Pickleball for Beginners
Pickleball… it’s the fastest growing sport in America. In this guide we will cover the history of pickleball, basic rules, required equipment, and why you should make Pickleball your primary hobby for the coming year.
What is Pickleball?
Pickleball is a racquet sport that is a cross between badminton, tennis, and table tennis. Some have described it as table tennis on half of a tennis court. It was invented in Washington State back in the 1960s by Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell. They were bored one summer and looking to play a game that all family members could participate. They used wooden ping pong paddles and a whiffle ball along with a badminton net, made up some rules, and the game was born.
Why play pickleball?
Pickleball is very easy to learn, especially if you have some experience with any hand-eye coordination sport such as volleyball, tennis, badminton, table tennis, etc. Many beginners are able to get onto a court their first time out, hit the ball around and actively participate in a game. The game appeals to people of all ages and levels of experience. It’s not uncommon for 20 year olds to be playing against 60 year olds in a competitive game! Pickleball is a super social game, it is mainly played with four players on a court at a time. You will meet so many cool people both younger and older. Lastly, it is fantastic exercise. Compared to tennis, the ball will be in play 40 minutes of every hour vs. 15 minutes for tennis.
The game can be played with two or four players (singles or doubles). The object is to hit the ball over the net into the opponent’s court. The dimensions of the court are 44 feet long and 2o feet wide. The net height is 34 inches in the middle, and goes out to 36 inches at the posts. A point is scored if your opponent is unable to get the ball back into your court, or if they hit the ball out of bounds. The first team to get to 11 points will win the game. You must win by two points. Play starts with one team serving from behind the baseline and into the opposite diagonal court. When serving, the paddle must contact the ball below the server’s waist and the serve itself must land outside of the kitchen area. The receiving team must return the ball before it bounces a second time on their side of the court. The serving team must allow the return of serve to bounce into their court before hitting the third shot. A point can only be scored by the serving team.
How to Keep Score in Doubles
Players should call out the score before serving. Usually, three numbers are called out. The serving teams score, the opposing team’s score and the server number (1 or 2). The score always begins at 0,0,2. The initial serving team only serves once. If the point is lost, then the opponent will serve twice (one for each player). The score would then be 0,0,1 and then 0,0,2. The one denotes first server. The two denotes 2nd server. See the below video for more details.
Here are some of the nitty gritty rules:
- If the serve hits the net and lands in the opposite court, it is good.
- Player cannot volley (hit it on the fly) the ball while inside the kitchen.
- Teams can only win points on their serve.
- If the serve lands on the kitchen line, it is “out”.
- Player may step into the kitchen to hit the ball provided that the ball first bounces in the kitchen.
- If player steps into the kitchen after hitting the ball on the fly (even if the opposing team does not return the ball), the opposing team wins the point.
- Ball can be hit twice provided that the swing was all in one motion
For more details, consult the official rulebook.
All you need is a paddle and a ball! The ONIX Z5 paddle is a great starter paddle while the Franklin X-40 ball is the most popular ball used for recreational play as well as for tournaments. Tennis or pickleball shoes are recommended as they provide more lateral stability. Don’t forget a hat for sun protection if you are playing outdoors.
Where can I play?
Pickleball can be played outdoors and indoors if the weather is bad. Here is a site to help you search for a place to play in your area. Generally, if the courts are full, the etiquette is that you put your paddle down next to the net to let the people playing know that you have the next game. Try to scout out the players and courts prior to putting down your paddle so that your abilities are evenly matched. It also helps to go in with a partner if possible.
Basic Pickleball Strategy
Once you get the hang of making contact with the ball, and have a few games under your belt, it’s time to learn a little strategy! Here are the main ones that I live by:
- Get to the net! – The majority of points are won when your team is at the net. The earlier you establish net dominance, the easier it will be to have a chance to put high balls away when your opponent makes a mistake.
- Keep the ball low – By keeping the ball low, you make it harder for your opponent to attack the ball. One way to keep the ball low is to hit or dink the ball close to your opponents feet.
- Keep the ball deep – You’ll want to hit shots that land in the back third of the opponents court. This keeps your opponent from coming to the net, while also making it much harder for them to hit a third shot drop.
- Move your opponent around – Try to hit shots that challenge your opponent to move their feet in order to hit the ball. The more you can do this, the more your opponent has an opportunity to make a mistake.
Here is a fantastic video with some key tips to get you started:
Here are some common terms that pickleball players use. Learn these and you will have no problem blending in with the regulars!
- Rally – play that occurs while the ball is live
- The Kitchen (also known as the non volley zone) is the section of the court adjacent to the net
- Volley – Is when the ball is hit out of the air before it bounces
- Half Volley – Is when the ball is hit immediately after it bounces
- Lob – a shot that is hit high and over the opponents head. It is often a defensive shot.
- Dink – a soft shot usually hit close to the net
- Side Out – this is when a team has lost its turn to serve, and the other team will be serving.
- Bangers – people who like to hit the ball hard
- Drop Shot – Shot hit short of where the opponent is standing. It usually dies just after clearing the net
- Third Shot Drop – The third shot of a rally (after the serve, and the serve return by the opponent). This is a shot hit from the baseline that usually drops into the kitchen on the other side of the net. The goal is to prevent your opponent from attacking the ball while they are up at the net.
Here are other terms to learn if you are so inclined.
Popular mens players include Ben Johns, JW Johnson, Tyson McGuffin, and Zane Navratil. Ben Johns at age 23 is currently the face of the sport and has a contract with Joola. On the women’s side, Simone Jardim, Anna Leigh Waters (and her mom Leigh!), Catherine Parenteau are the ones to watch. Aside from the pros, there are a host of celebrities who have embraced the game including Tom Brady, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cindy Crawford, Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Phelps along with George and Amal Clooney and Melinda Gates.
If you’d like to take your play to the next level, consider entering tournaments. Tournaments give you something to practice for, and you will only continue to improve by playing against others close to your level. Tournaments are offered at different rating levels. The main levels go from 2.5 to 3.0 to 3.5 and 4.0. A rating of 5.0 and above denotes the pro level. You may use the Pickleball Tournaments site to find tournaments happening near you.
The final word
There are so many reasons to start playing pickleball this year. The barrier to entry is quite low. There are quite a few local Facebook groups that you can use to find other players in your area as well, so there is no excuse! One warning though. Once you start playing, it could potentially turn into an addiction. Happy Pickling!