Pickleball is a fun and social sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping pong. It can be played as singles or doubles. Doubles play is very popular as it allows you to team up and take on other pairs. But to have an enjoyable game, all players need to know the rules specific to doubles. So what are the guidelines for doubles pickleball?
The first rule is that a doubles team consists of two players. To play in tournaments or ranked play, both players must meet the requirements for that division. For example, if it’s a 3.5 skill level tournament, both partners must have a 3.5 or lower rating.
Most recreational or social pickleball allows any combination of players. But competitive events divide entrants into different divisions based on age, gender, and ability level. Make sure you and your teammate qualify before signing up.
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Another basic rule is that the same court size is used for singles and doubles. Per USAPA standards, the total area measures 20′ x 44′ for both one-on-one and two-on-two matches. So there’s no need to adjust the boundaries or markings when switching formats.
The net height also remains constant at 36 inches at the sidelines and 34 inches in the center. All other court specifications like the kitchen dimensions, non-volley zone, and service boxes stay the same. The only difference is having two players on each side instead of one.
Here’s where things get more tactical. There are no restrictions on where players can stand in doubles pickleball, provided they remain on their team’s side of the net.
You and your partner can choose to stay back, come up to the net, or split the court. The key is communication and coverage. Make sure you’re not both focused on the same space, leaving openings elsewhere.
The exception is the server – they must start the point in the service box. The corresponding receiver must also be in the diagonal opposite box to return serve. After that, all four players can move freely.
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In doubles, both partners get to serve until they commit a fault. This keeps the game moving by quickly rotating service between teams.
The one exception is at the start of each new game, where only the first server on the starting team gets to serve before handing off to the other side. After that initial serve, service alternates teams after every fault.
When switching servers, partners trade sides so the server is always hitting from the right-hand box into the left-hand box and vice-versa. This adds variety and prevents players from only serving to one side.
Doubles pickleball uses the same scoring system as singles:
- Games are played to 11 points, win by 2
- Points can only be scored by the serving team
- The first team to score 11 points and lead by at least 2 points wins
Each time the serving team wins a rally, they gain a point and the serve stays with them. When they lose a rally, they surrender the serve plus a point to the other team.
This means new servers alternate frequently as teams exchange points and service. Long streaks of points are rare unless one duo is significantly stronger.
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A defining feature of pickleball is the non-volley zone, also known as the kitchen. This is the 7-foot area near the net on each side.
In doubles, the starting position for the non-serving returner is behind the non-volley zone line. They cannot cross into the kitchen until after the ball bounces.
This is referred to as the “double bounce” rule because the returner must let the serve bounce before volleying back over the net. Their partner can move up, however.
The logic is to prevent a team from controlling the net. By keeping one player back, the serving team has a better chance to get the ball in play.
Positioning and Strategy
Given the flexibility on placements, basic doubles strategy is to control the net. Like tennis, pickleball rewards aggressive volleys and putaway shots.
However, the double bounce rule means the returner starts from behind the non-volley zone. So the best positioning is for the server’s partner to charge up quickly while the returner’s teammate hangs back.
This allows the serving team to take control of the kitchen for a scoring opportunity. The returners will try to get back up to the NVZ as fast as possible for defense.
Communication between partners is vital – call out “Mine!” for balls in your zone and “Yours!” to delegate responsibility. Listen for cues from your teammate.
Also pay attention to your opponents’ tendencies and patterns. For example, if one player prefers their forehand, cheat to that side in anticipation.
Work together to exploit weaknesses like a loopy backhand or trouble with low shots. Mix in some fakes and misdirection to keep your adversaries guessing.
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While individual games go to 11 points, matches are determined by winning a set number of games. Common doubles formats include:
- Best of 3 – First duo to win 2 games claims the match
- Best of 5 – First to 3 game wins emerges victorious
- Best of 7 – Match winner is the first side to 4 game wins
Shorter matches are usually faster paced with more risk-taking. Longer matches tend to involve more strategy and endurance.
Make sure all players agree on the match scoring format prior to starting to avoid disputes. And be prepared to go the distance if you get into an extended battle!
Key Differences from Singles
To quickly recap, here are the main differences between singles and doubles pickleball:
- Doubles has 2 players per team rather than 1 player
- Both partners get to serve until a fault, rotating sides
- Returner starts behind the non-volley zone at serve
- More area to cover with 2 players on each side
- Communication between teammates is critical
- Tactics like fakes and misdirection come into play
- Match scoring is based on total games won rather than point score
- Positioning and coordination with partner are paramount
Once you grasp these central rules, doubles pickleball is simply an extension of singles with added complexity. The rapid exchanges, sweet spots, and savvy plays that make pickleball fun are all still present. Now you get to enjoy them as a team!
