How line calls work in pickleball – your common questions answered!

Barrett Kincheloe article, Basics, beginner, Rules 54 Comments

One of the most common questions that I get in teaching pickleball has to do with line calls. It can be frustrating to be on the wrong side of the line call. But on the same token, it’s important how pickleball lines work and how to call shots properly.

When it comes to whether or not a ball is in or out, here’s what you need to know: If the ball physically touches the paint that the line is made of, it is in. If it does not touch the paint and lands outside the zone in question, it is out.

Let’s get into some more detail, shall we?

What is a line exactly?

I used to love going to baseball games when I was younger. I always imagined myself running around the bases and doing all the things that baseball kids do.

But the one thing that always confused me was why there was “sand”, as I called it, at the very back of the outfield.

Well, this is called the outfield warning track. It warns players that a giant wall is about to greet them in the face if they’re not careful.

But that doesn’t mean that the baseball outfield warning track isn’t a part of the field just because it’s a different color.

Pickleball court lines work the same way. A line on a court simply signifies that the court or zone is about to end. Just like the outfield warning track in baseball, the line on the court is simply telling you, “hey, be careful, the court or zone is about to end!”

What this means is that the line IS the court, or whatever section you’re looking at. What constitutes as “out” is what is fully outside the physical paint on the ground that the line is comprised of. Which brings us to our next part.

Just as a side note, if you’re looking for a bunch of other great pickleball tips, make sure you check out this article that gives you 101 tips to work on!

In or out?

If you come from tennis or any other racket sport that uses a squishy ball, this may take some time to get used to. The reason I say this is that the pickleball doesn’t compress! Unlike a tennis ball, when the pickleball lands on the ground, only a small portion of it actually strikes the surface.

This is what makes line calls in pickleball especially tricky. When you’re making a line call in pickleball, you’re only calling the shot based on that tiny area the ball strikes.

The hover issue

There’s a lot of confusion in pickleball about the “hover” issue. What this refers to is how the ball touches outside the line, but a part of the ball is still hovering over the line. Here’s an image to illustrate what I’m talking about:

This ball is out!

See how the ball is hovering over the line? You may not be able to see it very clearly, but no part of the ball is physically touching the line. And like I said above, since it’s not touching the line, the ball is out. It doesn’t matter if it’s hovering over the line or not.

The kitchen line

As you know, if you hit the kitchen or kitchen line on the serve, it’s a fault. It doesn’t matter if the ball hit the net or not.

But one question that pops up (pun absolutely intended) a lot is about where the line begins and ends. It’s simple. The kitchen line extends all the way to the sideline, then up towards the net. Your kitchen sideline ends just below the net.

If you’re standing at the kitchen line waiting for the opponent to serve to your partner, make sure you watch the kitchen line on the serve! You will have the best view of it.

The main rules you need to know

As I said above, if the ball touches the physical paint that the line is made of, it’s in. If it doesn’t, it’s out. But it gets a bit more complicated than that.

The benefit of the doubt

It’s your responsibility to make line calls on your side of the court. This means that you’re basically calling the balls in or out for your opponent’s shots. However, if there’s any doubt about whether the ball was in or out, then the ball must be declared in.

This is why line calls in pickleball (and any other racket sport) must be made instantly! There can’t be any doubt that the ball was in. If there is doubt of any kind, the point goes to your opponent. So, when in doubt, be careful!

Dead balls

A common question I get about line calls in pickleball is about hitting an out ball or not. For example, the ball just bounced out of bounds, you call it out, and then you hit it. Is the ball still in play?


When a ball lands out of bounds, you must call it out. Once the ball is called out, a dead ball is declared and whatever happens after that no longer matters. The key here is the out call. If a ball lands out, and you don’t call it out and then your opponent strikes the ball, you can no longer call it out. The out call has to be made promptly, or before your opponent strikes the ball.

More importantly, this counts even if the “out” call happened after you hit the ball since the assumption was that indeed the ball was out.

