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CJ Johnson
Tony Roig
Tony Roig

Pickleball Serving Rules-Are You Violating this ONE?

Despite this video having over 212,000 views, I’m continually asked questions about the differences between a legal and an illegal serve. It doesn’t surprise me because it can be challenging to see with the naked eye. What does surprise me is I’m not often asked about the rule that I see being violated the most.

That video was recorded in 2017. When you look at the rule book, there’s been a few tweaks to the language. A couple of the pictures have changed, but in essence, these three rules have stayed the same.

The basic rules for a proper service motion are;

1. The paddle needs to be moving in an upward motion. (in other words an underhand serve)

2. Contact with the ball needs to happen below the waist, which in the rulebook was further defined as the navel.

3. The highest point of the paddle, the head of your paddle, must be below the wrist where the joint bends.

For clarification, these service rules apply to the backhand motion as well, and here’s a link to the Offical Pickleball Rules.

Yet, that’s not the rule violation I see most often.

The service rule that get’s trampled upon (pardon the pun) is rule 4.a.3.. Which states: at the beginning of the service motion, both feet must be behind the baseline and the imaginary extensions of the baseline. At the time the ball is struck, the servers feet may not touch the court or outside the imaginary extension of the sideline or the centerline, and at least one foot must be on the playing surface or ground behind the baseline. (2020 rule book page 17)

Let’s take a deeper dive into Rule 4.a.3

The serve is the only time the rulebook tells you where you have to stand, and the associated lines; the sideline, centerline, and baseline.

At the beginning of the service motion, both feet must be behind the baseline and the imaginary extensions of the baseline. For clarification rule, 4.a.2 tells us: the service motion begins with the server’s arm movement initiating the swing, backward or forward, to contact the ball.

Easy enough! When you’re starting the serving motion get your feet behind the baseline.

Next, let’s look at the relevant rule as it pertains to the center and sideline

The most common mistake I see people make is they start the pickleball serve with their feet too close to the lines. That makes it much easier to violate the second part of this rule.

The next sentence of rule 4.a.3 is: at the time the ball is struck, the servers feet may not touch the court or outside the imaginary extension of the sideline or the centerline, and at least one foot must be on the playing surface or ground behind the baseline.

Again, I like to tackle the easy part first so let’s talk about the sidelines.

I see a lot of people start the service from the corner. This gives them a good angle to the proper service box, cross-court. However, if they start with their feet outside the extension of the sideline and strike the serve, while their feet are in that position, it would be considered a serve violation. The same goes for standing on an extension of the centerline. If that’s where you like to stand, fine, make sure your feet are inside of those lines.

It’s a little easier to see if someone has committed a side or centerline violation. But remember the key here is the words at the time the ball is struck.

Here’s the tricky part of the rule, the baseline and a foot inside the court.

I saved the best for last or in this case the most common violation. At the time the ball is struck, the servers feet may not touch, and at least one foot must be on the playing surface or ground behind the baseline.

If you haven’t already done this, when you’re the serving team start paying attention to where your partner’s feet are during the serve. A lot of people stand with a toe overhanging the baseline. While an overhang isn’t a violation (the foot must be touching the line), it puts that player in a precarious position. As they begin their service, the forward momentum moves that foot onto the line.

It’s OK if after you’ve struck the serve, both feet come onto the court, but before striking the ball, the feet can’t touch the court, and one must be behind the baseline.

My recommendation is to start the service motion about a foot behind the baseline. That way, if your momentum carries you forward, you have plenty of room and none of your opponents need to pull out the rule book.

Conclusion

When you’re the serving team, start looking where people stand when they serve. It just may surprise you!

Click here to learn more about legal pickleball serves.

.Better Pickleball CJ Johnson

CJ Johnson Better Pickleball Age Well with C.J. Train Smart · Live Bold · Age Well

Email: CJ@BetterPickleball.com

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11 Comments

  1. Elaine St. John-Lagenaur on August 15, 2020 at 3:39 pm

    From Elaine:
    Deja Vu! This issue just came up today. An advanced player does a “side-arm” serve. He’s fast, “spinny” and snaps, but I observe, he’s contacting the ball above his waistline. I’m only a 3.0…should I politely mention this, or just let it go? Have the court monitor evaluate (4.5+ player) and let him advise? I feel uncomfortable since the possible serve violator is the better player.

    • Cathy Jo Johnson on August 15, 2020 at 8:56 pm

      Great question Elaine. It can be challenging to discuss what you believe to be an illegal serve. AS long as you have a court monitor I would ask them how to deal with the situation.

  2. Kathy Zugel on August 15, 2020 at 6:58 pm

    In the text that you provided it states that the serving rule says that both feet have to be behind the service line or sidelines when the service motion starts ( which is the start of the arm motion either
    back or forward). In your instructional video you say that your feet only have to be in those places as you strike the ball. So which statement is correct?

    • Cathy Jo Johnson on August 15, 2020 at 8:54 pm

      They both are correct. Rule 4.A.3. At the beginning of the service motion, both feet must be behind the baseline and the imaginary extensions of the baseline. At the time the ball is
      struck, the server’s feet may not touch the court or outside the imaginary extension of the sideline or the centerline and at least one foot must be on the playing surface or ground behind the baseline.
      At the time the ball is struck only one foot has to be behind the baseline, meaning it could be in the air moving across an extension of the baseline. However, it cannot touch the court at the time the ball is struck. Make sense?

  3. Kathy Zugel on August 15, 2020 at 7:00 pm

    This site will not let me ask a question. It says I already asked it which is not true. What do I do?

    • Cathy Jo Johnson on August 15, 2020 at 8:49 pm

      Hi Kathy
      People who leave a comment for the first time are held for review until I see them. This keeps unwanted spam from comments.

  4. Mihial Mike (miguel) on August 15, 2020 at 8:00 pm

    Hi
    From Mexico Puerto Escondido..
    I get questioned on my back hand serve.
    And I reply the it’s below my belly button and my wrist is above the paddle..
    I’m I correct?

    • Cathy Jo Johnson on August 15, 2020 at 8:47 pm

      You also need to have an upward arc 4.A.5. The 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.

  5. Russ Bryan on August 15, 2020 at 8:11 pm

    It’s a little easier to see if someone has committed a side or centerline violation. But remember the key here is the words “at the time the ball is struck.” A player could start outside of the sideline and move their feet into a legal position during the serving motion.

    Here’s the tricky part of the rule the baseline and a foot inside the court.

    I saved the best for last or in this case the most common violation. At the time the ball is struck, the servers feet may not touch, and at least one foot must be on the playing surface or ground behind the baseline.
    These two sentences are not correct. Specifically stated in 4A3 at the beginning of the service motion (any motion) the feet may not be outside the side or centerlines. the words omitted are “the court or outside the imaginary extension of the sideline or centerline” very critical to the specifics of this rule.

    Pickle On!
    Russ
    P.S. we love your site

  6. Yvonne Hubvard on August 16, 2020 at 3:11 am

    Very good article which I will definitely share

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