What is Dead ball in Pickleball?

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A dead ball is a pickleball that is no longer in play during a pickleball game. There are a few reasons why a pickleball can become a dead ball. Keep reading to learn more about what makes a pickleball a dead ball in pickleball.

When Does a Pickleball Become a Dead Ball?

A pickleball becomes a dead ball when something happens to stop the play. Here are the main reasons a pickleball turns into a dead ball:

A Player Commits a Fault

One way a pickleball becomes a dead ball is if a player commits a fault. There are many different faults that can happen in pickleball. If any player commits a fault, even if the referee does not see it, the pickleball immediately turns into a dead ball.

Some examples of faults that make the ball dead are:

  • Hitting the ball out of bounds
  • Volleying the ball before it bounces
  • Hitting the ball into the non-volley zone
  • Hitting the ball twice in a row

As soon as a player faults, the point ends and the ball is dead. The ball cannot be faulted again except for faults related to the non-volley zone rules.

The Ball Hits a Permanent Object

Another thing that can make a pickleball a dead ball is if it hits something permanent on the court. For example, if a player hits the ball and it touches the net poles, fence, or any other permanent fixture, it is a dead ball. As soon as the ball hits something permanent, the play ends and the point is over.

A Stray Ball Enters the Court

Sometimes a stray ball from another court can roll onto your court during a game. If this happens during a point, it makes your ball dead immediately. As soon as that outside ball comes onto the playing area, the point ends and your ball is dead.

A Hinder is Called

A hinder can also make the ball dead in pickleball. A hinder is called when something outside of the player’s control interferes with play. For example, if a ball from another court comes onto your court but does not touch your ball, you can call a hinder. Other things like a referee or stray animal on the court can also cause a hinder.

When a hinder is called, the referee decides if it was a valid hinder. If so, the ball becomes dead at the moment of the hinder, and the point is replayed.

A Let is Called on the Serve

A let is similar to a hinder, but it only happens on a serve. A let might happen when the ball hits the net and still lands in the proper service court. When a let is called on a serve, that serve attempt does not count, and the server gets to retry the serve. So the serve attempt where the let happened makes the ball dead.

What Happens When the Ball is Dead?

When the ball turns dead in pickleball, it means the play immediately stops. Here is what happens:

  • The point ends right as the dead ball occurs
  • Players stop playing and the referee will signal the end of the point
  • No more actions can be taken with the dead ball to continue play
  • The ball is given to the correct server to start the next point

The dead ball itself cannot be hit or faulted again, except for very specific non-volley zone faults. So once the ball is dead, the point is over and a new point begins.

Can a Dead Ball be Hit?

Since the ball is no longer in play, a dead ball cannot be hit as part of regular play. Hitting a dead ball does not count as a fault or affect the game.

However, there is one exception. If a player hits a dead ball while it is still in the non-volley zone, it can be called a fault. This is because the non-volley zone rule still applies even after the ball is dead.

But in all other cases, players should not hit a dead ball as part of the game. The referee will call the ball dead to signal the end of the point. Hitting it again does not continue play or impact the scoring.

What Should Players Do When the Ball is Dead?

Once the referee or players call a dead ball, the play stops immediately. Here is what players should do when the ball becomes dead:

  • Stop playing and do not hit the ball again
  • Wait for the referee’s signal to end the point
  • Let the ball bounce and roll until it fully stops
  • Give the ball directly to the correct server to start the next point

It is important for players to pause and let the ball come to a full stop when it is dead. No one should hit it or try to grab it mid-bounce after a dead ball. Allowing the ball to roll and settle makes it clear the previous point is over.

How Does Scoring Work on a Dead Ball?

Dead balls impact the scoring in pickleball. Points are only awarded on dead balls in certain situations:

  • If the dead ball was caused by the opposing team committing a fault, your team scores the point
  • If your team committed a fault leading to the dead ball, the opposing team scores
  • If neither team was at fault, like with a hinder, no point is awarded. The play simply replays.

So faults that make the ball dead will result in points. But dead balls without faults just end the play, and the point replays without any score change.

Can a Dead Ball be Challenged or Appealed?

For the most part, dead balls cannot be challenged or appealed. Once the referee calls the ball dead, the play is immediately over. However, there are 2 cases when a dead ball call can be appealed:

  • Hinders – If a player calls a hinder that the referee rules invalid, the player can appeal the referee’s decision. If the hinder is overturned, the point will be replayed.
  • Non-volley zone faults – A player can appeal a referee’s call about whether a dead ball was hit improperly in the non-volley zone. If the referee’s call is overturned, the point will be reconsidered.

