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Can You Put a Spin on a Pickleball Serve? If So, How?

Woman pickleball player playing in the court.

When pickleball first began in the 1960s, the rules forbade putting spin on a pickleball serve. The rules made service as straightforward as possible to ensure the game remained accessible to all. Today, you can legally put a spin on a pickleball serve.

Many rules received updates and by 2022, the sport’s governing body allows top spin, backspin, and side spin. We’ve gone from one method of serving to many with the rule that the server must use an underhand approach intact.

International rules don’t allow the ball to bounce during serving, so to spin a serve, you need to toss the ball into the air and hit it with force. The US rules do allow a pickleball to bounce during the serve, which makes it easier to spin a serve, whether you want to topspin, backspin, or side spin it.

About Serving in Pickleball

Although the underhand motion remains, you can choose whether to serve the ball with a backhand or front hand motion. You don’t have to toss the ball into the air and immediately hit it. You can let it bounce on the ground.

How many times it can bounce depends on the elapsed time during the 10-second time frame beginning when the server calls the full score. Allowing the ball to bounce also makes it easier to put spin on it, especially the sidespin. When using a backhand serve, bouncing the ball makes it simpler to hit a topspin backhand or backhand slice.

CUTLINE: Watch this video from pro pickleball player Shea Underwood to learn hand coordination essentials to help you serve the ball with spin.

What It Means to Spin the Ball?

Two young people playing the game on a pickleball court.

Spin occurs when you serve the pickleball and it rotates while traveling toward your opponent. Once you master the straightforward serve, you might learn the three common types of ball spinning serves.

  • Topspin: the ball rotates forward while traveling forward towards the opponent making it drop faster.
  • Back Spin or Underspin: the ball rotates backward while traveling toward the opponent.
  • Side Spin: the ball rotates on a vertical axis while traveling toward the opponent.

Hitting each of these requires a different approach.

Pickleball Master Course by Steve Dawson ($199)

CUTLINE: Jordan of PrimeTime Pickleball uses ball drills to teach beginners how to topspin or backspin the pickleball.

Applying Topspin

In pickleball, to hit a topspin serve, move the racquet up while stroking the ball and hit the ball harder than typical. This spins it forward, makes it travel higher, and reduces the amount of time it spends in the air. When done correctly, you’ll see your ball arc higher, then dive down.

Applying Backspin

Women playing pickleball outdoors during day.

Hitting a backspin serve means striking the ball with a high to low strike from the racquet. The backspin often cuts or slices. When it bounces on the other side of the net, it may cut right or left.

Apply Side Spin

To apply a side spin in pickleball, move the paddle to one side when striking the ball. This causes the ball to curve sideways, then drop with gravity. During its drop, it may also undergo a backspin or topspin.

Learning to Spin the Ball

Typically, you learn spin serves after perfecting your basic serve, then adding power and accuracy to your serve. Using pickleball serving drills, you can teach yourself. The fourth drill you master teaches spinning the pickleball.

CUTLINE: Coach Simone Jardim teaches the forehand topspin in this instructional video that uses three volunteers from her beginner’s pickleball camp.

The Upshot

You can spin the ball in pickleball. US rules allow it and so do international rules. Here’s the hitch though – international rules still don’t allow the ball to bounce during the serve, so you must learn to spin the serve while it remains in the air.

Perfecting your basic serve first provides you with the proper foundation for developing your spin serves. Choose one spin serve to perfect and use the drills provided to practice these serves one spin at a time.

You’ve probably experienced how tough returning these serves can become when you’ve had one coming at you. Even those new to the sport can learn to spin serve though.