Pickleball Serving: Rules, Techniques, & Strategies

Pickleball Serves... What Are The Rules?

First things first here. So what exactly are the rules of the serve in pickleball? It is pretty simple really! Here is what you need to know:

  • The service starts on the right side of the court. Serves are made diagonally into the non-volley zone / service court on the opposite side of the net.
  • The server continues serving until he/she loses the point, alternating sides with each point.
  • The score should be called out before the serve. The score consists of THREE numbers (unlike tennis which is just two): The serving team’s score is called out first, the receiving team’s score is called second, and either a "1" or "2" is called third. The third number indicates if it's the serving team’s 1st or 2nd chance to serve. The score at the beginner of game is “0-0-Start” because the first team to serve a game only gets one chance to serve.  When they lose the point, serve passes to other team. After this, each team gets two chances to serve.
  • Let's look at a scoring example: I begin a new game as server. I am positioned behind the baseline on the right side of the court. I call out "0-0-Start" and serve into the cross-court service box. My team (Team A) wins the first point. I therefore get to serve again. Now I call out "1-0-Start" and serve from the left side of the court. We (Team A) lose the next point and thus the serve moves to the other team (Team B). Player 1 on Team B calls out "0-1-1" and then serves (again, from the right side of the court). Team A stays positioned how they are (I remain on the left side). Team B loses the point. The serve moves to Player 2 on Team B. Player 2 calls out "0-1-2". Team B wins the point. Player 2 alternates service position and calls out "1-1-2" before serving again. Team B loses the point and serve moves back to Team A. My partner now serves first (since service starts with the player positioned on the right side of the court), calling out "1-1-1" before serving. We lose the point and now service goes to me. I call out "1-1-2" and serve from the left side of the court. We win the point. I alternate to the right side of the court, and call out "2-1-2" before service. Play continues like this until one team reaches 11 points (win by 2).  
  • Do I get a second chance serve if the first one doesn't go in (i.e. like in tennis)? NO! There is not double fault as in tennis. You get one chance to get your serve in without faulting. The only exception is a 'let'... this is where the ball touches the net but lands in the service court. In this case you make take the serve again.  
  • The serve MUST be underhand. No tennis like serves here. The motion is similar to bowling
  • Contact between the paddle and ball MUST be below your waist. Again, no tennis type serves of psudo-underhand serves where you come around the side of your body make contact above the waist
  • Foot Faults: Both feet MUST be behind the baseline for the serve. Neither foot may touch the baseline or the court area until AFTER the ball is struck. 

How Do I Serve In Pickleball?!? What Is The Proper Technique?

The serve is pickleball is obviously very important - after all, it starts the rally and you can't score a point unless you get your serve in! Good form and technique will take you a long way. For those just starting out, this is what we recommend:

  • Do NOT rush your serving motion. This is a common mistake - a natural and easy motion is most effective.
  • Look up and pick the spot you want to aim for on the other side of the court, mentally locking it in. From there, keep your head down focusing on the ball and paddle impact. Similar to golf... pick your spot and then keep you head down through impact. 
  • Your lead shoulder (i.e. the left shoulder for right handed players) is where the ball will travel. So aim your shoulder in the direction of the target.
  •  A underhand "bowling" motion is the proper motion. The motion should be smooth and natural, transferring your weight from back to front.
  • The swing doesn't stop at impact. Instead it is important to follow through.
  • The serve finish is approximately at shoulder height.

Okay I've Got The Rules & Techniques Down... What Are Some Pickleball Serving Strategies?

In pickleball the serving team is at a disadvantage. This is different than tennis. The reason being that the receiving team has the first opportunity to establish a presence at the net which is very advantageous. Here are a couple strategies to make you can implement in your service game:

  • When you are beginning, the most important aspect of serving is simply to get your serve in! If you don't put the ball in play you can't win the point. So above all else, just get the serve in. 
  • In doubles pickleball, points are not typically won or lost on the serve or return of serve. The third shot is usually where the play gets interesting and is the first potential spot to win the point. Unlike tennis, the serve is not really a weapon in pickeball (especially in beginner or intermediate play). So again, hitting a high percentage serve you can consistently hit in bounds is the most important thing to remember when starting out. 
  • Once you get better, you can focus more on velocity, spin, and placement. 
  • Mix up your serves (velocity and location). It makes sense to mix up your serves but short serves make it easier for the receiving team to come to the net so the bulk of your serves should be deep. If you serve to the same location with the same velocity repeatedly you become very predictable giving an advantage to your opponent.
  • Serve to the backhand of your opponents. In general, people are weaker on their backhands.
  • Players don't typically like to play higher balls so every so often mix in some lob-like high serves. This often can throw opponents off their game.
  • A deep, firm serve to your opponent's backhand is the go-to option for many players
  • As your game progresses, practice sharp angle serves, heavy spin serves, and other non-standard serves on the practice court. These often have a lower probability of going in but can be effective to mix in if you are proficient at executing them.

Thanks for reading. See you on the Pickleball Court!!!

 


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