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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Faults Explained

The post Rallies and Faults was a simple list of faults. Many are self-evident and don’t require additional explanation. But some are…let's just say unusual and in need of further clarification.

3. A served ball touches a member of the receiving team after clearing the net and before hitting the court (interference).

Example 1:  A serve hits the receiving team member before hitting the court.

While unusual, this situation is not uncommon. Many partners try to distract or intimidate the server by standing close to the front corner of the service court (as illustrated by Player C below). This position can place Player C directly in line with a serve from Player B aimed at the receiving Player A's backhand, a favorite target due to the weak return. The rules do not preclude the receiving team from positioning themselves anywhere on their court they choose, even including inside the service court. The counterbalance is that there is no rule precluding the server from targeting Player C. A hard serve directed at Player C could easily hit him and win the point for the serving team.  

It should be noted that, while positioning to influence the server is a legal tactic, there are rules against intentional distraction. Neither player on the receiving team may jump, wave their arms, scream, or take any other action with the intent of distracting the server.

Example 2:  A serve is hit long (beyond the baseline) at Player A, who catches the ball.

Again, this is a situation that occurs on regular basis in friendly matches. It saves time and energy to catch the ball rather than chase it down. However, this is a violation of the rules and will be called in tournament play. Players should try to play by the rules in all matches. They exist for a reason.

In both examples, a fault has occurred because the ball failed to land on the court without being touched.  A point is awarded to the serving team. The intent of this rule should clear – the ball must actually land on the court surface in order for it to be judged a legal serve or not. Interference with the ball prior to that occurrence prevents a legitimate judgment of the serve and thus is penalized.

5. A served ball touches any permanent object before hitting the court.

This rule is similar to the interference rule discussed above. A ball must land without impediment in order for a proper call to be made. In this case, the rule is much more likely to apply at an indoors court where a ceiling, light fixtures, basketball rims, or other gym equipment can be hit. But it also could apply with outdoor fixtures like fences or lights. When a permanent object is hit, the team that hits the ball into the permanent object incurs the fault.

That ceiling just might be a problem.

7. A serve is made by the wrong team member or from the wrong court and
8. A return of serve is made by the wrong team member.

The service sequence has rules about which player should be serving and from which court the serve is made. The rules also state the player who should receive the serve. Each team is responsible for proper positioning of the server and receiver. Any improper positioning results in a fault. If the serving team uses the wrong server or serves to the wrong court, the result is a loss of serve or side-out. If the wrong player on the receiving team returns the serve, a point is awarded to the serving team.

It is possible that several rallies could be played (and points awarded) before a positioning error is recognized. At the time the error is recognized, only the previous rally is impacted. Regardless of which team won that rally, a fault is given to the offending team. The players should re-position themselves properly and commence with the next rally. All prior rallies and points remain as scored.  

Confusion about positioning is a very common occurrence. One simple rule of thumb to help ensure proper positioning is to remember which team member started the game as the server and returner. That player will always be in the starting (right) court on even points. The player starting in the right court on zero should be there when their team has 2, 4, 6, etc. points. Obviously, when their team score is an odd number (1, 3, 5, 7, etc.), that player should be in the left court. Rather than relying on memory (and to assist referees), many tournaments will give the first server and returner wrist bands to help identify their proper positioning.

10. A ball lands outside the sideline or baseline.

This rule seems pretty straightforward. If the ball hits the line, it is a good shot and if the ball hits outside the line, it is a fault. However, geometry and physics actually come into play with this rule. First, let's look at the exact wording of the rule:

A ball contacting the playing surface outside of the baseline or sideline, even though the edge of the ball overlaps the line, is considered out of bounds.

So, what does this mean? The only consideration in making the line call is the point of contact with the court surface. A pickleball does not have much compression so its point of contact is only about the size of dime. That is much smaller than the size of the ball. The dilemma is that a large part (nearly 50%) of a ball will be over the line even if it lands just outside out of bounds. The proper call on such a ball is “out” even while the ball appears to be on the line. A Pickleball 411 video called Is The Ball In or Out? - Pickleball Line Call Rule Clarified explains this rule.

12. A ball is volleyed while the player’s feet or anything the player is wearing/carrying touches the non-volley zone line or non-volley zone.

This rule also seems clear. But the act of volleying can be misunderstood. A volley is the swing, the follow-through, and the momentum that results. If anything from the player contacts the non-volley zone/line during or after the act of volleying, a fault results. This includes items falling from the player, such as a hat, sweatband, etc. It also includes a player using his paddle to retain balance by touching the non-volley zone/line.

13. A player’s momentum following a volley causes the player or anything the player is wearing/carrying to touch the non-volley zone line or non-volley zone or anything in that zone (including the player’s partner), even after the ball is dead.

This rule is one of the most misinterpreted and discussed rules in the game. Many consider the ball to be dead and the rally over when a fault occurs…and a dead ball should end the momentum rule. That is not correct. When a player volleys and his momentum carries him into contact with the non-volley zone/line, it doesn’t matter how much time has elapsed, how many more times the ball was struck, or whether the volley was a clear winner. A volleying player’s momentum that carries him into the kitchen is a fault no matter when it occurs. This rule is explained in a Pickleball Rocks video called Pickleball Kitchen and Non-Volley Zone Violations Explained.

There is one rule that allows help to prevent this fault, though. If a volleying player is seen to be falling into the kitchen, his partner can pull that player back to prevent the fault. The assisting partner also must not be in contact with the kitchen, however, so he cannot push the volleying player out from inside the zone.

15. A ball is volleyed before bouncing once on each side of the court.

More simply put, there is a “two-bounce” rule. Both the serve and return of serve must bounce before being hit. After these two plays, all balls are allowed to be volleyed (hit without bouncing) or hit with a ground stroke (hit after bouncing) at the player’s choice. This rule is explained in a Pickleball Rocks video called Pickleball Double Bounce Rule Explained.

A more detailed discussion of all rules can be found in the IFP Official Rules


  1. It boils down to two major categories. Players who just want to have 'fun' and play recreationally only. Players who want only to play competitively. The first may never truly enjoy the type of fun of being competitive. The second may never truly enjoy the type of lightheartedness that is present among the first.
    My intention, and I fall somewhere between the two, is to bring them together in such a way as to not alienate either. That's why my feet land where they are, in a constant struggle to achieve this.

  2. basmiyagi.s I completely believe you. I also agree/concur.

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  4. Ok, I hit my opponent intentionally and hard with ball on return. He got mad I hit him so hard! He was standing close to kitchen. Am I wrong?

    1. That's a personal judgment. "Tagging" is an oft-discussed topic. Some think it is perfectly fine since it is within the confines of the rules. Others think it is unsportsmanlike behavior to intentionally hit an opponent.

      For me, it is an acceptable tactic as long as the intent is not to injure...and the face should never be targeted.

  5. What happens when the server intentionally tries to hit the reciever's partner to score a point?
    Is this legal?

    1. It is "legal" insofar as no rules are broken. The ethics/etiquette of doing so are questionable in the minds of many.

      This tactic even has a name - the "Nasty Nelson".

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