What Are The Key Rules For "Positioning" In Pickleball?

What Are the Key Rules for “Positioning” in Pickleball?

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Pickleball is a fun and fast-paced paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis. With its growing popularity, more and more players are taking up the sport. However, to be successful at pickleball, you need to understand the rules and strategies, including how to position yourself on the court. So what are the key rules for positioning in pickleball?

Where Should You Stand When Serving in Pickleball?

One of the most basic pickleball rules relates to where you can stand when serving. According to the official USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) rules, the server must keep both feet behind the baseline when serving. The server is not allowed to step over the baseline until after the serve is made.

This rule applies to both forehand and backhand serves. On either type of serve, the server should start by standing a comfortable distance behind the baseline to give themselves room to step into the serve.

Some common mistakes related to the serving position include:

  • Stepping over the baseline before hitting the serve
  • Not having both feet fully behind the baseline
  • Straddling the baseline with one foot in front and one foot behind

So remember – when serving, be sure to start with both feet behind the baseline! This gives you the most room to deliver a powerful serve.

Where Is the Best Place to Stand When Serving?

While the server must stand behind the baseline, they can stand anywhere along the width of the court. However, it is strategically best to stand behind the baseline on the right-hand side for a forehand serve or the left-hand side for a backhand serve.

This positioning makes it easier to direct your serve diagonally into the service court. It also gives you better court coverage in case the return goes down your side.

Some players prefer to serve a couple of feet behind the baseline, while others stand closer to the baseline. This comes down to personal preference and what is most comfortable for your serving motion.

What Is the Best Position for Returning Serve in Pickleball?

When your opponent is serving, you will be in the returning position. What is the best place to stand to return serve in pickleball?

Singles Play

In singles pickleball, the receiver should generally stand near the baseline, a couple of feet inside the centerline. This central position allows you to cover more of the service court diagonally on both the forehand and backhand sides.

Standing closer to the centerline also makes it easier to return the serve straight ahead down the middle if you need to. This gives the server less angle to work with on their serve.

Some players like to cheat slightly toward the forehand side if they have a stronger forehand return. But be careful not to overcommit too far in one direction.

Doubles Play

The returning positions are slightly different in doubles pickleball. Here, the receiver’s partner stands on the left side a couple of feet behind the non-volley zone line.

The receiver themselves stands on the right side of the centerline, closer to the baseline. This setup allows the team to protect the middle and take away angles from the server.

The receiver may shade slightly to one side but should generally focus on making solid returns up the middle. Their partner is there to cover any returns hit to the left side.

So in both singles and doubles, starting close to the baseline optimizes your ability as the returner. Work on your reflexes and prepare to react quickly to returns.

What Is the Non-Volley Zone and How Does It Affect Positioning?

One unique facet of pickleball is the non-volley zone (NVZ), which is the rectangular area on each side of the net. It extends 7 feet back from the net and is commonly called “the kitchen.

The Purpose of the Non-Volley Zone

The non-volley zone prevents players from entering that area and volleying the ball out of the air. You must let the ball bounce before hitting a return from within the non-volley zone.

This makes the sport more accessible for younger players and those with less mobility. It also encourages rallies and longer exchanges, rather than quick kill shots.

Non-Volley Zone Positioning

When the ball is headed toward the non-volley zone, the player should move up to near the NVZ line.

This way, you are in position to return the ball after it bounces. Being close to the NVZ line also allows you to volley the ball if it lands outside of the zone.

In doubles, the player whose side the ball is headed covers the NVZ. Their partner stays back in case the ball is returned down the line.

Mastering NVZ positioning and rules is key for keeping rallies going and implementing dink shots close to the net.

How Should You Position Yourself in the Middle of a Rally?

Proper positioning goes beyond simply serving and returning. What about during a long rally when the ball is being volleyed back and forth? Here are some tips:

  • Stay near the non-volley zone but don’t cross the line too early
  • Keep centered and ready to hit forehand or backhand
  • In doubles, communicate with your partner and cover open spaces
  • Don’t let your opponent move you out of position

In general, you want to find good court coverage near the non-volley zone and centerline. Don’t overcommit to one sideline or the other.

Many beginners make the mistake of staying too close to the baseline during rallies. While you start further back to return serve, you need to transition forward toward the NVZ line as the point progresses.

Being close to the action allows you to attack shorter balls and put away volleys. Just be ready to backpedal when your opponent hits a deep shot.

How Does Strategy Impact Positioning in Pickleball?

Beyond basic positioning guidelines, you can also use strategy to dictate where you stand during play:

Play to Your Opponent’s Weakness

If you recognize that your opponent struggles with backhand shots, serve wide to their backhand and try to draw them out wide.

Hit balls down the line to their weakness and pull them out of position. Force them to hit shots they are uncomfortable with.

Cover Your Own Weakness

Conversely, make sure you protect your own weakness. If you have a hard time with low forehand shots, cheat more to that side to compensate.

Don’t let your opponent exploit your vulnerabilities – adjust your position accordingly.

Control the Center

As noted above, controlling the center of the court is crucial for optimal positioning.

Try to prevent your opponents from owning the middle ground. Mixing up serves and returns down the middle keeps them guessing.

Poach Strategically

In doubles, you can “poach” your partner’s side if you see a tactical opportunity to cut off the ball.

Quick poaching fakes and shooting the gap when your opponents are out of position can win points.

Get creative with positioning! Use strategy to your advantage and force your opponents into tough spots.


While pickleball rules don’t define exact foot positions, deliberate positioning is vital for pickleball success. On serves, the server must start behind the baseline. Returning players should generally start near the baseline and centerline. During rallies, maintaining control of the non-volley zone is key. And you can further strategize your positioning to target weaknesses, protect vulnerabilities, own the middle, and poach effectively.

With practice, positioning will start to feel natural. You’ll instinctively move to the optimal spots on the court. Proper positioning leads directly to more wins! By mastering both the basic rules and strategic concepts, you’ll boost your pickleball IQ and have more fun competing.

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