Is the Line Out in Pickleball?

February 9, 2024

Are you new to the world of pickleball, scratching your head about the rules, particularly when it comes to whether the line is out? If so, you’re not alone. As a sport that borrows elements from tennis, badminton, and ping pong, pickleball presents a unique blend of rules that can be a tad confusing at first. This game is played on a court smaller than a tennis court, with a net that hangs slightly lower, making it an enticing option for enthusiasts across all age groups and skill levels. Whether you’re picking up a paddle for the first time or you’re aiming to refine your knowledge, understanding the ins and outs of pickleball’s line rules is crucial for anyone stepping onto the court.

When it comes to determining if a ball is in or out, the lines painted on the court play a pivotal role. They define the boundaries of the play area, and for a ball to be deemed ‘in,’ it must land within these marked confines. Here’s where it gets interesting: if the ball kisses the line, even slightly, it’s considered in. This inclusivity of the line as part of the play area is a rule that applies universally, regardless of whether you’re engaged in singles or doubles play. The responsibility of making these calls typically falls on the players themselves, adding an element of sportsmanship and integrity to the game. Understanding this rule is key to not only playing the game correctly but also to enjoying it fully, as it lays the foundation for fair play and competitive spirit on the court.

Understanding the Court Layout

Diving into the realm of pickleball means getting familiar with the unique setup of its playing field. At a glance, a pickleball court might resemble familiar racquet sport terrains, but it boasts its own distinct dimensions and zones crucial for gameplay. The court stretches 20 feet in width and 44 feet in length, mirroring the dimensions of a doubles badminton court. As for the net, it hangs at a welcoming height of 36 inches at the sidelines, dipping slightly to 34 inches in the center, creating an inviting yet challenging barrier for players of all skill levels.

Lines and Boundaries

The pickleball court is symmetrically divided into two halves by a centerline that intersects the court perpendicular to the net, effectively creating the service courts. This division is further detailed by the non-volley zone line, also affectionately known as the kitchen line, which marks off an area 7 feet from the net on either side. This zone introduces a strategic element to the game, dictating where players can and cannot volley the ball. The outermost lines of the court—the sidelines and baselines—serve as the definitive borders of the playing area. A ball making contact with these lines is considered in play, except in the case of a serve touching the non-volley zone line, which is deemed a fault.

Non-Volley Zone and Kitchen Line

The non-volley zone, or the kitchen, is a pivotal aspect of pickleball strategy. This designated area directly in front of the net is where players must refrain from volleying the ball—that is, hitting it before it bounces. The kitchen line marks the boundary of this zone, standing as a critical line players can approach but not cross during a volley. Interestingly, while the non-volley zone extends 7 feet from the net, the kitchen line itself is situated a mere 2 inches behind the non-volley zone line. This slight distinction allows players to toe the line—quite literally—enabling them to stand on the kitchen line to make a play, provided they do not venture into the non-volley zone itself. This rule underscores the importance of precision and spatial awareness in pickleball, adding an intriguing layer of strategy to the game.

The Rules of the Game

Pickleball, offers a delightful mix of simplicity and strategic depth. Played on a court divided by a net, similar to tennis but with its own set of rules, the game uses paddles and a lightweight plastic ball. The goal is straightforward: players must send the ball over the net, aiming for it to land within the opponent’s court boundaries. This simple premise forms the foundation of a game that’s as fun as it is challenging.

Determining In or Out

A fundamental aspect of pickleball is the rule governing whether a ball is in or out. The court’s lines are the arbiters here, delineating the play area. A ball landing on any part of these lines is deemed in, signifying that precision can tip the balance in closely contested rallies. Conversely, if the ball ventures beyond these lines, even slightly, it’s out. The rule underscores the importance of accuracy and control, adding a layer of skill to the game that rewards meticulous play.

Faults and Scoring

Faults in pickleball mark instances of play violations, such as sending the ball out of bounds, failing to clear the net, or infringing upon the non-volley zone. Each fault grants the opposing team a point, pivotal moments that can shift the game’s momentum. Scoring in pickleball is unique, with games typically played to 11 points, requiring a lead of at least two points to clinch victory. The serve, a crucial element, must cross the net and land within the opposite diagonal service court. A serve landing outside this area results in a fault, awarding the point to the opposition.

Notably, a serve that clips the net but still lands within the correct service court is treated as a let, allowing the serve to be retaken without penalty. However, during active play, if the ball hits the net and lands within the boundaries, play continues. This rule ensures the game maintains its pace, encouraging players to stay alert and ready to adapt to the ball’s unpredictable trajectory post-net contact.

Making the Call

In pickleball, one of the pivotal decisions during play involves determining the position of the ball in relation to the court lines. This judgment, known as a line call, significantly influences the flow and fairness of the game. While playing casually, players themselves shoulder the responsibility of making these calls, fostering a spirit of integrity and sportsmanship. However, in more formal settings, such as tournaments, referees and line judges step in to ensure accuracy and impartiality.

