LIST OF SUGGESTED PICKLEBALL RULE CHANGES FOR PREVIOUS YEARS

Rule Change Process

Rule Submission TitleMake the drop serve the only valid serve type.
USAP Board VoteFailure Confirmed
USAP Rules Committee VoteFailed
USAP Rules Committee Vote ReasonThe volley serve has been part of the game since the beginning. Most players use the volley serve, so this would affect a huge number of players. The incremental value of a close illegal serve is minimal. The vast majority of volley serves are legal, so making the change to make it easier on the refs doesn't warrant the removal of the volley serve. Also, referees now have the option to cause a replay if it is not clear that the serve is legal.
Existing Rule #4.A.7
Proposed Rule Change

Remove 4.A.7, making the volley serve illegal and the drop serve the only option for a legal serve. In addition, add the following language (or something similar) to 4.A.8b. (addition in bold)

 

4.A.8.b. The ball shall not be propelled (thrown) downward or tossed or hit upward with the paddle or any part of the server's body

Original Rule Text

4.A.7. The Volley Serve. The volley serve is made by striking the ball without bouncing the ball off the playing surface and can be made with either a forehand or backhand motion. A proper volley serve includes the following elements:
4.A.7.a. The server’s arm must be moving in an upward arc at the time the ball is struck with the paddle. (See Figure 4-3.)
4.A.7.b. The highest point of the paddle head must not be above the highest part of the wrist (where the wrist joint bends) when the paddle strikes the ball. (See Figures 4-1 and
4-2)

4.A.7.c. Contact with the ball must not be made above the waist. (See Figures 4-1 and 4-3 above)

Reasoning Behind Suggested Change

As pickleball continues to evolve, players at every level, but especially at the highest levels of play, continue to look for ways they can take advantage and push the limits of the existing rulebook to gain an edge over their opponents. One of the more commonly seen instances of this is the volley serve, as players get closer and closer to the line of what is legal and illegal according to the three elements of the volley serve (i.e. upward motion, paddle head height, ball contact point). Whether or not these requirements are being violated can be extremely difficult to discern using still images or slow motion replays, much less in real time by an opponent or referee.

Because of this, players have been serving higher and higher, and moving closer and closer to a forehand motion where the arm moves in a flatter plane instead of an upward arc. The 2023 edition of the referee handbook acknowledges how difficult it is to make this call live, adding a provision for a referee to call for a re-serve if a service motion is questionable, rather than having to decide whether or not to call on a fault on a potentially illegal service motion. For players, it is hard to know which side of questionable they are on, and for a player trying to gain every advantage, they have no reason not to hit a borderline serve if the consequence is a re-serve. It's not difficult to see the potential implications of this including:

  • Players hitting questionable, but ultimately legal serves, being forced to re-serve because referees would rather err on that side if they are not 100% certain the motion is legal
  • Players repeatedly hitting borderline or illegal serves, daring referees to have to repeatedly call faults or re-serves, negatively impacting pace of play and total game length
  • Different referees (justifiably) calling re-serves, faults, or nothing on the same player's serve because, as mentioned, the elements of a legal serve are subjective enough to make it difficult for all officials to maintain the exact same standard in real time, ultimately creating confusion for the players involved
  • Players hitting illegal serves in unofficiated matches either because they were not called by a referee previously or they are taking advantage of not having a referee present to make the call, or both

The history of pickleball and recent rule changes have set a precedent that the governing body does not want the serve to be an overly offensive shot. Removing the volley serve from the rulebook entirely supports this by taking away an avenue players currently have to hit serves more aggressively than they should, as well as one of the most difficult and subjective calls that referees currently have to make.

Drop serves are a legitimate and suitable alternative, with well-defined and easily observed restrictions. The additional comment in this proposed rule change closes a potential loophole wherein a player could kick or otherwise propel the ball upwards after the initial drop, dramatically raising the contact point of their "drop" serve.

Scenarios In Which the Rules Applies

All serves

Rule Book Year2024
Rule Change ID872
Date CreatedMarch 1, 2023
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