Pickleball 411: The Underhand Serve

In our second episode of Pickleball 411, we explain the underhand serve motion. Using some clear motion graphics, our host, Rusty Howes, will walk us through the three main elements of the underhand serve motion: Underhand Stroke, Ball Contact and Paddle Head Position.
We hope this short video will help clarify some of the trickier points of this part of the serve and answer those burning questions you’ve always pondered (“Where exactly IS my waist…?).
Watch and enjoy!

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34 Comments

  1. Jerry Corker says:

    Good information. We hold clinics as ambassadors and this will be great to show if someone is not clear of the correct way to serve, especially the paddle head position.

    • Rusty Rusty says:

      Thanks Jerry, that’s great to hear. We are glad you found it helpful. And thanks for being an ambassador. All the best and have a GREAT weekend.

  2. nancy falkenstein says:

    we have had huge discussions and disagreements about this….many try to put spin on it and it is not quite side-arm but very close. the photos seem to show a simple upward motion with no other twists or turns!

  3. Bill Robinson says:

    Thanks for the explanation and (especially) the graphics, Rusty. The rules for a legal underhand serve are not well-understood by some players, who consistently hit a forehand stroke when serving (sometimes slightly modified to at least make an effort at an underhand stroke, but it appears that sometimes no real effort is being made to comply with the rules).

    Kind regards,
    Bill
    Neptune Beach, Florida

  4. Bernie says:

    This is a good video showing the basic’s of the serve, which is what most beginners need to learn. However, it is misleading to the extent that this suggests that this is the only way for a serve to be legal. As you stated, the only requirements is for the serve to be underhand, moving upward at the time of contact, with the paddle top being below the wrist, and striking the ball below the navel.
    This allows many variations of the serve, including the spin mentioned in on of the replies. Many courts have a very short space between the baseline on walls. Making it difficult to extend the racquet very far behind the player, thus the use of a modified short stroke, going down, then back up before striking the ball. Very legal, but can be confused by players, (and officials) who only wish to see the stroke that was demonstrated. It would be nice to see some videos showing some variations to this simple serve, that are still legal serves. Thanks for all your effort.

    • Meredith Meredith says:

      Thanks for the suggestion Bernie! We plan to make more episodes about the serve where we show different types of serves that meet the official rules as well. Thanks for watching!

  5. Sherwin Goerlitz says:

    You asked about suggestions… how about doing one on how to determine if a ball on the line has to touch the line to be in… or like in tennis when they do a review, they show if any part of the ball appears to touch the line it’s in. I’ve been told that in pickle ball the ball actually has to touch the line. Can you clarify this for me once and for all.

    • Meredith Meredith says:

      Love your comment Sherwin! We are in fact covering this subject in our next episode of Pickleball 411 airing on May 16th. If you are a subscriber to Pickleball Channel you will know first when it is available. Thanks for watching!

  6. William E. Boike says:

    More serve clarification please.

    I serve with the paddle below the waist with the paddle head below the handle. My stroke doesn’t look like a softball pitch, nor is it like a tennis forehand with arm parallel to the ground. The sample serves in the video seem to be all like softball pitches, and yet I’ve seen many variations at tournaments.

    I can understand wanting to keep the game “accessible” to many players and not be cut-throat serve and volley right from the get-go. But if the service rule is trying to dictate a tame and returnable first service, what’s the point of that second bounce rule? I feel the serve should be a test and not just a routine return. The pure perpendicular to the ground softball style serve isn’t much of a challenge.

    I feel the rule should be make contact with the paddle head below the waist…period.

    • Rusty Rusty says:

      Hi William, thanks so much for watching and commenting. Perhaps by now you have seen some of our other videos which show some other serves. In particular the power serve demonstrated by Alex Hamner. If not, you can see more here http://www.pickleballchannel.com/2014/06/pickleball-411-three-serves-and-why-you-need-them/

      So as we understand it, the rule is not trying to make a “tame serve”.
      To clarify, as long as the 3 points in the video are met, you can pretty much hit it as hard or angled or attempt to put spin on it, hit backhand etc. 1)upward motion, 2) contact below the waist 3) paddle head below the wrist at point of contact.

      Hope that helps a little. Thanks again for watching and sharing. Keep on Playing.

