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  • Writer's pictureTeam Game-Set-Match

How to Play Pickleball: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

Updated: Apr 21

Have you heard all the hype about pickleball and wondered how to join in on the fun?

You’ve come to the right place! We’re bringing you the ultimate pickleball guide for beginners to help you learn how to play pickleball and hit the court with a few extra tricks up your sleeve.

Male pickleball player going for a low shot on an outdoor court

Pickleball rules and instructions

If you have 10 minutes, you have enough time to learn how to play pickleball. You don’t have to be a great athlete or even take lessons. You just have to be ready to learn and have fun!

Pickleball can be played as singles or doubles. Doubles is the most common format because of its social and fast-paced nature. We’ll start with instructions for playing doubles, but feel free to scroll to the bottom if you’re looking for specific rules for playing singles.

Pickleball terminology

As with any sport, pickleball has some specific terminology that you’ll want to familiarize yourself with before you hit the court. Here are the most important terms:

Groundstroke: hitting the ball after it bounces on your side. • Volley: hitting the ball before it has a chance to bounce on your side. • Cross-court: the side of the court diagonally across from you. • Down-the-line: the side of the court directly in front of you. • Kitchen/non-volley zone: the box on either side of the net. • Service box: the two larger boxes at the back of the court. • Baseline: the line at the back of the court. • Sideline: the two lines on each side of the court. • Centerline: the line dividing the two service boxes. • Kitchen/non-volley line: the line running across the court 7 feet from the net. • Side-out: the current serving team has lost two points, and now it it’s time for the other team to serve. • Left side (odd): the service box on the left side of the court. • Right side (even): the service box on the right side of the court. • Rally: the term used to describe the pickleball being hit back and forth from side to side.

Pickleball scoring and positioning

During a game of pickleball, points can only be earned by the serving team. Typically, games are played to 11 and you must win by two points. However, this scoring is sometimes modified in tournaments, leagues and recreational play.

How to call the score in pickleball

The server is responsible for calling the score before starting each point. This consists of three numbers:

• The first number is how many points the serving team has. • The second number is how many points the receiving team has. • The third number designates whether you are the first or second server for your team.

For example, if the server calls out “4 – 6 – 2,” the serving team is losing 4 to 6 and he/she is the second server for that team. At the start of the match, the team serving first only gets one server to begin. They will call the score “0 – 0 – 2”. They will continue serving until they lose a point and it is side-out to the other team.

Pickleball starting positions

Here are some simple guidelines for how to position yourself during pickleball play. Remember that as the point starts and the teams start a rally, each team must let the ball bounce once before anyone can hit a volley.

Serving team starting position: The serving team typically stands with both players all the way back at the baseline. They must hit the serve and then allow the return from the other team to bounce once before they can consider hitting a volley. • Receiving team starting position: The receiving team will typically have the person that is supposed to hit the return stand back at the baseline. Their partner is on their side up near the kitchen line. • Simple rotations: The serving side switches between left and right, and the receiving team moves forward and backward.

Pickleball rotation during play

Serving side rotation during play

• The player on the right will be server one. They will call the score and then proceed to serve cross-court to their opponent’s service box, then play out the point. • If the serving team wins a point, they score a point and switch positions/sides with their partner. This process is then repeated to the other service box. They will continue to do this until the serving team loses a point. • Next, the serving team partner (server two) will get a chance to serve and score points. • As long as they win points, they will continue to score and switch with their partner. • Once server two has lost a point and a side-out occurs, they will stay on the side of the court they finished on and that will designate their return position.

Unlike tennis where a player has a designated side of the court to return serve, pickleball players must return serve from both the left and right side of the court.

Receiving team rotation during play

• The player’s starting position for the return of serve is determined by their ending position as a server. • Whichever player was on the right side of the court after a side-out will begin returning serve on the right side with their partner on the left. • The returner on the right should be positioned behind the baseline to allow the incoming serve to bounce before hitting the return. • After hitting the return, the player is encouraged to move forward to the kitchen line and continue play. • The returner’s partner should start every point up close to the kitchen line on their side of the court. • When the point is over, the players remain on their half of the court but switch roles and starting positions.

