How to Serve in Pickleball – Rules and Tips

If you are wondering how to serve in pickleball, you are in the right place! From pickleball serve rules to the types of pickleball serves to master, we have you covered.

The serve is one of the most important aspects of pickleball. A good serve can put your opponent on the defensive and give you an early lead in the game. In this blog post, we’ll go over the basics of serving in pickleball, including the rules, foot placement, types of serves, and strategy. By the end of this post, you’ll be an ace at serving! And that’s key. Because if you can’t get your serve in…you can’t score!

Serving Rules in Pickleball

serving rules in pickleball

In pickleball, you must utilize an underhand serve, striking the ball no higher than your belly button. You may strike the ball with a forehand or backhand, and you are permitted to induce spin on contact. Pickleball serve rules include:

-Clearing the net (36 inches at the posts; 34 inches in the center). The ball is permitted to hit the net but still must clear.

-Landing diagonally, but not in the seven-foot non-volley zone

-Both feet must be behind the baseline when making contact with the ball on a serve, but can land anywhere after contact is made

-One foot needs to be touching the surface of the court behind the baseline (no jump serves!)

-The server MUST call out the score loudly and clearly, and then serve within 10 seconds

New rule for 2023: The server may not spin the ball before striking the pickleball with their paddle; producing serve spin with your paddle is still permitted.

How to Serve in Pickleball: The Serving Sequence

Many new players find the serving sequence to be confusing in pickleball, especially if they are not coming over from other paddle/racquet sports.

-There is no set way to determine who serves first. Spin a paddle, flip a coin, decide on the wall side–the choice is yours and your opponents’, unless your pickleball facility or league organizer has established a hard and fast rule.

-The initial serve of the game is always from the right-hand side of the court. 

-If your serve is good and you win the point, you will then serve from the left-side of the court, alternating with each point won.

-In doubles, there is a “sideout” if the first server fails to get the ball in or if the point is lost. The other side takes control, with both players getting an opportunity to serve.

Tips to Improve Your Pickleball Serve

Establish a Pre-Serve Routine

Want to improve your pickleball serve? A pre-serve routine can make all the difference. Many athletes turn to rituals in order to keep themselves physically and mentally prepared–and to keep their mechanics in order. Whether it’s a baseball player stepping into the batter’s box or an NBA star at the free throw line, you will find many players relying on consistent habits before taking their shot. From your foot positioning to your breathing pattern, your paddle position to the number of times you bounce the ball, find a routine that works for your serve and then stick to it. 

Improve Pickleball Serve Consistency With Fewer Moving Parts

Inconsistent pickleball serves generally come at the hands of people who are trying to do too much. From flicking a wrist to bending an elbow, there are so many things that can go wrong. The quieter your swing when it comes to body mechanics the better chance you have for consistency.

Pickleball Serve Footwork

Proper footwork and placement are key to a good serve. To start, you should be positioned behind the baseline on the right side if you’re right-handed or on the left side if you’re left-handed. From here, you can load up for your serve by transferring your weight from your back foot to your front foot. Your arm and wrist come into play as you become more advanced. But to start, focus solely on your shoulder movement.

Choose Your Service Target

When it comes to a pickleball serve, you have many options at your disposal to put your opponent on the defensive. In my opinion, speed and spin both take a backseat to ball location when establishing a consistent serve. I’m amazed at how many people “mail in” their serve. One key is to hit the ball intentionally: know where you want to hit it and why. Perhaps your opponent has a weak backhand; is leaning backward; has flat feet; is cheating forward; etc. Once you have determined where you want to hit the ball, be sure that the face of the paddle is aimed in that direction and that you are ready for the return.

Pick Your Serve Depth

The numbers don’t lie: deep serves translate to more points. Keeping your opponents away from the non-volley zone while you advance to the kitchen, is likely to put you in control. But not every serve should be deep…

Keep Them Guessing

Trickery is part of the game, and I implore new players to learn to hit several different serves consistently and reap the rewards of victory. 

Types of Pickleball Serves

The Standard Pickleball Serve

This is your safety serve, and one you should be able to hit 99% of the time. It’s not too high, relatively flat, and no more than 6 feet from the baseline.

The Power Pickleball Serve

This serve is ripped to the other side, landing in the vicinity of your opponent’s feet. You will need to maintain a loose grip on the paddle and ensure you follow through with your body weight leading the charge. For maximum results, toggle between top-spin and a slice serve and enjoy watching your court friends become off-balance.

