By: CJ Johnson | December 6, 2019 |

Pickleball Rules-CJ, Were Those Legal Serves?

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a video titled, What’s the Best Pickleball Serve? Not long afterward, a few of you asked, CJ are those serves legal? You be the judge!

I surmise by the questions I receive; players don’t always get their pickleball rules information from the best source, the rule book. It’s great to get input from other pickleball players about the rules, but even the most knowledgeable players can misinterpret them.

As a golf pro for 25 years, I knew that the answers I needed were inside the rule book as long as I knew how to read it correctly, I’d find what I needed. The same is true for pickleball. You’ll get most of your questions answered if you go directly to the book. Don’t have a pickleball rule book? Never fear, here’s a link to a FREE PDF of the USAPA Rule Book.

BTW, the Better Pickleball YouTube Channel just hit 1,000,000 views. I can’t thank you enough for helping me reach this milestone.

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The majority of your questions from the video were regarding the paddle or body position at impact.

What do the pickleball rules say about paddle and body position? If you look in the table of contents, you’ll find the serving rules in section four.  For those of you following along in the rule book, we’ll be focusing on rules 4.A.5, 4.A.6, 4.A.7.

Rule 4.A.5 states that 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 a backhand motion. (See figure 4-3) Pickleball rules-Serving Motion

Photos won’t help you with this one, for that you’ll need to go to the video. Take a look at each of these serves first in real-time and then in slow motion. Are they legal according to rule 4.A.5? What do you think?

If you said that these serves were all legal, that the arm is moving in an upward motion, you are correct.

Rule 4.A.6. states that the paddle head must be below the server’s wrist when it strikes the ball. The highest point of the paddle head cannot be above the highest part of the wrist. That’s where the wrist joint bends. See figures 4-4 and 4-2. Here’s the picture from the rule book showing both a legal and an illegal serve.Pickleball rules paddle and the wrist

Here are the photos of each serve at impact.

First, let’s take a look at the power serve. Concerning rule 4.A.5, is this a legal serve?

If you said yes, you were correct. Pretty easy to see that the paddle head is below my wrist at impact.

Pickleball rules-legal power serve

The next one is the lob serve. Is it legal or illegal?

If you said this, serve is legal, you are correct. Some may think that the line is drawn incorrectly. Remember, the trajectory of a lob serve looks like an upside-down U. To create that, the paddle face needs to be facing up at impact.


pickleball rules legal lob serve

Next is the topspin serve. Legal or illegal? This one’s pretty easy. It’s very clearly legal.

pickleball rules legal topspin serve

Here’s the short angle serve. Legal or illegal?

This serve is perhaps the closest one of all, but if you look at the close-up, you’ll notice the paddle head is still below the wrist.

pickleball rules legal short angle serve at impact

The last service in the series is the backhand serve. What do you think?

If you said it was legal, you’re correct. We’ll zoom in just a little closer, but you can certainly see that the paddle head is below the angle of the wrist.

Pickleball rules legal backhand serve

The last rule that we need to look at is 4.A.7, and that says that the contact with the ball is made below waist level. In this case, the waist is defined as the navel level. See figures 4-1 and 4-3.

Four of the serves easily fall into that category, but one viewer thought the release of the lob serve might be too high. Let’s look at a still photo. What do you think?

If you said it was legal, you’re correct. Just a little side note, it’s easy to make contact past the navel on the lob serve. Make sure that if you’re using this serve that you keep the impact point below your belly button.



I’ve heard some wacky interpretations of the pickleball rules. It’s always okay to ask a question, but if you want to get better at the rules, make sure you pull out your rule book first and see if you can answer the question yourself. If you’re not sure, then ask other players to help you.

CJ Johnson

Hey there — I’m a professional three-sport athlete and coach who has spent my entire adult life earning a living from playing and coaching sports. Since I started coaching more than three decades ago, one thing has remained the same: My commitment to see students not as they are but as what they can become and to move heaven and earth to help them realize their untapped potential. You should know that when it comes to helping pickleball players over 50 live their best lives on and off the courts, I'm an expert. Good pickleball is not just technique; it's the mind and body working holistically. That's why I'm also a personal trainer and weight management specialist. When I’m chillin', you'll find me watching Star Trek with my husband John and our two fur babies, Shirley and Ralph. (Yes, Happy Days)