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Is the pickleball spin serve (pre-spun) really banned in 2024?

picture of Betsy Kenniston
Betsy Kenniston

Published on: Jan 10, 2023

A pickleball player prepares to serve

USA Pickleball’s official rule changes for 2024 have been announced, and there’s one that has the pickleball community buzzing. The one-handed pickleball pre-spun serve is now banned.

Why has this action been taken and how does this rule change affect a normal pickleball game?

Can you still spin the ball without using your hand? Keep reading, and we’ll get into the details and clear up some misconceptions.

What is a pickleball spin (pre-spun) serve?

The story of spin serves started with Zane Navratil's chainsaw serve in 2022. But the rule change limited it to one hand. Later, PPA Tour decided to try pre-serve spin at a professional level.

First, understand there are only two types of legal services addressed in the USA Pickleball Rulebook: The Volley Serve and The Drop Serve.

Rule 4.A.5 addresses the Volley Serve. This is the rule change we will be discussing, which will forbid applying spin to the ball PRIOR to striking it for the serve.

So yes, this pickleball rule change has banned pre-spinning the ball before the serve is hit. Throughout this article, we will call the banned action the “pre-spun serve.”

A pickleball pre-spun serve refers to the action of applying spin to the ball with your fingers or hand rotation, prior to striking a volley serve. Players might pinch the ball, putting excessive spin on it before striking with it their pro-grade pickleball paddles.

This pre-spin creates an unpredictable bounce on the opponent’s court and can be very difficult to return, especially for amateur players.

  • In 2023, the updated USA Pickleball rule book will forbid applying any spin or manipulation of the ball from one hand, prior to striking it with the paddle for the serve.

A comprehensive review and voting system finally made this decision into the rulebook. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t apply spin with the paddle when you strike the ball.

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Only pre-spun pickleball serves are banned!

A graphic emphasizing that only pre-spinning the ball is banned

To review, the idea that you can’t apply spin to a serve is not entirely accurate. The pickleball rule changes only pertains to spin applied to the ball BEFORE it is struck on the serve.

Once the ball is tossed or dropped, spin may be applied to the ball with the paddle upon striking it. This could be in the form of top or side spin, as long as all the requirements of a legal pickleball serve are followed.

Backspin is difficult to legally apply to a volley serve, since it requires a downward attack of the ball to impart backspin. It’s effective with a drop serve where there are fewer requirements.

Each type of spin has its own effect on the way the ball bounces, as well as its trajectory in the air.

Spin is created based on the angle and direction the paddle face is moving as it contacts the ball. Friction is created between the paddle and the ball and causes rotation.

The severity of spin applied is determined by the speed and angle of your paddle movement as it hits the ball.

Once you’ve mastered the fundamental pickleball skills for a successful serve and dink, applying spin will help elevate your game, so it’s worth practicing!

Why Did USA Pickleball Change Rule 4.A.5 - The Volley Serve which eliminates pre-spinning the ball?

A graphic outlining the five reasons why USA Pickleball banned the pre-spun serve

USA Pickleball gave five reasons for banning the pre-spun spin serve:

  1. The original purpose of the serve was just to begin play.
  2. Most players cannot master hitting or returning a truly effective pre-spun serve.
  3. Effective pre-spun serves require more court space to allow a receiver to react.
  4. Only a limited number of players have mastered the pre-spun serve, giving them an unfair advantage.
  5. The pre-spun serve is “particularly devastating” for amateur pickleball players.

In short, the USA Pickleball rules committee determined the pre-spun pickleball serve makes the game less accessible to newcomers and casual players. One of the joys of pickleball is that it’s easy to get started, regardless of your age and athletic ability.

The game is much more fun when players can maintain long rallies. Making serves difficult to return detracts from that goal.

According to USA Pickleball, keeping with the original spirit of the game, the serve should simply be a means to begin play, not a way to score, in and of itself.

New volley serve rule

The new volley serve rule reads as follows:

4.A.5 The Volley Serve. The server shall use only a one-handed spin serve to release the ball to perform the serve. While some natural rotation of the ball is expected during any release of the ball from the hand, the server shall not impart manipulation or spin on the release of the ball immediately prior to the serve. The server’s release of the ball must be visible to the referee and the receiver. If the referee determines that manipulation or spin has been imparted, or the release of the ball is not visible, the referee shall call for a reserve.

In matches without a referee, the server’s release of the ball must be visible to the receiver. The server shall not impart manipulation or spin on the release of the ball immediately prior to the serve. If the receiver determines that manipulation or spin has been imparted, or the release of the ball is not visible, the receiver shall call for a reserve immediately after the serve occurs. Exception: A player who has the use of only one hand may use their hand or paddle to release the ball to perform the serve.

In addition, to serve rules, there is also a change in equipment time-outs. Even if the team is out of time-outs, players can use equipment time-outs as they are put under a special category. Also, there's a new rule that states your clothing color should not match the ball's color during the game. If you're wearing clothing matching the color, you may be requested to change it.

Now, in 2023 if the wrong score is called, you can return or serve to correct the score. Furthermore, there are some service motions, line calls, rejection of rally scoring, and editorial changes too.

Pickleball player Brandon Mackie gets ready to serve the ball

How do pickleball rule changes which bans a pre-spun serve affect a normal pickleball game?