But with no question about a hinder or non-volley zone fault, dead balls cannot be challenged or appealed. The decision about what caused the dead ball and end of play cannot be disputed once the referee calls it.

Key Points About Dead Balls

Here are the key takeaways about what makes a ball dead in pickleball:

  • A fault, permanent object, stray ball, hinder, or let can make the ball dead
  • When the ball is dead, play immediately stops
  • No more play can happen with a dead ball, except specific non-volley faults
  • The referee will signal the end of play when the ball is dead
  • Points are only scored if the opposing team committed a fault to make the ball dead
  • Dead ball calls usually cannot be challenged, except in some cases

So remember, as soon as you hear the “dead ball” call, the play is over! Make sure to stop hitting the ball and get ready to start the next point. Knowing dead ball rules is an important part of pickleball.

Common Dead Ball Situations

Now let’s go over some of the most common scenarios that lead to dead balls in pickleball games. Being familiar with these dead ball moments will help you play by the rules.

Hitting the Ball Out of Bounds

One of the most frequent times a dead ball occurs is when a player hits a shot out of bounds. As soon as the ball crosses outside the court lines and touches any surface, it becomes dead.

So whether a player hits a ball into the fence, another court, or way deep past the baseline, that ball is dead the second it crosses the boundary line. Play stops immediately and the point finishes.

Double Bounce Shots

Another common dead ball is on a double bounce. Except for the serve, players can only hit the ball once before it bounces. Hitting it twice is a double hit fault.

Double hits often happen by accident on harder shots. But as soon as that second hit occurs, the ball is dead and can’t be played anymore. Make sure to call “dead ball” loudly after a double hit so your opponents know not to reach the ball.

Balls that Hit the Net or Posts

It’s also very frequent in pickleball for the ball to hit the net or net posts and go dead. Shots at a tough angle will often nick the net or pole and cause a dead ball.

The ball only has to slightly graze any part of the net system to become dead and stop play immediately. So pay close attention if a ball is heading near the net, as even small contact will kill the ball.

Kitchen Violation Faults

One of the most violated rules of pickleball is hitting volleys from inside the non-volley zone. These kitchen violation faults are common, but immediately make the ball dead.

As soon as a player steps into the non-volley zone and hits a volley shot, that ball is dead, no matter how good the shot is. The referee will usually loudly call “Dead ball!” after seeing a kitchen violation.

Double Bounce Serves

On the serve, players are allowed one bounce to hit the ball. But if the ball ever bounces twice on the serve, it is a dead ball fault.

Double bounce serves are usually unforced errors. But they can sometimes happen if players try to let the ball bounce very low. In any case, that second bounce makes the ball dead and requires a reserve.

Wrong Court Service Landings

Finally, a dead ball often happens when a served ball lands in the wrong service court. The serve must diagonally cross the net into the proper service court.

If a served ball lands in the wrong service box or on the non-volley zone line, it is instantly a dead ball. The serve does not count and must be replayed.

Avoiding Dead Ball Errors

Dead balls end the play, so you want to avoid causing them through errors. Here are some tips to help prevent dead ball mistakes:

  • Mind the boundaries – Be aware of court lines on big swings to avoid hitting out of bounds shots.
  • Watch your volleys – Only volley from outside the kitchen area to prevent non-volley zone faults.
  • Careful on bounces – Don’t let the ball bounce more than once, except on legal serves.
  • Control shots near net – Avoid hitting the net or posts by aiming groundstrokes away from them.
  • Serve diagonally – Toss the ball towards the correct diagonal service court.
  • Call dead balls – Promptly say “dead ball” or “fault” when they happen to stop play.
  • Know the rules – Understand what causes dead balls so you avoid them.

Following these tips, along with practicing accurate shots, will help reduce your dead ball errors. Having good ball control and awareness goes a long way in pickleball!


A dead ball is a key part of pickleball rules. It is the referee and players’ signal that the play has stopped. Any fault, hinder, permanent object hit, or line call makes the ball dead right away.

When the ball is dead, all play must end immediately. The main exceptions are volleying a dead ball in the non-volley zone can still be a fault. And some dead ball calls like hinders can be appealed.

Knowing when a ball becomes dead, and what to do next, will ensure you follow proper pickleball etiquette. A dead ball stops the action, gives a brief pause, and lets the players reset for the next point. With so many exciting rallies in pickleball, dead balls help create order between plays.

So keep an eye out for balls rolling out of bounds, kitchen violations, net hits, and double bounces to know when the play ends. The dead ball rules might take some practice, but making quick dead ball calls will soon feel natural. Mastering these rules will make you a knowledgeable pickleball player!

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