Having said that, if you hit a ball that hasn’t bounced, but it was clearly going out, the ball is still in play because you have to let it bounce first.

Code of ethics

Having said all this, it’s important to have integrity and be honest. Considering that calling lines can be difficult in pickleball, the rulebook has a code of ethics that you can read through. It describes a code that encourages players to be honest about their calls.

Also, remember that pickleball is very social and has a strong sense of community and culture. Everyone knows each other in most pickleball communities.

Don’t let your reputation as a player be tarnished because you’re known for making bad line calls.

Again, if there’s any doubt that a ball was in or out, call it in!

Conflicting line calls

If your partner calls a shot in and you call it out at the same time, the ball is in! We’ll talk more about this below, but I wanted to mention it now because it’s an important rule to know.

Bad line calls

If you get a bad line call in open play, then there’s nothing you can do about it unless your opponent agrees.

However, in a tournament, you can appeal to the referee to ask if they saw it or not. In a match, the referee is primarily responsible for foot faults a the kitchen. So it’s common for the referee to not be watching the lines.

But if they do see it, then they can overrule your opponent’s call. But again, don’t expect them to be watching the lines all the time. Their main responsibility is watching for foot faults.

How to make accurate line calls

There’s a bit of science behind making accurate line calls. Let me explain.

It’s common for beginner and intermediate players to simply watch the ball as it’s hitting near the line. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s an easier way to tell if a ball went out or not.

See how you can see paint behind the ball or not?

It’s all about seeing what’s happening near the line. Check out the image above. In the left image, it may be a bit hard to tell if the ball is in or not.

However, the key here is to not directly see the position of the ball, but to discern if you could see paint behind the ball.

(Remember, all of this is going to depend on your position and perspective on the court)

In the image above, you can clearly see paint behind the ball. Since you can, the ball is in. But if you can’t, then the ball is out. Try to use that principle with your line calls and they will become much more accurate.

Choose who calls what on your side

If you’re currently or wanting to play competitive pickleball, you have to understand who should be calling what shots on your side. There’s a lot of strategies involved with this stuff and it’s very important.

See the perspective here?

In this image, we’re pretending that my partner and I are serving. If the return is coming back and it’s heading towards my partner, who should make the line call if it goes out the baseline?

The answer is me (I’m the one in the glasses.) The reason why I should call that is that I have a perfect view of the ball. My partner shouldn’t say anything unless she is absolutely certain. Again, if she calls it out and I call it in, it’s a point for the opposing team.

This is why being careful with line calls on the court is so important. Whoever has the best vantage point on the call should be making those decisions.

Wrapping up

I hope that this article has helped you to understand line calls a bit better. I know that it can be a frustrating experience dealing with line calls sometimes, but always remember that sportsmanship and integrity are integral parts of our community. Do the right thing and we’ll all be better off in the long run.

If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below!

Comments 54

  1. Thank you for this informative article! My question is somewhat related – how can I improve my observation of where the ball lands, if it’s within the court’s limit (especially on a server). For some reason I feel that my brain doesn’t really record this information, maybe cause the ball travels so fast, or I’m more concerned about being ready to return the ball … Would you have any article that covers this, and hopefully my question makes sense.
    Thank you so much for any tips and advise you can provide.

  2. Here’s one for you. The ball was hit across the net & landed on or near the sideline (no one knows for sure), it is played (returned) by the player on that side, BUT, the return does not clear the net so it never goes over & the opposing player cannot return it, but was ready to do so…then the players on the hitting side call the ball they just hit as an OUT ball. How is that correct?

  3. Hello,
    If it is what you see or don’t see when determining whether a ball is in or out, EX: you ‘see’ that the ball touches the line therefore player calls the ball is in. But even if player ‘sees’ this, it is from his/her perspective and not from reality. In actuality the contact of the ball to the line is out of the line but the player cannot see this. So then he would call the ball IN. (Or ‘out’ depending on the situation) If this is the case then these calls, in reality, are not accurate but they count because this is what the player sees. Is this correct in my interpretation of the rule?? >>>> that you call a ball based on what you ‘see’ even though the person ‘knows’ that the contact of the ball is outside the line.