  7. Paul Cechovic says:

    It appears that many of our top ranked players are serving in a manner that does not conform to the rules. When will they be called to task?

  8. Richard Carter says:

    The International Federation (And the USAPA for adopting their rules) should be blamed for all this confusion.

    All they have to do is move away from the gray-area portion of their rules. Instead, simply state the serve must be an underhand swing in a purely vertical plane. The paddle must remain in that plane.

    What non-sense to put attributes such as “1 degree”, or “below the waist (which no one walks around with their navel showing), or “in an upward arch” (anyone can end any serve in an upward arch!)

    The serve isn’t a competitive part of the game anyway. Someone serving with a lot of spin or a change-up low-flying serve is easily discovered and defended against. At best it’s a one or two point advantage in an eleven point game.

    It’s irresponsibility such as this, on the parts of the rules committees that is causing all the confusion and anger.

  9. Garland Meiser says:

    Good info on the serve. So many people little by little start to hit down on serve. I try to let them know what there are doing as to keep within the rules of the game.

  10. Bill Masucci says:

    Any serve that causes the ball to spin to the left or right is most likely illegal with a forehand or backhad swing that is not underhanded. Table tennis players are the number one player serving illegal.
    They can hit it below the waist. The paddle is above their wrist and their swing across their body. They swing from 3 pm to 9 pm (clock face). U can put spin on the underhand serve by swinging from 6pm to 9pm
    On the up ward motion. California Bill

  11. Rose says:

    Can you show us what is not a legal serve?

  12. Keith Chapman says:

    Was wondering if you guys were planning on covering one of “The Majors” this coming weekend in Oceanside, CA… The SoCal Classic? Top players from all over the country will be playing this tournament starting Friday June 20th. One of the top tournaments for Skill, Age and Open.

    • Rusty Rusty says:

      Hi Keith, thanks for the heads up. We are currently planning and juggling all of the programming options. At some point we do plan to have certain tournaments a part of the content, but do not have the details worked out at this point. When we do decide to cover a tournament we would like to do it to the level of professionalism that is consistent with our current programming. Thank you for watching and for your support. We are curious if you are local to So cal or just interested in watching from out of state? All the best.

  13. Ray says:

    Is there a standard way to signal an in/out ball. In tennis, a palm down, flat hand signals “in” and a pointed finger signals “out”. Is there a similar “standard” for pickleball?

    • Rusty Rusty says:

      Hi Ray, currently I am not aware if there is or not. That might be a good question for the USAPA or your local ambassador. Thanks loads for watching and sharing.

  14. Barb says:

    Recently on the p.ball channel I saw a woman bounce the ball first then continue with her serve –very strange but made it to the opposite court perfectly (probably ignoring the p.ball rules?).
    I have a problem serving (served well for 30 yrs playing racquetball) now but would like to try it.
    Barb

  15. Coach Russell E says:

    This is the most talked about rule in our game. I like the idea of a video featuring illegal serves. I agree with the gentleman above where the USAPA rules committee will need to eventually clarify the rules on serving. In the meantime, I’ve “made up” a rule where the follow through and upward arc must not be under the armpit and instead, over the shoulder.

    • Arun says:

      The small distance between under the armpit and above the shoulder would leave room for discussion at best if not an argument, don’t you think?

  16. Ken Kiurski says:

    Love PB 411. Maybe you should show doubles play and when is it OK to drop a hat, etc in the kitchen. When is it a loss of point, even when the person never enters the kitchen?

