If you’re new to pickleball and still haven’t tried playing doubles, you’re missing out! Doubles pickleball is the most popular way of playing the sport, and once you try it, you’ll see why.
Doubles pickleball is more strategic and accuracy-oriented than singles pickleball, and the social aspect lends itself well to pickleball’s friendly, inviting culture.
But how is pickleball doubles different from pickleball singles?
Is it difficult to play pickleball doubles?
What is the ‘Double Bounce Rule’ in pickleball?
Read on, and we’ll answer these questions and more. This guide serves as the ideal resource for doubles pickleball for beginners. Along the way, we’ll cover the basic rules, stages of play, and some tips and tricks to get you started.
How to play pickleball doubles
If you already know how to play singles pickleball, you’re in luck because the pickleball doubles rules are similar. If you’re new to the sport entirely, don’t worry! It’s easy to learn how to play pickleball, so you’ll pick it up in no time.
Pickleball serve rules (and determining the serving team)
Every game of pickleball doubles starts with the serve. The serve is designed to get the ball in play and begin each point.
To determine which team serves first, players can use a coin toss or play Paper, Rock, Scissors. Some courts insist that the northwest-facing side of the court always serves first (because pickleball was invented in the Pacific Northwest).
Here are some serving rules to keep in mind. These rules apply to the volley serve, which is the most common:
- A pickleball serve must be hit in a forehand or backhand motion. The serving player’s arm should move in an upward arc, with the face of the paddle angled upwards.
- The point where the paddle makes contact with the ball must be below your waistline, specifically below the navel.
- At the time of contact, the head of the paddle must be below the highest part of your wrist.
- Your serve must land in the service area diagonally opposite yours. Just like in tennis, in pickleball you serve to the opponent’s service box diagonally across from you, not directly across.
- Your feet must be correctly placed. At least one of your feet must be touching the ground behind the baseline. Your feet must also be inside the imaginary extension of the sideline and centerline, i.e. behind your rectangle on the court.
- Only one serve attempt is allowed per server. If you or your team scores a point, you continue serving. However, if you commit a fault or the opponent wins a rally, you lose your serve.
Serving variation: drop serve
This variation on the traditional volley serve is becoming more and more popular in pickleball. For a drop serve, the serving player drops the ball on the ground before hitting it on the bounce. These additional rules apply when performing a drop serve in pickleball:
- The server can either drop the ball from one hand or roll it from the paddle face.
- The ball can bounce anywhere, so long as the serving player’s feet are behind the baseline.
- The ball must not be thrown down with force or tossed into the air before hitting the ground.
Doubles pickleball scoring
In a game of pickleball, doubles scoring is made up of three numbers (e.g. 0-2-1 or 6-3-2):
- The first number is the serving team’s score.
- The second number is the receiving team’s score.
- The third number is the server number, which is either 1 or 2.
Only the serving team can score points—the receiving team cannot score. If the serving team loses the rally, it results in the server’s loss of serve or side out.
At the start of the game, the player on the right side of the court (also called the 'even' side) serves to the service court diagonally opposite from them. Prior to each serve, they must announce the score, with the starting score being 0-0-2.
If the serving team scores, that server moves to the left side (odd side) and once again serves to the service court diagonally opposite from them.
Players on the serving team continue to switch places until they fault and lose the serve. Players on the receiving team do not change places.
Normally, when the first server on a team loses a rally, their partner gets to serve next. The exception to this is the very first serve of the game, in which only server #2 gets to serve. That’s why the initial score is '0-0-2'. The idea behind this rule is to minimize the advantage of the team who chooses to serve first and thus is able to score first.
In pickleball, a 'volley' refers to hitting the ball directly out of the air before it bounces.
Volleys are great for scoring, whether you’re snapping a shot down at your opponent’s feet, or gently arcing the ball over the net when your opponents are too far away to respond (called a 'drop shot').
Usually, you’ll find yourself volleying when you’re near the Non-Volley Zone (the 'Kitchen'.)
The pickleball doubles rules state that when hitting the ball out of the air, both of your feet must be behind the Non-Volley Zone line. After hitting a volley, your momentum cannot take you into the Non-Volley Zone.
When can you enter the non-volley zone?
Technically, you can be in the Non-Volley Zone (the 'Kitchen') at any time. But you cannot volley the ball if any part of your body is in the zone. This includes touching any part of the Kitchen line.
However, if the ball bounces in your Non-Volley Zone, you may step in to hit it. For example, if the ball bounces and you step in to hit it, you might hit a ‘dink’. This is a very strategic shot that passes over the net and lands in your opponent’s Non-Volley Zone.
What is pickleball’s double bounce rule?
You may have heard of pickleball’s Double Bounce Rule, which is a basic but fundamental part of the game. But what is the Double Bounce Rule?
