Whether you are new to pickleball or a seasoned player, what is one golden rule that we hear time and time again? "Just get the ball in". So true! That said though, did you know that in pickleball there are clear rules about what constitutes a legal serve? "Just getting the ball in" on your serve requires a few extra considerations.
1. You must serve the ball using an underhand motion, so the paddle must make the trajectory of an up-to-down motion. A sideswipe motion (to add spin) is not allowed.
2. The ball must be struck with the paddle below your waistline. The purpose of this is to neutralize the serve and it makes it difficult to add spin. If you are using the legal up-to-down underhand motion then striking the ball below the waist comes naturally.
3. The tip of the paddle cannot be higher than your wrist upon contact.
In the picture above the tip of the paddle is higher than the wrist
4. You must stand within your service side. During your serve, it is as if a glass wall has been placed on the middle line and sideline. You cannot cross either line during the serve.
5. Both feet must be behind the baseline upon contact during the serve. Your foot can land inside the court during the follow-through.
Pro Tip: Indoor pickleball courts in Toronto have very tight baselines. I've adapted my serve so that instead of stepping into the court, my follow-through has my right foot landing behind the baseline, both feet shoulder-width apart, which puts me in a split step position. If you start to follow through into the court your opponent might try to catch you with a deep return back to you, causing a back-peddle.
Now that the service motion is clear, there are more rules that make for a legal serve, most of which are pretty obvious but nonetheless, here they are:
1. The ball must land inside the service box diagonal to the one you're serving from (aka cross-court).
2. If the ball touches the net and lands inside the service box it's a "let" and you may re-serve. If the ball touches the net and lands in the non-volley zone you lose serve.
3. If the ball touches the sideline, centre line, or baseline the ball is "in" however, if the ball touches the non-volley zone it is "out" and you lose serve. Therefore, try your best to hit a deeper serve to avoid the non-volley zone altogether.
Now, if you are playing rec pickleball with friends and you're breaking one of the rules - like serving the ball well over the waist - I'm sure your friends will just let it go. For those of you who have played in tournaments keep in mind that an opponent will call you out on an illegal serve or if it's a refereed match, the referee will watch for illegal serves as a part of their referee responsibilities.
If you are looking to improve the accuracy of your serve, we have court targets that will allow you to aim for specific areas of a service box. This is also a good activity to practice on your driveway or in your backyard.