Thinking of playing pickleball? Excellent! We're confident this game will bring you a lot of enjoyment. Since there are so many rules, techniques, and other intricacies to grasp, learning pickleball can be challenging and even intimidating. 99% of pickleball players are extremely helpful and will be happy to help you learn this game. We were all pickleball newbies at one point so don't be afraid to ask questions and tell people you are just starting out. Before showing up the first time, it will be easier if you have a basic understanding of how the game is played and set some expectations. Here are a few pointers for individuals looking to pick up a paddle the very first time.
Equipment: All you need to get started is a paddle, a pickleball, and place to play. If you aren’t sure where you can play pickleball, check out our piece on how to find places to play. Make sure you also have a supportive pair of shoes as there is a lot of lateral movement required. You may want to purchase a pickleball before playing, otherwise many community centers already have pickleballs available. If you're looking for a paddle, we offer a full lineup of paddles that work great for beginner players and are happy to help in picking out the right one for you.
The Players: The game is played in either singles or doubles formats, with the court being the same size in either situation. Doubles is far more common than singles. In doubles, all four players take turns serving and returning throughout a match.
In most situations, you'll arrive to an 'open play' scenario. This means people rotate between partners and courts. If there are more players than courts, often a system will be in place to keep track of who is up next. For instance, a few buckets may be set out with players placing their paddle in the bucket. When a court opens up, the four paddles in the next bucket up are next to play. Often 'open play' will specify skill levels. Stick to beginner classes or 3.0 and below classes to start. Many places offer beginner classes as well which are very helpful.
Serving: The first team to serve must always start on the right side of the court, with their serve going cross court to the receiving team. Unlike tennis, pickleball serves must be underhand, so make sure that your paddle always stays below your wrist when serving. If the first point is won, you’ll then move to the left side and continue to serve on alternate sides until you lose a rally. In doubles, team members serve consecutively so if the first server loses a rally, the serve is given to their teammate for the second serve sequence. After the second server loses a rally, possession of the serve is given to the other team.
Rallying: Another pivotal rule to remember is the "double bounce rule". This means that after the receiving team returns the ball, it must bounce before the serving team can hit it. The reason for this rule is to prevent the serving team from rushing towards the net right away. Once the ball has bounced twice you are free to move up and hit volleys, but be aware of the the non-volley zone. To learn more about the non-volley zone, click here.
Scoring: Typically pickleball games are played to 11, with one point being awarded each time a team wins a rally off of their own serve. In most situations, it is also required to win the match by two points. The most important rule to remember when starting off is that you can only score on your own serve. Ways in which you can win a rally are when the ball bounces in your opponent’s court without being returned, or if your opponent faults. The most common ways players fault are by hitting shots into the net or out of bounds.
The score is stated with three numbers. First, you state your score. Second, your opponents score. And third, the service position (1 or 2). At the beginning of the game, players will say "zero zero start" or "zero zero two" (as at the start of a new game, team one only has one player serve). So for example, a score of 5 - 4 - 2 equates to your team (team one) having 5 points, team two having 4 points, and that you are the second server on your team. If you were to lose this point, the serve would move to your opponent (team two). The first server on team two would say 4 - 5 - 1. If team two faults, it moves to the second server. He would then say 4 - 5 - 2 before his service. While pickleball scoring can seem confusing at first, we promise you'll pick it up quickly!
Etiquette: In casual settings, players live by the honor system and act as their own referees. Remember that if a ball lands on any part of the line, it is considered in. Call in our out verbally or with hand signals. Pointing upward indicates out and signaling with your palm facing the ground means in. Always be honest with your calls and respect the calls of your opponent. If you are unsure about a call, consult your partner. If it still isn’t clear, the benefit of the doubt generally goes to the hitting team. Call out the score loud and clear before
In casual play and beginner play, most player's main objectives are to have fun, to stay active, and to keep improving. Keep this in mind as you get started. 99% of pickleballers are good natured, easy going on the court, and happy to help. Learning any new skill can sometimes feel intimidating but don't let that stop you. Get out there and start playing and we know you'll fall in love with this wonderful game!
Lastly, when a game ends all players typically come to the net, touch paddles, and say "good game" or something similar.
Hopefully, this summary of the basics of pickleball is helpful for those who are playing for the very first time.
Comment below and let us know if this guide was helpful for you! For more in-depth discussion on beginner pickleball strategy, you can also join the Facebook group Pickleball For Beginners. Happy pickleballing!