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The Underhand Serve Clarified

Pickleball 411 is a highly successful show on Pickleball Channel that is dedicated to providing helpful information about the sport of pickleball. But we know it is sometimes nice to read something you can turn back to when you’re not on the court. In this article, we’re going to clarify what makes an underhand serve legal. You might think, “That’s easy! Just hit it below the waist.” And you’d be mostly right. But surprisingly we constantly get questions from confused players about whether certain serves are legal or not. As the game has developed over the years, so have the rules. In fact, in February of 2013 the USAPA updated the rules to provide greater clarity. As many of you know, there has been quite a bit of lively discussion about this! We’re not going to cover every aspect of the serve, so we encourage you to read the rules for yourself which you can find on the USAPA website. But in this article, we will lay out a quick guideline of the three key elements that must be satisfied in order for the underhand serve to be legal. Once you read it through, make sure you watch the full-length video that gives you the visual tools you need to fully understand the underhand serve including clear motion graphics of each element.

The serve must be made with an underhand stroke. This is pretty easy to understand. When serving, use an underhand stroke. That means the paddle head must be moving in an upward motion. That can even be as small as one degree upward! As long as the paddle is moving upward, it satisfies the requirement. Zero degrees or a downward motion is not a legal serve.

#2 - BALL CONTACT BELOW THE WAISTContact with the ball must be made below the waist. This is the one that gets a little tricky. There has been some confusion about what exactly constitutes the waist. It doesn’t matter how you wear your clothes. The waist is defined as navel level. And the point where the ball hits the paddle must be below the waist.

#3 - PADDLE HEAD POSITION BELOW THE WRISTThe position of the paddle head must be lower than the wrist. This one can be the deal breaker. When the paddle head strikes the ball, the highest part of the paddle head must be below where the wrist joint bends. To clarify, the paddle head does not include the handle.In summary, all three of these elements must be satisfied in order for the serve to be legal: upward motion of the paddle head, contact with the ball below the waist, with the position of the paddle head below the wrist joint. There are many different types of serves including forehand, backhand, hard and soft, but as different as some of them may be, if all three of these elements are met, they can still be legal.

That’s your Pickleball 411 for today. We really hope this has been helpful. Now there’s only one thing left to do, and that’s Go Play!

Rusty Howes is the Executive Producer and creator of Pickleball Channel. Rusty worked for the likes of Warner Bros and Disney before creating Pickleball Channel to develop and provide fantastic, professional video content for the pickleball community. He is deeply involved in promoting the sport of pickleball at home and across the country.

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