Welcome to the Pickleball Zone

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Learn about the basic rules of pickleball.

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Learn how to keep the correct score.

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Learn the basic terminology used in pickleball.

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See how pickleball ratings are broke down by categories and abilities 

Basic Rules

1965 – If you find that the name pickleball is a bit unusual, you may soon extend that thought to a few of the rules of pickleball.  Rules like serving underhand hitting the ball below your waist, the double bounce rule, the kitchen (?) and then there is the scoring!  Such rules which boggle the mind when you first start playing the game, soon make sense and add another dimension to this great sport.


Below is an abbreviated set of the doubles rules as an overview of how to play the game.  If you would like to see the official IFP rules click HERE.  Note that if there is any discrepancy between the abbreviated rules below and the official IFP rules, the official IFP rules prevail.


Rules Summary:

The serve must be hit underhand and each team must play their first shot off the bounce. After the ball has bounced once on each side, both teams can then either volley the ball in the air or play it off the bounce.  This is called the “double bounce rule” because the ball must hit twice (once on each side) before it can be volleyed.  This eliminates the serve and volley advantage and prolongs the rallies.  To volley a ball means to hit it in the air without first letting it bounce. The non-volley zone, also referred to as “the kitchen”, is the seven foot zone on both sides of the net. No volleying is permitted within the non-volley zone.  This rule prevents players from executing smashes from a position within the zone.  When volleying the ball, the player may not step on or over the non-volley line.  It is a fault if the players momentum causes the player or anything the player is wearing or carrying to touch or enter the non-volley zone. It is a fault even if the ball is declared dead before the player touches or enters the zone.  A player may be in the non-volley zone at any other time. 


Both players on the serving team are allowed to serve and a team scores points only when they are serving. A game is played to eleven points and a team must win by two points.  In some situations event directors may chose play to win by one point to speed up play.  

Rallies are lost by:  

> Failing to return the ball in bounds to the opponents court before the second bounce  

> Stepping into the non-volley zone (the kitchen) and volleying the ball 

> Violating the double bounce rule


 The hand is considered an extension of the paddle . The player loses the rally if the ball hits any other part of his body or clothing.


At the beginning of the serve, both feet must be behind the baseline.  At the time the ball is struck, at least one foot must be on the playing surface behind the baseline and the servers feet may not touch the playing surface in an area outside the confines of the serving area.  The serve is made underhand.  The paddle must contact the ball below the waist.  The serve is made diagonally cross court and must clear the non-volley zone .  The non-volley line is a short line for the serve (the serve is a fault if it hits the line).  All other lines are good at all times.  Only one serve      attempt is allowed except in the event of a “let” (the ball touches the net on the serve and lands on the proper service court).  Let serves are replayed.


At the start of each new game only one player on the first serving team is permitted to serve and this team must fault before giving up the ball to the opponents.  Thereafter both members of each team will serve and fault before the ball is turned over to the opposing team.  When the receiving team wins the serve, the player in the right had court will always serve first.


When the serving team wins a point the server moves to the other side of the serving teams court.  Note that if the serve rotation is done properly, the serving teams score will always be even when the player that started the game on the right side is on the right side and the score will always be odd when the player that started the game is on the left side.


When playing singles, the server starts the game serving from the right side.  The server serves from the right side when his score is even and serves from the left side when his score is odd.

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Scoring Explanation

Points are scored only on the serve.  The receiving side cannot score a point.  At the start of the game the player on the right side serves.  If a point is scored the server moves to the left side and serves to the opposite court. Each time that a point is scored the players on the serving side alternate from the right to left or left to right. The player continues to serve until the serve is lost by losing a rally.  Players on the serving team do not alternate  sides unless a point is scored.  The receiving side never alternates sides.


Call the score in the order of:  servers score:  receivers score:  then the server number.


For example, if the score of the serving team is 3 and the score of the receiving team is 6 and the second server on the side is serving: the score would be announced as 3-6-2.  Note that the server number is for that service sequence only.  Whoever is on the right side when the team gets the serve back is the first server for that service sequence only.  The next time that the team gets the serve back, it may be the other player that is on the right side and is the first server for that service sequence only.


Beginning players often mistakenly assume that the player keeps the same server number throughout the game. The server number changes with each new sequence of serves. It is important to call the score including the server number prior to each serve. That helps the players to keep the server and the score straight.  When you announce, as part of the score, that you are the first server, everyone on the court knows that when you lose your serve, the serve goes to your partner.  When you announce that you are the second server, everyone knows that when you lose the serve, the serve goes to the other team.


To minimize the advantage of being the first team to serve in the game, only one player gets a service turn on the first service sequence of the game.  To help everyone remember that the serve goes to the other side when that player loses the serve, it is customary to say that the player is the last server or second server.  Therefore, at the start of the game, it is standard to say that the score is 0-0-2.  The “2” means that the serve goes to the other side when the serve is lost.


