a tennis-style net using a Wiffle ball. This Frankenstein approach gave the sport its name. 

According to Joel Pritchard’s wife (Joan), she started calling the game pickleball because “the combination of different sports reminded me of the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.”

This earliest version of the game had no actual rules and simply provided a means to hit a ball back and forth over the net. Little by little, the activity gained structure, eventually establishing rules that cobbled together tennis and ping pong elements with a few minor tweaks. 

From those humble beginnings, the sport has grown into a worldwide phenomenon, gaining the most popularity in the US and Canada. Barney McCallum founded the first official pickleball company Pickle-Ball, Inc., in 1972, fashioning the first wooden paddles using a bandsaw in his basement. 

By 1976, the sport had gained nationwide popularity in the US, with Tennis magazine publishing an article called “America’s newest racquet sport.” The first tournament took place that year in Washington and has only grown from there.

In 1984 the first official Pickleball association was formed with the express intent to organize and grow the game. Today the sport is not just a hobby but a staple of physical education curricula across North America. Courts have begun to crop up in Europe and Asia as well.

Are you looking for more information on what pickleball is? Then, check out our guide, What Is Pickleball?

What is Pickleball?

Pickleball Serving Rules: What is Pickleball Infographic?

Pickleball is a sport where two or four players use paddles to hit a ball back and forth. The sport combines elements from:

  • Ping-pong
  • Tennis
  • Badminton

Pickleball uses a badminton court, which is smaller than a tennis court. The smaller court size means you can play Pickleball indoors or outdoors. In addition, the paddle is larger than a ping pong paddle.

A pickleball is a smaller plastic ball with holes, but many players use tennis balls as they’re easier to find. There are pickleball serving rules to observe, and when you’re learning how to serve in Pickleball, serving rules often get discussed.

Pickleball is less intense than tennis since it utilizes an underhand technique that is easier on the shoulder. Pickleball also uses a smaller court that measures 20 feet wide and 44 feet long for both single and double games. 

This smaller size means less aggressive back and forth movement. This makes it an excellent fit for mature adults, those who are differently abled, and individuals looking for a more simple form of exercise that’s fun for the whole family.

Pickleball Drop Serve and Pickleball Volley Serve

There are two ways to serve in pickleball. One way to serve in pickleball is considered an alternate serving method. This is called the drop serve. The Official Rulebook created this serve for players with a physical disability—for example, a player with one arm. However, the pickleball drop serve can now be used by all players. The drop serve is currently permitted, but this can change at any time. In addition, it can be revised and removed in the future based on its effect on the sport. 

To do a pickleball drop serve, you must drop the pickleball ball from a natural height, either by letting the pickleball roll off your paddle or drop it from your hand. Once you do that, you want to hit the pickleball ball with your paddle after the pickleball ball has bounced on the court. With either the new pickleball drop serve or the traditional pickleball volley serve, many of the same pickleball rules apply:

  • You may hit the pickleball with either a backhand or forehand motion.
  • The basic serving rules for foot placement apply as well. At the point of contact between your paddle and the pickleball ball on your serve, one foot must remain in contact with the ground behind the baseline, and neither of your feet may touch the pickleball court on or inside the baseline or on or outside the imaginary extension lines of the applicable sideline or centerline.
  • The basic rules for the location of the serve apply. Your serve The ball must land in the correct service court, which will be diagonal to the server.
  • You must hit the pickleball within 10 seconds of the score being called.

However, if you’re hitting a pickleball drop serve, then no other restrictions apply. For example, the limits for hitting the pickleball below your navel, moving your arm in an upward arc, or keeping the highest point of your paddle head below the highest part of your wrist do not apply. This is because if you do the drop serve properly, the ball will never bounce higher than your navel.

How to Do a Pickleball Drop Serve 

The pickleball drop serve has quite a few benefits over the traditional volley serve:

  • It’s easier for beginner pickleball players
  • It gives players with server’s block an alternative option
  • It’s easier for referees to enforce because referees only need to determine whether the player dropped the pickleball ball correctly.

