Is a Sidearm Serve a Fair or Foul Move in Pickleball?

Pickleball is a fun and exciting sport, but sometimes it can also cause some arguments on the court. Usually, these arguments are about the rules of pickleball, especially when some players are not familiar with them or have different opinions on how to apply them. One of the most common sources of disagreement is the serve, which is the first shot of each rally. Some players may wonder if a certain way of serving, such as a “sidearm serve”, is allowed or not.

Is a Sidearm Serve a Fair or Foul Move in Pickleball?
Is a Sidearm Serve a Fair or Foul Move in Pickleball?

A sidearm serve is a way of serving where the player swings the paddle horizontally or sideways (instead of vertically or up and down). This way of serving can be tricky to judge, because it may violate some of the rules of pickleball that are meant to keep the serve fair and consistent. The serve is a very important shot in pickleball, because it starts the rally and can give an advantage to the server



The USA Pickleball Association, which is the official governing body of pickleball, has established some rules that every player must follow when serving. These rules specify how the paddle should move and where it should hit the ball. Depending on how you serve, there are two types of serves in pickleball: the traditional volley serve and the drop serve.

1. Traditional Volley Serve 

This is the most common way of serving in pickleball. It involves tossing the ball in the air and hitting it with the paddle before it bounces on the court. To do this serve correctly, you must follow these two rules: (1) You must hit the ball below your waist (which means below your belly button)

The top of your paddle must be lower than the top of your wrist (which is where your wrist bends). 



2. Drop Serve

This is a newer way of serving in pickleball that was introduced in 2021. It involves dropping the ball on the court and hitting it with the paddle after it bounces once. To do this serve correctly, you do not have to follow the two rules above for the traditional volley serve. You can hit the ball at any height and angle with your paddle.

The official rules of pickleball do not mention anything about a “sidearm serve”. This means that a sidearm serve is not explicitly forbidden, but it is also not explicitly allowed. The only way to determine if a sidearm serve is legal or not is to check if it follows the two rules above for the traditional volley serve, if that is how you are serving. You can use these two questions to check:

Is your paddle hitting the ball below your waist? Is the top of your paddle lower than the top of your wrist?



If you answer “no” to either of these questions, then you may have done what some casual pickleball players call a “sidearm serve” and made a mistake on the court. This means that you lose your serve and give a point to your opponent. However, if you are doing a drop serve, then you do not have to worry about these two questions, because they do not apply to this type of serve. You can swing your paddle however you want when doing a drop serve.




The reason why these rules exist for the traditional volley serve is to prevent players from gaining an unfair advantage by serving in a way that makes it harder for their opponent to return the ball. A sidearm serve can be very effective because it can create more speed, spin, and direction on the ball. Some players may prefer a sidearm serve because they can make their serve flatter or more powerful or more curved. This can surprise their opponent and make them miss or hit a weak return.

However, pickleball is a sport that values fairness and consistency, so everyone should follow the same rules when serving. No matter where you play—whether it is for fun or for competition—you should respect the rules of pickleball and play by them. This way, you can avoid any conflicts on the court and enjoy the game more. Remember, while there is no specific rule that bans “sidearm serves”, there are rules that limit how you can do a traditional volley serve. You must either (1) follow these rules and hit the ball below your waist and with your paddle lower than your wrist; or (2) do a drop serve instead.

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