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The Spin Serve

The spin serve in pickleball is most effective when used to exploit your opponent’s court position. If they are deep, go shallow. If they are leaning right, go left. And if you really want to win points, spin into the corner of the kitchen and force the opposing player to shift off court when they attempt a return. If they are lucky enough to return the serve, they are likely now out of position and you will have a great deal of court to work with to put them away.

The Lob Serve

The pickleball lob serve is a fantastic tactic to change the game’s pace, catch your opponent off guard, take advantage of venues with limited backcourts, exploit a high sun, and maybe best of all, frustrate the heck out of other players. When hitting a lob serve, hit the ball high, with it arching towards the corner baseline. This is a tough serve to return with a high margin of error for 3.0-ish players. 

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Different Pickleball Serves

A classic pickleball volley serve shines when it comes to speed and power. By striking the ball just below your navel level, you can maximize the impact and drive behind your shot, making it a formidable serve.

On the other hand, the drop serve offers a unique opportunity for adding extra spin to your serve. Even though the ball doesn’t bounce higher than mid-thigh, making it harder to hit with the same power as a volley serve, the extra spin can make it more challenging for your opponent to anticipate and return your serve.

Comparing the Pickleball Volley Serve and Drop Serve
The drop serve is rare among professional players. However, it’s an excellent option for beginner and intermediate players who want to improve their serve consistency.

Drop serves can be fantastic practice tools for experimenting with new techniques, such as adding spin to your serve or trying out backhand serves. While professionals tend to prioritize the power that comes from a volley serve, the drop serve has its own advantages.

Currently, the traditional pickleball volley serve remains the go-to serving style for most players. But as the game continues to evolve, we may see a shift in preferences.

Pickleball Serving Drills

Understanding Four Common Service Faults in Pickleball

  1. Foot Faults: One of the most common faults is the ‘service foot fault.’ When serving, make sure at least one foot is touching the ground (no jumping allowed). Keep your feet within the imaginary extension of the sideline and centerline, and behind the baseline. Avoid touching the baseline with your feet. Violating any of these rules will result in a fault.
  2. Illegal Serving Motion: As we mentioned earlier, the pickleball serve must have an upward arc, and you can use either a forehand or backhand motion. The paddle should connect with the ball below the player’s waist. If the serve doesn’t follow these guidelines, it’s considered an illegal serve and a fault is called.
  3. Wrong Player Serves: This might seem straightforward, but it’s an easy mistake to make. Always remember whose turn it is to serve! If you’re unsure, consult your partner, opponent, or referee.
  4. Serve Lands Out of Bounds: The serve must be hit diagonally and land in the opponent’s service box crosscourt from the server. If the serve lands outside of that designated area, it’s a fault, and the service is passed on to the next player. The ball must also cross the Non-Volley Zone line (kitchen). Landing on that line is considered a fault. However, the sideline, center line, and baseline are all considered in.

Understanding Three Common Receiver Faults in Pickleball

  1. Hitting the return before the ball bounces: One frequent mistake the receiver makes is touching or hitting the ball before it bounces in their service area. It’s important to remember that the ball must bounce first before hitting a return shot (groundstroke).
  2. Wrong receiver hits the ball (or is hit by the serve): Another common fault occurs when the receiving team’s players are positioned incorrectly, resulting in the wrong player returning the serve. This can also happen if the non-receiving player is hit by the serve, which might occur if they’re too close to the center line at the kitchen line. This includes instances where they simply get in the way and are struck by the served ball.
  3. Asking for timeout or score correction too late: In pickleball, players can request a timeout or inquire about the current score from the referee. However, a receiver cannot do either of these actions after the server has already initiated their service motion, as it could cause a distraction.

The Final Word on Serving

Serves are an integral part of pickleball and can give you a significant advantage over your opponents if executed correctly. While the serve was initially thought of as nothing more than a neutral way to start the game, there is no doubt that it has evolved into a way to gain an advantage. When it comes to doubles, a powerful serving strategy can keep your adversaries off balance and make it difficult for them to hit a quality return of serve including a forehand drive, thus allowing you and your team to land the third shot with precision. This will help you maintain control on the court by driving toward the net. Alternatively, if you have an underwhelming serve, then your opponents will have free rein over their shots – making it hard for you to advance forward and score points.

By following the tips in this blog post, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a master server! Practice makes perfect, so get out there and start hitting some balls!

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