What is a Fault in Pickleball? Types & how to avoid them?

Winning in pickleball is based on error-free gameplay and that leads to players go question: “what is a fault in pickleball”. To answer your question, we have come up with this detailed guide to help you understand faults in pickleball, how come these faults are committed by the players, and techniques to avoid them. 

Well, pickleball faults are merely the violation of the rules of pickleball or any act that damages the integrity and fairness of the game. Sometimes players (newcomers mostly), are not even aware that they are making the faults hence a comprehensive study is required to learn the rules and faults in pickleball to play the game fairly and perform better on courts – of course with a win. 

What Is A Fault In Pickleball?

When a player violates any pickleball rule during the rally, it is called a “Fault”. The occurrence of fault ends the rally immediately and whoever has more points or didn’t violate any rule will win the ongoing rally. 

Other than the rule violation, there are many ways a person may commit a fault. However, if the fault is made by the serving team, they’ll discontinue scoring points to the other side. In contrast, faults from the receiving side result in the serving side gaining a point. In addition, you must note that faults are different from unforced errors. Unforced errors are mistakes on easier shots i.e., you could play well but didn’t. Fault is violation of rules and misconducting the game.

How Many Faults Are There In Pickleball? 

There are various types of faults among which 5 are quite famous. In count, there are a total of 14 fault rules that have been formulated by the USAPA in the rule book (from 7. A to 7. N). Each year, the faults and rules are upgraded to maintain the integrity of the game and to find the right balance between fun and fairness. 

5 common faults in pickleball:  

Most often these are the faults that most of the players end up making – whether new or old. 

  • Serving and returning the serve without getting the ball bounced first: 
  • Entering the NVZ when volleying: 
  • Sending the ball out of the bounds: 
  • Hitting the ball in the nets: 
  • Getting the ball hit a permanent object before it bounces: 
Serving and returning the serve without getting the ball bounced first: 
serve without getting the ball bounced

The game of pickleball starts with a team serving in a manner that the ball bounces first on the opposite side and then gets to the paddle. A similar rule follows when returning the ball. If the serving team or the receiving team volleys in the first serve, it is counted as a fault. 

Entering the NVZ when volleying: 
Entering the NVZ when volleying

A person cannot enter the kitchen area or the non-volley zone when he is volleying or about to hit the volley on the service he’s getting. In addition, you can’t even accidentally step into the NVZ just after hitting the volley. 

Sending the ball out of the bounds: 

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The ball must stay on the premises of the court. If the ball goes outside the confined lines or out of the bounds, then a fault is being committed from your side. Similar rules are followed in tennis where when the ball goes out of the bounds, the fault tends to take place which then ends the rally. Players who are in practice with speedy shots often make this fault when they try to hit the ball more aggressively. 

Hitting the ball in the nets: 

If you are too speedy when serving or returning the shot, the ball can likely get in contact with the nets and fall in the player’s own NVZ. This type of service counts as the fault. However, if the ball touched the net and manages to reach the opposite side, it’ll come under “let service”. 

Hitting the ball in the nets

In the case of let service, the game stay in play. However, if any player stops the game calling the “let service” will come under the fault. Although, if the ball reaches beyond the Non-Volley Zone even if it had touched the nets, it’ll be considered a fair shot and no faults shall be counted, thanks to the “let rule amendment in 2021” otherwise it was much more frustrating when this used to happen. 

Getting the ball hit a permanent object before it bounces: 

In case of the ball hits any permanent object on the court before bouncing, let’s say any fences, net post, benches, or the person, it’ll be a fault. This has been stated in the Rule 7J in the International Federation of Pickleball 2021 Rulebook as;

“A ball in play contacting any permanent object before bouncing on the court.”

object on the court before bouncing

In this case, the serving team will lose their rally to the opponents while the non-serving team will be given the service as well as a point. However, if the ball bounces first on the opponent’s side and then it gets in contact with a permanent object, then the fault will be counted on the opponent’s side instead of the serving. A point will also be given to the serving side. 

Other types of pickleball faults: 

The faults just do not end here. It continues with a long list among which we have explained the 11 most seen and committed ones as follows. 

