Here is our complete guide to pickleball serving rules for 2024.
Pickleball serving can currently be done one of two ways:
- Standard volley serve: Hitting the ball out of the air from your hand
- Drop serve: Allows you to drop the ball (not bounced or thrown up into the air) onto the court and can be hit after the ball bounces.
The drop serve was first allowed in 2021 (Rule #4.A.8) and at first was provisional but now is permanent.
There has been some discussion that the drop serve should become the only serve allowed since it avoids all the “illegal” serve controversy and referees having to determine whether a player’s serve is violating the serving rules.
So which serve should you use?
Well, personally, I have learned both.
If you only learn the drop serve and they retract it for some reason, then you will be forced to learn the other serve.
So for now, it may be a good idea to learn both.
It’s also kind of nice to have that variety during a game to be able to switch between the standard and drop serve.
There are restrictions on how the original pickleball serve is made (noted below) that don’t count when using the drop serve so in this respect I feel there are some advantages to the drop serve.
In some ways, it’s easier to put spin on the ball, either topspin, sidespin, backspin, etc.. with a drop serve.
Pickleball standard serve rules:
- When a ball is being struck, the server’s arm must be shifting in an upward arc/an upward motion – not sideways like hitting a groundstroke, or side arming it. Forehand or backhand can be used.
- The ball must come into contact with the paddle below the waist.
- The head of the paddle must not be above the top of the wrist when contact is made with the ball.
Pickleball drop serve rules:
- You can only drop the pickleball – you cannot propel it down or upward nor can you spin it.
- You can hit it after as many bounces as you like.
- You can drop it within the baseline boundary line as long as your feet are .
- You can drop the ball from any height that you can naturally without aid – no stepping onto a chair and then dropping it. Did that really needed to be stated? 🙂
- None of the other rules from the standard/traditional serve applies to the drop serve.
USA Pickleball Serving Rules and Other Rule Changes
Spin Serves (4.A.5)
In 2022, the server shall use only one hand to release the ball to perform the serve. If the ball is visibly spun by the server during the release, the part(s) of the hand contacting the ball must be
NOTE: Although the USAP allows manipulation of the ball for spin, the PPA has outlawed any kind of spin made by your hand:
“The server shall not impart manipulation or spin on the release of the ball immediately prior to the serve.”
So if you are in a PPA tournament, you won’t be able to spin the ball with your hand in any way when serving.
Pickleball Spin Serve Rules 2024
Spin serves of any kind were banned by USA Pickleball in 2023 and still are in 2024:
As of January 1, 2023, players will only be able to toss and strike the ball without adding any additional spin, even from the hand holding the ball.
The Drop Serve (4.A.6)
No changes were made to the drop serve other than to remove its Provisional status.
Wrong Score Called (4.K)
The rules concerning what happens if the wrong score is called by a player or a referee have changed. If a player thinks a wrong score has been called, a player may stop play to ask for a
correction before the ball is served. If it has been served, the rally is to be played out and the score correction (if any) is made before the next serve occurs.
A Dropped Ball (7.N)
In non-officiated matches, it is not uncommon for a player to carry an extra ball. If an extra ball is carried, it must not be visible to the
opponent. If a player accidentally drops an extra ball during a rally, it will result in a fault. This does not apply in an officiated match because the referee is responsible for removing any extra
pickleballs from play.
Medical Time-outs Called by a Referee (10.H.2.a)
If a referee, in the interest of player safety, determines that either medical personnel or the Tournament Director should be consulted for a player health issue, that time-out is not chargeable to the player as a medical time-out. The player retains the right to call their own medical time out later in the match, if needed.
Verbal Warnings (13.G.1)
A referee may now issue verbal warnings for more than just profanity. Any situation that could result in a Technical Warning
may instead be addressed by the referee as a verbal warning. Only one verbal warning per match, no matter what the infraction,
may be issued to a team, or player in singles.
Calling the Score After a 15 Second Warning (10.A.5)
Instead of a referee calling the score immediately after the 15 second warning expires, the referee will call the score after the
players are ready, or should be ready.
When to Assess a Technical Warning or Foul (13.G.3.e)
Referees are empowered to issue Technical Warnings or Technical Fouls for various reasons but it has been unclear exactly when a
technical should be announced. The 2022 rules now make it clear that a referee will not stop a rally to call a technical warning or foul
on an offending team. Any technical warnings or fouls will be assessed after the rally is over.
While some sports allow coaching during active play, pickleball does not. Since it is possible that a player could receive coaching via earbuds, earbuds will not be permitted on the court during
tournaments with the exception of hearing aids.
Tournament Score for a Retirement (12.F.6.a)
The score recorded for a player or team that elects to “retire’ from a match has been revised to allow the actual score of the match for that team to be recorded. A team retiring may play additional matches in their bracket if any are warranted.
