From Dink to Ace: Your Complete Guide to Pickleball Terms and Definitions

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Pickleball, a sport that blends elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong, has surged in popularity over the last few years. It’s a game that’s easy to pick up but can take a lifetime to master, and part of that mastery involves understanding the unique terminology used on the court. Whether you’re a beginner looking to get into the game or an experienced player aiming to refine your knowledge, this guide will help you navigate the essential lingo of pickleball.

Introduction to Pickleball Terminology

Pickleball isn’t just a physical game; it’s a social one, enriched by its own unique language. Knowing this language can enhance your playing experience, help you communicate more effectively with teammates and opponents, and deepen your appreciation of the game’s culture. From “dinks” and “lobs” to “kitchen rules” and beyond, we’ll cover the terminology that every pickleball player needs to know.

Core Pickleball Terms Every Player Should Know

The foundation of any pickleball player’s vocabulary should include terms related to gameplay. Understanding these terms is crucial for both following the rules and developing effective strategies.

Equipment Terms

1. Ball – The plastic pickleball ball used to play the game. It has holes cut through it, similar to a Wiffle ball. There are a few differences between indoor & outdoor pickleballs.

2. Indoor ball – A ball designed for indoor play that is typically lighter with larger holes.

3. Outdoor ball – A ball designed for outdoor play that is typically heavier with smaller holes.

4. Paddle – The paddle is used to hit the ball. Here’s some quick advice on choosing the best pickleball paddle.

5. Rack – A slang term for a pickleball paddle.

6. Paddy – A slang term for a pickleball paddle.

7. Grip – Refers to how a player holds the paddle. There are three main types of pickleball grips: continental, eastern, and western.

Types Of Pickleball Games

8. Doubles – A pickleball game played with four people in total. Two teams of two players face each other on the court to play during pickleball doubles matches.

9. Singles – A pickleball game played with only two players who face off against each other. In a traditional singles game, the players are each responsible for their entire side of the court.

10. Skinny Singles – Similar to singles but the court is cut in half and played on one side of the centerline. Here’s a quick tutorial on skinny singles.

11. Double Elimination – A tournament format where a team or player is eliminated after two losses.

Court Terms

12. Non-Volley Zone (NVZ) – Also known as the kitchen, the non-volley zone refers to the area on the court nearest the net between the side of the net and the non-volley line.

13. Non-Volley Line – The line furthest from the net that designates the start of the non-volley zone. Players cannot cross this line to hit a ball unless it has bounced.

14. Backcourt – The last few feet of the back of the court nearest the baseline that is still within the court boundaries.

15. Centerline – The painted line that runs down the middle of the court, diving it into two halves, is the centerline. It runs from the baseline to the non-volley line.

16. Sideline – The outer lines on each side of the court that run from the net to the baseline.

17. Baseline – The line furthest from the net is the line behind which players must serve the ball. It runs between both sidelines.

18. Kitchen line – The line that separated the non-volley zone from the mid-court.

19. Midcourt – The middle area between the baseline and the non-volley zone line.

20. Permanent Object – An object near the court that could interfere with the game. This could include spectators or the ceiling height of an indoor pickleball court.

21. Net height – The regulated height of the net at the center of the net and at the net posts.

General Game Play Terms

22. Double Bounce Rule/Two Bounce Rule – The double bounce rule states that the ball must bounce once before being returned and then bounce again when returned to the server’s side before being hit back.

23. Stroke – The action of hitting the ball with the paddle in a pickleball game.

24. Shadowing – Moving in sync with your doubles partner during a game.

25. Rally – Playing continuously after the ball has been served until a point or fault occurs. Learn more about rallies here.

Serving Terms

26. Serve – an underhand shot that kicks off a pickleball rally. All serves must be hit below the waist, with feet behind the baseline. The serve must be directed into the opponent’s service court. Here are nine great serving tips for your next match.