Wrong service: 

In pickleball, the serving rule states that;

“The serve must be made underhand”

While there’s another rule that speaks about the paddle contact with the ball. It says;

“Paddle contact with the ball must be below the server’s waist (navel level)”

Both these rules clarify pretty much how to serve in a pickleball. However, any player who doesn’t abide by these rules is charged with a “fault” in his or his team’s scorecard. For example, if you serve the ball slightly over the waist level or your paddle’s contact is higher, you’ll be charged. This is the “toughest to overcome” faults we’ve faced in pickleball. 

It should also be noted that the wrong service fault only counts when the pickleball is live. You can make a wrong service in a dead pickleball i.e when the referee hasn’t called the scores.  

Pickleball Double’s Playing Fault: (Wrong Member Serving) 
Wrong Member Serving

Wrong member serving is the most common fault that occurs in a double play. Though, stacking is legal and allowed in pickleball. However, the teams decide on the serving member on each side when they play doubles. During the play, if the non-serving member makes the service from the wrong side of the court, it’ll be their fault and then the service will be shifted to the opposite side. 

Touching the net/ net posts/ opponent side of the court: 

During a rally, it is prohibited for any player to touch the net, net system, or the opponent side of the court. It is staying within your boundaries and in your area such that neither you, your clothes, or even your paddle make any contact with the net and net post. It shouldn’t go on the opposite side as well otherwise you know, you’ll legitimately get accused of a fault. 

 touch the net, net system, or the opponent side of the court

Though, it’s not restricted to touch the net or any of it during the non-rally time (when the game hasn’t started or the play is resumed). 

Double hitting the ball: 

When you receive or serve the ball, you have to send it to the opposite side in a single paddle hit. You can’t make it swing in the air and then hit it (just like one of the services in tennis).  

Distracting / Interference: 

Being into sports (of any kind), you must be familiar with this fault. Interference with an intention to distract the opponents is a fault that almost all sports follows. It is not just a fault, it’s even illegal to make any gesture or use any signals (with your hands or face), scream, or any activity that can distract the other players will be a fault. If a player continues to act this way and keeps his behavior the same, then he will be charged with a penalty in this case. 

Hitting the ball before it passes the plane of the net: 

It is a fault when you hit the ball just above the net i.e when it hasn’t passed the plane of the net. The player must let the ball come into its area and then hit it. It mostly happens when a player gets impatient to hit the volley or erne and ends up throwing it before the ball has traveled a required distance into your court. 

Calling a time-out: 

There is a specific rule stated by the 2020 OFFIICIAL RULEBOOK which tells about the time-outs of the players. However, the fault in that occurs when a player calls a time out just after he has served the ball. 

Catching the ball: 

That you might not know for sure. Well, you technically cannot catch the ball with your hands if it’s going in the out-of-the-bounds area. Most of the players do it habitually to save the ball and then it’ll cost them a fault ultimately. 

Letting the ball bounce twice on your side: 

As per the serving rule, the ball has to bounce twice. However, the second bounce should be made on the other side of the court. if you serve the ball or return the serve and the ball bounces twice in your own area, then you have committed a fault. Although, the fault doesn’t apply to the wheelchair players. 

Short service: 
Short service

It is important to throw the ball in a manner that lands beyond the NVZ area of the opponent’s side. If any side of the court can’t make the ball reach afar the kitchen area, they will lose a point to the opponents. 

Carrying the ball on your paddle after the serve:  

A player cannot carry or catch the ball “again” just after he has served it. Though you can carry or catch the ball when you are serving, it doesn’t come under faults. 

Pickleball Foot Faults: 

Apart from the basic pickleball falts, the foot faults are kept aside and given a higher degree of importance since they can be called on you by the opponents too. Foot faults are divided into two types; 

  • One is the non-volley zone foot faults
  • Another is Service line foot faults 
Non-Volley Zone Foot Faults:

Non-volley foot faults basically occur when you are volleying and you enter the lines. As per the rules;

  • You can’t enter the NVZ when volleying.  
  • Your feet must not touch the kitchen lines when volleying. 
  • you shouldn’t end up in the NVZ after a volley. 
Non-Volley Zone Foot Faults

According to these rules, you have to stay behind the non-volley zone when you are about to hit a volley or previously volleying. The rule applies whether you are serving or returning the volley. When hitting the volley, you should also keep your body in balance. Most of the time, players swing the paddle high to hit the ball and end up touching or entering the non-volley zone. 

