Woman hitting pickleball

Pickleball Rules Update: Everything You Need to Know Now

Pickleball’s popularity is exploding, which is awesome. But as more newbies take to the court, it’s increasingly important that everyone knows the rules. Nothing can ruin a pickleball sesh faster than players squabbling over the basics of the game. Beyond that, it’s just as important to keep up with any changes. As pickleball grows, the sport is also evolving. The US Pickleball Association is constantly looking at the rules, listening to input from professionals, rec players and tournament directors to keep the game fun, fair and safe.

It doesn’t take long to realize that the dos and don’ts of pickleball are what makes it unique, challenging and downright addictive. Note to tennis players giving pickleball a try:  Just because you don’t like the kitchen rules does not mean you don’t have to follow them (or get grouchy). You can’t serve and volley and you can’t stand on top of the net to crush ‘sitters,’ no matter how much you’ll enjoy doing it. Truth is, once you play more pickleball, you realize that the kitchen (or no-volley zone) is essential. It would be chaos out there if the ball could be smashed   from anywhere on court.

So, what’s going to be different? A few new rules and guidelines were recently adopted, and more are under consideration for the future.  Many of the new regulations are clearly intended to smooth out the game at the professional level, or at increasingly popular amateur tournaments. But social players will be affected by certain tweaks of the US Pickleball Official Rulebook.  

pickleball rules 2024

The biggest area of debate has to do with the serve. For context, the serve is another area that radically separates pickleball and tennis—in the way the ball is hit, as well as in the shot’s relation to the game. In tennis, the serve is meant to be a weapon. A well hit serve is supposed to win points outright, or at least set up the point distinctly in the server’s favor. (‘Supposed to’ is key—some of us are still simply trying not to double fault.)  In pickleball, the serve is intended to start the point—not to overwhelm it. Of course, good picklers manage to stay within the rules and hit serves that are hard to return. I like to play with these people.

Serving 101:  The serve must have an upward arc, the paddle should be lower than the server’s wrist and the ball should not be contacted higher than the server’s waist. (A recent rule was proposed to change this body part to the hip joint since waists are often indiscernible… ouch. The rule was voted down.) Most people get the job done just fine with a volley serve. That is, they drop the ball from their non-paddle hand and hit it before it reaches the ground.

Serving rules came under scrutiny when players started to spin the ball with their hands before hitting it. This caused the ball to bounce unpredictably and gave the server a distinct advantage. Last year, this spin serve was deemed illegal to protect the true spirit of the game. Players now must simply drop the ball and hit it (out of the air). It IS legal to impart spin on the ball with the paddle, if the trajectory and contact point are legit. (Let’s all work on that while it’s still allowed!) In related news: Referees and returners (in non-officiated play) used to have the right to call a fault for an illegal serve. That rule has been toned down. Now, it’s strictly permissible to call for a replay (instead of a fault), since it’s quite difficult to be certain a service motion is unacceptable.

Sounds simple enough (not really), but many players still aren’t satisfied. These folks want the volley serve to be entirely replaced by the drop serve. The drop serve is struck after a player drops the ball and it bounces once. This would eliminate, advocates say, any disputes on court as to whether the server’s hand was putting spin on the ball. The drop serve would also eliminate any potential gamesmanship that would arise from calling for a replay. There’s a concern that returners might take advantage of the replay rule by objecting to every serve they can’t return—um…. we all know the type.

Yup, no matter how many pages are added to the rulebook, it can’t entirely eliminate attempts to game the system. Some players will always test the loopholes and limits of the rules as written. Fortunately, most people come to the court with a desire to display good sportsmanship, to win fair and square. The motion to eliminate the volley serve was rejected for 2024, but its proponents will no doubt keep pushing for it. Stay tuned.

Sportsmanship surely comes into play in another important game changer. The pickleball rule book now states that players should not wear clothes that match the color of the ball. A bright yellow ball is hard to see against a bright yellow shirt, for example. This is presented as a guideline rather than a rule. However, referees can ask players to change if their clothes are deemed the ‘wrong’ color--keep that in mind if you sign up for a tournament.  As for rec players, US Pickleball seems to be asking us nicely to make sure we aren’t accidentally causing our opponents difficulty with our outfits. No one would purposely dress like a pickleball to cause confusion, would they? Hmm… Recently, it was proposed that tournament referees judge attire based on ‘appropriateness’ as well as color which is to be defined as ‘normal and customary.’ So, wear normal clothes to play pickleball… got it.


pickleball court changes

Proposed rules for pickleball’s future?

Expanding the kitchen by a foot. Nooo! An eight-foot-long kitchen would make third shot drops almost too easy and covering dinks would be tougher for the less mobile. Smashing the ball would also become harder for amateur players. Let’s not ruin all the fun! (The rule was proposed to make net play harder for the very tall players such as top tennis pros who have taken up the game and can too easily dominate the net from seven feet away, but it failed to gain enough support to be included in the 2024 rulebook.)

More color confusion. The pickleball rules committee is looking into rulings that would govern the color of paddles, disallowing any paddles that are the same colors as pickleballs.  

Rally scoring. Still under review by US Pickleball, this proposal suggests that pickleball formally adopt a system that rewards a point after every rally so either side can score, not just the serving player or team. Faster matches and fewer side outs with no score change make the game more exciting, say fans of the system. In fact, it’s already being used in Major League Pickleball (professional) tournaments and seems to be gaining favor, especially among singles players. That said, it seems rally scoring is being seriously considered for sanctioned play, not rec. No worries, then—now that you’ve mastered the current (somewhat complicated) scoring system, it probably won’t be changing anytime soon.



Back to blog
1 of 3