What is Pickleball? - Rules, Equipment & Strategy

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Pickleball is a paddle sport appropriate for all ages and athletic abilities that borrows elements from tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. In this lesson, we'll cover the pickleball rules, equipment requirements, and game strategy.

What is Pickleball?

You may not be familiar with the paddle sport pickleball, but it is gaining popularity due to its appeal to athletes of all ages and abilities. Pickleball combines aspects of other paddle sports like tennis, ping-pong, and badminton, but it's sometimes referred to as over-sized ping-pong or 'ping-pong on steroids.'

Pickleball can be played by teams of one (singles) or two (doubles) and on indoor or outdoor courts. It was invented back in 1965 but is gaining popularity in high school physical education classes due to its ease of play.

Pickleball Equipment

Pickleball doesn't require much equipment; basically, all that's needed is a court, net, paddle, and ball. Pickleball courts are 20 feet wide and 40 feet long, meaning about four courts can fit in the same space as a standard tennis court. A modified tennis net stands at 34 inches tall in the center, separating the two halves of the court.

Pickleball court dimensions
pickleball court

A pickleball paddle is smaller than a tennis racquet but larger than a ping-pong paddle, usually measuring between eight and 15 inches long. Originally, they were made of wood, but newer paddles are made of lightweight composite materials like aluminum or graphite.

Finally, pickleballs are similar to whiffle balls, with holes throughout, but they are much more durable. They are about the same size as a baseball. Balls are made of plastic and vary based on indoor or outdoor use (outdoor pickleballs have smaller holes); they are traditionally white or yellow in color.

Here is a pickleball court (shown with red paint) within a traditional tennis court (shown with white paint).
Pickleballs on a court

Rules of the Game

Now that you know the pickleball basics, let's take a look at the rules. Two main rules separate pickleball from other paddle sports. First, a served ball is subject to a double-bounce rule: a served ball has to bounce once before it can be returned, and the first hit by the serving team must also bounce once before it's returned. After these first returns from each team, teams may begin volleying (hitting the ball before it has bounced). However, each side of the net also contains a non-volley zone (NVZ) in the front seven feet of the court. Players may never volley from inside the NVZ; they must wait for the ball to bounce before returning. The NVZ is the second rule that makes pickleball unique, and it's also referred to as the kitchen.

A team can only win points by winning rallies they served. A rally is one round of hitting starting with a serve and continuing until a ball is hit out of play or a team breaks a rule.

For example, a rally is lost when:

  • A ball isn't returned in bounds to the opponent's court
  • A team volleys from the NVZ
  • The ball hits any part of a player's body other than the hand holding the racquet
  • The ball bounces more than once

Serving occurs diagonally into the opposite team's court behind the NVZ. As noted above, the serve must bounce once before it can be returned. Serves must be underhand where the ball is hit below the waist. This continues until a team reaches 11 points and wins by at least two points. If the serving team wins the following rally, they earn a point, and the same player continues to serve, switching sides of the court. Once the serving team loses a rally, no points are awarded and the opposite team gets to serve. A ball that lands on the lines of the court is still considered in bounds.

Pickleball Tips for Success

The overall goal of pickleball is to minimize personal errors and make it difficult for the other team to return a ball. Advanced teams may utilize different tips to gain an edge over their competitors.

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