The purpose of the serve in pickleball is to begin the point. For those just starting out, it’s good to note that, the serve is not an offensive weapon, so simple and IN is good. Many players like the fact that the serve is underhand, which saves those with shoulder issues!
You can hit the ball right from your hand, or off of a bounce. Different rules apply to each style. Developing a legal serve is important for recreational play and tournament play since playing fairly is a key element of pickleball. Serves are legal from the forehand or backhand sides of the paddle and can be different or the same without penalty.
WATCH HERE: ==>>>Pickleball Serving 101: 3 Essential Tips
The volley serve (the ball does not bounce on the court before hitting it) is fairly simple. There must not be any spin imparted to the ball as it is released from the hand. The ball can be tossed into the air, but it’s not necessary. A serve must have the three following things to be legal.
- The swing motion is an upward arc.
- The ball contact point is below the navel or waist.
- The highest part of the paddle is below the wrist.
The backswing may be high, to begin with, as long as the three ingredients of the serve are met. Side-spin may be imparted on the ball, as well as topspin for those players that understand and use spins.
With a bounce serve, the swing can be in any direction: low to high, high to low, sideways across the ball, or underspin. The ball must not be propelled, upward or downward.
The ball must be hit diagonally (or crosscourt) into the service box across the net. Your feet must be behind the baseline as you strike the ball, or it is a fault. You need to be within the imaginary boundaries of the sideline or center line of the court.
You get one chance to put the ball into play. You can only “score” points as the player or team with the serve. A goal for the serve, after getting it in the correct box, is to aim the shot deep, which makes it more difficult to return for the receiver. Refer to the current 2023 Pickleball Rule book for more details on serve rules. Rules do make changes year after year, so keeping current is important!
Remember the KISS method. “Keep it simple, stupid”. Keep it simple, stupid (KISS) is a design principle that states that designs and/or systems should be as simple as possible.
Keep the swing simple. Many players have a couple of different versions of the serve that they employ, just like a baseball pitcher with fastball, curve, slider, and off-speed pitches. Your serve can keep the opponent guessing and off balance. A serve that goes over the net high, can change the timing of the receiver often forcing them into an error or two. And aiming at the often weaker backhand side of the receiver does the same damage. When the receiver misses the service return, it is a point for the server’s side.
After the Serve
There is a two-bounce rule in pickleball. When the ball bounces into the service box after the serve, that’s one bounce. The server needs to stay back at the baseline to let the ball for the second time before a volley can be hit (by either side). The receiver returns the serve and follows their shot, similar to an approach shot, to the NVZ (non-volley zone line). The server will hit what is called a third shot drop, and hopefully, the ball will land in the NVZ or kitchen area near the net to make it difficult for the opponent to make an offensive shot. There are many tactics and strategies, like a chess game on shot selection and shot placement that makes pickleball very exciting.
Action at the Net
Once the serve lands in, and the return lands in, the rest of the point can (and should) be played at the net position. It is legal to stand in the non-volley zone anytime you are NOT hitting a volley (a ball hit in the air). The NVZ area extends into the first seven feet of the court from the net. A popular shot while at the NVZ line is called a dink and it a softly hit shot that can keep the playing going, and even draw errors from the opponents.
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Hit as many as you can in a row, or give yourself a goal to shoot for! It’s a fun shot that everyone who plays pickleball must hit! Why not get as consistent as possible? Now, get out there!
Watch this Z Sisters YouTube Short Video on How to Hit a Pickleball Serve by Anne Z