The Ultimate Guide to Pickleball: Rules, Tips, and Techniques

So, you want to play pickleball? You’ve come to the right place.

At Pickle Haüs, we invite everyone from beginners to seasoned players to play on our premier grade courts, register for leagues and tournaments, and take advantage of our on-site pro for lessons, drills, and more. And when you’re done for the day, our courtside cabanas serve up everything from coffee and pastries to dinner, drinks and snacks.

Want to know more about pickleball, including how it started, how it’s growing and how to start playing yourself? Let’s dive into our guide to America’s fastest-growing sport.

Pickleball, voted America’s fastest-growing sport for the past five years, has quickly become a favorite among athletes and casual players alike for its blend of strategy, agility and fun. In fact, 19 percent of the U.S. adult population has played at least one game in the last 12 months. Pickleball is beloved because it’s relatively easy to pick up, but also offers a workout for players of all skill levels.

What is Pickleball? The Basics

Whether you’re hearing about pickleball for the first time or need a refresh, here’s a quick overview of the game:

1. History of Pickleball

The game’s inception dates back to the mid-1960s on Bainbridge Island, Washington. A group of friends, seeking a fun activity for their families, improvised with available equipment and pickleball – a fun hybrid combination of tennis, badminton and ping pong – was born.

While there are several different legends regarding the name, one popular origin story suggests that it was derived from the term “pickle boat,” used in rowing, where the boat is manned by the leftover oarsmen from other boats.

2. Equipment Needed

Paddles: Unlike stringed tennis rackets, pickleball paddles are solid and can be crafted from wood, graphite or composite materials. The size of the paddle is somewhere between a tennis racket and a ping-pong paddle, which allows for both quick movement and control.

Balls: Designed exclusively for the sport, pickleballs are lightweight and perforated, resembling a wiffle ball. Depending on where you play, there are indoor and outdoor variants, with the outdoor ones being slightly harder and more wind-resistant.

Court: The battlefield of pickleball resembles a doubles badminton court in size. It features serving boxes and a 7-foot non-volley zone on both sides of the net. The addition of the non-volley zone is meant to add a layer of strategy to the game.

Shoes: Non-marking athletic shoes are required on indoor courts for the safety of the player as well as for protecting the integrity of the court over time. While you can wear running or other athletic shoes, a court shoe or tennis shoe that provides ankle support can be a good investment if you are going to play regularly.

3. Understanding the Court

The court, with dimensions of 20 x 44 feet, is built to “serve” as a strategy playground of sorts.

It’s divided by the centerline, creating left and right serving areas. The “kitchen,” or the non-volley zone, prohibits players from volleying (or, hitting the ball without a bounce) within it, making it a tactical hotspot in the game.

Rules of the Game

While pickleball is a game that’s fairly easy to pick up, its rules still require some time and practice to get accustomed to. Below, we dive into a few of pickleball’s unique rules.

Let’s start by saying this – you don’t have to be ready to play a full game of pickleball your first time out on the court. Pickleball is a sport with a spirit of fun at its heart, and that’s what we want you to experience when you play.

Instead of getting started with learning how to serve, you can start by volleying the ball back and forth from just outside the kitchen/non-volley zone. Once you feel comfortable with volleying the ball back and forth, you can move back to mid-court and try some longer hits, or have one of your team members move farther back while the other stays near the kitchen.

Continue covering more of the court as you feel comfortable but take your time! You’ll have more fun if you feel confident about playing and if you’re spending more time playing and interacting with your friends/court mates than if you’re frustrated because you’re serving into the net or chasing too many wild balls.

1. Starting the Game

When you feel ready to start playing a game, you can use these steps to play. You can also ask one of our pros for help if you’re feeling a little fuzzy on the rules.

The game kicks off with a serve. The serve is executed underhand, and the server must strike the ball below the waist.

The server’s feet must remain behind the baseline. The serve is directed diagonally, aiming for the opposite side of the court. It’s important that the ball sails over the net and past the kitchen line, landing within the confines of the diagonal service box.

The receiving team must allow the served ball to bounce once before returning it anywhere on the opponent’s side. The serving team also needs to let the return shot bounce once in their court before striking it back.

After the serving team lets the return bounce, players can either volley the ball (hit it without letting it bounce) or play it off a bounce. The rally concludes when a team misses a return, if the ball bounces twice consecutively on one side, or if the ball is hit outside the boundary lines (if the ball hits the line, it’s still considered in).

2. Scoring System

The scoring in pickleball is a little unusual, as only the serving side has the opportunity to score.

A game typically goes to 11 points, but a win requires a lead of at least 2 points. However, instead of swapping sides at halftime, sides are swapped in pickleball when one side reaches 6 points.

Each team scores only while they’re serving. The returning team is trying to earn back the serve. You win a point when you win the exchange (when the other side misses a return, when the ball bounces twice consecutively on the other team’s side, or if the ball is hit out of bounds by the other team).
Before each serve, the score should be called as 3 numbers: server score, receiver score, and for doubles, the server number: one or two. In singles, the last number is left out of the score.

3. Special Rules

When you’re playing pickleball, there are a couple of other unique rules that make the sport more interesting and strategic.

Non-volley zone: While players can’t volley within the non-volley zone (commonly referred to as “the kitchen”), they can step in to play a ball that has bounced. This rule adds a layer of depth, requiring players to be mindful of their positioning during intense rallies.

Switching servers: The serving privilege in doubles play alternates between team members, ensuring both get a chance to serve before the opponents get their turn. Each server continues serving until they lose an exchange. After both servers lose an exchange, the opposing team then earns the chance to serve.

Pickleball Tips & Techniques

To excel at pickleball, you can work on your fundamentals, then dedicate yourself to refining your technique. Whether you’re aiming to perfect your serve or bolster your defense, these tips will set you on the right track.

1. Mastering the Serve

While a serve might seem simple, developing a good one can be a game-changer. Here’s how to make the most of it:

Placement: Target the back third of the court. This pushes your opponent back, giving you an edge.

Consistency: While a powerful serve can be intimidating, consistency is much more important. A serve that lands in the desired spot every time can be more disconcerting to an opponent than an occasional powerful but unpredictable serve.

2. Defensive Play

As in most sports, defense wins championships. Here’s how to strengthen yours:

Positioning: Position yourself in the center of your area of the court. This ensures minimal movement to reach any part of the area you’re covering. While playing, anticipate the ball’s trajectory and stay on your toes.

Stay steady: Ensuring the ball stays in play is a bigger key to winning than hitting spectacular shots. Every shot doesn’t have to be a powerhouse – soft, accurate hits can often be more effective.

3. Skills

As you continue to learn what pickleball is all about, these skills can help you make improvements to your game.

Keep a soft/loose grip on the paddle. Hold it in a way that makes it possible to easily play both sides of the paddle.

Relax! When you are relaxed, your reactions are much faster. You can hit the ball more easily and move on the court with greater agility. Plus, you should be relaxed – pickleball is supposed to be fun!

Focus on accuracy over strength. Hitting hard is easy. Hitting soft is a skill. Soft and accurate shots will get you farther than fast, wild shots. Don’t worry about the pace of the game – worry about improving your accuracy and you’ll see greater success.

Ready to give pickleball a try? Whether you’re seeking competition, a casual game, or just want to try something new, there’s a place for you on the courts at Pickle Haüs in Chicago. From beginners seeking a class to get started learning the sport to advanced players ready to compete, we have pickleball programming available for you. Learn more and book a court today!