Common Doubles Formations
Beyond basic positioning, actual formations can vary greatly in doubles pickleball depending on personnel, context, and strategy. Here are some of the most common alignments:
1. Up and Back
This straightforward formation has one partner stationed up at the net and the other toward the baseline. The net player looks to volley or put shots away while the back player covers lobs and hits groundstrokes.
2. Side by Side
Both players align next to each other at the net to aggressively take control of the kitchen. This formation applies constant pressure but leaves the rest of the court exposed.
Each player covers half the court – one up and the other back. This balanced alignment features good coverage but less control of the net. Communication is imperative to avoid gaps.
Similar to split positioning but with the up player in the center and the back player wide. Allows the net player to poach shots down the middle.
Partners line up one behind the other typically near the baseline. This clouds who will move forward and limits visibility for the back player.
One up player stationed off-center near the alley with partner back and wide. A deceptive approach making it unclear who will take balls down the line.
As matches play out, teams will often adjust and switch formations to gain an advantage. Don’t be afraid to innovate and try new alignments, but always make sure you and your partner work in sync!
Rules for Serving
Given the importance of the serve in scoring pickleball points, let’s dedicate some more attention to the specific serving rules for doubles:
- The server must keep both feet behind the baseline when serving. The arm can cross the baseline after ball contact.
- Serves must be made underhand, traveling diagonally into the opposing service box.
- Only one serve attempt is allowed, except in the event of a hinder or distraction. Let serves and foot faults are not replayed.
- At the start of a new game, only the first server on the starting team gets to serve before service switches.
- After the first serve, both partners on a team get to serve until they commit a fault.
- When a service fault occurs, the other team gets the ball with players retaining their positions.
- When gaining the serve, the team’s first serve must come from the right-hand court.
- With each service change, the serving team’s players switch sides between points so the server is always in the right-hand box.
- The server must wait for the receiver to be ready before serving. Calling the score is customary.
- A serve that hits the net but still lands inside the service court remains in play.
Remember that in competitive doubles, both players on a team need to meet the skill level requirements for that division. So develop competent serving skills rather than overly relying on a dominant partner.
Consistent serves with varying pace, height, and placement will enable your team to get off to good starts in games. Avoid double faults at all costs, as this results in surrendering the serve plus a point.
Work on serving to your opponent’s weaknesses while taking advantage of your team’s strengths in returns and volleys. A strong serve can be a real weapon in doubles pickleball.
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Official Doubles Rules Summary
Let’s recap the key official rules for doubles pickleball:
- Played on the same sized court as singles with a double bounce zone
- Teams consist of 2 players meeting division skill criteria
- Serves must be underhand diagonally into the service box
- Double faulting results in loss of serve and 1 point
- Only the first server on starting team serves before switching
- Partners alternate serves until a fault then opponents serve
- Server must be in right-hand box; receiver in left-hand box
- After serve, all players can move freely around their side
- Non-serving returner starts behind the non-volley zone line
- Games go to 11 points, win by 2
- Match won by the first team to claim the required number of games
- Communication between partners is important for positioning and strategy
Understanding these basic guidelines will ensure you have an enjoyable experience playing doubles pickleball. The game thrives on rapid rallies, teamwork, and friendly competition.
Proper etiquette is also encouraged – respect your opponents, linespeople, and spectators. Avoid hindering players and acknowledge good shots. Uphold the welcoming spirit pickleball is known for whether social play or high-level tournament.
Now that you know the essential rules, go out and apply your skills. Coordinate with a compatible partner, come up with tactics, and work together towards victory. Most importantly, embrace the fun, fitness, and community that makes doubles pickleball an activity loved by millions!
Doubles Play Strategy Tips
To take your doubles pickleball game to the next level, we’ll close with some key strategy pointers:
- Communicate constantly with your partner on positioning, responsibilities, and intentions
- Take control of the net quickly when serving by poaching and volleying
- Vary pace, height, placement, and sequences to keep opponents off-balance
- Attack weaknesses like trouble returning serves or lobs
- Fake and misdirect to claim open spaces and move defenders out of position
- Poach balls strategically but avoid collisions
- Switch serving sides and returner starting positions frequently
- Stay alert to cover your partner’s back when they move forward
- Change formations to create advantages and uncertainties
- Be consistent on service returns to prevent easy points
- Have fun interacting and competing as a cohesive team!
Mastering these approaches along with the formal rules will help you thrive in the fast-paced world of pickleball doubles. Team chemistry and camaraderie make the experience even richer.
So grab a fun-loving partner, study up on the guidelines, and head out to the pickleball courts for a terrific time. The friendly competition, exercise, and social connections of doubles pickleball make it a delight for players of all ages and abilities. Give it a try!