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Pickleball is a fast-growing sport that has gone from a hobby in elderly communities to competitive circles throughout the world. Right now, there are close to 3 million players globally, meaning you are always going to meet someone interested in pickleball, wherever you go. Yet, as a new player, doubles pickleball rules may be intimidating and confusing.
How do you know when to serve, how to score, and even make strategies with your partner? This pickleball doubles guide is going to explain all the rules to you, so you can step onto the court with more confidence. Let’s begin.
Overview of the Pickleball Court
If you are just starting doubles pickleball or are interested in gaining a new and fun hobby, then you may not know what the court actually looks like. Although the pickleball court is not as big as a tennis court, it is still sizable. Because of that, many people begin with doubles pickleball then attempt singles or skinny singles pickleball once they have some experience.
The pickleball court is the same size as a badminton court: 6 meters by 13.4 meters (20 feet by 44 feet). The back line from where you serve is a full 6 meters (20 ft) wide. There is 4.5 m (15 ft) between the back line and the non-volley area, which is also known as the kitchen.
The kitchen is about 2 m (7 ft) long. For this reason, you may think that holding the non-volley zone is a good idea, but there are some drawbacks to this that will be discussed later.
How to Serve in Pickleball Doubles
Once you get on the court, you and your partner will take position on the back line of one side and your opponents on the other. If you’re on the right side of the court, you will serve first. You will serve the ball diagonally, towards the opponent on the left side of the net. The side you serve from alternates with each serve.
When serving, it is imperative that you clear the non-volley zone then land in the service court diagonal to you.
Official pickleball rules state that the serve must always be done underhanded. The paddle has to be below your waist and your feet cannot pass the back line during the serve. In order to do the underhand serve correctly, the ball cannot be bounced into position but thrown into the air. The underhand swing follows through as the ball moves.
You will continue to serve until the opponent causes a side-out or if there is a fault in your service. At that point, the service is given to the other team. The only exception is if you happen to hit the net and the ball falls onto the other side, in the right spot. This doesn’t work if the ball hits the top of the net then goes into the non-volley zone.
At the start of the game, you are allowed one fault before the other team is given a chance to serve.
Volleying The Ball
What does volley mean? Similar to tennis or volleyball, it means that the ball is hit in the air without bouncing. In pickleball, this is done only when the player is located behind the non-volley zone. Keep in mind that you could fault the return if you step into the non-volley zone during a follow-through.
The same penalty applies to anything on your person that falls into the kitchen. Whatever you do, don’t drop your racquet!
Also, you must not volley the ball during the return of a serve. The ball must bounce once and only once.
Now, you may be wondering, “What is the purpose of the non-volley zone?” It’s to make the game more fair. The non-volley zone prevents players from running up to the net and smashing the ball.
The Two Bounce Rule
You may also hear this referred to as the “double bounce rule.” Upon serving, the two bounce rule is in effect. The opposing team must return the serve after the ball bounces once, and your team has to wait for the ball to bounce when it comes back to your side. After this double bounce has happened, you can begin volleying the ball or playing off single bounces.
When Do Faults Happen?
In pickleball doubles, a fault is committed whenever the ball does something against the rules. This includes:
- The ball touches a part of the non-volley zone during a serve
- The ball goes out-of-bounds
- During a service, the ball hits the net and doesn’t clear it
- You volley the ball before it has bounced during a serve
- The ball is volleyed from the kitchen
How Do You Know When a Ball is Out?
Judging whether a ball is in or out of play can be difficult. A ball is out of bounds when it lands or bounces beyond the boundary line. The easiest way to figure out when a ball has gone out of bounds is to judge where it hit when it fell. The point where the ball makes contact tells you if it is in or out.
The only time a ball would be considered in is if the entirety of the object was still on the line or when there is no gap between the ball and the boundary line.
To simplify, if there is a gap between the boundary line and the ball, it’s out. No gap? It’s in.
Scoring Rules for Pickleball Doubles
Now that you know the serving rules for pickleball doubles, it’s time to figure out how to score.
Points Are Gained On The Serve
You gain points only on the serve. The returning team may manage to drop shot the ball past those on the offensive, but they won’t score a point. The serving team does everything they can to score points during the rally. Meanwhile, the opposing team is trying to induce a “side-out,” meaning they get their turn to serve and generate points for their side.
Players on the Right Start the Match
Since there would be an unfair advantage to start the game and one team a full service turn, only one player gets to serve in the first round. The player on the right side of the pickleball court gets this honor. Once the beginning service turn is complete, any subsequent turn will include both players serving and attempting to score points. However, the person on the right side will always be the one who starts the match.
Congratulations, you have scored a point! Now you have to rotate with your partner. If you are on the right, you move to the left, while your partner goes from left to right. With each point gained, the serving side switches their player’s position. Meanwhile, the players on the receiving side do not move.
So You’ve Lost The Rally
With the exception of the first serve of the game, whenever you lose a rally, the next serve goes to your partner. Should your partner also lose the rally, the next serve belongs to the opposing team. This motion is called a “side-out.” Until a side-out is accomplished, the serving team has plenty of chances to score as many points as possible. For that reason, the opposition strategies to increase the likelihood of a side-out.
Saying 3 Numbers
Unlike singles pickleball where you only shout your score and the opponents, there are three numbers stated before each serve. An example would be “5-3-1.” What is that supposed to mean, anyway? How do you know which number to say first?
In this example, the 5 is the score of the serving team. If this is your team, it means you have won 5 rallies while serving. Next up is 3, the opposing team’s score. There is no need to assign value to rallies won by a team that is not serving. Remember: only the serving team can accumulate any points—and points are never deducted.