There are quite a few pickleball rules to know when it comes to how to drop the pickleball ball on your drop serve:

  • The height you drop your pickleball ball for the drop serve must be un-aided. You may not jump or stand on objects to gain height. In addition, you may not add downward force or throw the ball.
  • The dropping of the pickleball ball on your serve must be visible to both the opponent and the referee (if it’s an official game). If the pickleball is not visible to the appropriate people at the time of the drop/, then a replay must be called before the return of serve. If a replay is not called before the return of the serve, then the point is still in play!
  • Suppose you fail to drop the pickleball ball following the official pickleball serving rules. In that case, you will have committed a fault. This means you will lose your serve.
  • There is no restriction on how many times you may drop the pickleball ball for a drop serve. You can recatch the pickleball ball and re-drop it. You only have 10 seconds after calling the score to hit your serve. Once you contact the pickleball with your paddle, there are no more re-drops.
  • Lastly, if you are trying to use the pickleball drop serve, but the pickleball ball is not cooperating with you and is making strange bounces, you can switch to the pickleball volley serve. Or vice versa if need be. However, it’s important to remember that you only have 10 seconds after calling the score to hit your serve on the pickleball court.

Pickleball Volley Serve

The most popular serve in pickleball is the volley serve. To do a pickleball volley serve, you must toss or release the pickleball ball and then hit the pickleball with your paddle without allowing the pickleball to bounce on the court.

For the pickleball volley serve, consider utilizing the following tips to perfect the toss:

  1. Try lifting or tossing the pickleball ball into the air before striking the pickleball with your paddle. This gives you more space and time to hit the pickleball ball and allows you to hit the pickleball from a higher point.
  2. For advanced pickleball players, consider adding some spin to the pickleball on the toss. This can be either with your hand or the paddle. This additional spin will increase the spin and make a more difficult shot for your opponents.
  3. Do not hit any bad tosses. Remember, you have 10 seconds after the score has been called to hit your serve. If you have a bad toss pick the pickleball up and try the toss again.
  4. Practice your toss! This is crucial if you are trying to be aggressive with your toss by adding spin.  

Keeping Score

The referee will call out the score after the players are in position and ready to play. This declaration starts the ten-second rule where the server has ten seconds to serve the ball. After that, only the serving team can score points. Games usually conclude at eleven points, with one team winning by at least two points.

For tournament games, the total points required to win might extend to fifteen or twenty-one with a margin of two points. 

The score dictates where players stand. The serving team’s first server stands on the right side of the court when the score is even for their team. The opposing team follows the same rules when serving based on their score.

Double Play Positioning and Movements

There are a few modifications to Pickleball when you are playing a game of doubles. The most notable is that two players are on each side, spaced equally apart. In addition, one person is the primary server, and the other is “server 2.”

Gameplay starts on the right side of the court for serving, with the main server or starting server. After each point is given to their team, they will alternate sides, so both players get to serve equally.

The receiving team does not alternate their positions after the opposing team scores. They may switch after the return of the serve, providing the rally is still in progress. Once the rally ends, they must return to their original positions.

Before serving the ball, the receiving team always has the option to ask the referee for the score. This allows them to confirm the correct positioning of their players.

What Equipment You Need to Play

To play Pickleball, you’ll need to have a court or temporary space to play. You can use an existing tennis court or set up a temporary court based on official guidelines. You’ll also need special Pickleball paddles and Pickleball balls. But some players choose to use tennis balls for casual play with friends.

Everyday sneakers work well for Pickleball. However, you won’t need specialized footwear to play on a standard court, whether it’s indoors or outdoors. Some players also choose to use gloves, but this isn’t necessary. Special Pickleball nets are also available, which can be helpful if you are setting up your own court.

Wrapping Up

Now that you know the must-know pickleball serving rules, hopefully, any questions you had were answered, and you’re now closer to mastering your pickleball serve.

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Brianna Goulet

Brianna loves to get outdoors for everything creative and fun. She has a passion for all things Pickleball and is an avid player. It is her goal to share everything you need to know about Pickleball so you can get out there and play with confidence!

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