What Are The Rules For Returning The Ball In Pickleball?

What are the Rules for Returning the Ball in Pickleball?

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Key Takeaways on Returning in Pickleball

Mastering the return of serve is essential for succeeding in pickleball. Here are some key takeaways on returning effectively:

  • Observe the double bounce rule – Let the serve bounce once before hitting your return.
  • Position 2-3 feet behind the baseline – Give yourself enough space and time to adjust.
  • Return and run – Quickly get into position near the kitchen after returning.
  • Use controlled pace and spin – Avoid overly aggressive returns.
  • Slice returns – Underspin keeps the ball low.
  • Aim crosscourt to the center – Maintain control and force opponents to move laterally.
  • Play returns defensively – Focus on consistency and getting the ball in play.

Following these rules and techniques for returning serve and during rallies will improve your game dramatically. With solid returns, you can neutralize aggressive serves and set yourself up to take command of points.

Pickleball is a fun and energetic sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping pong. One of the critical skills in pickleball is being able to effectively return the ball after your opponent serves or hits it over the net. However, there are certain rules and guidelines you need to follow when returning the ball in pickleball. In this article, we will explore the key rules for returning in pickleball to help you develop solid returning techniques.

What is the Double Bounce Rule for Returns in Pickleball?

One of the foundational rules for returning in pickleball is the double bounce rule. This rule states that on a return of serve, the ball must bounce once on the serve and then once on the return before being struck by the serving team.

In other words, after you or your partner serve the ball, the opposing team must let it bounce once on their side before hitting it back over the net. The receiving team cannot volley or hit the serve out of the air. This is an important distinction from some other racket sports like tennis.

The reason for the double bounce rule on returns is that it extends the rally and makes serving less dominant. By requiring the returning team to let the serve bounce before striking it, the server loses some advantage. This promotes longer, more strategic rallies.

So keep in mind that on your returns in pickleball, whether in singles or doubles play, you must always let the served ball bounce once before hitting your return shot. Failing to do so results in a fault.

What is the Ideal Positioning for Returning Serve?

Proper positioning is vital for consistently returning well in pickleball. On a serve, the ideal position for the returning player is about 2-3 feet behind the baseline. This allows you enough time to react to the ball while giving you ample room to move forward into your return shot.

As the non-returning player, it’s important to provide space for yourself and your partner. Generally, you’ll want to stand about 2-3 feet behind the baseline when your partner is returning serve. This positioning conveys to your partner that you are ready for any ball that comes your way.

By starting further back, you give yourself time to adjust and move forward if needed. Rushing the return by standing too close to the baseline makes it harder to control your shot. The extra couple of feet of space helps tremendously.

What is the Return and Run Technique?

Once you make contact with your return shot, you don’t want to just stand still. An effective technique is the return and run approach.

Here, immediately after striking your return, you turn and sprint quickly up to get into ideal position around the non-volley zone. This allows you to defend against the third-shot drop or drive that typically comes after the return.

The returner’s partner also moves up to support around the kitchen area. By hustling into position right after returning the serve, you take time away from the serving team and get ready for the next shot. Adopting this active return and run mentality will improve your defense.

How Can You Slow Down Your Returns?

Many beginners make the mistake of trying to smash every return at maximum power. However, returning the ball with a lot of aggressive pace is often counterproductive. It makes it hard to get through the transition zone before the serving team hits their third shot.

Instead, try slowing down your returns and using controlled pace and spin. This lets you fully traverse the transition area and get into better position to cover the kitchen. It also forces the serving team to generate their own pace on the next shot.

Focus more on placement, accuracy, and consistency on your returns rather than blowing it by your opponents. Remember, a well-placed return will set you up nicely for the ensuing volleys.

Why Use Slice on Your Returns?

Varying the spin on the ball is an excellent way to mix things up on your returns. In particular, hitting slice returns can be highly effective.

Slice shots have heavy underspin that keeps the ball low after bouncing. This can cause problems for the serving team as the ball stays down near the net.

Since the ball doesn’t jump up high after the bounce, it is tougher for the server or serve partner to get under it effectively to drive the third shot. The underspin also reduces the pace, forcing them to generate their own power.

So don’t be afraid to throw in some slice returns, especially on high bounces. The lower trajectory can neutralize an aggressive serve.

Where Should You Aim Your Return Shots?

Generally, you’ll want to return serve deep into the backcourt and towards the center of your opponent’s court. This allows you to stay in control of the point.

Returning down-the-line can be risky since your opponents only need a short distance for their third shot. And returning into the outer alleys gives the serving team an attacking angle.

By keeping your return down the middle and deeper in the court, you force the server and partner to move laterally and hit up on the ball. This extra time and distance makes it harder for them to attack.

So aim your returns crosscourt to the middle of the service box whenever possible. This balanced return position will enable you to take command of the rally.

How Should You Play Returns Defensively?

When starting out in pickleball, it’s wise to take a defensive approach to returning serve. This means not trying overly aggressive returns that could result in errors or leave you out of position.

Some tips for playing returns defensively include:

  • Focus on getting the return in play above all else
  • Use controlled pace and spin on returns
  • Aim crosscourt to the center of the court
  • Let the serve bounce before striking your return
  • Quickly move into position near the kitchen after returning

Playing it safe on returns takes time away from the serving team and allows you to establish the rally. You can then look to become more offensive once the ball is in play.

Solid, steady returns will frustrate opponents and give you chances to capitalize later in the point. So play conservatively on returns until you develop consistency.


Returning well takes practice, but by mastering these fundamentals you’ll gain confidence in your shot-making. Work on your returns, and you’ll soon find yourself controlling play and frustrating opponents with your consistency. So get out on the pickleball court and focus on nailing down your returns!

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