Pickleball Rule Number One – The First Service

The Pickleball Rule for first service and the unique pickleball scoring rules can be a totally foreign concept to new players despite vain attempts of an experienced partner to explain it on the spot and the first stumbling block can be the first service. 

So starting at the start…

Generally games are played to 11 points and a side has to win by 2 points. That simply means that you keep playing until the score differs by 2 points as in 13/11 or 14/12 or 17/15 or any such combination that separates the score of the winning side by 2.

First Service Pickleball Rule

First service - a confusing anomaly of the game

The first anomaly is at the start of the game because at all times during the game until one side finally wins by 2 points, both players on each side with have a chance to serve EXCEPT for the first service where only one player of the first serving side will serve.

Let me put that another way to de-confuse this confusion without confusing you more

The side that serves first will only have one server not two. When the point is lost the serve will go to the other side. Player one on that side will serve until their serve is lost and then player two will serve. When that serve is lost the serve will return to the side that started serving and both players with then get to serve in the succession just explained above.

The pickleball rule on scoring states that you as server, must call out loud the score of both sides with the serving side called first followed by the opposition side and then the player number before serving. Each side only has player number one and player number two so it’s pretty easy don’t worry.

So following the rules let’s say that your side has 3 points and your opposition has 5 points and you are now commencing serve again as the 1st server you would call the following – 3/5/1 – 3 being your score, 5 being their score and 1 being that you are the first server.

If you win your serve you would change sides of the court and before serving again you would call out loud, 4/5/1. If however you lost your serve, the serve would move to your partner being the number two player to serve from their side and they would call the serve 3/5/2 – remember your score would stay the same at 3 because points can only be won on serve and in this example you lost your serve. So 3 is your score, 5 is their score and 2 is server number two. 

Serve always moves to the opposition side after you lose point on Player 2 serve

If your player 2 lost their serve, the serve would go to the opposition players and the first serve player would then call the serve but call their score first. In this example they would call, 5/3/1 - 5 being their score, 3 being your score and 1 being that the first server is serving.

The only hiccup to this format is the first service anomaly

Remember both players on each side with have a chance to serve EXCEPT for the first service where only one player of the first serving side will serve. For this anomaly you simply call the score as 0/0/2 where the first Zero is your score, the second Zero is their score and the 2 is the one and only player who serves in this commencement to the game.

When the point is lost on this serve (initially identified as 2) serve moves to the other side. Easy yes? Simply remember to call 0/0/2 when starting serve on any new game and you have this nailed.

Pickleball Rule change to start call

NOTE – in the past many players would start a game with the call of 0/0 START (not 0/0/2) – However, the USAPA has recently ruled that 0-0-Start is no longer a valid call for official matches. 

So the Pickleball Rule Number One for the first service is no longer confusing correct. After rule number one comes other scoring rules but don’t worry we have you covered with… pickleball scoring rules, a quick outline to playing the game and what constitutes a serving fault and a playing fault and the transfer of play. Check out: Pickleball Scoring Rules with Serving Faults and Playing Faults

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