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3 essential rules for a legal serve in pickleball

Pickleball is a stick sport that is easy to learn, but like other games, it has its own rules. And service, which is an important part of the game, has its own set of rules. But if you can master just three simple rules of serving, you won't make many mistakes.

Firstly, You can't touch the baseline, Second, you must hit the ball correctly for a lob or drop serve. Lastly, the ball has to land in an area that is diagonal from you. It can never land in the non-volley zone.

 3 essential rules for a legal serve in pickleball

Even though there are more than three rules, you can think of the ones above as buckets into which all the other rules fit. We'll review the basic rules you need to know to start serving the right way in this easy-to-read guide.

3 important things you need to know to serve in pickleball?

To follow the rules for a legal pickleball serve and to avoid making three of the most common serving mistakes in pickleball, do the following: 

  1. Position: Both feet must be behind the baseline and can't touch it in any way.
  2. Serving: Volley serves must be done underhand, and drop serves must let the ball hit the ground and bounce before you make contact.
  3. Placement: The ball must be served into the section across from you and never into the non-volley zone, which includes the non-volley line.

When you read this, doing the basics of a proper serve might not seem like a big deal. But there's a lot to find out about all three. 

So let's go into detail about each rule so everything will be clear.

Rule 1: Positioning - Don't touch the baseline

Every serve in pickleball starts with where you are. Even though there isn't a perfect way to set up a serve, and everyone does it differently, one rule must be followed, and new players often break. (4.A.4.b) You can't touch the Baseline.

For clarity, the baseline is the back line of the court, which is parallel to the net and farthest from it. It divides the back of the court from the area that isn't part of it. When you serve, if you touch the baseline, this is called a foot mistake.

A fault is another term you should know in tennis. When pickleball or a player breaks a rule, this is called a mistake. This makes the game stop. This is called a "dead ball." 

If your team caused a dead ball, either your partner (if you were the first server and you were playing pairs) or the other team gets to serve. If the team being served makes a mistake, the team serving gets a point.

Remember that you can serve the ball anywhere in your opponent's service court, as long as it is between the no-volley zone line and the baseline. 

When it comes to placement, there are a few different rules to keep in mind:

  • You can't cross the imaginary point where the centerline and the fence meet when you serve. (4.A.4.c.)
  • During your serve, you have to keep at least one foot on the ground, behind the sideline. (4.A.4.a.)

Rule 2: Arm Motion - Volley Serve and Drop Serve Rules

The traditional way to serve in pickleball is with a volley, which is still the most popular way to serve. However, there is another way to serve, which is called a "drop serve." Both have different rules to follow, but you will get fault if you do either wrong. 

This part will explain how to do both types of service properly.

Volley Serve (4.A.7)

When you think of a player serving in pickleball, you usually think of the volley serve. It means letting go of the ball with one hand while your other hand, carrying the paddle, hit the ball in the air before it can fall and bounce on the ground.

It's different in many ways, but most importantly, all volley serves have to be underhand. The following are ways to measure and ensure this:

  • The paddle and the ball can't touch above the waist. (4.A.7.c.)
  • The arm of the server has to move up in a curve. (4.A.7.a.)
  • The paddle head can't be higher than the highest point of the hand. (4.A.7.b.)

The good news is that most players find it easier to serve underhand than overhand. No matter what, a volley serve is a fault if the ball is hit overhand. If that's a deal-breaker for you, try the drop serve, which is the other legal serve.

The Drop Serve (4.A.8)

In 2021, the drop serve became a legal way to serve. It looks very different from a volley serve, so it has its own rules.

To drop serve in pickleball, a player can either use the hand that isn't holding the paddle or the paddle to raise the ball to any normal height, then drop the ball without using force or spin. The ball has to bounce at least once because of gravity before being hit.

If the server follows these basic rules, they can hit the ball however they want and whenever they want (as long as it has bounced at least once).

The drop serve does not follow the same rules as a volley serve. You don't have to make contact above your waist, your arm doesn't have to move in an upward arc, and the paddle head doesn't have to be in the same position as your wrist. But this serve is hard because it rarely bounces higher than a person's waist. So, even though you could hit the serve overhand, it's not a good idea.

The drop serve may make it easier for new players to get used to hitting the ball, but you won't see pros using it, at least not yet.

Rule #3: Placement: Must serve diagonally opposite service court

This rule seems pretty clear, doesn't it? In almost all stick and paddle sports, the server has to hit the ball in a specific spot. But pickleball has a few rules that are different from other sports. Most of these rules are set by the court.

For the serve to be legal, it must go fully over the non-volley zone, usually called the "kitchen."The non-volley zone is a rectangle with 7 feet on each side of the net. The line of the net is also part of the non-volley zone.

The end of this cooking line marks the end of the service court, which comprises the centerline, sideline, and baseline.

So, a serve can land diagonally to the server, but it is only in the right service court if it goes completely over the non-volley zone and its line.

You will hit serves into the kitchen and its line as you learn how to play. But a deep serve is a better way to serve, so if your serve ends up there, it was just a mistake.

Why is it important to serve deep in pickleball?

Pickleball is a game with few deliberate moves. It's more about where you put your pieces than how strong you are. There are cases and times when power is needed, but the best advice for a new player is to focus on precision and control instead of power when serving.

When you serve deep, you send the ball as far back as possible while keeping it in the service court. This moves the person who gets the ball behind the baseline and farther away from the net. 

There are several reasons to do this, but perhaps the most important is that it gives you room for a third shot drop, a shot from the serving team that drops the ball right into the non-volley zone. 

It's a softer shot, and the ball stops in the kitchen. If the team getting the serve is pushed back on the sideline, they must make up more ground before the third shot.

When you serve deep, it's like playing chess two moves ahead instead of responding to what comes your way.

So, what must you know?

To make a good serve in pickleball, you have to hit the ball underhand and from below the waist if it's a volley serve, and it has to bounce once if it's a drop serve. Either way, the ball must land on the diagonally opposite serve court behind the baseline.

Serve deep to keep the other team on their toes and give yourself or your team room and a chance on the third shot. By remembering tips like these, you can play a better game and still serve legally.

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