While pickleball is a relatively new racket sport, especially if you compare it with the likes of tennis, badminton and squash, it still has stacked up a fair bit of history. And with that, the sport’s vocabulary has also grown to a large extent – and is probably still growing – producing a list of phrases and terms which a pickleball aficionado ought to know. In this piece, I have listed down all the possible pickleball terms, phrases and words used by players and fans which will ensure you are up to speed with the latest in the sport.
Please Note: If you are looking to understand the rules of pickleball, we would recommend you to check our pickleball rule guide here. You could, however, understand the pickleball terms mentioned below for starters before moving to the rules.
Introduction to Pickleball
Pickleball is a hybrid between tennis, squash, badminton and table tennis. Players use special rackets (or paddles) and ball, and play on a badminton-sized court, although the playing area is less, and the court markings are adapted.
Normally it is played as a doubles game, although it is possible to play singles as well.
Whilst not widely known outside the United States, it has enjoyed a substantial growth in popularity amongst players of all ages, with a 650% increase in numbers taking up the sport in the past six years.
Origins and History of Pickleball
According to legend, the game was invented in Bainbridge Island, Washington, in the summer of 1965 at the home of Joel Pritchard.
He had been out for the day with two friends, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum, when returning home the three found themselves bored and were looking for something to do with their families.
They wanted to play badminton but nobody could find a shuttlecock, so they improvised instead, with a Wiffle Ball (a baseball adapted for use indoors and in urban areas). The nets were lowered and paddles fashioned from plywood taken from Pritchard’s shed.
Famously the game was named after the Pritchard family dog Pickles, even this seems to be somewhat of a myth, as he was not born until two years after the game was invented (and the dog may have been called after the game, not vice versa!).
How the Game is Played, or Pickleball Rules in a Gist
The game begins with the service which must be made underarm and delivered in such a way that contact is made below the ball under waist level.
As with tennis, the server stands behind the baseline and is aiming in the diagonally opposite court. Only the side serving can score a point, and the play for a particular point ends when a fault is committed such as striking the ball in to the net, or out of bounds, hitting the ball after the second bounce, or volleying the ball when returning the service.
One concept unique to pickleball is that of the non-volley zone. A player can only enter this area of the court to play a ball that bounces. They must exit this zone if they want to play a volley. This non-volley zone is also called the pickleball kitchen.
Normally the first team to reach 11 points wins the game, provided that there is at least two points between the two sides. In the event that there is not two points’ difference, play continues until side establishes a winning lead.
Pickleball has evolved its own terminology to describe the game and its components, some of which have been borrowed from other racket sports and others which are unique to it. These are some of the most frequent terms used.
Like in tennis, a service that is not returned by the opponent. A clean ace is when the opponent fails to land a paddle on the ball. Unlike in tennis though, it’s not the easiest to serve an ace, especially at a professional level because players do not attempt to serve with a lot of pace.
Instead, the motive of a player service is to push the receiver as back as possible in an attempt to increase his/her time to get close to the non-volley zone.
The one way you could attempt hitting a few aces isn’t by force but by imparting some topspin to your service; if you can master this kind of a serve it would become tougher for the opponent to respond and at times lead to a few aces as well.
A ball hit by a player whilst moving forwards towards the net. It’s typically a shot used by a player while in motion in a bid to come close to the net to, usually play a volley (from outside the non-volley zone obviously).
It’s imperative to have a clear tactic in mind while playing the approach shot, especially in pickleball singles or the opponent could hit a passing winner.
Backcourt is the area inside the baseline towards the back of the court. Typically players serving try to rush from the backcourt closer to the net. Most racket sports have a region on the court which far from the net but inside the baseline which is called the backcourt, including tennis and badminton.
Striking the ball with a high to low motion, causing it to spin in a direction opposite to its flight. Imagine an outstretched arm holding a pickleball paddle facing the net and then tilt the top part of the paddle slightly backward before hitting an aggressive shot back to your opponent.
The ball will go at speed and after bouncing, it will check itself instead of moving forward at the same speed it had hit the court. In short, it would create spin on the ball which would get it to suddenly stop or spin the ball ‘back’.
The movement of the paddle back from its starting position before propelling it forwards. It is used to return a shot while hitting a groundstroke, either using a forehand or backhand.
