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.
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.
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)