  4. Our local pro had a fit yesterday when both my partner and I called his shot out because it missed the side line by over an inch (25 mm). Maybe it was less than 1.5 inches (37 mm), but we both saw alot of green between the ball and the sideline. That means that the ball was “hovering” over the line, but the contact point was well outside the line. The pro said we have to see green between the ball and the sideline. We did see green between the ball and the sideline because we were watching a slow ball from inside the court, from a vantage point that gave us a clear view. He said you have to see green when looking from directly above the ball, which is nonsense because rarely does someone stand directly over the ball hit toward the sidelines. Receivers might be standing directly over a serve that hits near the baseline because they are standing right there, but no one stands over the sideline.

    Under the pro’s interpretation, a ball cannot be CALLED out unless is it WAY out, by more than 1.5 inches (37 mm). Does this make sense to you? Is there some folklore that referees use as a guide.

    BTW, I played my first tournament last weekend, and the ref call several of my shots out when a portion of the ball was clearly hovering over the lline. I think he was perfectly correct.

  5. If my partner was standing a foot out of bounce and the ball comes and hits her foot. Is that out? It’s clearly out.

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      Although it may have been out if her foot wasn’t there, it’s still a fault on your team because the ball hit your partner. The ball can’t strike you at all. The only exception obviously is the paddle up to the wrist holding the paddle.

    1. When I was receiving a serve, I called the ball out but then immediately self-corrected and said IN. The opponent hit the ball, I hit it back and the other opponent said she stopped playing since I said out. I was read the riot act even though the call was in her team’s favor and her partner continued to play since she heard the correction. What’s the rule about self-correcting a call, please?

  6. Hi. If an opponent hits a ball after it has bounced twice, can I call the ball dead? In other words, does the opponent have to call the ball dead *himself* because it bounced twice?

    This happened in my league recently where players A and B saw the opponent hitting a ball that had bounced a 2nd time on the opponent’s court. The opponent insisted that he got to the ball before it bounced a 2nd time. Who gets to call the ball dead?

  7. Patti Matsushita asked for a clarification between what you wrote and what the rules say, but you haven’t yet answered that. You say that balls that bounce out of bounds but are played before being called out are still dead balls, no longer in play. She pointed out that IFPA rule 6.D.7 says the opposite — that if the out-of-bounds ball that has bounced but been played before being called out IS still in play.

    6.D.7. All “let” or “out” calls must be made “instantly”;
    otherwise the ball is presumed good and still in
    play. “Instantly” is defined as calling “let” or
    “out” prior to the ball being hit by the opponent
    or before it has gone out of play.

    So now I’m completely confused. A ball that has bounced out of bounds that is played before being called Out — is it a dead ball or not?

    1. Post

      I see where the confusion is coming from and I went ahead and made some edits in the article to clarify. Thanks for pointing this out.

      The key here is the out call. If a ball lands out, you strike the ball, then your opponent strikes the ball, you can no longer call it out. It’s assumed in play.

      However, if the ball lands out, you strike the ball, then call it out before your opponent strikes it, then the ball is out and dead. It doesn’t matter if the out call comes before or after you strike. It just has to be made promptly and before your opponent hits it back. There are certainly some grey areas here. Although technically you can, you can’t just lob an out ball, then after a few seconds call it out at the last moment before your opponent hits it.

      Some clarification is definitely needed with this rule.

      Hope that helps!

