How to Play Pickleball: A Beginner’s Guide to Explosive Game Play

a complex with several outdoor pickleball courts which can be a ideal location to learn how to play pickleball

Pickleball, a highly engaging racquet sport, has surged in popularity in recent years. With its blend of tennis, ping pong, and badminton, pickleball is known for its fast-paced action and its players span all ages and skill levels. If you’re new to the game of pickleball, this complete beginner’s guide will help you understand the basics of how to play pickleball and get you plugged into a game in no time. If your goal is eventual court domination, we’ve got the tips to get you there.

What is Pickleball?

Pickleball is a sport that’s easy to learn but challenging to master. It’s played with a paddle and a plastic ball with holes, similar to a wiffle ball. While the game’s origins date back to the mid-20th century, it has recently exploded in popularity across all age groups, but especially among older adults looking for a less strenuous alternative to traditional tennis.

The game can be enjoyed both indoors and outdoors, and with a few basic instructions, you can get started playing in no time. Let’s dive into the world of pickleball and learn how to play this fun and dynamic sport.

Equipment and Court Setup

Before hitting the court, you need to be familiar with the equipment and the court layout itself. Proper setup is critical to the game’s flow and player safety.


The basic pickleball equipment includes:

  • A pickleball paddle, which is somewhere between the sizes of a tennis racquet and ping pong paddle, usually made of wood or composite materials like graphite, fiberglass or carbon fiber.
  • A plastic pickleball, which has ventilation holes and is available in different colors.

Beyond a paddle and ball, other essentials include a sturdy pair of women’s pickleball shoes or men’s pickleball shoes with max support, plus a bag to hold your gear.

pickleball accesories including a pickleball paddle and three bright color pickleballs on a court
Pickleball paddle and several pickle balls on court.

Pickleball Court Dimensions

The pickleball court is similar in size to a badminton court, measuring 20 feet wide and 44 feet long for doubles, and 20 feet wide and 22 feet long for singles. A 7-foot-long non-volley zone, known as ‘the kitchen’, is located on both sides of the net. It’s vital to become familiar with these dimensions to understand the areas of play.

How to Play Pickleball: A Beginner’s Guide to Explosive Game Play
Colorful pickleball court silhouette. Top view field for game with net and lines. Pitch dimensions and measures

Basic Rules and Scoring for Pickleball Games

Understanding the rules and scoring system is essential to learning how to play pickleball. Here’s a rundown of the fundamentals to get you started:

Serving and Receiving

A game of pickleball begins with a serve, which must be underhand and made with the ball below the server’s waist. Serves must be directed diagonally across the net and received in the opponent’s service area. If the receiving team wins the rally, they do not score but instead serve next. Only the serving team can score.

In-Bounds and Out-of-Bounds Shots

To score, you must ensure the ball bounces once in the opponent’s service area without hitting them out-of-bounds. If the ball lands outside of the court, it is out and there is no score.

Points and Scoring

You can score a point in pickleball only when you serve. Games are typically played to 11 points, with a two-point margin to win. If players reach 10-10, the game continues until one player gains a two-point lead.

Pickleball’s Fundamental Shots and Techniques

To play pickleball effectively, it’s important to learn the basic shots and techniques:


The foundational strokes in pickleball include the forehand and backhand. Both are performed with an open stance, ensuring your body is fully facing the net. These strokes are executed using both power and precision to direct the ball where you want it to go.

Dinking and Volleying

Dinking is a soft, controlled shot meant to strategically place the ball over the net. It’s especially important in doubles to keep rallies going and improve positioning. Volleying refers to hitting the ball before it bounces. It requires quick reflexes and is often used to put the ball away or maintain control of the rally.


Serving is your first opportunity to control the rally. Whether you go for a soft, curving shot that lands near the kitchen or a fast-paced, passing shot that puts the opponents on their heels, the serve sets the tone for the game.

Serve Attempts

In pickleball, the serving team gets only one serve attempt per player in doubles or per serve in singles before the service passes to the opposing team. If the server commits a fault during the first serve, they do not receive a second chance. This rule emphasizes the importance of a precise and strategic serve in initiating a successful rally.

Pickleball Gameplay and Strategy

Developing a strategy and understanding gameplay dynamics can take your pickleball skills to the next level:

Singles vs. Doubles Play

Singles play involves one player on each side of the court and requires more court coverage. Doubles play involves two players on each side; the court’s size forces players to work together and cover more ground effectively.

