how to play pickleball

Pickleball is one of the fastest-growing sports in the U.S. The sport has less of a learning curve than other racket sports like badminton and tennis, making it fun to play without much training and very accessible to new players. Since the sport is easy on the body and has a simple learning curve, people of all ages can play this sport. Due to pickleball's laid-back nature, many players love how they can get some exercise while having lots of fun. 

If you want to give pickleball a try, take a moment to learn more about the main rules and equipment needed to play the game.

What Equipment Do You Need to Play Pickleball?

If you're interested in playing pickleball, one of the first things you probably want to know is the equipment you'll need to play it. The first piece of pickleball equipment you'll need is a pickleball paddle, which resembles an oversized ping-pong paddle. When you select your paddle, try to find one that's reliable and durable without opting for a cheaper option made out of light wood. Instead, choose one made with heavier wood, graphite or aluminum, and ensure its weight and grip fit your preferences.

Alongside the pickleball paddle, you also need a pickleball, which is much like a Wiffle ball. Pickleballs have holes in them and are light. If you're playing indoors, you'll want a pickleball featuring larger holes to slow the ball after a hit, while you'll want one featuring smaller holes if you're playing outdoors to extend how far you can hit it. When you play, you'll probably also want to wear comfortable athletic shoes and clothing.

What Is a Pickleball Court?

Pickleball courts are very similar to badminton courts. They measure 20 feet wide by 44 feet long, with a net placed in the center. The net should be 34 inches high in the middle and 36 inches high at both posts. As players will often go outside the lines to return a hit, players should have at least 60 feet of length and 30 feet of width to play on. Generally, a pickleball court's surface is concrete or asphalt.

The court's baselines run parallel to the net on both ends, and the court's sidelines run perpendicular to the net on both sides. These lines indicate the out-of-bounds areas. A pickleball court also has a seven-foot non-volley zone located on each side of the net, with this section prohibiting smashes and volleys. Finally, on both sides of the court, center lines run from the non-volley line to the baseline, sectioning off the left and right service courts.

The Pickleball Serve

When it's your turn, you'll have the chance to continue serving and scoring points until you commit a fault. Learn more about the pickleball rules for serving below.

  • Serving form: When players serve, they must use an underhanded swing and not bounce the ball off the court. The server's arm must be moving upward when they strike the ball, and the paddle's contact must be at or below the server's waist. The paddle's head can't be above the highest part of the server's wrist. 
  • Serving position: The server must stand at least a foot behind the baseline. Additionally, their feet can't touch the court or the imagined extension of the court's centerline or sideline. 
  • Serving arc: As the player serves, they must hit the ball crosscourt at a diagonal angle. Like you might expect, the ball must also land within the lines of the opponent's side of the court, and the ball can't land in the non-volley zone.
  • Groundstroke: After a player serves, each side has to make a single groundstroke before they begin volleying the pickleball.

Pickleball Line Calls

When a pickleball hits a line, you might wonder if it's in or out of bounds. Except for the non-volley zone line on a serve, balls are "in" if they're touching any section of the court's lines. During a serve, a ball contacting the non-volley zone is a fault. 

non-volley zone

The Non-Volley Zone

The non-volley zone, otherwise known as the "kitchen," plays a significant role in pickleball. As the name suggests, players can't volley a ball while making contact with the non-volley line or standing within the zone. If you're standing in this zone when you make contact with a volley, the other team will receive a point. Additionally, you can't volley outside the non-volley zone, then let your momentum take you into the non-volley zone, as the game rules consider this a fault as well.

Remember, the non-volley zone only applies to returning volleys. If a ball hits the ground in the non-volley zone, you can return the ball while standing in the non-volley zone. 

Pickleball Scoring

While pickleball is a perfect game for leisure and having fun, you might still want to know how players can score and win. Find out more about winning conditions and the points system below.

  • Point scoring: Players can only score when they're on the serving team. So, if you're on the receiving team, you're not trying to score a point. Instead, you're trying to outplay the other team to get the chance to serve again.
  • Winning conditions: In typical games, teams will play to a final score of 11. However, games may go past this number, as teams have to win by two points.
  • Tournament winning conditions: For tournament games, pickleball players tend to play to a final score of 15 or 21, with the same "win-by-two" rule applying. 
  • Serving positioning rules: When a serving's team score is even, their serving player will serve and receive in the right-hand court, and when the serving's team score is odd, they'll serve and receive in the left-hand court. 

Other Tips for Playing Pickleball

If you're ready to hit the pickleball court soon, you can take your game to the next level by following the main pickleball tips below.

  • Develop a drop shot: Start practicing drop-shotting to get the edge in a tight game. When you hit a drop shot, you'll softly hit the ball from the midcourt or baseline and aim for it to just barely clear the net, landing in the non-volley zone. When you master this shot, it's hard for the other team to return and gives you the chance to move to the no-volley line more safely. 
  • Learn how to return lobs: Returning lobs is another essential part of pickleball. When you need to play a lob, start by backing up a few steps and aim to get slightly behind or under the ball. When you make contact, step into the ball and use a full overhead swing, so you have the most control and power possible.
  • Partner communication: During a game of doubles, communication is essential. Call out your shots, let your partner know when you want to make a return shot and stay open to any suggestions they might have. By communicating, you can better coordinate your offensive and defensive strategy against the other team.
  • Stay encouraging: If you're playing doubles, make sure you're supporting your partner throughout the game. Be encouraging to raise their confidence and help them get used to the game's pace. A team-minded attitude will go a long way in fostering a fun playing environment.

visit local YMCA

Play Pickleball at Gateway Region YMCA

At Gateway Region YMCA, we love pickleball, and we want to help you play it. At many of our locations, you can find pickleball courts available to use and enjoy. Visit your local YMCA to start playing pickleball as soon as possible. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.