So, you’ve decided to give pickleball a chance...what a great decision! As with any other sport, there are some key pickleball terms you should know before heading out to the court, so you can start getting comfortable using the lingo. As you play more and more, you’ll undoubtedly add on to this basic vocabulary with more technical terms and techniques. But, for now, let’s start at the beginning with the must-know gameplay court terms for your first game.
These are some of the most common terms you’ll hear while you’re playing. These include specific shots you can take, strokes you can use, and a few rules to keep in mind.
Ace: An ace is a serve that is not returned by your opponent.
Backhand: A backhand stroke is made on your non-dominant side. You know it’s a backhand hit when the back of your hand is facing the net as you hit the ball.
Cross-Court: The court diagonally opposite your court. When serving, you must hit the ball cross-court to your opponent.
Dead Ball: A dead ball is called after a fault.
Dink Shot: A dink shot is a soft and controlled shot that is intended to move downward shortly after it clears the net, landing in the no-volley zone (ideally at your opponent's feet).
- TIP - This slow-moving shot can be an effective weapon that you should strongly consider adding to your game.
Double-Bounce Rule: The double-bounce rule dictates that when the ball is served, the receiving team must let it bounce once before returning, and then the serving team must let it bounce once before returning. (Thus, two bounces.)
Double Bounce: A double bounce is when the ball bounces twice on one side of the court. A double bounce is a fault.
Double Hit: A double hit is when the ball hits a player’s paddle twice before going over the net. If a double hit is the result of one continuous motion (meaning, without a second swing or push), it is technically a legal hit.
Drop Shot: A drop shot is a groundstroke shot that falls short of the opponent’s position.
Fault: A fault is any action that stops play because of a rule violation. A fault by the receiving team results in a point for the serving team; a fault by the serving team results in the server’s loss of serve or a side out.
Forehand: A forehand stroke is made with your dominant forearm is facing forward. This is typically the most comfortable and natural stroke.
Groundstroke: A groundstroke is made just after the ball bounces off the ground.
Half Volley: A half volley is a groundstroke shot where the paddle contacts the ball immediately after it bounces from the court and before the ball rises to its potential height.
Let: A let is a serve that hits the net and lands in the proper service court. Let serves are replayed.
Lob: A lob is a shot that returns the ball as high and deep as possible, forcing the opposing side back to the baseline.
Rally: Rally is continuous play that occurs after the serve and before a fault.
Side Out: A side out is declared after one side loses its service and the other side is awarded service.
Volley: A volley is hit in the air, during a rally, before the ball has hit the ground.
These are the terms for the physical areas on a pickleball court. You definitely want to memorize these terms before your first game so you know where to stand, where to serve, and where to avoid.
- Baseline: The baseline runs parallel to the net at the back of the court. The baseline can’t be crossed when you serve.
- Centerline: The centerline extends from the kitchen to the baseline and divides the court into two equal halves.
- Sideline: The sideline runs perpendicular to the net on either side of the court. The sideline separates in-bounds from out-of-bounds.
Kitchen: The kitchen is the nickname for the non-volley zone that extends 7 feet on either side of the net.
No-Man’s Land or Transition Zone: The No-Man’s Land (also referred to as the Transition Zone) is the area on the court between the kitchen and the baseline. You should try to avoid this area as much as possible because it opens up angles for your opponent to hit at you.
Non-Volley Zone: The non-volley zone is the area within 7 feet on both sides of the net where volleying is not allowed. One of the best places to position yourself is right behind the non-volley zone. The net will limit the number of angles at which your opponent can hit at you.
Service Courts: The service courts are the areas on either side of the centerline, bounded by the non-volley line, the baseline, and the sideline.
Once you feel comfortable with these beginner terms, you can move on to more advanced terms with our complete guide to pickleball rules and lingo.
If you want to be even more prepared for your first game, spend some time with these guides: