Pickleball Rules – the basics

When you are new to pickleball and step on the court you should at least know the most basic of the rules. It is advisable to read the rule book as well, because it is amazing how many people make rules up! If you intend to play at different venues, knowing the correct rules will give you the confidence to stand up and say what is correct and what is not.

Everything written here refers to the 2021 rule book. Download to your phone for reference if needed.

The Standard Serve

Way too many people even after being taught how to serve the correct way, choose to serve the incorrect way. If this is you, stop it! Practice the correct way to get out of your bad habits. At Gold Coast NORTH Pickleball, players have been instructed to inform other players if their serve is illegal.

  • The standard serve is a down to up motion
  • The paddle face must not be higher than the wrist when you hit the ball
  • You must not hit the ball any higher than your waist
  • You can throw the ball as high as you like
  • Your foot/feet must not touch the baseline or the imaginary lines that extend from the middle service line and the sideline
  • Wait until the receiver is in a ready position before you serve
  • If the serve clears the net or hits the net and then touches the receiver or the receiver’s partner, it is a point to the serving team
  • If the ball hits the top of the net and falls into the service court, a let was called before 2021 rules, you now must return the serve if the ball hits the net
  • If the ball hits the top of the net and falls into the non-volley zones (NVZ or kitchen) then it is a fault
  • If the ball hits the net and touches the NVZ line, it is a fault
  • If the ball clears the net and touches the NVZ line, it is a fault
  • A person with a physical disability, such as having the use of only one arm, may bounce the ball before making the service motion
  • The serving side MUST call the score so everyone can hear it before the serve has commenced. In a tournament, it is a fault if you do not call the score so get in the habit of doing it
  • Once the score has been called, the server is allowed 10 seconds to serve the ball
  • If the player serves illegally, the receiver can catch the ball and return the ball to the server and ask for the ball to be served again
What does a correct pickleball serve look like?

The Drop Serve

2021 has seen the introduction of the drop serve without any additional rules other than ‘the only downward acceleration imparted on the ball is that from gravity ‘. This serve is in the transitional stage and may be included in the 2022 rule book. This serve is perfect for those starting out in playing pickleball.

  • You cannot throw the ball up
  • The ball can fall anywhere in the court or behind the baseline
  • The server’s feet must be behind the baseline when making contact with the ball
  • If the player serves illegally, the receiver can catch the ball and return the ball to the server and ask for the ball to be served again

Service Lets

In 2021, no longer can you call a let if the ball hits the net and goes into the service court. The ball must be played by the receiver even if it hits the net.

Two Bounce Rule

After the serve, the first bounce is at the receiving end (return of serve), then the second bounce is after the return of serve at the serving end; after that you are able to hit on the full (volley), excluding if you are standing in the non volley zone of course.


  • Opponents cannot question a call against them. We realise this is frustrating when it is obvious the ball is in, but it is in the rules
  • When there is doubt if the ball is in or out, then it is in. The opposing side cannot call the ball in their favour unless the opponents ask for a call if they both did not see where the ball landed. You are not permitted to replay the serve or the point due to indecision of in or out
  • You are permitted (new 2020 rule) to call a fault against yourself when the opponents call in your favour. This is also a sign of good sportsmanship for you to do this
  • If one partner calls the ball in and the other partner calls the ball out, then it is in
  • A fault must be called promptly using a word such as ‘OUT’ or using a hand gesture
  • All lines are in if the ball makes contact, unless for the non-volley zone line (kitchen line) as if the ball touches this line during service, then it is called out
  • Players may call NVZ faults and service foot faults on the opponent’s side of the court. If there is any disagreement among players about the called fault, a replay shall occur
  • The receiving side can call a fault if the serving side does NOT call the score before they commence to serve. The serving side must call the score loudly so the receiving side can hear the score
  • In the event of receiving an illegal serve, the receiver can catch the ball, call an illegal serve and throw the ball back to the server and the serve is replayed
  • Different clubs have ‘club rules’ when it comes to replaying serves and points. We believe in the situation of things such as poles and very close fencing, when it is impossible to especially return a serve, then a let is called and the serve is replayed. Unfortunately, other clubs do not do this and it used as a tactic of their game. Very unsportsmanlike play in our opinion


All lines are in, excluding the NVZ line for the serve. If the ball hits the NVZ line for serve it is a fault. If the balls hits the middle line for the serve, it is in.

If you cannot see a distinct space between the ball and the line, the ball is in. If the ball touches any part of the line, it is in. This is an amended 2020 rule.

If the server’s foot touches the baseline during service, it is a fault. If the server stands on or outside the imaginary service lines, then it is a fault.

Hinderance & Distraction

You can request to replay a point when:

  • a ball from another court rolls onto your court and causes possible danger or obstruction to play
  • a player from another court runs onto your court
  • an item, insect, or any other foreign object lands on your court or onto you. Example an annoying fly around your head
  • a person walks closely past where you or your opponents are playing

You will be awarded the point if:

  • an opponent yells ‘OUT’ or something similar as you are about to hit the ball so you leave the ball, then ball falls in. Good sportsmanship is to replay the point if the opponent made the ‘OUT’ call in genuine error. It is common for beginners to call ‘OUT’ when they serve. Sometimes the wind may change the direction of the ball and the ball blows in the court.

Changing Ends

During social play you usually do not change ends, however it is nice to do so when one end gives an advantage over the other end. Example: wind, playing surface, sun, lighting. When playing to 11 change ends at 6, 15 change ends at 8, 21 change at 11.

Ball Contact

  • Do not catch the ball if you are the receiving side when the ball has been served and the ball is going out. This includes the non-receiving player. A fault will be called against you UNLESS you yell out “catching the ball to save running after it”
  • If the server hits the non-receiving player, then the serving side receives a point HOWEVER in social play at GCNP we do not observe this rule
  • If the ball hits your body or paddle during play and does not go over the net, then the point will be called against you
  • The ball must make contact with any part of the paddle or the hand holding the paddle to be in play

Non-Volley Zone (a.k.a NVZ or Kitchen)

  • You are permitted to be in the NVZ any time you like and for as long as you like, however, you can only hit the ball after it bounces in this NVZ (Rule 9.4 – 9.H)
  • If you hit a volley outside of the NVZ and fall or run into the NVZ due to momentum, this is a fault
  • If you hit a volley and your foot is touching the NVZ line, this is a fault
  • If you hit a volley and are about to fall into the NVZ, your partner may grab you to stop you falling in
  • You are permitted to reach into the air space of the NVZ without standing in the NVZ to hit a volley
  • If a player has touched the NVZ for any reason, that player cannot volley a return until both feet have made contact with the playing surface completely outside the NVZ. A maneuver such as standing within the NVZ, jumping up to hit a volley, and then landing outside the NVZ is a fault
  • It is a fault if the player’s momentum causes the player to contact anything that is touching the NVZ, including the player’s partner in the NVZ
  • It is a fault even if the ball is declared dead before the player contacts the NVZ

Paddle Tapping

There is NO RULE to how you tap paddles at the end of the game. It is personal preference, however if you choose to do the paddle face tap, then please do it softly. Do not get bullied into believing that the handle tap is the only way!

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Now learn how to score . . .

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