Simply put, the Double Bounce Rule states that the ball must bounce on both sides of the court before either team can volley the ball. Therefore, when the ball is served, the receiving team must let it bounce before hitting it back. Likewise, the serving team must let the ball bounce before returning the opposing team’s first shot. Hence, being called the 'Double Bounce Rule'.
Once the Double Bounce Rule has been fulfilled, teams no longer have to wait for the ball to bounce before hitting it. They can hit the ball off of a bounce, or simply volley it from the air.
If you want to learn how to play doubles pickleball, you’ll need to know the line call rules. A pickleball shot is considered ‘in’ if it lands anywhere on the court, including the lines, except the serve, which must completely clear the Kitchen line. In fact, USA Pickleball explicitly states that players shouldn’t call a shot as 'out' unless there’s clearly visible space between the ball and a boundary line.
In games with no referee or line judges, the players on the court make all line calls for their side of the court. The official pickleball doubles rules point out that either teammate can make line calls.
As a general rule, pickleball players are encouraged to trust the calls of their opponents. Sportsmanship and friendliness are part of pickleball’s culture, so assume good faith!
According to USA Pickleball’s Rules Summary:
- A fault is any action that stops play because of a rule violation.
- A fault by the receiving team results in a point for the serving team.
- A fault by the serving team results in the server’s loss of serve or side out.
There are three common faults in doubles pickleball:
- The serve does not clear the Non-Volley Zone or Kitchen, which includes the line.
- A shot is hit out of bounds (i.e. landing behind the baseline or outside of the sidelines).
- A shot is hit into the net.
Less common faults include:
- The ball hits a player (the player who is hit receives the fault).
- The ball bounces twice before being hit.
- Serving faults including foot faults and violating the serving rules above.
In doubles pickleball, either player on each team may call faults. Either team on either side can call foot faults and service faults.
According to the USA Pickleball rulebook (13.D.1.c), for non-officiated games, if there is any disagreement about the Non-Volley Zone and service foot faults on the opponent’s end of the court, players should replay the point.
According to another rule (13.D.1.d), if a player believes their opponent has committed any type of fault other than a service or Non-Volley Zone foot fault, they can mention it to the opposing team, but they cannot enforce it.
USA Pickleball clarifies that "the final decision on fault resolution belongs to the player that allegedly committed the fault".
If you’re just learning how to play doubles pickleball, you’re in luck. It doesn’t require a lot of expensive equipment.
You don’t need any extra equipment to play doubles pickleball vs singles. Each player will need a pickleball paddle. As a group, you’ll need a few pickleballs and a portable net if your court doesn’t have a dedicated net.
If you’re looking to buy some gear, we’ve scouted out some of the best options currently on the market:
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In pickleball, the same-sized court is used for both singles and doubles play. The USA Pickleball regulation pickleball court size is 20 x 44 feet (6.10m x 13.41m). When including out-of-bounds areas, the total minimum play area is 30 x 60 feet (6.10m x 18.29m).
A pickleball court is the same size as a doubles badminton court. You can fit four pickleball courts into the size of one tennis court, including the out-of-bounds areas.
Here are the common starting positions for each player in doubles pickleball:
Since your best chance of scoring is when you are positioned at the Non-Volley Zone line, the best basic strategy is to work your way forward as soon as possible. This is why in a doubles game, the non-receiver on the return team starts at the Non-Volley Zone line (also because of the Double Bounce Rule).
The positioning is different for the serving team, whereby the non-server stands back at the baseline. But why don’t they stand at the Non-Volley Zone? That’s because they would violate the Double Bounce Rule if they hit the opponent’s return out of the air. Standing back ensures the serving team allows for the second bounce and avoids a potential fault.
According to the USA Pickleball rulebook (rule 4.B.7), there are no restrictions on the position of any player in a doubles game. This is the case as long as all players are on their respective team’s side of the net. Players can be on or off of the court.
The exception is the server, who must serve from the correct service court. The correct receiver must also receive the serve.
Smart teams position themselves in ways that take advantage of their respective strengths and shore up their weaknesses. This might include letting more defense-oriented players stay further back in the court, or even utilizing more advanced tactics like 'stacking'.
5 strategies for pickleball doubles
Move together with your partner
Develop a habit of moving with your partner. If you keep consistent space between you and your teammate, you will avoid creating large gaps in your defense that the opposing team can target.
Get to the Kitchen line after return-of-serve
One of the most basic pickleball doubles strategies is to begin transitioning to the Non-Volley Zone line as soon as you’re able.
When both teammates are at the edge of the Non-Volley Zone, you’re in the most aggressive position to score.
Always communicate with your partner
Use phrases like ‘mine’, ‘yours’, and ‘no’ (for shots headed out of bounds) to communicate with your teammate. In doubles pickleball, communication is critical.