So the first two numbers of the score sound off are relatively straightforward. What about the last number? That designates who is serving. Hypothetically, if you are serving first for your team, you are Number 1 on your side. Your team member would be Number 2. Both sides have a 1 and 2, and you keep that number, regardless of your position on the court.
An Exception To The 3 Number Rule
To confuse you (not really) there is a little exception to memorize. During the first service rotation of your match, there is only 1 server. As per the rules, only the server on the right side of the court gets to serve until losing the rally. After, the opposing team’s player to the right goes.
Interestingly, this also changes the format of your score announcement. Because of the sequence of events, there is no Server 1 or 2. Instead, you announce your position as “Start” or “2” during the first serve. For example, you would say “0-0-start.” This is meant to remind you of the proper sequence of events after the first rally.
Doubles Pickleball Strategies
Now that you have reviewed pickleball rules for doubles, you might want to grab a paddle and other gear to get playing. Hold on for one second. Do you know any strategies? Pickleball doubles is fun because you have a team member, so you need to adhere to the partnership, too. While there are no concrete rules about how you and your partner have to move about the court, strategy does play a role in how each of you behave.
Here are some double pickleball strategies to utilize during your next game:
1. Master Your Serve
The most critical rule also helps you master serving the ball quickly. Since you have to serve diagonally, aim for the lowest part of the net—the middle. If you can sink the ball close to the center line, you can make one or both of the opposite team members abandon their position.
On the return serve, keep your opponents guessing where you will hit the ball. If you can, send the ball as close to the baseline as possible. That is a strong move that will upset the opposite team’s position. Hitting a short return will most likely put the ball right in front of an opponent, making it easy for them to get an exchange started.
Plus, they may be able to set up a trick shot.
2. Push The Opponents Away
Use every shot to send the other team away from the non-volley zone. As they move back, you or your team member can move up to the net. This provides you more control.
Hitting deeper, longer shots is the strategy here. While it will take a bit of experience, the strategy ensures that your team is more dominant.
3. Learn How to Aim Your Shots
Strong shots with good aim are essential to scoring points. As mentioned earlier, you want to send your shots towards the deepest parts of the court—the back corners. Also, learn to angle the shots closer to the feet of your opponent’s, forcing them to pull out all the stops to make the return. Balls dropping closer to the feet are much more challenging to send back.
4. Make The Third Shot Count
After the double bounce has occurred, the game picks up speed rapidly. The third shot is often the one shot that determines whether your team gets a point or not. Plus, the third shot is what sets the tone for the rally. At this point, you and the opposing team get a chance to understand how you will play.
5. Be Aware of Your Partner
You and your partner need to work together to win rally after rally. One mistake doubles teams make is that one player decides to do all the work. Rather than causing frustration or forcing your friend to back out of the game, establish solid communication with one another. If the ball is coming down the centerline, make it a habit to declare who is going for it. Also, learn how to move around one another and close up gaps.
While you don’t want to be on top of each other, there should also be a narrow gap between you to keep balls from slipping by.
6. Seek Out Weaknesses
When you start playing doubles pickleball, take time to assess the opposite team. What are their weaknesses? If you notice a weak stance, a poor backhand, or even nervousness, exploit it. Taking advantage of vulnerabilities, such as forcing your opponent to use a backhand on a return serve, sets you up for success.
7. Never Stand Still
In tennis, the players are constantly in motion, shifting their weight, and poised to dart for the ball. You have to channel the same energy. Keeping your feet moving helps your body process movement faster, so when the ball comes towards you, you’re ready to send it back. However, you also need to learn how to actively rest. Doing too much could tire you out and become a weakness others will exploit.
It’s Pickleball Time!
Ready to play some doubles pickleball? You have learned the basics rules of pickleball doubles. Now all you need is the right equipment and a partner. As long as you remember the rules for serving and scoring, the rest of the game is pure fun. Once you have played the game a couple of times, the pickleball rules for doubles are going to feel like second nature.
There are three characteristics of a legal pickleball serve, including: the arm must be moving in an upward arch, also known as an underhand serve. Secondly, the ball must come into contact with the paddle below the waist. In other words, your arm must not be above the waistline when making the serve. Lastly, the highest part of your paddle cannot go above your wrist.
There are 10 rules of pickleball that apply to both singles and doubles. The ten rules are:
1. Use only underhand serves in pickleball.
2. Both the serve and the serve’s return must bounce once.
3. Only the serving team can score points.
4. The serving team switches serving sides after receiving a point.
5. The first side to serve in doubles has one service turn. Afterwards, each side has two service turns, meaning each player will serve until the serving team loses a rally.
6. Scores should be called out loudly before beginning a serve.
7. Within the Kitchen (non-volley zone), there can be no volleys. Once the pickleball bounces, you can then use the non-volley zone.
8. Shots on the lines of the court count as “in.” The only exception is when a line in the Kitchen is hit on a serve. Then it is out.
9. Calls for “out” must be made by the players on the side where the pickleball bounces.
10. If a pickleball hits you anywhere but the wrist or below, you lose the rally.
The 5 rules of pickleball are that the ball must be played in bounds; there can only be one bounce per side; a serve cannot land in the non-volley zone (kitchen); serving must be done from the back line, and your foot cannot touch the line; and the game ends at 11, 15, or 21 points with at least a 2 point difference between the players.
These 5 main strategies for doubles will get you and your team winning matches faster: After the return of serve, get to the non-volley line. You will have an easier time returning the ball during a volley. Next, keep the opponent pinned to the back line by returning the ball deep. Hit the ball towards your opponent’s feet, as it is more difficult to return.
When returning a shot down the middle, communicate with your partner. Lastly, learn how to move together with your partner and talk to one another about where you are going. Your synchronization is important to winning matches.