While coaches encourage players to have a good, strong backswing in tennis, it’s quite the contrary in pickleball. Pickleball isn’t as much a power sport as tennis and one way to reduce errors in one’s pickleball game is to eliminate a huge backswing while hitting groundstrokes.
As in tennis, striking the ball on the opposite wing to the dominant forehand is a backhand; i.e. a backhand is a groundstroke which requires the player’s paddle shoulder and arm to be in front of the other one.
So it you are a right-handed pickleball player trying to hit a backhand, your right arm and shoulder will be in front of your left arm and shoulder and the paddle’s backswing will move from your left side into the shot.
The rear line of the pickleball court, 22 feet from the net on either side. These two lines are parallel to the net and is where a player serves from.
Players need to keep both feet on the ground behind the baseline till the serve is completed or else it’s called a fault and the ball needs to be hit inside the baseline at any time during a rally for it to be legitimate.
Instructions called out by one player to their partner, telling them to let the ball bounce because they think it will land out of bounds, either too wide or too long beyond the baseline.
Describes when a ball does not bounce off the middle of the paddle, but rather is carried forward off the bat in the course of a rally.
The question pickleball beginners usually ask around a ‘carry’ in pickleball is if it’s legal. Well, the answer depends on multiple factors. For starters, if the ball hits the player below the wrist – i.e. the knuckles or fingers – it’s deemed legal.
However, more importantly, if the ball hits the wrist or below and then the paddle, all in one motion then this kind of a double hit or a carry is perfectly legal. The important thing to note is here this should be a part of a continuous, single direction stroke for it to be allowed.
This line bisects the service line into two equal parts, and extends from the Non-Volley Zone to the Baseline. This line in an indicator where the server can stand and also forms a part of the rectangle where the service must land for the opponent.
A shot that bounces twice in the Non-Volley Zone (like a drop shot in tennis), usually as a result of a dink which helps the player playing this shot win the point.
A shot which imparts backspin on the pickleball. This is played with the pickleball paddle going from up to down in a diagonal manner to mimic a slice-like motion. As a result of a chop, the ball can be expected to bounce at the other side of the net and stop and spin backward.
The court area diagonally opposite to a player. A good pickleball player will try to mix things up by hitting cross-court shots in a bid to give themselves more breathing time and space.
Hitting the ball cross-court means it has to travel a longer distance to get to the opponent and that gives a player those few milliseconds to adjust and reposition themselves for the next shot.
The ball is declared dead after after it’s no longer in play and the point is deemed over. There are multiple ways in which a dead ball is declared, including:
- Anything which forces the play to stop
- Player returns the ball after it’s bounced more than once
- A fault is committed
- A hinder or a service let is committed
An inbound ball that is live, i.e. it has bounced once in court (and hence not gone dead yet)
Like a drop shot in tennis or a dink in badminton – a soft shot that just clears the net and drops in an opponent’s non-volley zone.
It’s typically played from close to the net or the pickleball kitchen too, and while at times it’s played by those who might not be good enough to hit strong groundstrokes, it can also be used as a tactic to surprise the opponent by taking the pace off the rally.
Read more about the dink in our exhaustive guide here which includes the tactics associated with a pickleball dink.
The most common form of pickleball. Teams can be formed by men, women or mixed pairings.
A ball that has bounced twice before being returned, resulting in a loss point.
When one side hits a ball twice before returning it. A double hit can occur when the same player strikes the ball twice or each player on a team hits it once. In either case it means a lost point.
Down the Line
A shot that travels near and down the side-line.
Describes a forehand that is hit straight and low, deep into the opposing backcourt.
Similar to a drop shot in tennis.
Drop Shot Volley
As in tennis, this is particularly effective when opponents are positioned at the back of the court, forcing them to scramble to try and reach the ball before it bounces twice.
More applicable for advanced players of the game, this is a shot which is designed to spin in such a way that it just clears the net, and then dies sharply on the other side.
The broad surface on either side of the paddle bat.
A shot that falls short because it has not been hit with enough power.
One of the numerous rule violations that means that a point is over.
This is the term used to describe a shot which is hit in mid-air and must have bounced once during either of the first two shots of any point. After the first two shots, the ball does not have to bounce and a player can volley it.
Keeping the surface of the bat parallel to the net.
As in tennis, the server must keep their feet behind the baseline when serving. Any infringement of this rule results in a foot fault.