How to serve during a pickleball game

You can use two different serves during a pickleball game: a drop serve or a volley serve. You must always serve from behind the baseline cross-court to the opponent’s receiving box. The serve cannot land in the kitchen.

Drop Serve: With the ball in your hand, extend your arm forward, palm down. Drop the ball, let it bounce, and then hit it to the appropriate box to start the point.

o You cannot create any acceleration of the ball when dropping it.

Volley Serve: Toss/drop the ball and hit it out of the air to start the point. It’s important to note that this method has a few requirements:

o Your arm must be moving in an upward arc during the serve. o The contact point cannot be above the waist. o The highest point of the paddle at contact cannot be above the hitting wrist. (Basically, the paddle needs to be tilted down a little at contact.) o Note: the drop serve does not have these requirements.

Pickleball rules and etiquette

Alright, you’ve made it this far, and there are only a few more rules to remember before you hit the court and start playing. Non-volley zone/kitchen rules:

• As a reminder, the non-volley zone/kitchen is the box on either side of the net. • A player may not step or stand in the kitchen and hit a ball unless the ball has bounced in the kitchen first. • After moving into the kitchen to hit a ball, the player must then reestablish both feet outside of the kitchen before they can hit another shot. • The exception is if the ball has again bounced in the kitchen.

Line calls:

• If a shot lands out, make a clear, decisive (loud) call that everyone on the court can hear. • If there is a disagreement or correction among teammates about a call, then the other team wins the point.

Calling score: Call the score loud enough so all four players can hear it before the point starts.

How to play pickleball singles

There are only a few distinct scoring and rules differences for playing singles compared to doubles:


o There is no second server, so each player only gets one serving opportunity before it’s the opponent’s turn. o When calling the score, you will only call out the point score (not the server’s position).


o When a side-out occurs, the server will always start serving to the service box that corresponds with how many points the server has.

  • If the server’s score is an even number, they will start serving on the right side.

  • If the server’s score is an odd number, they will start serving from the left side. (This applies to both players.)

Singles is a great game that forces players to work on new shots that can improve their overall game.

How to play pickleball on a tennis court

Many municipalities and tennis clubs have created pickleball lines on their tennis courts. One tennis court can provide enough space for two to four pickleball courts depending on the space available around the outside of the court.

If your local tennis court already has pickleball lines but no net, you’ll just need to stop by your local racquet sports store to pick up a portable playing net. If the court does not have pickleball lines, you’ll also need to tape pickleball court lines and/or use a lines and corners kit to build your pickleball area.

Don’t have access to a local tennis or pickleball court? Try setting one up on your cul-du-sac and play with your neighbors!

What pickleball gear do you need to play

The most important items you’ll need to play pickleball are paddles, balls and shoes.

There are many pickleball paddle options to choose from, so we recommend visiting your local tennis or pickleball store to find the best paddle for your game. Many stores even offer demo programs so you can test out a variety of paddles before making a purchase.

If you’re in the market for a new paddle, check out our blog on how to choose the best pickleball paddle for your game.

Pickleballs are also readily available at local racquet sports stores as well as online. There are both indoor and outdoor balls that come in a variety of fun colors. In comparison to indoor pickleballs, outdoor balls have thicker plastic and smaller holes to make them more durable and wind-resistant.

We highly recommend wearing court shoes when you play pickleball. Court shoes help provide the lateral support and traction you need to play pickleball safely. Most shoes made for tennis can also be worn for pickleball, or you can choose a court shoe that is specifically designed for pickleball. Visit your local tennis or pickleball store to try on a variety of different court shoes to make sure you find the right fit for your unique foot.

Now you’re ready to hit the court and play pickleball! Looking for more pickleball and tennis tips? Subscribe to our email list to receive our latest blogs and special offers.

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