Service Line Foot Faults: 

Other than the kitchen lines, there are three lines i.e centerline, sideline, and baseline in the court. To serve without the fault, there are certain rules regarding these lines that every player has to follow. 

  • During the service, the player’s feet can not touch the baseline. The area that comes under the baseline also counts as a fault if a player touches it. 
  • The payer’s foot cannot touch outside the imaginary extension of the sidelines/centerlines. 
  • The player has o keep one foot in the court just behind the baseline. 
  • The Player has to stay in its quadrant during both singles play and doubles play. 

These rules have been taken from the USAPA official pickleball rulebook 2022 in rules 4.A.4.a, 4.A.4.b. and 4.A.4.c.

Who calls the faults in pickleball? 

Well, the authority who decides the fault depends on whether you are playing official or non-official as well as what type of fault has been made. To clarify, have a look at the following; 

In Official Plays: 

In official tournaments, the referee and the players can call the fault. The referee is the most trusted source who calls the fault and stops the game. After the referee, the player himself, when assured of the fault, can call the fault. 

A referee in the official games is responsible for calling foot faults and Non-Volley Zone faults. Players cannot call these faults on their own. 

In Official Plays

Though, you can’t accuse another player of a fault too. For this, a player who jas committed a fault should come forward himself and accept a fault. It is a common practice in pickleball that keeps the fairness and sportsmanship alive in the game. 

In Non-Official Plays: 

In matches without a referee, the players are allowed to call faults on their opponents when they have made a food fault or violate the NVZ rule. In case of disagreement, the players can replay the shot. Well, if you call the shot on the opponents, be confident of the error first and as though, the other team should accept it if they are actually in the wrong. 

What Happens When A Fault Occurs? 

Though, each fault has been explained with its consequences. However, we are here to give you more concise and clear information on “what happens when you make a fault”. Generally, in each of the faults, the game goes like this. 

  • The player or referee calls the fault. 
  • The game gets paused and the referee stops calling the score. 
  • The point will be given to the opposite side. 
  • If a fault is made by the serving team, then it’ll stop scoring until the other side makes a fault. 

How To Avoid A Fault In Pickleball: 

Playing skillfully is not enough, since the most skillful players can’t save themselves from making faults. Many people argue that practicing and following the rules eliminates the chances of fault. That statement, to some extent, is true too. However, we have worked out certain strategies and key points that will help you stick to the rules strictly and play error-free in the courts. 

  • Listen to the scores first when it has been called by the referee before making casual serve i.e above the waistline. (to overcome serving fault) 
  • Stay in the right position when in double’s play and keep cooperation so that a non-serving member doesn’t hit the ball – both accidentally or intentionally. (for a wrong member serving fault) 
  • If you can’t seem to have a ball land on your paddle, just let it go in out of the bounds area for good. This way you can also earn a point as well as the rally. (for catching the ball fault) 
  • Keep track of your time-outs. Only call if you are confident that you have left any. In addition, make sure you call it before making the service. (for calling a time-out fault) 
  • Practice throwing the ball with a balanced speed such that it lands just beyond the kitchen area. (for short serves, the twice ball bouncing, hitting the ball in the nets, and out of bounds fault) 
  • Calculate the right time for hitting the ball. This way you can improve your volleys as well as eliminate any chance of hotting the ball over the nets. 
  • You can eliminate all the foot faults by practicing and staying in a good posture in your quadrant. 
  • Lastly, follow all the pickleball rules and keep learning and understanding them to avoid making “ANY” fault in pickleball. 

Ending Note: 

We hope that the information provided in this article was enough in answering “what is a fault in pickleball”, “how many types of faults are there”, what happens when you commit a fault”, “who calls the fault” and so on as your mind could think. Because a minimal fault can instantly change a game into a nightmare for you no matter how skilled you are in your game. Therefore, we believe you to modify and keep your game as per the rules as you are now aware of the possible errors and their penalties in pickleball. Good luck!

Robby Anderson

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