When teams don’t communicate, you’ll see things like teammates tripping over each other to chase the same shots. You’ll also see drive shots zip right down the middle of the court, while both teammates watch them pass by, each expecting the other to return it.
Move back to play defense
The edge of the Non-Volley Zone (the 'Kitchen') allows for the most aggressive and strategic play. When you’re in that position, you have the highest chance of scoring. However, it’s easier to play defense deeper in the court.
There are two primary reasons why it’s easier to defend from the backcourt. Firstly, playing back gives you more time to react to the opposing team’s shot. Secondly, playing deeper in the court gives you more space to allow their shot to bounce before returning it.
Letting the ball bounce gives you the opportunity to hit a more controlled return, which could help you get back to the Non-Volley Zone line.
Aim between your opponents
Hitting a hard shot right between your opponents is a classic doubles pickleball tactic. Sometimes, both of your opponents will hesitate, each expecting the other to return the shot.
They’ll often both move toward the ball and if they do return the shot, it will create openings on the outside. This will create openings on the outside edges of the court for you to target on your next shot.
Why placement over power matters more in pickleball doubles
Pickleball is a sport of finesse and strategy. At lower levels, players may fail to return shots that are hit hard, but as you progress, you’ll see fewer and fewer of those basic errors.
Instead, top-level pickleball players focus on precision and placement. They target their opponents’ weak spots to keep them on the defensive and set themselves up for aggressive shots from the Non-Volley Zone line.
An example of this is the 'third shot drop'—a shot hit by the serving team (the 3rd shot of the rally) into their opponent’s Kitchen. This precision shot allows the serving team to move up to the Non-Volley Zone and eliminate the advantage the return team had by starting with one player already at the Non-Volley Zone line.
Pickleball doubles vs pickleball singles
When comparing doubles vs singles pickleball, there are a few key areas to consider.
The rules for doubles pickleball and singles pickleball are very similar. The most notable difference is in how serving is handled.
In doubles pickleball, both players on each team have a 'server number', which is either 1 or 2. At the start of the game, server #2 serves first from the right-hand service court. Whether you are server #1 or #2 is determined by what court you are in when you get the serve at a side out.
When the initial serving team commits a fault, a side out occurs and their opponents get to serve. The player in the right service court at the side out is server #1.
Beyond that very first serve, both players on each team serve. So, when server #1 loses their serve, their partner has a turn to serve. When server #2 loses the serve, there is a side out, and the serve goes back to the other team. In singles, there’s only one server. So, players don’t have a server number, and teammates don’t have to trade off service duties.
The reason the first serve is different is to minimize any advantage the first team receives from getting to serve first.
Skill set differences
Compared to singles pickleball, doubles pickleball is much more about strategy and teamwork.
In singles pickleball, players need to cover the whole court quickly and be able to hit the ball more powerfully. Speed, agility, and endurance are more important in singles pickleball than in doubles.
In doubles pickleball, both teams have a much easier time covering the court and returning the ball. So, the game becomes more about patience and working together with your teammate to create opportunities to score.
You’ll see different shots more often in doubles pickleball than in singles pickleball. For example, passing shots are more important in singles pickleball, and you’ll see more lobs and dinks in doubles pickleball.
As we’ve mentioned, the most basic strategic goal of doubles pickleball is to get your team to the edge of the Non-Volley Zone.
When you’re in position, use your shots to keep your opponents on the defensive, and look for angles that will be hard for them to return, or that will force them to hit shots that you can return aggressively.
In singles, the name of the game is accuracy when hitting your shots to specific targets. Most players will hit deep, hard shots and will focus on keeping their opponents moving in the back of the court.
Which is more physically demanding: doubles or singles pickleball?
Doubles pickleball is not as physically demanding as singles pickleball. When playing doubles pickleball, you only have to move around half of the court, and you won’t hit as many shots.
Doubles pickleball is still a great workout! It’s a wonderful way to get some exercise and fresh air. But you’ll burn about 25% fewer calories playing doubles pickleball than singles pickleball.
What are the kitchen rules for pickleball doubles?
The Kitchen rules for pickleball doubles are the same as for singles. The 'Kitchen' is a nickname for the Non-Volley Zone, the area within 7 feet of the net on both sides.
As the name suggests, players cannot volley inside the Non-Volley Zone. There is no pickleball rule stating that a player cannot be in the Non-Volley Zone, only that they cannot hit the ball there unless it bounces when they are in the zone.
If you’ve tried playing singles pickleball but not doubles, now’s the time. It’s easy to learn how to play doubles pickleball. It’s the most popular way to play pickleball and is perfectly suited to beginners and advanced players alike.
Do you prefer pickleball doubles or singles? How does your strategy change depending on whether you’re playing singles or doubles? Let us know!