If you don’t usually play against opponents who hit a pre-spun serve, the new rule won’t affect your normal games at all.

If your opponents were using that type of serve, they won’t be any longer. And you’ll find their serves more consistent and likely easier to return. However, players can go for topspin or underspin to the ball as part of their serve.

How are rule changes for pickleball made?

Rules of pickleball and changes are transparent and community-based, in keeping with the spirit of the game.

  1. Rule changes begin with USA Pickleball members submitting suggestions for potential changes. The window to make a suggestion ends June 15. For reference, for 2023 there were 78 suggested USA Pickleball rule change submissions.
  2. Proposed rule changes from the community are listed on the USA Pickleball website. Members can view the suggested changes and submit comments until June 30. The USA Pickleball Rules Committee will then review all submitted suggestions during the month of July. Decisions will be made on whether to approve, reject, or reword all the proposed rule changes.
  3. The accepted changes are drafted into rules language and made public for USA Pickleball member input starting August 30 and ending September 15.
  4. Rule changes are submitted to the USA Pickleball Board of Directors for final approval by October 31, at which time they will vote to approve or deny.
  5. The new rule book is proofed and published on the USA Pickleball website by December 1, giving the public 30 days to become familiar with the changes.
  6. The new year’s rule book is posted on the USA Pickleball website by Jan 1 of the new year.
A pickleball player returning a shot during a game

What do players think about the ban?

USAP players are split on whether or not they support the changes to rule 4.A.5, which forbids the pre-spun serve.

Views from players who support the pickleball pre-spun serve ban

Many players agree with USA Pickleball’s point of view, that banning the pre-spun spin serve will help keep the game accessible, make it fair for all, and encourage better, longer rallies.

Others point out that finger spin serving has been banned in table tennis since the 1930s, with a similar line of reasoning to pickleball. Especially regarding the small playing surface which doesn’t allow sufficient time to react to a spin serve.

Another point raised is that at every other point during a pickleball match, players are only allowed to manipulate the ball with their paddle—so why should the serve be any different?

Objections raised by players who disagree with the pickleball pre-spun serve ban

One concern raised is that according to the new rule, if there is no referee, the receiver can call for a replay if they cannot see the ball upon release and believe the server has made an illegal serve.

Considering the size and dimensions of a pickleball court, however, it could be difficult to see the server’s hand clearly enough to make an accurate call.

Also, since spin serves using the paddle are allowed, the receiving player may incorrectly attribute a ball’s spin to an illegal serve instead of skillful use of the paddle. This could cause confusion or disagreement between players.

Ban the pre-spun serve from amateur play! But let the pros use it!

Some believe that the rules should be made in consideration of the best players.

Since the pre-spun serve is quite difficult to do successfully and consistently, it probably won’t be used much at the lower levels anyway.

Arguably, allowing players to use the technique during high-level competitions such as Major League Pickleball would make watching pro matches even more exciting.

Is it fair to ban something that only a few players can do?

Some players feel that banning pre-spun serves is basically a penalty against skilled players who have created techniques to give themselves an edge, only to have the rules changed specifically to ban those advantages.

What about banning the other aggressive moves, like the “bert” or “erne?”

The “Bert” and “Erne” are two other advanced, aggressive types of pickleball shots. Both are difficult to master and even more difficult to respond to.

Some players ask why one aggressive shot is banned, while another isn’t. To these players, it feels like an inconsistent application of the rules.

It’s common for growing sports to undergo rule changes. This isn’t the first time a type of pickleball shot has been banned.

The “Chainsaw Serve,” which saw players applying excessive spin by rolling the ball between their hand and the paddle, was banned at the end of 2021.

Most objections to the volley serve rule change, seem to boil down to a feeling of unfairness against the players who enjoy and are successful in using a pre-spun serve. However, this ignores the fundamental logic of the serve’s intent: to start the rally, not win it.

You could argue the rules should allow the best players to excel at the game, and to be able to create advantages within the rules. Individual clubs or tournament directors could decide not to allow pre-spun serves for any number of reasons.

Maybe only 4.0 and above can use that serve. Or perhaps no one, if space is limited and safety is an issue.

So, you can see there are equal arguments and opinions for and against this rule change, which bans pre-spinning the ball before a serve is hit.

The hope is that players will also be able to return serves more easily, so more points will be scored on rallies instead of serves.

Bottom line

Players still have plenty of room to get creative with their serves, and no doubt the community will continue to develop more and more ways to stay competitive.

This is what makes being a part of a sport like pickleball so exciting! We’re on the cutting edge of something that’s still new and growing.

What are your thoughts on the rule change banning the pre-spun pickleball serve? Do you support the rule change?

Have you ever played against someone who used a pre-spun serve? How did it affect your game? Let us know on social!


About the author
Betsy Kenniston
I’m Betsy, the founder of Crazy Pickleball Lady, a blog I created to share my love of pickleball with the world! I discovered pickleball when I finished working in 2012, and the sport has defined and thoroughly enriched my retirement. I spend the warmer months in Toledo, Ohio and the winters in SW Florida, and I’m a member of four pickleball clubs in total, serving on the board of directors for one. In my time off the court, I write my blog as a way to reach others who want to learn to play pickleball, and to give tips to players looking to improve their game.
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