Pickleball paddle displaying a koi pond design with pickleballs at various heights.

Pickleball Rules and Regulations: A Guide for Beginners

New to pickleball? Just refreshing on rules before a game? Either way we got you covered. This article will discuss all the rules you need to know in order to play a game of pickleball!

Court Size and Equipment

Pickleball is played on a court that is similar to a doubles badminton court, and it is divided into two halves by a net (see image below). The net is lower than a tennis net, with the net height being 36 inches high on the edges and 34 inches in the middle. The front box area of the court that the net sits in is called the "kitchen". (Remember this area as it will become important for rules later on.) The two boxes behind the kitchen are called the Right Service Area and Left Service Area respectively (left and right when you are facing the net).

Besides the court the only equipment you need to play is a pickleball paddle and the pickleball! The ball is harder and lighter than a tennis ball, and it will bounce lower and slower than a tennis ball. Depending on the court you choose to play on, there are indoor and outdoor balls. The main differences are that outdoor balls have more holes (40 instead of 26), the holes are wider and they are heavier. All of these factors help account for outdoor environmental factors such as wind. 

Pickleball court labeled with all parts including the kitchen, non-volley zones, net, right service area, left service area, baseline, center line


How do you score in Pickleball?

In pickleball, there is only one way to score and that is when you or your team serves the ball and wins the point for that round. Points are scored when the opposing team is unable to return the ball or hits it out of bounds. You do not win a point if you win a round, but you did not serve that round. Points are tracked in a three digit number, X - Y - Z. 

X = you/your teams score

Y = the opponents score

Z = the number serve that you are on

For example, if you have scored 5 points, the other team has scored 3 points, and you just got the ball back and are serving for the first time the score would read out 5 - 3 - 1. It's standard to call the score prior to serving each ball so everyone is aware of the score and what number serve you are on. 

How do you serve in Pickleball?

When serving, the ball is served diagonally with the server standing behind the baseline on their side of the court and hitting the ball to the opposite service box. The serve must be hit underhand and below your waist. Every time the server wins the point on their serve, they switch service box sides that they serve on for the next play. For example if you as a server serve from the right service area and win the point, in the following play you will serve from the left service area. It's important to note that on the serve the opposing team has to allow the ball to bounce before hitting a return shot. Then on the return shot, the serving team has to let the ball bounce before hitting the ball back. After these first two hits, the ball now is open play where you can hit the ball out of the air before it bounces. 

Doubles and Singles Play

Pickleball can be played as singles (one player on each side of the net) or doubles (two players on each side of the net). In doubles play, the first server for the team is the one in the right hand service box. When the first servers team loses the point, the second player on the team now serves. Once the team loses two points, it's now the other teams turn to serve. In singles play, players can serve from either service box.

Aerial shot of one pickleball court and a tennis court with with two pickleball courts over it

The Kitchen

In pickleball, the one special area to keep in mind is the kitchen. This zone is the one area that you are not allowed to step into unless the ball has first bounced into it first. This is why if you ever watch more advanced players, you'll often see the game leads to the players standing right outside the kitchen line and dinking the ball back and forth. 

Faults and Penalties

There are several situations that constitute a fault or penalty in pickleball. These include:

  • Hitting the ball out of bounds
  • Hitting the ball into the net
  • Hitting the ball before it has crossed the net
  • Stepping in the kitchen if the ball has not first bounced in the kitchen
  • Touching the net or any of the poles with the body or the paddle while the ball is in play
  • Not allowing the ball to bounce on the serve and first return
  • Contacting the pickleball with any bodypart other than the hand holding your pickleball paddle

If a fault is called, the point is awarded to the opposing team.

We covered all the basics and with just the knowledge from above you can go play a legal game! If you're a rules geek and want to get super technical, you can visit USA Pickleball to get their latest rulebook with all the technical details your heart could desire. Now that you know the rules, grab your Court paddle and go have fun!

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