27. Service outside scoring – The only way to win a point in pickleball is to be on the serving team. Not to be confused with “rally scoring”, which means a point is earned at the end of each point, regardless of whether the winner of the point had served.

28. Server number – In doubles games, the server must call the server number “1” or “2”. The number depends on whether you were the first or second server on your side. The server number must be announced with the score before the start of a rally.

29. Ace – A serve the opposing team does not return, but that landed in the service box area. While common in tennis, these are rare in pickleball because the ball moves much slower.

30. Side out – When the serving team loses the point to the receiving team. This means the receiving team will then become the serving team.

31. Return of serve – A shot hit by the receiving team following the serve.

32. Nasty Nelson – A serve intentionally hit directly at an opponent who is standing in the wrong position.

Types Of Shots

33. Volley shot – Hitting the ball with the paddle without letting it bounce. There are four main types of volleys.

34. Put away – A shot in which a player hits the ball to their opponent who can’t return it.

35. Drive – A forceful, low shot that travels parallel to the ground.

36. Smash – A forceful overhand hit that is aimed toward a player’s feet or body.

37. Overhead shot – Similar to a tennis serve, this is a pickleball shot that is hit overhand and may also be called a smash or slam.

38. Approach shot – This is a shot performed when a pickleball player moves toward the net while taking the shot.

39. Slice – Striking the ball with a chopping, downward motion to impart underspin on the ball.

40. Backhand – A backhand is a shot hit where the back of a player’s hand faces the net. It may be performed with one or two hands.

41. Forehand – A forehand shot is where the front of a player’s dominant hand is parallel to the net. It can be combined with other shots depending on the ball’s angle, speed, and trajectory.

42. Backspin – The ball is hit with a low-to-high motion causing the ball to spin in the opposite direction.

43. Groundstroke – This can be any type of shot hit after the ball bounces.

44. Double hit – The ball is hit twice during one continuous groundstroke. This is an illegal hit and loss of that point unless playing with adaptive pickleball rules.

45. Half-volley – The ball bounces but doesn’t reach maximum height before being hit.

46. Punch shot – A shot hit quickly with a stabbing motion and minimal backswing.

47. Top Spin – A shot that is hit with a low-to-high motion, causing the ball to spin.

48. Dink – One of the most important shots in the game, a dink is a forehand or backhand shot placed in the opponent’s kitchen.

49. Dinner – A winning dink shot.

50. Drop Shot – Drop shots are similar to a dink as they are placed in the opponent’s kitchen but are usually hit closer to the baseline than the net.

51. Cross-court Dink – This is a soft shot hit from the back of one side of the court that lands in the opponent’s non-volley zone.

52. Lob – A shot hit high into the air, meant to go over the opposing team’s head and land in the backcourt. Both offensive and defensive lobs are used during specific moments of the game. Here are some tips on how and when to execute a lob.

53. Slammers – The ball is hit fast and hard repeatedly. It is a playstyle that is often considered wasteful because of the extra energy it takes and the lack of technique involved.

54. Poach – Poaching occurs whenever a team member deliberately takes shots that are hit toward their partner rather than allowing their partner to return the ball, usually in an attempt to ensure the player that has the forehand can hit the shot. This usually results in increased accuracy but requires a great deal of coordination with one’s partner.

55. Bert – A shot that is played over the non-volley zone to the opposite side of the court while your partner is at the net.

56. Body Bag – A type of forceful shot hit directly at your opponent.

57. Third shot drop – A soft shot hit over the net to land in the non-volley zone on the third shot after the serve in a game.

58. ERNE – Name after the inventor of the shot, Erne Perry; this poaching style shot occurs when the ball is hit close to the sideline, allowing the returning player to step over the non-volley zone and out of bounds while hitting the return. This places the returning player much closer to the net, making it difficult for the opponent to respond with their return. Click here to see the ERNE in action and learn how to anticipate them.

