What is Plane of the net in Pickleball?

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The plane of the net is an imaginary vertical plane that goes above and to the sides of the net in pickleball. It is an important rule that players need to follow. Crossing the plane of the net at the wrong time will cause a fault.

Why is the Plane of the Net rule important in Pickleball?

The plane of the net rule is important for two reasons:

1. It prevents players from reaching over the net.

Players are not allowed to reach over the net to hit the ball. Their paddle, hands, arms, or any other body part cannot cross the plane of the net. If they do, it is a fault.

This rule is in place because it would be too easy to win points by reaching over and hitting the ball. The plane of the net creates a clear boundary to make the game fair.

2. It allows volleys and dinks near the net.

Volleys and dinks are shots that players hit in the air near the net. The plane of the net rule allows these shots to happen.

If there was no plane of the net, these shots would be faults. But the rule says it is okay to cross the plane of the net if you hit the ball in the air first.

So volleys and dinks add excitement, variety, and strategy to the game. The plane of the net allows these shots safely.

When Can You Cross the Plane of the Net in Pickleball?

There is only one time when it is legal to cross the plane of the net in pickleball:

You can cross the plane of the net if you hit the ball in the air before it crosses the plane.

This allows you to make volleys or dink shots without committing a fault.

If You Reach Over Without Hitting the Ball, It’s a Fault

Reaching your arm, paddle, or anything else over the plane of the net without hitting the ball first is illegal. This will be called a fault and you will lose the rally.

So don’t stretch your arm or paddle over the net trying to reach a ball. Wait for the ball to cross back over to your side before hitting it.

You Can Hit a Ball That’s in the Air Over the Net

Hitting a volley is legal because you make contact with the ball before crossing the plane.

You can stand close to the net and hit the ball out of the air over the net. This is an important pickleball strategy for finishing points.

Just be sure your paddle, arm, or body doesn’t cross the plane of the net before making contact with the ball.

Volleys and dinks are fun shots that require skill and quick reflexes. The plane of the net rule allows you to try these shots without fear of a fault.

What If the Ball Bounces Back Over After Crossing the Plane?

There is one exception where you can cross the plane of the net even if the ball has already crossed:

If the ball bounces on your side, then spins or floats back over the net, you can reach over the plane of the net to hit it.

This doesn’t happen often, but it can due to backspin or wind. If it does, you are allowed to cross the plane to hit the ball back.

You have to let the ball bounce first though. No reaching over to hit it in the air on this type of play.

Examples of Plane of the Net Faults

To help explain this rule, here are some examples of what would be considered a fault due to the plane of the net:

  • Your opponent hits a groundstroke and the ball crosses the plane of the net onto your side. You reach your arm and paddle over the net to try and reach it for a volley – Fault
  • You are standing at the kitchen line and hit a dink shot just over the net. But your momentum carries your paddle arm slightly over the plane after hitting the ball. Fault
  • Your paddle dinks the ball just over the net, then you accidentally step on the center line. Your body crossed the plane. Fault
  • You return a ball that your opponent hits short. It bounces twice on their side, but has backspin and starts spinning back onto your side. You reach over the plane and hit it out of the air before it bounces. Fault (You have to let it bounce first in this situation before hitting it)

The plane of the net rule takes some practice to get used to. But it’s important for keeping the game fair and allowing volleys and dink shots.

Why is There No Plane of the Net Rule in Doubles Tennis?

Pickleball based its plane of the net rule off of doubles tennis. But there is one key difference:

In doubles tennis, there is no plane of the net rule.

Players can reach over the net any time in tennis, as long as they don’t touch the net.

So why doesn’t tennis have a plane of the net? There are a couple reasons:

The Tennis Court is Bigger

Tennis courts are much larger than pickleball courts. At 36 feet wide and 78 feet long per side, tennis players very rarely need to reach over the net to hit a ball.

The smaller pickleball court dimensions of 20×44 feet make reaching over the net more likely. So the plane of the net rule is needed.

Tennis Doesn’t Have Kitchen Rules

In pickleball, the kitchen creates a no volley zone to prevent smashing. Tennis has no kitchen, so volleying close to the net is okay.

Since volleys can happen anywhere, the plane of the net rule isn’t as necessary.

