Whether you’ve been playing pickleball for a while and want to improve your game or you’re just discovering pickleball for the first time, this article will guide you through the official pickleball rules, terms, gear, and benefits, as well as my personal experience with the sport.
My passion for the game of pickleball almost never happened after I played it for the first time in 2007. Because I had been playing tennis for a few years, I was disappointed I couldn’t hit the ball with heavy topspin. Spin and hitting winners is what attracted me to tennis, so the idea of “pushing” and “dinking” a pickleball around the court didn’t appeal to me at all. I didn’t know what was really possible for the sport.
Plus, I was already actively involved in regularly playing golf and tennis, weight lifting, running, and mountain biking. I couldn’t imagine that pickleball could give me the same thrill, so I didn’t consider playing it again.
Just prior to this past Christmas break, my brother-in-law let me know he would be in town and wanted to play pickleball. Even though I wasn’t excited about the game, I love playing sports with him and he was excited to play and said he loved the game. I didn’t want to suck at it, so I went out with my wife and daughters to practice. We had a lot of fun together, but the game itself was still lacking for me.
When my brother-in-law and I started playing together, I learned a few more of the rules and some strategies of the game that piqued my interest. For example, learning how and why to use the 3rd shot drop was a game changer for me. It gave me clarity on how I could win.
My brother-in-law also taught me about outdoor and indoor pickleballs, as well as the huge leap in technology for paddles and “grit” on the paddle face, that allows for better control and spin. I have to be fair, I started out playing with a wooden paddle with a smooth surface, so it’s no wonder why I couldn’t hit with topspin.
Since then, I went to graphite and now I use carbon fiber - CRBN. Learning the rules and discovering the options in gear changed the game completely for me. I was now executing shots that gave me the same thrill as tennis! I was hitting biting slice, dipping forehand passing shots and even the occasional topspin lob winner! I couldn't believe it. It wasn’t a surprise when I recently learned that pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America.
Since its invention in 1965, pickleball has continued to soar in popularity over the last several years as pickle courts have been popping up in neighborhoods. Even tennis courts are being fully converted or at least modified to allow for pickleball to be played on them.
The game is a combination of badminton, tennis, and ping-pong. The rapid popularity is attributed to the ease of play, which makes the game accessible to all ages. Pickleball is the perfect sport for friends and families who want to enjoy time together.
A huge draw to pickleball for me is I can play with my wife and kids. Tennis didn't allow that other than with one of my daughters who played in high school. So here's a sport I love (tennis), and wanted to play daily but the only people I could hit with were really not close friends or family.
With pickleball, I can work on my game to meet my competitive needs but do it with my wife and daughters. Then occasionally I'll go play that bro match. It's amazing that pickleball allows for that. In tennis, you really have to drop your level in order to play "down". In pickleball, it's less noticeable and still extremely enjoyable to play with any level players.
Similar to tennis, pickleball can be played in singles or doubles. Since the community aspect of the game is what draws people to it, ‘doubles’ seems to be the most popular method of play. Pickleball is played on a badminton-size court, with a modified tennis net. The game is played both outdoors and indoors.
Essential Pickleball Terms
- Hitting the ball before it makes contact with the ground.
- Volley Llama:
- An illegal move (fault) when a pickleball player hits a volley shot in the non-volley zone (the kitchen).
- Hitting the ball after the ball bounces once.
- The Kitchen (non-volley zone):
- Seven feet on each side of the net (more below).
- A serve that successfully lands in the opposite service area which the opponent is unable to return.
- Smash (overhead shot or slam):
- A shot where the ball is above a player's head and they strike it downward into the opposing side of the court.
- When the ball touches the net on a serve and lands in the opposite service court. Let serves are replayed in tennis but not in pickleball
- A shot that fails to cross over the net due to lack of power.
- A shot that requires a bounce before striking the ball, which is the first two shots of all rallys.
- A finished game in which the losing team failed to score a single point - 11/0.
- The continuous play from the time of the serve until the play ends from a fault.
- Ends the play of a ralley from failing to go over the net, going outside of the boundaries or a violation of any other rule.
The court layout is similar to tennis, although on a smaller scale with fewer lines. There are right and left service areas on each side of the court, along with a seven-foot ‘non-volley’ zone, known in pickleball as “The Kitchen.” Servers must serve from outside the court, and the serve must be made diagonally crosscourt, landing in the opposite diagonal service area. When the ball is served, the receiving team must allow one bounce before making contact with the ball, and it must bounce a second time after the return of serve. In other words you can’t take the return out of the air, you have to let it bounce. This is referred to as the two-bounce rule. After those initial two bounces, the teams may volley (hit it out of the air with no bounce) or let it bounce once at will until a fault is made. Only the serving team can score points, and they can continue to attempt this until they commit a fault. Games are typically played to 11 points, with one team winning by 2 points.
One of the great things about pickleball is that it doesn't require much to get started. Players need a paddle and a pickleball.Pickleball Paddle:Pickleball paddles are smaller than tennis racquets but larger than ping-pong paddles. They were once made from wood, but these days they are made from light, composite materials, like aluminum, graphite, and carbon fiber. One of the big differences between paddles is the grit or texture on the paddle. This is what allows for more spin and better directional control. Some paddles have little grit, while others wear off easily. Another option for paddles is elongated or wide. I prefer the elongated paddle as it has a sweet spot higher up the paddle. Click the link below for all your pickleball gear needs.Pickleball:The pickleball is similar to a Wiffle Ball, in that it has holes through it. There are different models for either indoor or outdoor play. There are even different types of balls for cold and warm weather.