Types Of Rule Violations

59. Line Call – Determining whether the ball is in or out of bounds.

60. Foot Fault – An illegal serve or volley that is a fault because of foot placement.

61. Rule violation – Breaking one of the established rules of pickleball. Rule violations can cause disagreements between opponents. For this reason, we recommend reviewing common pickleball etiquette tips to maintain peace during matches.

62. Technical foul – A penalty given for rule violations or unsportsmanlike behavior.

On Court Communication

63. OPA! – A cheer people say when the double-bounce rule (the third shot) has been completed and open rallying has begun.

64. Nice setup – A compliment when a player manages to manipulate and maneuver another player into an area of the court that opens up an undefended area.

65. Bounce it – A call to your partner to not hit a return and let it bounce out of bounds (where it is likely headed.)

66. Nice get – This is another compliment that means you successfully returned a ball that wasn’t easy to get to.

67. Dead ball – The point is over because the ball has gone out of bounds.

68. Nice rally – This refers to a long rally or continuous play between players and complements everyone on the court playing.

Terms For Types Of Pickleball Players

69. Banger – Someone who regularly drives the ball with force and hits overhead smashes directly at their opponents or their feet. Some people use the term “slammers” to refer to bangers.

70. Junior – A younger player or a category of younger players in a pickleball tournament.

Funny Pickleball Slang Terms

71. Falafel – Sadly, not an on-court snack break. Falafel refers to a shot that is hit without enough power, not reaching its full potential.

72. Flapjack – This isn’t a pancake served on a pickleball paddle. Flapjack is a shot that needs to bounce before it can be returned.

73. Kitchen – This is an often-used slang term for the non-volley zone or NVZ.

74. Pickle! – An announcement by the serving team that lets the other team know a serve is coming.

75. Pickled (or Bagel) – The ultimate sadness in a game of pickleball. This refers to a game where a team scores no points by the time the game ends.

76. Pickledome – The location where the last championship match is played in a pickleball tournament.

77. Pickler – Someone who is a pickleball fanatic.

78. Volley llama – A ball hit into the kitchen illegally.

79. No Man’s Land – An invisible transition area a few feet behind the non-volley line that extends to a few feet before you reach the baseline. This is also referred to as midcourt.

80. Retirement – In pickleball, anyone can call “Retirement” (you don’t have to be retirement age.) This is when one side gives up a point willingly.

81. Beer Bracket – When player(s) are eliminated from a pickleball tournament early. Hey, they can at least grab a cold one and watch from the sideline!

82. Golden Pickle – The rarest of all games. This refers to a game played entirely with the first server of the game never losing a point, resulting in the opposite team being “Pickled.”

Advanced Pickleball Techniques and Strategies

As players progress in their pickleball journey, understanding and utilizing advanced techniques and strategies becomes crucial for competitive play. Here are some key concepts:

Types of Pickleball Games and Player Roles

Different types of games and player roles require specific skills and strategies. For instance:

  • Doubles Strategy: Involves coordination and communication between partners, utilizing techniques like stacking and switching to exploit the opponents’ weaknesses.
  • Singles Play: Focuses more on stamina and precision, with strategies revolving around shot placement and court coverage.

Specialized Shots and Moves

Mastering a variety of shots and moves can significantly enhance your game:

  • Third-Shot Drop: A key shot in doubles play, aimed at dropping the ball softly into the kitchen to allow the serving team to advance to the net.
  • Erne: A maneuver where a player jumps from outside the court to volley a ball near the net, circumventing the non-volley zone rule.

Understanding Pickleball Scoring and Rules

A solid grasp of scoring and rules is essential for all pickleball players, from casual to competitive.

Scoring System Explained

Pickleball uses a unique scoring system that can be perplexing for newcomers:

  • Points: Games are typically played to 11, 15, or 21 points, with the winning team needing to lead by at least 2 points.
  • Serving: Only the serving team can score points. The server continues to serve until a fault occurs.