At the start of each game make a mental note of the player that served first for each side.  If the rotation is done correctly a teams score will always be even when that player is on the right and odd when that player is on the left. As you call the score use the player position as a double check on whether you have the correct score

Terminology

Baseline: The line at the back of the pickleball court (22 feet from the net).


Centerline: The line bisecting the service courts that extends from the non-volley zone line to the baseline.


Crosscourt: The opponent's court diagonally opposite yours.


Dink: A soft, low shot, initiated from within or just behind the non-volley zone, that lands in the opponent's non-volley zone.


Double Bounce Rule: After a serve, each team must play their first shot off the bounce, after which the ball can be played off the bounce or volleyed.


Fault: An infringement of the rules that ends the rally.


Foot Fault: Failure to keep at least one foot behind the baseline and touching the ground at the moment the paddle contacts the ball during a serve, or stepping on or into the non-volley zone while volleying a ball.


Half-Volley: A type of hit where the player hits the ball immediately after it has bounced in an almost scoop-like fashion.


Let Serve: A serve that touches the top of the net and lands in the proper service court (it is replayed without penalty).


Non-Volley Zone: A seven-foot area adjacent to the net within which you may not volley the ball. The non-volley zone usually includes all lines around it.


Poach: In doubles, to cross over into your partner's area to play a ball.


Rally: Hitting the ball back and forth between opponents.


Serve(Service): An underhand lob or drive stroke used to put a ball into play at the beginning of a point.


Server Number: When playing doubles, either “1” or “2,” depending on whether you are the first or second server for your side. This number is appended to the score when it is called.


Sideline: The line at the side of the court.


Volley: To hit the ball before it bounces.

Rating Guidelines

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1.0

> New and have only minimal knowledge of the game and the rules.

1.5

> Limited to some rallies

> Learning how to serve  

> Developing a forehand

> Fails to return easy balls frequently and occasionally misses the ball entirely

> Played a few games and is learning the court lines, scoring, and some basic rules of the game

2.0

> Moves in a balanced and safe manner 

> Gets at least 50% of serves in the service court and can return 50% of serves 

> Are learning where to stand on court during serves, returns and point play but are still not comfortable with some positions 

> Knows the 2 bounce rule and applies it during games. Can keep score comfortably 

> Will have basic ground strokes with a very limited use of backhand, overhead, and volley

> Capable of keeping ball in play for a couple of shots. 

2.5

> Makes longer lasting slow-paced rallies

> Makes most easy volleys and uses some backhands, but needs more work on developing shot strokes 

> Beginning to approach the non-volley zone to hit volleys

> Aware of the “soft game

> Knowledge of the rules has improved

> Court coverage is weak but improving

3.0

> More consistent on the serve and service return and when returning medium-paced balls

> Demonstrates improved skills with all the basic shot strokes and shot placement but lacks control when trying for direction, depth, or power on their shots 

> Beginning to attempt lobs and dinks with little success and doesn’t fully understand when and why they should be used.

3.5

> Demonstrates improved stroke dependability with directional control on most medium-paced balls and some faster-paced balls

> Demonstrates improved control when trying for direction, depth and power on their shots

> Needs to develop variety with their shots
> Exhibits some aggressive net play

> Beginning to anticipate opponent’s shots

> Learning about the importance of strategy and teamwork in doubles

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4.0

> Consistent and dependable strokes, including directional control and depth on both forehand and backhand shots

> Reliable serves, lobs, overheads, approach shots and volleys and can use spin shots with some success

> Occasionally can force errors when serving

> Rallies may be lost due to impatience

> Uses the dink shot and drop shots to slow down or change the pace of the game

> Demonstrates 3rd shot strategies – drop shots, lobs, and fast-paced ground strokes

> Aggressive net play and teamwork in doubles is evident

> Fully understands the rules of the game and can play by them

4.5

> Beginning to master the use of power and spin, can successfully execute all shots, can control the depth of their shots, and can handle pace

> Beginning to master the dink shots and drop shots and their importance to the game

> Beginning to master 3rd shot choices

> Displays sound footwork and moves well enough to get to the non-volley zone whenever required

> Understands strategy and can adjust style of play and game plan according to the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses and court position

> Serves with power and accuracy and can also vary the speed and spin of the serve

> Understands the importance of “keeping the ball in play” and the effect of making errors

> Making good choices in shot selection

> Anticipates the opponent’s shots resulting in good court positioning

5.0

> Mastered all the skills – all shot types, touch, spin, serves, with control and can use them as weapons

> Excellent shot anticipation, extremely accurate shot placement and regularly hit winning shots

> Forces opponents into making errors by “keeping the ball in play"
> Mastered the dink and drop shots

> Mastered the 3rd shot choices and strategies

> Uses soft shots, dinks and lobs to set up offensive situations

> Mastered pickleball strategies and can vary strategies and styles of play in competitive or tournament matches

> Dependable in stressful situations as in tournament match play

> Athletic ability, quickness, agility, and raw athleticism are also qualities that are sometimes what separates the top players from those near the top