Player and Opponent Calls

The essence of making fair line calls lies in the players’ hands when no officials are present. You’re tasked with calling your own shots; if the ball you hit lands on or just outside the line, you must declare it. Conversely, if your opponent makes a shot and its placement is unclear to you, it’s within your rights to seek their judgment. Disagreements over calls can be settled by replaying the point, a solution that underscores the game’s emphasis on fairness and mutual respect. This system relies heavily on players’ honesty and their commitment to the spirit of the game, making each match not just a physical contest but also a testament to personal integrity.

Referee and Line Judges

In competitive play, where the stakes are higher and the need for precision is paramount, referees and line judges are entrusted with making line calls. The referee holds the ultimate authority, making the final decisions on any disputed calls, with line judges providing additional perspectives on difficult-to-see plays. This hierarchy ensures that the game maintains its pace and fairness, with a structured system for resolving disputes. Should you find yourself questioning an official’s call, you have the option to appeal, provided your challenge is rooted in a genuine belief of an oversight. However, it’s crucial to approach such situations with respect and a clear understanding of the rules, as frivolous or argumentative challenges can lead to penalties.

This structured approach to officiating not only maintains the integrity of the game but also teaches players and spectators alike the importance of respect, fairness, and the value of an impartial decision-making process in sports.

Sportsmanship and Etiquette

In the fast-paced and competitive world of pickleball, sportsmanship and etiquette stand as pillars that uphold the game’s integrity and enjoyment. These concepts transcend mere rules, embedding themselves into the heart of the pickleball community. Players are not only challenged to excel in skill but are also called upon to embody respect, fairness, and positivity, both on and off the court.

Fair Play Principles

Central to pickleball’s ethos is the principle of giving the “benefit of the doubt” to the opponent. In scenarios where a call’s accuracy is uncertain, this principle advocates for erring on the side of fairness, thereby minimizing disputes and fostering a spirit of mutual respect. This approach is emblematic of the broader commitment to fair play that defines pickleball, encouraging players to prioritize the game’s integrity over competitive advantage.

Honesty, too, is paramount in pickleball. Players are expected to make calls with sincerity and to own up to their mistakes. This level of integrity not only ensures that the game is played on equal footing but also reinforces the trust between players. It’s a reminder that at the core of every match is a shared respect for the sport and for each other, a foundation upon which the game’s positive atmosphere is built.

Handling Disagreements

Even with the best intentions, disagreements are an inevitable aspect of competitive play. The key to navigating these moments lies in maintaining composure and respect. Engaging in calm, constructive dialogue with opponents when disputes arise exemplifies the essence of sportsmanship. In instances where an agreement cannot be reached, involving a neutral third party can provide an objective resolution, ensuring that the game’s friendly spirit remains intact.

Above all, it’s crucial to remember that pickleball is designed to be enjoyable. The true victory lies not in the score but in the joy of playing and the friendships forged through competition. Embracing good sportsmanship and etiquette is not just about playing by the rules but about contributing to a community that values respect, fairness, and fun above all.

Advanced Play and Tournaments

As you hone your pickleball prowess and venture into the realm of tournaments, understanding and implementing advanced strategies and positioning becomes crucial. In doubles play, the synergy and strategic coordination between you and your partner are indispensable. Clear communication and predefined roles—knowing who covers which part of the court and when to switch—are essential for maintaining an edge over your opponents.

A prevalent strategy in advanced play involves one player anchoring at the baseline while their partner advances to the non-volley zone, or the kitchen. This positioning strategy optimizes court coverage and applies pressure on the opposition, necessitating adaptability to counteract your opponents’ tactics effectively. Furthermore, adept positioning during the serve receive phase—anticipating and countering various serve types—is critical. For instance, adjusting your stance further back against opponents with formidable serves can afford you more reaction time, a subtle yet strategic adjustment that can significantly influence the match’s outcome.

Competing at higher echelons introduces you to more stringent rules and regulations, with bodies like the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) governing tournament play. Acquainting yourself with these rules ensures compliance and fair play. Equally important is the maintenance of exemplary sportsmanship—respectful interactions with both opponents and officials, characterized by professionalism before, during, and after matches. Remember, the essence of competition lies not just in the pursuit of victory but in the joy of the game and the respect shared among its players.


In the dynamic world of pickleball, from the basics of understanding the court layout to mastering advanced play and navigating the intricacies of tournaments, the journey is filled with learning, growth, and the sheer joy of the game. Whether you’re making a line call, strategizing with your partner, or competing in a high-stakes tournament, the principles of fair play, sportsmanship, and respect for the game remain paramount. These values not only elevate the competitive spirit of pickleball but also foster a community built on mutual respect, camaraderie, and the shared love of the sport.

As players progress, adapt, and refine their skills, the game of pickleball offers endless opportunities for excitement, challenge, and personal achievement. Remember, the heart of pickleball lies not only in the thrill of competition but also in the joyous moments spent on the court with friends, new and old. Embracing the journey, from beginner to advanced player, enriches not just your game but your appreciation for the vibrant and welcoming pickleball community. Let the game continue to inspire, unite, and provide endless fun for everyone involved.