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5 Critical Pickleball Serving Rules [2024] – Simplified Guide 

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Both feet must be behind the baseline when serving.The complete score must be called before the ball is hit.
5 Critical Pickleball Serving Rules [2024] – Simplified Guide 

5 Pickleball Serving Rules (Overview)

  • Both feet must be behind the baseline when serving.
  • The complete score must be called before the ball is hit.
  • Keep your arm moving in an upward arch and make contact with the ball at or below your waist.
  • The serve must land in the diagonal quadrant.
  • The ball can touch the net as long as it clears the non-volley zone (Kitchen) line.

Before The Serve

These are the pickleball serving rules that occur before you even make contact with the ball.

One Foot Behind The Baseline (Rule 4.A.4.a)

When you serve in pickleball, you are not allowed to touch the baseline at all until after you make contact with the ball. That being said, you can still only have one foot behind the baseline.

The foot other can be hovering over the court or over the sideline boundaries and remains legal as long as you make contact with the ball before your foot touches the court or outside of the designated service area

Complete Score Must Be Called Before the Ball Is Hit (4.A.1)

The server has to yell out the complete score before they serve in pickleball. Don’t try to pull a fast one on your opponents by serving while you’re in the middle of calling the score. A serve should not be offensive. Sure an ace is nice, but a good rally is way more fun.

The 10-Second Rule in Pickleball

The 10-second rule means that the server has 10 seconds to serve after the score is called to serve the ball otherwise is is a fault.

Volley Serve

A Volley Serve is when the ball is hit out of the air before it bounces on the ground. 

Drop Serve

A Drop Serve is when you drop the ball from your hand, letting it bounce, then hitting your serve.

Volley Serving Motion

Next, let’s break down the mechanics of serving rules. You can legally serve in a forehand or backhand motion, but a forehand serve in my opinion is easier for executing a legal serve.

You can go ahead and take a look at what USAPickleball.org has to say about pickleball serving rules or I can break it down into 3 basic steps.

Note: These rules apply for both backhand and forehand serves.

The Paddle Has to Contact The Ball At Or Below the Waist (4.A.7.c)

This is an important one and means exactly what it says. You must make contact with the ball at or below your waistline. Not only is it a rule for a legal serve, but the lower you make contact, the lower the serve will come out. If you make contact above your waist, you run the risk of a lob serve that your opponent can drill at your feet.

The Player’s Arm Must Move at an Upward Motion During Contact (4.A.7.a)

This just essentially means that you hit it like an underhand serve. By upright angle, it is referring to the player following through and continuing to move in an upward direction.

The Highest Point Of the Paddle Head Can’t be Above the Wrist (4.A.7.b)

If your pickleball paddle is at an angle when serving, the highest of the paddle face cannot be higher than your wrist joint.

This one can get a little confusing and can be hard to judge. To keep everyone happy I just have a very underhanded motion like the motion in the picture below.

If the top of the paddle is pointing to the ground, you know it’s below your wrist. This rule needs to be carefully observed if you have an opponent serving with a backhand.

Illegal Pickleball Serve 3 key steps

Drop Serving Rules

During a drop serve, the ball may bounce on any playing surface, including inside the court boundaries. There is also no limit to how many times the ball bounces before hitting it.

The three main guidelines for the drop serve are:

Drop from an unaided height 

4.A.8.a. states that the release of the ball during the drop serve is made by one hand from a natural/unaided height. This means no jumping while dropping the ball.

Not propelled in any direction

4.A.8.b. says that when releasing the ball, you cannot throw the ball down or cause it to move in any direction other than straight down. With this, getting a running start while dropping the ball is now illegal from your momentum causing the ball to be propelled forward.

Volley serve rules do not apply

4.A.8.c. rids the drop serve of any limitations around the volley serve regarding paddle position or angle while making contact with the ball. Meaning, that if you drop the ball and it bounces back up above your waist, you may make contact above waist-level.

Ball Placement

What good is executing a perfect serve if you hit it out of bounds? Ball placement after the serve is just as important as a legal serve in pickleball.

Here are the three rules to keep in mind for ball placement after you serve.

Serve To The Correct Box (4.A.2)

If you’re serving in pickleball, you have to ensure that the ball lands anywhere in the box that is diagonal from you over the net.

The Serve Must Clear The Non-Volley Zone Line (4.A.2)

If the ball hits the baseline, sideline, or center line, it is still considered in play. The only line that is considered a fault is the non-volley zone (NVZ) line. 

This is because the NVZ line is considered part of the NVZ. 

Pro Tip: You want to serve as deep down the court as possible in order to keep your opponents back.

What Is Considered An Illegal Pickleball Serve

Chances are if you play pickleball for fun, you’re not spending your time reading the rule book. I’m here to make this as easy to understand as possible. Here is a list of illegal pickleball serves.

  • Overhand serve (Tennis Serve): This goes against every pickleball serve rule. Don’t do this.
  • Contacting the ball above waist level: This can be a hard one to judge especially if you prefer a backhand serve.
  • The head of the paddle is above your wrist: This sounds a little confusing, but just think of a backhand shot. When you make contact, the paddle is slightly higher than your wrist. This is not an acceptable serve in pickleball.
  • Spinning the ball: while some minimal natural rotation happens when performing a volley serve, spinning the ball in the air prior to making contact is illegal as of Jan 1, 2023.
  • Serve lands in the kitchen (non-volley zone): Your serve must get over the front line past the kitchen. If you read my post about How to Improve Your Return of Serve, then you know you should hit the serve as far back as possible.
  • Standing in front of or on the baseline: The server cannot stand in front of or on the baseline until after they serve.
  • Having both feet off the ground when serving: You must keep at least one foot on the ground when you serve.
  • Taking more than 10 seconds: Once you announce the score you have 10 seconds to serve the ball.
  • Serving to the wrong box: You must serve to the quadrant that is diagonal from you on the pickleball court

What Happens If a Serve is Illegal?

