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Even if you’ve been playing pickleball for a while, you might have a hard time wrapping your head around the various rules. On the surface, all of them seem basic but when you’re on the court, it’s normal to miss out on the lesser-known ones.
The majority of the time, players lose points due to faults and unforced errors. Today, we’ll be looking into certain rules of pickleball which aren’t as popular as the double bounce rule or the kitchen rule. These rules are laid down by USAPA and IFB Tournament Rulebook which is revised from time to time. We’ll be using excerpts from the rulebook and discuss them for better understanding.
Serving motion & feet positioning
A pickleball court is not as big as a tennis court. Thus, it’s only natural that there are certain compromises. Unlike tennis, where the serves require overhand motion, you can only use the underhand motion when serving in pickleball.
Image Credit: USAPA Rulebook
As per the rulebook, ‘A server’s arm must be moving in an upward arc at the time the ball is struck and may be made with either a forehand or backhand motion’.
Before you begin with the service motion, your feet must not surpass the baseline. You need to stand behind the baseline and the imaginary extensions of the baseline. At the time the ball is struck, the player who’s serving shouldn’t surpass those lines.
Most players who are just getting started tend to forget this and step on the line which leads to point deduction. And as you know, players lose more points in pickleball to faults and other unforced errors as compared to winning them via fine strokes.
As a pickleball player who’s intending to play in pro tournaments, you should avoid hitting the ball above your opponent’s navel and you should also avoid slicing the ball when serving. Any of these actions would amount to a foul.
Positioning around the net
This might sound easy but is often the most overlooked aspect that results in a point deduction. When you’re playing doubles, you might end up touching the net without having the slightest clue. When operating near the kitchen, you have to try the return dinks which require you to hit the top of the net so it’s harder for your opponent to respond to that shot. During this time, your cloth, paddle or body part is most likely to touch the net and that’s when all the hard work might be undone.
As per point 11(I) of the rulebook, “After striking the ball, a player or anything the player is/was wearing or carrying may cross the plane of the net or the imaginary extension line of the net beyond the posts but may not touch any part of the net system or the opponent’s court.”
Thus, be extremely careful when you’re playing in the kitchen area. Slight misstep or forgetfulness can lead to a point deduction. Here’s a cool video teaching you how to dominate the net.
The 10-second rule
In most sports where you’ve to play a dead ball or start the play, you have a time frame. You can’t just stand there and take your time before hitting the ball. Each sport has a time limit and every session needs to be confined to that timeframe. Pickleball is no different in this regard.
Serve within 10 seconds
Every server and receiver has a ten-second window within which they are required to serve and receive. This implies that not only should the server serve the ball, but the receiver should be ready to receive the serve within 10 seconds.
As per point 4.E.2., “If the server exceeds 10 seconds to serve, a fault will be declared.”
Don’t serve before the referee calls the scores
As the server, you also need to be patient. Be it out of eagerness or frustration, you shouldn’t serve until the entire score has been called by the referee.
As per point 4.E.1. of the rulebook, ‘’The service motion must not start until the score has been called in its entirety.’’
Most of the time it’s never a major issue, but at times when you’re busy tying your laces and forget that the clock is ticking, the referee might issue a technical warning. If you continue delaying the play intentionally or unintentionally, the opposing team will be awarded a point because of the delay. A similar rule applies to the receiver or the receiving team, they can’t stroll aimlessly once the score has been announced.
Distraction isn’t a strategy
Be it singles play or doubles, you can’t distract your opponent(s) when they’re about to serve. No uncommon physical action is allowed when a player is serving. This includes making loud noises, waving paddle, moving around the court, distracting with gestures. Basically, anything that causes your opponent to lose concentration is not allowed.
As per point 3.A.6 of the rulebook, “Physical actions by a player that are ‘not common to the game’ that, in the judgment of the referee, interfere with the opponent’s ability or concentration to hit the ball. Examples include, but are not limited to, making loud noises, stomping feet, waving the paddle in a distracting manner or otherwise interfering with the opponent’s concentration or ability to hit the ball.”
Though it’s highly unlikely to engage in any odd behavior, sometimes our emotions can get the better of us. It’s advisable to maintain not only your composure but also the decorum throughout the game. Which might make you think, ‘Can’t I even communicate with my partner?’
Yes, you definitely can. But not loudly. If you’re too loud, the referee has the right to call the rally early. When you’re against skilled opponents, you need to communicate with your partners – after all, the doubles game is all about clear communication. So when should you do it? You need to shout right after the opponent has hit the ball. Pay close attention to your opponent’s body language. If you feel that a tricky shot is coming your partner’s way, such as a spin shot, shout “spin” after your opponent has hit the shot.
Most of us are well aware of the basic serving rules. However, there is one particular rule that often gets the best of us – ‘let’. The term ‘Let’ in Pickleball refers to a single fault except it has variations. If the ball hits the net and lands in your opponent’s court, you’ll be allowed to re-serve. However, if it hits the net and lands in your court, you’ll lose the point. Thus, it’s dicier than the one we see in tennis.
No limits to service lets
Also, there’s no limit to the number of lets. A player is allowed to serve as many lets as he/she can. But most of the time it’s incidental and you wouldn’t try to use it as an effective strategy as it wouldn’t make any sense.
As per point 4.O.1 of the rulebook, ‘The serve touches the net, strap or band, and is otherwise good and lands in the service court.’
As per point 4.O.3 of the rulebook, ‘Any player calls a service let. If the referee determines that a service let called by a player did not occur, a fault will be declared against the offending player.’
Line Calling Ethics
Every sport needs sportsmanship. Today, with widespread technology around us, we seem to rely on video assistance and ref’s outlook. But as a pickleball player, you already know that line-calling ethics are a crucial part of the sport. There are many times when the referee and the spectators rely on a player to make the call. Here are certain guidelines for ethical calls from players.
- A player can only make a line call for action on their section of the court
- Regardless of the audience size, spectators should never be involved in line-calling
- Players shouldn’t question an opponent unless the player appeals to the referee
- Straight vision is preferred as opposed to a perpendicular one
- There shouldn’t be any delays in line-call. They should be made instantly or else the ball will be considered in-play.
When you’re against tougher opponents, that’s when you’d have a hard time following the ethnics. Players often end up in a sticky situation when the game is happening at a frantic pace. Judging a line call is extremely hard and thus your cooperation does play a vital role in getting on with the game without any unnecessary delay.
I hope that this blog helped you gain some important insight into the rules of pickleball. Even if you’re starting your pickleball journey, these would be of great help to you. These rules are not discussed as frequently as the ‘Double Bounce Rule’ or the ‘No Volley Zone’, and thus I felt that sharing this would help you steer clear of any trouble.