In just about every ball sport you can imagine that relies on your hands, you'll almost always find some rule about how many times the ball can bounce. For many, this rule applies to two bounces. But in pickleball, the sport has a two-bounce rule as well as double-bounce stipulations - so is there a difference between the two?
The two-bounce rule in pickleball is not the same as a double bounce. The two-bounce rule requires the ball to bounce once on each side of the court after being served whereas the double bounce is a fault that occurs when the ball bounces twice on the same side at any point of a rally.
Many people confuse the two, and the similarity of names certainly factors into that, but there's history here that's made the definitions murky. This will certainly sound contradicting, but under certain contexts, the two-bounce rule is the same thing as the double-bounce rule - more on that in a minute.
What's the Difference between Two-Bounce and Double-Bounce?
The only true similarity between the two-bounce rule and the double-bounce rule is that both surround the number 2 - other than that, they are completely different terms with unique definitions.
The two-bounce rule exists to remove any advantages of serving and volleying, making the ball bounce once before the serve return, and once more before the third shot. The double-bounce is a fault rule that makes any ball that bounces twice on the same side an immediate dead ball - it can happen at any point of a rally.
After seeing a clear difference, you might be wondering why so many people are confused or use the name double bounce when they are referring to the two-bounce rule - well, to their defense, there's an extremely good reason for this. Here's why:
Confusion between the Two-Bounce Rule and Pickleball Double Bounce Rule
The two-bounce rule has always been an integral part of playing pickleball, but it hasn't always been called the two-bounce rule. Up until 2018, it was called the double bounce rule! But because a double bounce means something completely separate within the same game, it was a confusing name.
This is the primary reason the two-bounce rule is still commonly called the double-bounce rule, and also the reason why it's contextually and historically accurate. However, each has its own definition in USA Pickleball's official rule book.
Both are classified as fault rules under section 7 of the rule book, but the two-bounce rule is line-itemed as rule 7.A. and double bounce is fault rule 7.E.
Because the two terms have completely different meanings, there's good reason for the rebranding to the two-bounce rule, but it's not helped reduce the overall confusion, especially among new players.
Let's dig into each a bit more, and look at what they mean, how they are incorporated into the game, and why they exist.
What Is a Double Bounce in Pickleball?
A double bounce in pickleball is when the ball bounces twice on one side before being hit back to the other side. This results in a dead ball, which is technically a fault (Rule 7.E.). This is a common rule and term found in racquet and paddle sports.
What Is the Two-Bounce Rule of Pickleball?
The Two-Bounce rule of pickleball prevents volleying in the first two hits after every serve. Once the ball is served, the receiving team must let it bounce once before returning, and the serving team must then let the return bounce once before hitting it back again. After that third shot, either team can volley.
This autological word simply means the ball must bounce on the serve and return, totaling two bounces, before either team can hit the ball from the air. The sequence looks like this:
How Is the Two-Bounce Rule Played?
The two-bounce rule is played in the first three shots of a rally. The serve (1st shot) is sent into the diagonal service area and must bounce. After the first bounce, the receiving team then returns the ball to the serving team (2nd shot). After the bounce, the serving team can send it back (3rd shot).
The bounce requirement only falls after the first and second shots. It looks something like this.
- Serve: The ball is sent to the receiving team for First Bounce.
- Serve Return: The ball is returned to the serving team for Second Bounce.
- 3rd Shot: The serving team sends the ball back to the receiving team where either team can now volley or hit groundstrokes throughout the rest of the rally.
It's simple when you break it down like that, but it might make you wonder why this rule is necessary. It's the only sport with this type of rule - so what gives?
Why Does the Two-Bounce Rule Exist?
The two-bounce rule exists to make the game fairer for the serving and returning sides in pickleball. It eliminates the serve and volley advantage. Since serving is the only way to earn points, it prevents volleying on the third shot as an advantage. Likewise, the receiving team isn't able to volley return the serve.
Without this rule, you would have more rallies that end on the serve return or 3rd shot, removing one of the most exciting and defining features of pickleball - dink rallies.
Perhaps the best way to think of why the two-bounce rule exists is to show a couple of scenarios without the two-bounce rule.
- If a No-Bounce Rule Existed: The serving team sends the ball to the receiving team, but without the two-bounce rule, the receiving team is standing outside the non-volley zone line and takes the ball from the air. They volley right back to the serving player but land it just inside the kitchen at an angle, and the serving player is so far back at the baseline because of serving requirements, they can't possibly get to the ball.
- If a 1-Bounce Rule Existed: The serving team sends the ball to the receiving team, where they are required to let the ball bounce once before returning under the hypothetical 1-bounce rule. They have hugged the baseline to leave enough space for the bounce and deep serve. Meanwhile, the serving team is up on the kitchen line awaiting the serve return. The receiving team returns the ball right to the serving team at the kitchen, and they immediately smash it over the net as a volley, leaving no chance for the other side to get to the ball because of how far back they were from the serve.
There are other ways to take advantage of serving and volleying, but hopefully, these hypotheticals paint a clearer picture of why we need the two-bounce rule at all.
There is still one question that many people are confused by, and that's where the ball is allowed to bounce during the two-bounce sequence.
Can the Second Bounce Be in the Kitchen?
During the two-bounce rule, the second bounce can land in the opponent's kitchen. A legal second bounce can occur anywhere on the serving side's playing area. However, the first bounce may not land in the kitchen, including its line, and this is because serving rules consider the first bounce landing in the kitchen a fault.
The kitchen confuses new players and experienced players alike, but in this instance, the confusion stems from how a serve must avoid the kitchen, yet still bounce in the service area. But for a return, the receiving player can send it to the kitchen, baseline, sideline - wherever they like!
Two-Bounce Rule Is Not a Double-Bounce, Sometimes
Pickleball has to be the only paddle sport that had one rule with two different meanings in the double bounce rule. And because of the terms history and double-meaning, even after renaming it to the two-bounce rule, it continues to be confusing for many players.
But pickleball has always done things uniquely. We wouldn't have it any other way.
So next time you hear someone say the double-bounce rule on the court, you now know they could be referring to two things. If they mean the ball is bouncing twice on the same side, they're using the fault rule correctly. If they are talking about how the ball needs to bounce once after the first shot and once more after the second shot, then this is a good time to update them on the terminology change.
And funny enough, regardless of how they use the double bounce rule, they are using it correctly, just not in the right year.