So, you’ve gathered to play pickleball with your friends for the first time. How to play pickleball? First things first. You’ve got your paddle, a ball or two, shoes with arch support, and you’re sporting some durable but light layers—maybe a pickleball t-shirt and color coordinated pickleball socks—that give you room to move around. (Side note: pickleball outfits are a thing.) You can play singles or doubles–this time, you’re playing doubles, because it’s fun in general and especially helpful when you’re first getting started.
You flip a coin with your opponents to see who serves first. They win the toss, which is just as well–it’ll be helpful for you to see how it’s done. Their first server goes to the corner of the opposite side of the court from where you’re standing and gets behind the baseline. They move to serve and the ball is coming your way.
You’re probably excited to run up to return it, but not so fast. First, you need to stay out of the “kitchen,” which is the no-volley zone demarcated by the closest line to the net on your side of the court. Second, the ball needs to bounce once within bounds–so inside the square you’re standing in–before you return it. This is one of the most basic but important of pickleball rules.
You give the ball a light hit after it bounces, aiming for it to bounce once in your opponent’s square. They let it bounce and hit it back to you, and from there you can volley freely whether the ball bounces or not; you can even hit “drop shots” into the kitchen after those first two returns. Since your opponent served, they have the chance to earn a point this round. If they don’t, meaning, if they hit out of bounds or fail to return the ball after one bounce, they win no points and it’s your team’s turn to serve.
Before you step up to the baseline, let’s talk about form. Unlike in tennis, a pickleball serve is always underhand. You’ll move your serving arm in an upward arc with your paddle pointing down, so the highest point on your paddle is below your wrist. The ball should be below your navel when you hit it, and it needs to bounce within bounds (not in the kitchen) on your opponent’s side of the court. Though you might be excited enough to jump for joy on your first serve, make sure at least one foot is on the ground when your paddle makes contact.
Another thing you’ll do when it’s your time to serve: call out the score. You’ll call out two numbers if you’re playing singles, or three if you’re playing doubles. This time, you’ll call out: 1) the serving team’s score; 2) the receiving team’s score; 3) the server number–since there are two on your team and each of you will serve. Your opponent didn’t get a point in the last round, so their score is zero, just like yours, so you’ll call out “0-0-1!” When you’re playing singles, you’ll just call out the server’s score and the receiver’s score–so “0-0” in this case.
Now, guess what? That sizzling serve of yours was in bounds, bounced once, and your opponent didn’t hit it. You got a point! (Plus street cred for your polished pickleball clothes, BTW). Now, you and your partner will switch sides, and they’ll serve, first calling out “1-0-2.” Your opponents won’t switch; they’ll just await the serve and its required bounce before hitting it back to you.
As you go on playing, the ball should always bounce inbounds before you hit it. If it bounces on one of the lines, it’s still good, unless it’s a serve that bounces on the kitchen line. When a ball goes out of bounds on your side of the court, either you or your partner should call “out!” to make sure everybody’s on the same page before play continues. And of course, you always want the ball to hit the court, not you, but body shots do happen. Try to dodge the ball, both for your own safety and because if it hits you, you lose the point.
One of the reasons calling out the score before each serve is so important is that the game ends when one team reaches 11 points, as long as they’re winning by two points or more. If it’s really a nail-biter and you’re tied or a single point apart, you’ll keep playing until a team pulls ahead by at least two points. If you don’t win this game, all the more reason to keep playing, improving your comfort with the sport and understanding of the rules.
A note about wardrobe: don’t be afraid to try out new pickleball looks from one outing to the next. This is a sport that’s full of colorful pickleball attire. Because it’s also a social occasion, a lot of people like to wear something they can feel good in both on and off the court for any post-game activities. Our new AGPC Collection is all about it—from pickleball clothes for ladies, men’s pickleball outfits to that one-of-a-kind pickleball gift.
Good game, and good luck out there!