Positioning on the Court

In doubles, good positioning is key. One player will primarily take the left side, and the other player will take the right. The idea is to keep lateral positioning as much as possible, so you have the court corners covered without leaving the other side exposed.

Communication and Teamwork

Doubles in pickleball isn’t just about your individual skill; it’s about working together as a team. Communication helps in deciding who takes what shot and ensures both partners are on the same page during the game.

How to Win a Point in a Pickleball Game

Winning a point in pickleball requires a combination of strategic shot placement, patience, and opportunistic play. It is essential to construct points by creating situations where opponents are off balance or out of position.

For a new player, understanding when a point is won in pickleball is crucial to gameplay. A point is scored only by the serving team when the opposing team violates the rules by either allowing the ball to bounce twice, hitting it out of bounds or into the net, or committing a fault like a foot fault.

Points are not scored on a serve that lands in the ‘no-volley zone’ or on a ‘serve return’. The game begins with a serve from the right side of the court and must be hit underhand, clearing the no-volley zone (kitchen), diagonally to the opponent’s side. Play continues with each side allowed one bounce of the ball before volleys can be freely exchanged. A point is won and the serve switches sides (or to the server’s partner in doubles) once a fault is committed by the receiving team.

In contrast, if the serving team commits a fault, the serve goes to the opponent without a point being scored. The process repeats with each serve until one team accumulates the points required to win the game, typically 11, and must be by a margin of at least two points.

Here are several strategies to consider:

  • Forcing Errors: Apply pressure by hitting deep shots to the baseline or soft shots to the kitchen, compelling opponents to make difficult returns that may lead to errors.
  • Playing the Angles: Use sharp angles on your shots to stretch your opponents across the court, increasing their chance of missing the ball or hitting a weak return.
  • Third Shot Drop: Master the third shot drop to transition from the baseline to the net, thereby gaining an advantageous position to control the rally.
  • Patience in Rallies: Stay patient during rallies; it’s often more effective to wait for an unforced error from the opposing team rather than trying to hit a winner on every shot.
  • Targeting the Middle: Aim for the middle of your opponents’ court, which can cause confusion and increase the chance of unforced errors.
  • Serve and Return Pressure: Consistently serve deep and return serves with purpose to keep opponents on the defensive from the outset.
How to Play Pickleball: A Beginner’s Guide to Explosive Game Play
Pickleball player with specialized paddle racket and perforated plastic balls about to serve the ball

How to Play the Pickleball Court “Kitchen”

In pickleball, the “kitchen” refers to the non-volley zone, a seven-foot area adjacent to the net on both sides of the court. Understanding and adhering to the rules of the kitchen is paramount for strategic play:

  • Non-Volley Zone: Players are prohibited from volleying the ball—that is, hitting it before it bounces—while standing in the kitchen. This rule prevents players from dominating the net play and ensures a fairer game.
  • No Volleying on the Line: Stepping on the kitchen line while volleying the ball also constitutes a fault. Players must be mindful of their foot positioning in relation to the line during play.
  • Dropped Shots: While volleying is not allowed from the kitchen, players can enter this zone to play a ball that has bounced, and shots like dinks or third shot drops are often executed from here.
  • Exiting the Kitchen: After a ball is played from the kitchen following a bounce, players should quickly exit the zone to avoid volleys that may unexpectedly come their way and thus avoid potential faults.
  • Kitchen Line Strategies: Savvy players use the kitchen line to create strategic advantages, incorporating moves like the Erne to legally reach around the kitchen and volley while avoiding a foot fault.

New pickleball players learning how to play pickleball should dedicate time to mastering the rules of the kitchen to avoid making mistakes that cost points or give control to your opponents.

Game Etiquette and Safety Tips

Pickleball, like any sport, has its set of etiquettes and safety guidelines:

Respect for Opponents and Fair Play

Always play with integrity and observe good sportsmanship. This means calling your own fouls, playing by the rules, and respecting your opponents and their abilities.

Proper Footwear and Attire

Pickleball comes with a lot of lateral movement, like a sliding during play. Wear appropriate clothing and shoes for the sport. Pickleball shoes offer support for side to side pickleball moves and good grip on the court surface, reducing the risk of slipping and injury.

Injury Prevention and Warm-Up Exercises

Prior to playing, take time to warm up and perform stretching exercises. This will help prevent injuries and keep you flexible during the game.

Sun Protection

Pickleball is often played outdoors, so it’s important if you are outside to protect yourself from the sun. Wear sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses to protect your skin and eyes from harmful UV rays.

