Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in America. This paddle sport with a funny name is loved by people of all ages for its fun, social nature and easy learning curve. If you’re curious to try out pickleball and hon’t know how to play pickleball, this beginner’s guide will teach you the basics. Learn the rules, equipment, terms, tips, and strategies you need to have fun and succeed when you step foot on a pickleball court.
Pickleball Rules and Layout
Before we get into gameplay, let’s understand the format and rules that make pickleball uniquely challenging and engaging.
1. Court and Equipment
The Court: A pickleball court is 20 feet wide and 44 feet long (for doubles) or 20 feet wide and 22 feet long (for singles). It’s divided into two sides by a net, which stands 36 inches high at the sidelines and 34 inches at the center.
Paddle: Pickleball paddles are solid, rectangular, and have no strings. They come in various materials and sizes, but the standard paddle dimensions are 7.5 to 8.5 inches wide and 15.5 to 17 inches long.
Ball: Pickleball is played with a perforated plastic ball, similar in size to a wiffle ball.
2. Basic Rules
Serving: The game begins with an underhand serve. The server must stand behind the baseline, diagonally across from the receiver. The serve should be directed diagonally across the net and land in the opponent’s service box. Only one fault is allowed; if the server faults, the opponent gets a point.
Doubles: In doubles, each team has two players, and the serving team gets only one fault. After that, the opponents serve. In singles, the server gets two faults before the opponent serves.
Volley Rules: Players are not allowed to volley (hit the ball in the air without letting it bounce) within the seven-foot no-volley zone on each side of the net. This rule encourages dinking (a softer volley) and strategic play.
Scoring: The game is typically played to 11 points, and you must win by two. However, some variations play to 15 or 21 points. The first side to reach the predetermined number of points wins the game.
Win by Two: To win the game, you must be ahead by at least two points. If the score is tied at 10-10, the game continues until one side gains a two-point lead.
Faults: A fault results in a dead ball with no score. Faults include:
- Hitting the ball into the net or out of bounds
- Failure to clear the NVZ on a serve or volley
- Hitting the ball before it bounces (outside the NVZ)
- Volleying the ball on the bounce
Let Serve: If the serve touches the net but lands in the correct service box, it’s a let serve, and you get another chance to serve.
The serve is a critical part of pickleball, and there are several types you can use:
- Underhand Serve: The most common serve in pickleball, performed with an underhand motion. The key is to ensure the ball clears the seven-foot no-volley zone on the opposite side of the net.
- Topspin Serve: A more advanced serve that imparts topspin on the ball, causing it to bounce higher upon reaching the opponent’s side. It can be harder to control but is effective when used correctly.
- Sidespin Serve: This serve involves adding a side spin to the ball. It can create difficulties for the receiver as the ball tends to curve unexpectedly.
Volleys are shots where you hit the ball in the air without letting it bounce. When at the non-volley zone (the area within seven feet of the net), it’s essential to use controlled volleys, often referred to as dinking. Dinking is a softer volley that keeps the ball low and close to the net, making it harder for your opponents to return.
When the ball bounces, you can use groundstrokes to hit it. The most common groundstroke is the forehand drive, where you hit the ball with an underhand motion. The backhand drive is similar, but you hit it on the opposite side. Remember to stay behind the baseline when using groundstrokes.
Pickleball Strategies and Tips
In doubles play, effective communication with your partner is crucial. Let each other know who will take the ball and where you intend to place your shots. Clear and concise communication can help prevent errors and lead to a successful rally.
Proper positioning is key to winning points in pickleball. In doubles, you and your partner should move as a team, with one player covering the middle and the other covering the sidelines. Keep in mind that you want to dominate the kitchen, which is the area near the net, and force your opponents into making errors.
3. Pickleball Dinking
Dinking is a technique that involves hitting the ball softly over the net. This style of play can be extremely effective, as it reduces the pace of the game and forces your opponents to be patient. Effective dinking can set you up for a winning shot when the opportunity arises.
4. Serve Placement
When serving, aim to place the ball strategically. The ideal spot is the opponent’s backhand, as it’s often a weaker side for many players. You can also try to serve deep, forcing your opponent to move back and return a high ball, which you can then put away at the net.
1. Solo Drills
- Wall Drills: Find a flat wall and practice your forehand and backhand shots by hitting the ball against the wall. This helps improve your accuracy and ball control.
- Service Practice: Work on your serves by targeting specific spots on the court. Practice both your underhand and spin serves.
2. Partner Drills
- Dinking Drills: Stand at the kitchen line with your partner and practice soft dinks over the net, focusing on control and placement.
- Volley Drills: Take turns with your partner hitting volleys back and forth, emphasizing control and precision.
3. Live Play Drills
- King/Queen of the Court: In this drill, a player or team starts as the “king/queen” and stays on the court as long as they keep winning points. The next challenger takes their place if they lose a point. This drill helps you practice under pressure and improves your consistency.
- 3-on-1: In this drill, one player takes on three opponents. This can help improve your defensive skills and work on your placement under pressure.
Pickleball has its own set of etiquette guidelines that help maintain a friendly and enjoyable atmosphere on the court:
- Quiet on the Court: Avoid making excessive noise while your opponents are about to serve or during rallies.
- Wait for Permission to Join: If a game is already in progress, wait until it’s over before stepping onto the court.
- Respect the Kitchen: Players should refrain from “volleying” (hitting the ball in the air) while standing in the no-volley zone.
- Net Calls: Players should call their own net faults. If the ball hits the net and still lands in the correct service box, it’s a “let” and doesn’t count as a fault.
Pickleball is a fantastic sport that combines fun and fitness with an engaging and strategic gameplay. With this comprehensive guide, you now have the tools and knowledge to start playing pickleball confidently. Whether you’re new to the game or looking to refine your skills, remember that practice, communication, and good sportsmanship are key to success on the pickleball court. So, grab a paddle, find a court, and enjoy the wonderful world of pickleball!