Skip to main content

How to play pickleball: Basic rules and unique variations

One of the tips to staying healthy involves incorporating activities or games that are fun and lighthearted enough so that it’s never a chore. That’s why you might want to try pickleball. Originating in the 1960s, pickleball started as a lighthearted backyard sport and steadily evolved to a much larger phenomenon. Combining elements of tennis, Ping-Pong, and badminton, this game can be enjoyed in groups of two or four. Rumor has it that pickleball’s name originated from the creator’s dog. But Joel Pritchard, the sport’s early pioneer, has said it got its name because it reminded him of a “pickle boat,” a term used in rowing for designated teams.

Pickleball rules mirror other racquet sports with some alterations. If you are interested in learning to play, there are nets and pieces you can easily purchase and set up in your own yard. Though it started small, pickleball is now a global activity that will likely be enjoyed for decades to come.

What are the elements of the game?

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Similar to tennis, there is a net dividing a court in half. Each side of the court is divided into three sections. The non-volley zone takes up 7 feet on either side of the net, and directly beyond it are a right and left service court. Each player holds a paddle, usually crafted with wood or other synthetics. The paddles are more similar to Ping-Pong paddles than tennis racquets. The balls are a polymer material and have 26-40 perforations all around.

Game play occurs either one-on-one or two-on-two. The court itself is about the same size as a badminton court with dimensions of about 20 by 44 feet. The court is also striped much like a badminton court. Strategically, each player mirrors their opponent to continue the volley as long as possible and attempt to initiate faults.

How does the game work?

Once you are practiced, each match is quite fast paced. Fortunately, pickleball rules are fairly straightforward. Each round starts with a serve. The server stands at the baseline at the very back of the court and sends the ball over the net with an underhand stroke. The serve is aimed diagonally to the opponent’s service court. Then, the teams volley. Only the serving side can score a point. The round comes to an end when a fault is committed.

Faults can occur a number of ways. Not hitting the ball beyond the net, or hitting the ball out of bounds count as faults. If you don’t hit the serve into the other team’s diagonal service court or fail to hit the ball before the second bounce on the other side of the net, those are also faults.

The first team to reach 11 points is declared the winner as long as they are leading by at least two points. If the game is tied 10 to 10, the game is continued until one team holds a lead of two points, winning the game.

Are there different variations?

Image used with permission by copyright holder
Collin Quinn Lomax/

As with many sports, pickleball is subject to evolutions and differing styles of play. One incredible adaptation of the game shows marvelous inclusion of those with different capabilities. Para-pickleball in particular is a favored variation that is enjoyed today. It also is called adaptive or wheelchair pickleball because of the alternative rules enforced.

Though most of the methods of play are largely the same, those playing in wheelchairs understand that the wheelchair itself qualifies as part of the player’s body. There are two bounces permitted between volleys instead of one, although a player serving in a wheelchair must be stationary. Integrated games can be played with both standing and seated players, although each party must comply with the parameters assigned to seated and standing positions.

Whether it is played competitively, locally, or as a fun backyard pastime, pickleball is here to stay. Pickleball has spread globally and is played not just in the U.S., but in Canada and Asia, as well. It is an excellent introductory sport with tournaments and exhibitions held annually. If you are new to the game, just remember that practice makes perfect. Learning how to move your body in conjunction with the paddle is the hardest part. The game moves quickly and resets just as fast. With time and a good teammate, you’ll be able to make a racquet of your own.

Editors' Recommendations

21Oak Contributor
Former Digital Trends Contributor
This rooftop tent kit will turn your van into a pop-top camper for about $12K
Transform your two-person rig into a legit, four-person, family-friendly chariot
Camper van outfitted with Super Pacific's CloudCap pop-up roof tent parked among a stand of trees.

Van life usually means sacrificing comfort and living space for maximum portability. There's no denying that it's tight packing most of the amenities of home into the back of a hollowed-out work van. So, anything you can do to make the space feel a little roomier feels like a luxury. Super Pacific's clever CloudCap does just that by converting the unused space on your camper van's roof into a legit two-person "bedroom" with a view.
The details on Super Pacific's CloudCap pop-up rooftop tent for camper vans

Super Pacific bills the  as "a private bunk house for the kids, a guest room for friends, or a panoramic Crow's Nest for you." Bottom line: It expands the living space of many two-person camper vans into four-person road-trip wagons. The simple kit includes the rooftop tent itself, plus all the instructions and mounting hardware you need to install it on the most popular Mercedes-Benz and Ford Transit vans on the road.

Read more
The most popular Grand Canyon trail reopens this week
Your favorite Grand Canyon trail is back in action
grand canyon national park bright angel trail view bright angel lodge

The Grand Canyon National Park has announced the much-anticipated reopening of Havasupai Gardens Campground, Bright Angel Trail, and Tonto Trail, set for April 15, 2024. This marks a celebratory moment for hiking enthusiasts and nature lovers, as one of the most renowned trails in the park becomes accessible once again after a temporary closure.

These closures began way back in December 2023 due to the Transcanyon Waterline project at the Grand Canyon National Park. This project involved extensive construction activities aimed at upgrading and replacing the water distribution lines in the park. The work included the replacement of water distribution lines throughout the Havasupai Gardens area and at the 1.5 and 3-mile rest houses, located along the Bright Angel Trail.

Read more
Calm camping is officially the trend for summer 2024
Embrace the calm camping trend
A man soaking in a natural tub outside of an RV during dusk with a mountain range behind him.

Camping is a timeless tradition that offers reliable comfort. From a toasty s'mores to a warm campfire, a camping excursion evokes nostalgia and warm memories of the past for many of us.
While spending a night under the stars never goes out of style, emerging camping trends are shaking things up by leveraging modern amenities, lifestyle-specific accommodations, and the best camping tents and accessories to bring into the great outdoors.
So, what exactly are people looking for when planning their summer 2024 camping excursions? According to a recent study by Campspot, the name of the game is relaxation. 93% of campers surveyed reported feeling relaxed and refreshed after a camping trip. They coined this experience as the "calm-cation," with calm camping at its core.
Let's dig into some of the most insightful findings from this study of 2,851 participants to learn how camping is trending as one of the most restorative outdoor activities.

An introduction to the calm-cation trend

Read more