The following table is used when determining the next course of action when a serve is deemed illegal:

Volley Serves

Officiated PlayNone Officiated Play
Referee Not Certain of ViolationReferee Certain of ViolationReceiver Determines Violation
No Upward Arc (4.A.7.a)Replay FaultNone
Paddle Head Above Writst (4.A.7.b)ReplayFaultNone
Contact Above Waist (4.A.7.c)ReplayFaultNone
Spin Imparted (4.A.5)ReplayFaultReplay
Release Not Visible (4.A.6)ReplayReplayReplay

Drop Serves

Officiated PlayNone Officiated Play
Referee Not Certain of ViolationReferee Certain of ViolationReceiver Determines Violation
Drop Not Made With One Hand Only
Or From Paddle Face Or Not
From Unaided Height
(4.A.8.a)
Replay FaultNone
Ball Propelled Up Or Down (4.A.8.b)ReplayFaultNone
Spin Imparted (4.A.5)ReplayFaultReplay
Release Not Visible (4.A.6)ReplayReplayReplay

How To Avoid An Illegal Pickleball Serve

Like anything in this game, practice makes perfect. Having to make that change mid-game was almost impossible for me.If you read this article and find out you’ve been serving it illegally this whole time, then carve out some time and get to the courts to drill.

This is one of the few shots you can work on by yourself. You just need a couple of balls (the more the merrier) and just work on hitting the correct serve.

With the legal serving motion, you may hit a bit of a lob. This is perfectly fine to start with. As you start dialing the serve in, bring the ball flight down and maybe even try adding a little spin.

Play around with what is comfortable to you and you’ll have a deadly serve down in no time.

Pickleball Serving Myths

Myth #1: The Drop Serve is Illegal

I can understand the confusion with the drop serve. It used to actually be an illegal serve, until 1/25/2021, when there was an update in the pickleball rules deeming it legal. 

Myth #2: You Cannot Serve Out Of Your Hand

This serve refers to those who hold the ball with two fingers and right when the paddle hit the ball, they release it. This is a perfectly legal pickleball serve as long as you follow all the other pickleball serving rules.

Myth #3: You cannot toss the ball up when serving

As long as you are performing a volley serve, you may toss the ball and hit it out of the air as long as contact is made at or below the waist, in an upward motion, and the paddle face is angled down.

Myth #4: If you Completely miss (Whiff) The Serve, It’s a Fault

You’re about to serve and you completely miss the ball without making any contact. If you can pick the ball up, and serve it all within the 10 seconds, it is a legal serve. 

Myth #5: Both feet Must Be On the Ground Behind the Baseline when Serving

According to the pickleball rules, only one foot must be on the ground while serving, so if you have one foot in the air while serving, it’s within the rules of a pickleball serve. This foot can even be hovering over the court or outside the boundaries of the court, as long as it is not touching the ground, there is no fault.

Frequently Asked Questions: Pickleball Serves

Is a Drop Serve legal in Pickleball?

In short, Yes,The drop serve was included in the USA Pickleball rulebook as a legal serving option (Rule 4.A.8), however, keep the following things in mind.

You may not throw or propel the ball in any direction, the ball must be dropped (Rule 4.A.8.b).

Is a Spin Serve Legal in Pickleball?

Not anymore! Beginning on Jan 1, 2023, the spin serve was made illegal. Mainly due to player safety because not enough room was allotted behind the baseline for players to be able to move into position to return the shot.

What if the Serve Hits The Center Line or Baseline?

This is very unfortunate if you’re the one receiving the serve, but it is considered a legal serve as long as it is in the correct square according to Rule 4.A.2 which states, “The serve may land on any other service court line.”

What if The Serve Hits the Net in Pickleball?

As long as the serve clears the kitchen or NVZ after hitting the net, it is a legal serve.

Don’t give up! Just, remember the golden rule- “Practice makes perfect”.

Is it illegal to serve sidearm in pickleball?

The term “sidearm” typically implies an illegal serve; however, as long as the point of contact is at or below your waistline and the head of the paddle is below your wrist it is a legal serve.

Written by:

Cody Heyer

One day, a friend challenged me to a game of Pickleball. My response “that old person game?!?” He laughed and a couple days later, a few “old people” completely crushed me. The competitive side of me couldn’t take it and since then I’ve been studying, drilling, playing, and thankfully winning. Then my attention went to world of paddles. So many to choose from, so how do I know which one is right for me? The answer was simple: try them all! That’s how my journey began and I don’t see it ending any time soon. Follow along with me as I discover the rapidly evolving world of Pickleball!

5 thoughts on “5 Critical Pickleball Serving Rules [2024] – Simplified Guide ”

  1. Charles Mitchell

    This was a pretty good article however you have added to the confusion of serving
    Rules my incorrecting stating that the ball must be contacted below the waist on a volley serve. This is not what the rule 4a7c states. It specifically says that the ball can not be contacted above the waist. Contact at the waist is okay and of course below
    W the waist would also be good.

  2. chanzina hutton

    What happened to ….you have to hold your hand out from your waist & drop the ball without tossing the ball ( volley serve)

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