      1. So this happened this week: team A hit the ball toward the sideline; team B, player 1, called it out, but hit it back anyway as his partner says “no, good.” Team A then, of course, hits it into the net! Whose point? What if team A hadn’t even tried to hit it since it had been called out? Messy, I know…

      2. You’re the best, Barrett! Thank you for that clarification. Makes a world of difference. 🙂

  8. As a person I used to play tennis with said, “if you don’t want a bad line call, don’t hit it near a line”.

  9. My rule and I am an advanced player about making line calls is ‘the person closest to the ball, makes the call’! Of course, not in all cases. Have I gotten into some discussions about this, you betcha! But thanks for your great comments Barrett!

  10. What’s the rule on the follow through at the kitchen. How long does it apply for a volley at the kitchen line and it goes in and opponents miss it clearly your point but after ball is out you stumble into the kitchen. Is there a time limit after you hit the ball

    1. No, there is no time limit. Only when you get properly reset is the stumble or momentem of your volley considered over. The ball can later be hit by your opponents in or out, if you still are not reset (still flailing around) and end up at anytime going into the kitchen from your volley and your momentum carried you into the kitchen and you faulted.

  11. Hi, Am a new player to Pickleball and my query is – if following the first 2 bounce plays, one of the players hits the ball back to the opposing team and that ball goes outside the court but is returned by the receiver before the ball touches the ground, is this ball in or out? If the ball is still in play does the receiving player have to have his feet totally inside the line markings when returning the ball?

    1. The ball may be in the air and not have bounced, and be struck by a player standing out of bounds. The ball was in play and a player played it so as long as it didn’t bounce outside the court it can be in the air and playable. That’s a kind of “oops! I shouldn’t have hit that. But I did so it was still in play when I struck it and after I struck it.

  12. My partner hit a serve that appeared to be on the center line. The receivers partner called it out. When we asked the receiver how she saw it she said she “couldn’t tell”. To me that means it should have been called good?

    1. It only takes one person of the team to make any call. Both do not have to make the call. If one did not see it, thus can’t make the call, that happens often. That is ok along as one of the team members says they saw it one way or the other. However, if one calls it one way and the other calls it another way – then doubt is apparent and it is considered in. If there is a lot of him-haw between the partners, then it shows doubt, as well. Doubt always is ruled in favor of the opponents, thus is in.

  13. My question is on an opponent’s serve: what if the ball touches the line but more on the other side of the court, not on the box it’s supposed to land on?

    1. I’d like to know the anwser to Mila Thelen’s question. On the opponent’s serve: what if the ball touches the line but more on the other side of the court, not on the box it’s supposed to land on?

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        If the ball touches the physical paint in the proper service court, the ball is in. This includes the centerline, the baseline, and the sideline. But it does not include the kitchen line.

  14. “A common question I get about line calls in pickleball is about hitting an out ball or not. For example, the ball just bounced out of bounds and you hit it. Is the ball still in play?
    When a ball lands out of bounds, it’s called out. Once the ball is called out, a dead ball is declared and whatever happens after that no longer matters.
    This counts even after the “out” call happened after you hit the ball since the assumption was that indeed the ball was out.”

    This bit of information seems to be contrary to what I read in the IFPA rules. Can you explain why?

    6.D.7. All “let” or “out” calls must be made “instantly”;
    otherwise the ball is presumed good and still in
    play. “Instantly” is defined as calling “let” or
    “out” prior to the ball being hit by the opponent
    or before it has gone out of play.

  15. i have a question. playing against 2 experienced players. and the score was 10 to 9 . and
    they were serving. and they completely changed the balls. different color and different hardness.
    apparently the serving team can choose the balls. this was not a tournament but a pick up game.
    i was unaware of this rule. unfortunately, lol, once i conceeded the balls , i felt like i conceeded the game.

    1. Post

      You can request to change the ball any time you want, but it’s typically best to let the other team know. But I don’t think this is a hard rule.

  16. Nice article Barrett. Thanks.

    I spent an afternoon a few years ago trying to figure out why line calls were so perplexing. Instead of researching and writing an article on it I probably should have just gone to the beach….but here are the headlines……

    Rule 6.C. (Section 6) asks players to repeatedly make a precise judgment, with an imprecise measurement tool, based on a flawed premise.