  17. Arun says:

    Hey look guys/gals. This is not by any means rocket science. It’s clearly well defined. Put simply the arc of the paddle head direction ought to be from approximately knee high to approximately shoulder high. The paddle can dangle or it can be laterally extended as long as the paddle head is not above the wrist. In fact if it were, most people young and old would find it uncomfortable, especially in repetitive motion instances such as a serve. It’s almost unnatural to have the paddle head above the wrist, unless you have some sort of deformity. Ya, I know some wise guy will go out of the way to show it can be done w/o straining the wrist/arm etc.
    Let’s use creativity in a positive way. One important thing to remember is the PB serve is a predominantly defensive stroke based on the fact that it is underhand. The Tennis serve on the contrary is an offensive stroke because it’s an overhead stroke bearing down on the opponents court. Therefore it’s generally considered to be an effective offensive weapon designed to give the server a distinct edge right from the start, if the server develops it and does it well. Hence you have what’s known as the ‘Ace’ serve.
    In Pickleball however, it is not designed to be an offensive weapon in the normal sense because it is underhand and being served in an upward motion. A good returner can nail it or do an approach shot thereby putting the server at a disadvantage.
    Now it is imperative for these reasons alone to develop an effective underhand serve. So here are some things you can do.
    1) give yourself a good position with an angle to serve from and go to the receivers weak side, always having an approach plan to gain the edge.
    2) serve holding the ball out in front yet below the waist.
    3) strike the ball well on the sweet spot (effective hitting area) and follow through in the desired direction with the slightly upward swing while shifting your weight forward. Yes be balanced before,during and after the serve and while playing each point.
    4) send the ball either deep in the opponents court or just over the NVZ (kitchen) to induce a weak return. You could try a high deep serve as well depending on who the returner is.
    5) certainly get creative with spins, backhand serves and so on as well.
    There’s lots of room for good creative thinking and execution of those ideas while experimenting. Don’t limit yourself because that’s what a good opponent is looking to do to your game.
    6) Do not stand anchored to the floor but be as mobile as you can. Start of by rocking side to side and bouncing around in place if you can. It can additionally be intimidating to the opponents to see that you are willing to run if need be.
    7) play the dimensions of the whole court and mix it up by hitting each shot a bit differently to a new spot on the court. It’s always fun to manipulate the opponent and see them crumble before you have to use your best weapons to finish off the point.
    8) Always enjoy and have fun, win or lose. Not easy but make that your mentality going into a game and coming off of it.

  18. Heman Lee says:

    The “upward arc” definition is still vague. I see a lot of underspin/side spin serve ever from the best players. Technique any type of under-spin would be illegal since you must make contact of the ball slightly before a downward apex — even if it is a few mm of an inch. But no one calls this a fault.

  19. George says:

    Can you comment on the broken ball in play. During a rally it was obvious from the non-bounce the ball was broken….should play be stopped and a new ball and inserted without fault or should the play continue in play until the point is made?

    • Benn says:

      Hi George,

      Don’t know if you’re still checking this, but this is covered under the international Pickleball rules, section 12D:

      http://ipickleball.org/rules/pbrules-ifp.pdf

      Basically, you carry out the rally until it’s done. Once the rally is done, if there’s a referee and he/she determines that the crack affected the rally, the point is replayed. If there’s no referee, you make the call with the other team, and agree to replay if you thin that the crack affected the ball.

      Hope that helps!

  20. J.W. King says:

    What’s the rule if you swing and miss at a ball, that goes out of bounds.
    The ball is hit, over your head, you swing, missing the ball that goes out of bounds.

  21. Jim Wells says:

    Here is a truly radical idea. Do away with all the “style” rules relating to the serve. Allow servers to serve however they wish; overhead, sidearm, underhand, whatever. I don’t think any style has a great advantage. Next time you play, play some points that way and see. What is foolish about Pickleball is not the name, it’s the service rules.

  22. Richard Dennis says:

    A player hits a ball that is out of bounds, but partner calls it out. Is it considered out.?

  23. Julie L. says:

    Playing today a guy held the ball cupped in his hand to where it was hidden—only the back of his hand could be seen during the serving motion. By the time he hits the ball out from his hand, my reaction time as the receiver is reduced due to only being able to see his hand and not the ball during the serving motion. In ping-pong the ball must be thrown up a certain no. of inches so as to be sure the ball is seen during the serve. I cannot find any rule in pickleball that the ball must be shown and not occluded during the serving motion. He hits it out of his hand as it is still hidden behind his hand. Any rule on the server having to show the ball during the initiation of the serving motion?

    Also, a guy came with a new paddle with a ball-sized, yellow circle in the middle of the paddle. When my partner and I were trying to track the yellow pickleball off of his swinging racquet, we cd not initially track the ball since it blended with the yellow circle on his paddle, which negatively affected our reaction time. We were trying to distinguish the ball from the yellow circle during his swing. Any rule on things like this? It was a major disadvantage for us as receivers.

    Thanks for any help you can give.

    Julie L.

  24. bigskyjerry@gmail.com says:

    I’d llike to see legal backhand serves. Illegal backhand serves too.

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