Comfortable athletic clothing is best, although the only real necessities are sneakers or running shoes. Players need support for all the side-to-side action. Hats, visors, and sunglasses are also common; anything to keep the players comfortable and protected.
Although the game is fairly simple, the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) has declared “Official Rules” of play (Note: rules are updated yearly… there’s even rumors of removing the non-volley zone)
- Server's arm must move in an upward arc when serving
- Contact with the ball cannot be made above waist level
- Head of the paddle cannot be above the highest part of the wrist at contact
- A 'drop serve', is a bounce before striking the ball is permitted. This used to not be allowed, but I’m grateful the rule changed because it’s my favorite way to serve!
- Server's feet may not touch the court
- Serve is made diagonally and must land within the confines of the opposite diagonal service area
- Only one serve attempt is allowed for single play. For doubles, each player gets an attempt
- Both players (if doubles) on the serving team get to serve and score points until they commit a fault
- First serve is made from the right/even court (or Northwest corner since the game was invented in the NW)
- When a point is made, server must switch sides and initiate the next serve from the left/odd court
- As more points are scored, server must continue switching back and forth
- When the first server loses the serve, the partner gets to serve from their correct side
- Second server continues until their team commits a fault, then the serve is lost to the opposing team
- When the opposing team serves (for the first time), they start from the right/even court
- Both players on the opposing team have the opportunity to serve until their team commits two faults
- Points can only be scored by the serving team
- Games are played to 11 points, and must be won by 2 points (I’ve also seen win-by-1 in order to speed up tournament play)
- Volleying is prohibited in the “non-volley” zone, known as “The Kitchen”
- If a player steps in The Kitchen when volleying a ball, that is considered a fault
- A player can be in The Kitchen at any time, as long as they aren't volleying a ball
- A ball is considered “in” if it touches any part of any line
- A serve is considered “short” if it makes contact with the non-volley zone line
- Any action that stops play is considered a “fault”
- If the receiving team makes a fault, a point goes to the serving team
- If the serving team makes a fault, they lose the ball
Benefits Of Pickleball
Pickleball has grown so popular because it offers so many benefits to players of all ages. The chance to be outside, among the community are two significantly positive aspects of a well-rounded life.
- Exercise: Every human needs to move their body to be in optimal health, and pickleball is a fun alternative to hitting the gym or going for long runs. It’s a great way to get your heart pumping and your muscles moving. The game is so enjoyable, most players don’t even realize how much exercise they are getting until the game ends.
- Sunshine: Although pickleball can also be played indoors, most community courts are outdoor. A dose of fresh air and vitamin D are vital to our overall health and well-being. Again, pickleball is an easy and fun way to get outside.
- Community: A sense of community is an innate desire for most humans, and pickleball promotes it naturally. Friendships are made over a game of pickleball! It’s a great way to meet the people in your community and to continue fostering those relationships at your community courts.
Tips For New Players
If you’re new to the sport, it won’t take you long to feel like part of the pickleball community. The sport is inclusive and although it can become competitive, it is mostly laid-back and welcoming. There are a few actions you can take to make the game more enjoyable for you as you embark on your pickleball journey.
- Stretching: Although the sport isn’t physically too intensive, it’s still vitally important to stretch before and after each game. Just as with tennis, sudden movements are not uncommon, and sometimes the adrenaline of the game can cause you to make moves you weren’t ready for. Stretching will help prepare your body for the game ahead.
- Hydrating: Drink plenty of water before, during, and after the game. Especially if playing outdoors, the heat and constant movement can cause dehydration. Without enough fluids, you run the risk of feeling faint on the court.
- Eating Your Greens: Just as with any sport, half the battle is what you’re feeding your body. Make sure you are getting plenty of nutrients in your diet, so that you’re performing optimally, on and off the court. Greens contain vitamins and minerals that nourish and help prevent injury. Check out BlenditUp Greens below.
- Post-Game Recovery: Make sure you give your body time to rest, especially if you’re spending your entire weekend at the pickleball courts. A protein shake or smoothie, a long bath, plenty of H2O, and time to unwind are necessary to ensure you continue enjoying the game for a long time to come. Check out our smooth healthy protein powders below.
- Accepting Suggestions: Early adopters of the game can help guide you as you take on pickleball for the first time. Listen to their advice and suggestions; they are only trying to advise and make the game fun for everyone. Remember, the pickleball community is generally kind and accepting.
- Don't Crowd Your Partner: Keep in mind that pickleball is a respectful sport; allow your partner to contribute just as much as you are to the game. People come to the courts for exercise and fun; if you aren’t allowing your partner to participate, they will not enjoy playing with you.
- Courtesy and Respect: All in all, remember that pickleball is an inclusive sport. Anyone can play, and—especially at the community courts—respect must be given to all players. This includes during the game and in between games. Rotate courts as needed or requested and be a good teammate to everyone who wants to play.
Pickleball For All
From its humble beginnings as an improvised game to a rapidly growing sport, pickleball seems to be enduring for a reason. The ease of play, the sense of community, and the chance to feel active in a low-stakes environment make it perfect for people of all abilities, genders, and ages. The popularity of the sport doesn’t seem to be waning; in fact, it’s only growing stronger.
Get in on the action and join the fun! Grab your sneakers, head to the courts, and make a few new friends or create stronger bonds with current friends and family.
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