How to Serve in Pickleball Tips
A coach once said to me that there is no reason to miss your serve.
But inevitably, we all will miss serves. It’s rare, but even the pros do.
Sometimes this is because we are going for a risky serve with pace or spin or targeting a deep angle.
And the ball goes out or into the net.
In general, be more conservative with your serve when you are down points.
It’s more important to get your serve in at this point than risk losing a chance to score.
If you watch pros serve, many of them have routines just before serving.
They may bounce the ball a certain amount of times, pause and take a breath, spin their paddle, etc…
The routine of repetitive movements will help with focus and reduce missed serves.
It doesn’t matter what you do, but get into a routine that is the same each time you serve.
And don’t ever rush your serve!
More Pickleball Serving Tips
- Power comes from your shoulder, core, legs, body rotation, and shifting your weight into the serve.
- The ball will travel from your lead shoulder (if you are right-handed, then your lead shoulder is left and vice versa). So, angle your lead shoulder in the direction of the targeted place.
- Serve the ball close to the baseline or deep in the serving court which gives you more time to prepare for your third shot and doesn’t allow your opponent to advance to the net so quickly.
- It’s good to mix up your serves – drive, lob, hard, soft, topspin, sidespin, backspin, etc.. so your opponent doesn’t know what kind of serve to expect.
- The most common mistake made by the players is rushing their movements while serving.
- Don’t rush your serve. You have 10 seconds after the score is given. Slow down, take a deep breath, focus, then serve!
- Pick the right place to serve and aim at that place. After locking onto the place mentally, keep your focus on the ball and paddle.
The Spinning Zane Navratil Pickleball Serve (Chainsaw Serve)
Note: Zane’s chainsaw serve off the paddle was no longer allowed in 2022, but a spin serve was allowed by only using your hand to generate spin.
Note 2: No spin serve of any kind is allowed in 2023. The spin serve has been banned by the USA Pickleball Association. Below is a summary of why the spin serve is being banned:
- The original purpose of the serve is to begin play
- Most players cannot effectively hit or return a spin serve
- There is extra court space needed to react to and return a spin serve
- Only a number of players have mastered the spin serve, giving them an unfair advantage
- It’s particularly damaging for amateur players
Below you’ll find our previous discussion of the spin serve and if you want to use it in rec play, then go ahead!
But you won’t be able to use it or any type of spin serve in official USA Pickleball tournaments…
If you want to add even more to your pickleball serving repertoire, here’s a serve that Zane Navratil invented where you spin the ball off your hand before hitting it with your paddle.
As noted in the video, some were using this serve but spinning the ball off the face of the paddle which is against the serving rules, so here it is demonstrated using only your hand to spin the ball (allowed in USAPA events).
But as aforementioned, the PPA doesn’t allow any manipulation of the ball by your hand.
So you’ll only see pros using this in APP tournaments.
Zane Navratil Spin Serve:
Pickleball Serving Rules
- Unlike tennis, you only get one chance to serve. If you hit your serve out or into the net, your serve is over.
- You always serve crosscourt into the opponents opposite side
- When the ball is served, the server’s foot must not touch the court baseline or outside of the imaginary boundary of the side-line or centerline. At least one foot must stay behind the baseline on the ground.
Service sequence rules:
- When it comes to doubles, both the players have an equal opportunity to serve and score points until they lose a point.
- The service must always begin on the right side of the court.
- If a point is scored, the server must change sides and make the following serve on the left side.
- Server one will keep serving until the point is lost. Then server two will serve from their current position/side of the court.
- In singles, the server serves from the right side of the court when their score is even and from the left side when their score is odd.
- If you keep track of who served first on your doubles’ team, then when he/she is on the right side, the score will be even and odd when he/she is serving from the left side.
- At the beginning of a new game, the team serving first only is allowed the one server to serve. This is why the score is announced 0-0-2. After losing the point, the opponent team then serves.
- Only the serving team or in singles, the server, can score points.
Should I learn how to do power or spin serves?
Some will say that the serve is just a matter of formality to get the game and current point started and you just need to get your serve in.
If you watch the pros, there are some that appear to do just that – a seemingly lackadaisical hit to get the ball into the receiving opponent’s serving box.
And then there are others like Zane Navratil and Dekel Barr who really try to make the serve an offensive weapon to set up the their third shot.
I think it’s best to be as offensive with your serve as much as you can on a consistent basis…
Meaning if you can do more with your serve whether it be pace, power, spin, deep placement, etc.. and not make too many errors, then by all means, go for it!
But first try to be consistent and try to get all your serves in before trying anything more elaborate.
And I think it’s also best to mix up your serves to keep your opponents’ guessing.
If you always hit a hard paced serve with topspin, then I always know what to expect and how to return it.
But if you throw in a lob serve, a deep serve, short serve, backspin serve, etc.. then it makes it more difficult for me to anticipate and return.
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