Rule Violations and How to Avoid Them

Knowing common rule violations helps players avoid mistakes and play a cleaner game:

  • Foot Faults: Occurs when a player’s foot enters the kitchen on a volley or steps on the baseline during a serve.
  • Double Bounce Rule: The ball must bounce once on each side before players can start volleying in a point.

The Culture of Pickleball: Slang, Sayings, and Etiquette

Pickleball culture is rich with slang, sayings, and an unwritten code of etiquette that all players should know.

Funny and Unique Pickleball Slang

Embrace the fun side of pickleball with slang terms that add character to the game:

  • “Pickle!” Shouted when a player makes a surprising or effective shot.
  • “Banger:” A player who prefers powerful shots over strategic plays.

Etiquette and Unwritten Rules

Good sportsmanship and respect are paramount in pickleball:

  • Always acknowledge good shots from opponents.
  • Keep noise to a minimum to not distract players on adjacent courts.


Q1: What is a “Kitchen Sink” strategy in pickleball?

  • A: The “Kitchen Sink” strategy involves using every possible type of shot and tactic to keep opponents guessing and off-balance. It’s about being unpredictable and versatile in your play.

Q2: How does weather affect pickleball play, and what terms should I know?

  • A: Weather can significantly impact outdoor pickleball play. Terms like “windy lob” refer to lob shots used when playing against the wind, while “sun glare serve” describes the difficulty in seeing the serve due to the sun.

Q3: Can you switch paddles during a match, and what is this called?

  • A: Players can switch paddles during a match, often referred to as a “paddle switch.” However, this must be done between points and not during play.

Q4: What does it mean to “freeze” an opponent in pickleball?

  • A: To “freeze” an opponent means to hit a shot that makes it difficult for them to move or respond effectively, essentially keeping them stationary or uncertain of their next move.

Q5: How do “let serves” work in pickleball, and have there been recent rule changes?

  • A: A “let serve” occurs when the ball hits the net on the serve but still lands in the correct service box. Historically, this would result in a re-serve, but recent rule changes in some leagues and tournaments have eliminated let serves, allowing play to continue instead.

Q6: What’s the difference between a “hard serve” and a “soft serve” in pickleball?

  • A: A “hard serve” is hit with power and speed, aiming to put the receiver under pressure, whereas a “soft serve” is more about placement and finesse, intended to set up the server for the next shot.

Q7: Is there a term for when a game ends without any points scored by the losing team?

  • A: Yes, this is often referred to as a “shutout” or “bagel” in pickleball, where one team wins without the other team scoring a single point.

Q8: What are the most effective strategies for doubles communication, and are there specific terms used?

  • A: Effective doubles communication involves using clear, concise calls like “mine,” “yours,” “switch,” or “stay” to coordinate movements and shots. Pre-established signals for serves or shot preferences can also be useful.

Q9: How do you define a “rally killer” in pickleball?

  • A: A “rally killer” is a shot or play that ends a long rally, often through a decisive or unexpected move that the opponents cannot return.

Q10: What is the significance of the term “golden point” in pickleball?

  • A: A “golden point” refers to a critical point in the game that can determine the winner, especially in close matches. It’s a high-pressure situation where the outcome hinges on a single rally or shot.


This FAQ section aims to shed light on some of the more nuanced aspects of pickleball, providing players with a deeper understanding of the game’s strategies, rules, and culture. Whether you’re new to the sport or looking to refine your knowledge, we hope this guide has equipped you with the terminology and insights to enhance your pickleball experience.

Reflection Questions

  1. How can learning about advanced pickleball strategies and terminology improve your gameplay?
  2. In what ways do the unique aspects of pickleball culture, such as slang and etiquette, enhance the overall experience of the game?
  3. How important is it to stay updated on rule changes and new terms in the evolving landscape of pickleball?

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