So the differences in court size and kitchen rules explain why pickleball needs a plane of the net, but tennis does not.

What Are Other Net Rules in Pickleball?

The plane of the net is a very important rule, but there are some other net rules to be aware of too:

  • Don’t Touch the Net – Players cannot touch the net system with their body, clothing, or paddle during a rally. Doing so is a fault.
  • Ball Must Go Over Net – The ball must fully cross over the net before being hit. Hitting a ball that bounces on your side without going over the net first is a fault.
  • Serve Rules – The serve must be made diagonally and land within the boundaries of the opposite service court. There are other serve rules too.

Knowing all the net and serve rules well is key to avoiding faults and becoming a better pickleball player.

What Counts as the Net System in Pickleball?

When talking about the plane of the net rule, it’s important to know what counts as the full “net system” in pickleball. This includes:

  • The net mesh itself
  • The ropes, cables, and straps holding up the net
  • The metal pole supports for the net
  • The plastic base covers on the metal poles
  • Any other supports or fasteners attaching the net to the court

The entire net system from pole to pole establishes the plane of the net boundaries. Crossing any part of the system before the ball with your paddle or body is a fault.

Why Can the Serve Cross the Plane of the Net?

There is one time when the ball is allowed to cross the plane of the net without being hit first – on the serve.

The serve starts the rally, so this is an exception to the normal plane of the net rule.

The serve must still land legally in the diagonally opposite service court. But it can travel over the net without being hit first.

All other shots during a rally must be hit before crossing the plane. The serve is the only exception.

Can Any Part of the Body Cross the Plane of the Net?

The plane of the net rule applies to any part of the player’s body, not just the arms and paddle. Here are some examples:

  • Your paddle arm reaches over the no-volley zone as you lean to hit a shot – Fault
  • You lose your balance after hitting a ball and fall forward over the net – Fault
  • You jump up to hit a volley and your shirt hangs over the net – Fault
  • After hitting a groundstroke, your momentum carries your foot over the center line – Fault

Every part of body and clothing must stay behind the plane of the net during a rally. The only exceptions are on volleys hit in the air or balls that bounce back over.

What Happens If Both Players Contact the Ball Over the Net?

A rare but exciting moment in pickleball is when both players hit the ball in the air over the net at the same time. What happens in this situation?

If both opponents hit the ball at the same time, the rally continues. There is no fault called.

This is an exception to the normal plane of the net rule. Even though both players have crossed the plane before the ball bounces, play goes on.

The ball remains in play off these simultaneous contact shots. The exciting rally can continue!

Can Wheelchair Players Reach Over the Net?

Wheelchair pickleball players follow the same plane of the net rule. But their chair or wheelchair can extend over the line without a fault in certain cases.

According to the International Wheelchair Pickleball Association rulebook:

  • A player’s wheelchair casters may go over the center line without penalty as long as the player does not hit the ball while over the line.
  • Players may safely follow through over the net after striking the ball.

Wheelchair players have to avoid contacting the ball when any part of their chair or body extends over the plane. But they can follow through over the net after a shot.

What If the Net Drops Below Regulation Height?

Pickleball nets should be 36 inches high at the sidelines and 34 inches high in the middle at regulation height.

But nets can sometimes droop or sag below the proper height.

Even if the net dips below regulation height, the plane of the net rule still applies:

  • Players cannot make contact with the ball when any body part or object is extended beyond the plane created by the net’s current position.
  • The exception for volleys hit in the air before crossing the plane still applies.

So the same principles apply whether the net is pulled tight at 34-36 inches or sagging below that height. Play continues normally.

The net height just can’t be raised higher than 36 inches at the posts and 34 inches in the middle during a match.

Conclusion: Mind the Plane of the Net!

The plane of the net is a crucial rule that makes pickleball fair by preventing players from reaching over on shots. It also enables exciting volleys and dinks near the net.

To avoid frustration and silly faults, always be mindful of the invisible plane created by the top of the net system. Other than the one exception, don’t break the plane with any body part or object unless hitting a volley!

Following the plane of the net rule takes some adjustment, but it will soon become second nature. Along with the other net and serve rules, it’s key to keeping pickleball fun and fair for all.

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