The continued forward motion of the bat in the direction a player wants the ball to travel.
The preferred side for striking the ball. A right handed player normally starts with the right hand behind them, and a left-handed player vice versa.
When one side has reached 11 points or established a clear lead of two points after passing this mark (although some tournaments play to first to 15 or even 21).
The manner in which a player holds the bat in their hand. It is also used to describe the material that protects the bat handle and offers cushioning.
Striking the ball after it has bounced one.
Striking the ball just after it has hit the ground.
The area of the paddle bat above the handle – includes the face and the edge of the bat.
Anything that interferes with or affects play.
A slang term for the non-volley zone. One player may call out to his team mate – “get out of the kitchen!).
A player aged between 7 and 19 years old.
A service that hits the net and bounces in the opponent’s service court. The point is replayed, as in tennis.
A call by one of the players if a ball has bounced in or out. Pickleball is meant to be a sporting game, so players are trusted to make calls on their side of the net.
A return shot from the back of the court that goes high and deep forcing the opponents to the back of the court.
The middle of the court between the baseline and the non-volley zone.
Also known as the kitchen, this is the 7 feet area either side of the net. As the name suggests, players are not allowed to volley when the ball is in this area.
Any shot hit where the paddle starts above the ball and the ball is struck in a downwards direction.
A variant of the above this is where the ball is hit powerfully, like a smash in tennis or badminton.
An exclamation that is sometimes uttered when a third shot has been hit, as a signal that volleying can begin.
Holding the paddle bat titled lightly upwards.
The bat used in pickleball. Similar to a racket in tennis, squash or badminton.
A volley or groundstroke that is designed to pass an opponent without them being able to return it.
Any permanent object around the court that might interfere with the flight or direction of the ball, such as a wall, fence, the net posts, or, in a tournament, he stands where spectators sit. The term may also encompass referees, line judges and spectators.
The phrase used by the server to warn everybody on court that they are about to serve.
This is equivalent to the term bagel in tennis. If a side loses a game 11 – 0 they have been pickled and failed to win a single point in it.
Akin to centre court in a tennis tournament. The main court in a pickleball championship.
A pickleball fanatic. Somebody who cannot stop playing, or talking about, the sport.
Encroaching on a teammate’s side of the court to play a shot.
A Shot hit so well that there is no chance of it being returned.
A quick, fast volley with minimal backswing and follow-through.
The continuous play following a serve.
Rally Point System
A scoring system whereby the team that wins the rally secures the point.
The ideal position and stance to receive the ball and return it.
The person who receives a serve, standing diagonally opposite the server on the court.
In the event that any point is disputed between the two teams, then it can be replayed.
As in tennis, the server is given two attempts to clear the net or land the ball in play.
This designates who serves when in the serving sequence.
The Service Court
The area on either side of the centre line, which is surrounded by the non-volley line, the baseline, and the side-lines.
Service Out Side Scoring
The current serving system in Pickleball which dictates that only the side serving can score a point.
A common tactic where a pair of players move in tandem, either forwards or backwards on the court.
The line on the side of the court which delineates whether a shot is in or out.
This is announced when one side loses its service, and the other takes over.
Playing with just one player a side – the less common format of Pickleball.
A shot that imparts back spin to a ball.
Like in tennis or badminton, an overhead shot played with power, similar in motion to a serve.
Standing with feet slightly apart ready to receive a ball.
The motions of striking the ball with the paddle – examples include groundstrokes, forehands, backhands etc.
These are awarded in tournament play by referees when one team commits an infringement that deserves to be punished with the loss of a point. Examples include the use of abusive language, or unsportsmanlike conduct.
Applying spin to the balk from low to top. This causes the ball to spin in the same direction as its flight.
Two Bounce Rule
After the ball is served, the receiver must first allow the ball to bounce before striking it, and then, in turn, the serving team must also let it bounce once before hitting it. After the third shot, the ball can be volleyed without it having to bounce first.
Hitting the ball in the air without it hitting the ground first.
A term used to describe an illegal shot when a volley is made in the non-volley zone.
The type of ball used in Pickleball. It is a variant of a baseball, designed for use in indoor areas or in confined outdoor spaces. Usually made of a tough, rubbery plastic, it is lightweight, and cannot be thrown or struck far normally.