    1. The psychophysics of eye/brain collaboration cannot support the level of precision described in 6.C. and yet we spend a lot of time wrangling over it.

    2. The perception of a moving object shifts in the direction of motion. “The researchers therefore predicted that there should be a significant perceptual bias, so that balls that bounced on the line would be called “out” when they should have been called “in”. The data obtained confirmed the researchers’ prediction. Of the 83 points in which the referee made an error, 70 of the calls were in the predicted direction: the position of the ball was misperceived to be shifted in the direction of motion, so that the referees judged them to be out of play when in fact they had bounced on the line.”

    3. We may think balls do not deform or skid….but they do.

    That’s the beauty in the rule and your post. If you have to ask….it’s in.

    1. Post

      You wrote an article about this? Did I understand you correctly? Do you mind linking it?

  17. Who calls a ball “double bounced” ? Our opponents said it bounced twice but my partner said she got her paddle under it before the second bounce .

    1. Post

      Hmmmm, that’s a good question. I’ll have to check with my referee friend. Thanks for stopping by!

  18. Today I was practicing umpiring and was asked whether a ball on the baseline was in or out. I couldn’t see for sure as it was too close, but I did see the ball skid after it landed which made me assume the ball must of hit part of the line. Is that an assumption I can make?

    1. Post

      If you’re a referee, you have to be absolutely certain it was out. The ball could have skidded for other reasons, so it’s best to be uncertain which means the call stands.

  19. This is one explanation that seems to address the line calls reasonably well. The one I take issue with is when you’re holding a ‘stationary’ ball that hovers over the line. When that same ball is in motion however, then it’s a matter of perception more than reality. In order to see that point of the ball coming in contact with the court, you’d have to be a bug with compound ???? eyes to actually see it before making that call, lol! For me it’s about perception. If you see court color between the ball and the line, then it’s ‘out’. If you do not in fact see court color between the ball and the line, it’s ‘in’, ‘good’ or whatever other word you’d like to use. Another thing when calling lines. Use hand signals and voice to call it. Oh, and only call the outs, not the ins and the maybes. Lolol!

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  20. Also, no one from the opposing team should call the gall in or out or anyone on the sidelines. It’s up to the receiving team and specially the person closest to the ball!

    1. Post

      That’s correct, however, you can consult with the opponent’s if you want. We do that all the time in advanced private games because we really do need to know if the ball was in or out.

  21. Baseline calls, especially on return of serve, are relatively easy. It’s the side line calls that are more difficult. Who should call those? The player attempting to make the play or the partner who is cross court, and not in a great position to see it?

    1. I hope someone answers your question. I’m a new player and recently had this discussion with my partner. I agree that the person receiving the serve has a better view of the sidelines and should call these shots, especially the center line.

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    2. Post

      Yeah, you’re right, these are tough to call. Basically, it’s going to be whoever has a better view looking down the line. That’s who should call it. If you’re looking at it perpendicularly, then you probably shouldn’t call it. But if your opponent is looking at it more diagonally, then that’s best. Does that make sense?

      1. So are you saying that your opponent who has the better view down the line should make the call? Or only if the receiving team asks for their input? Thanks for previous reply.

        1. Post

          Sorry, I should have clarified. In a tournament match, the opponents can never make a call. However, if you choose to do so, you can consult the opponent for help, but you have to accept the call if you do. Let me know if you have any other questions.

          1. Remember that once you ask your opponents you have established your doubt, which means the ball is in. If you ask their opinion you have to accept it.

          2. Post
          3. Hi – what happens if you play a shot that you definitely see go in, but the opponent calls it out? Are you allowed to question their call, or do you just accept it?

        2. Can I call a shot across my own court if my partner doesn’t see it if I feel I did or is it too far away? I was told I can’t call it but then nobody does?

          1. Post

            It’s fine if you’re absolutely sure. But it’s best to wait for your partner to call it.

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