For new players, understanding the importance of game etiquette and safety practices cannot be overstated. Not only do they ensure a respectful and enjoyable environment for all participants, but they also lay the groundwork for a sustainable playing experience.

Adhering to these principles minimizes risks, promotes a positive and inclusive atmosphere, and helps you integrate seamlessly into the pickleball community. Remember, the reputation and longevity of your playing career can be significantly influenced by your early commitment to these standards.

Common Beginner Mistakes in Learning How to Play Pickleball

One common mistake among beginners who are learning how to play pickleball is neglecting the non-volley zone, or ‘kitchen,’ misjudging when they can enter. It’s essential to remember that you can only step into this zone after the ball bounces.

Another frequent error is overusing power shots, which often leads to loss of control and increases the chance of the ball going out of bounds. Instead, new players should focus on developing their soft game, such as dinks and accurate drop shots.

Poor paddle grip and stance can also interfere with a player’s ability to hit the ball effectively. Beginners are encouraged to maintain a relaxed but firm grip on the paddle and adopt a ready stance with knees slightly bent and feet shoulder-width apart, enabling quick, balanced movements throughout the game.

Mastering how to play pickleball also involves recognizing the importance of strategic shot placement over sheer force. Rather than focusing on hitting the ball hard, beginners should concentrate on where to place the ball to keep their opponents off-balance.

In addition, newcomers to the sport should be mindful of their court position and ensure that they are not too close or too far back, which could lead to missed opportunities or reduced reaction time. By avoiding these common pitfalls, beginners can develop solid fundamentals, enhancing their overall gameplay and enjoyment of the sport.

Beyond the Basics: Skills to Advance Your Pickleball Game to the Next Level

As players progress from the basics of how to play pickleball to more intermediate and advanced levels of play, their skillset should expand accordingly, focusing on techniques that can significantly improve their game. Some of the skills you can look forward to developing after mastering the basics are:

  • Lob Shots: Perfecting the lob shot requires timing and precision, especially when used as a defensive strategy to move opponents away from the net.
  • Spin Techniques: Incorporating topspin or backspin on the ball can complicate opponents’ returns and is vital for making shots more unpredictable.
  • Third Shot Drops: Mastering the third shot drop from the baseline into the kitchen can set up the point and allow players to move to the net.
  • Erne Shots: Developing the ability to anticipate and execute an Erne, which involves reaching around the non-volley zone to hit an overhead smash, can catch opponents off guard.
  • Poaching: Intermediate and advanced players should learn the best timing and positioning for poaching, which can quickly turn a defensive stance into an offensive opportunity.
  • Serves and Return Variations: Exploring different serve and return techniques, including power serves or soft angle shots, to keep opponents on their toes.

As players delve deeper into pickleball, the journey from beginner to advanced involves layering of skills and techniques. By integrating these more advanced maneuvers into their set of on-court tools, players not only refine their style of play but also enhance their ability to adapt on the court.

The progression from fundamental strokes to complex strategies is a testament to a player’s commitment and passion for the sport. New players who embrace ongoing learning and practice, practice, practice is key to mastering the art of pickleball and playing the game at every level.

How to Grow Your Pickleball Game Skills Fast

To rapidly enhance their skills, new pickleball players should focus on mastering fundamental techniques through consistent practice and drilling. This includes developing a keen eye for ball placement and shot selection to control the pace of the game.

Strong emphasis should be placed on learning strategic serving and return shots that can set up advantageous positions for blocking or scoring points. Additional skills, like learning how to spin the ball can help make those plays that win the game.

Also, engaging with more experienced players and participating in clinics or coaching sessions can provide invaluable insights. While it might seem initially tough to play against seasoned opponents, learning from their game play strategies can help you accelerate your own skills. Don’t be afraid to play stronger players in at any stage, even as a beginner – as these moments teach valuable lessons in learning the sport of pickleball.

Mental game strength, involving focus, adaptability, and game sense, is as crucial as physical prowess. Anticipating an opponent’s next move is an extremely valuable piece of your mental game. With the dedication to these aspects of how to play pickleball, a beginner can swiftly transform into a formidable power player in the pickleball community.

Wrap Up

Pickleball is a thrilling game that provides a great amount of exercise and social interaction. With this guide, you’re well-equipped to step onto a pickleball court and start enjoying the sport. Remember, practice is key to improving your game. Also, starting out with the right equipment will set you up for success from the get-go and help avoid injury.

Ready to play? Grab your paddle, find a court, and have fun now that you’ve learned the basics of how to play pickleball!

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