What Is A Let In Pickleball? The Rule Changed. Find out why.

Every year, pickleball grows in popularity due to its fun, fast-paced nature and accessibility to virtually anyone!  There are quite a few rules in pickleball, that you will have to learn as you progress. One of these rules is what’s called a “let”.

If a serve hits the net but still lands properly outside the no-volley zone before it is called a let in pickleball, it is considered a let. To maintain the integrity of pickleball, the “let rule” was completely removed in 2021. Pickleball has never had a let rule in its history.

In 2021, when a serve lands beyond the no-volley zone line but hits the net, it will be played off the net as a live ball and not stop the play.  The team serving loses a serve if the serve hits the net but does not make it over or beyond the kitchen line.

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In general, pickleball rules are fairly straightforward, but there are some that are a bit confusing. Here’s all you need to know about the let. Throughout this article, you will learn all there is to know about lets, as well as an important update to this rule.

The 5 most common rules of pickleball can be found here.

Let Serve In Pickleball – An Overview

What Is A Let In PickleballIn pickleball, you’re only allowed to serve once most of the time. A let serve, on the other hand, is an exception to this rule. You’re not charged for letting, even though it’s not a legal service!

Pickleball lets are considered to serve that:

  • Hit the net
  • Go over the net
  • Bounce in the appropriate area of the opponent’s court (outside the no volley zone)

The serve can simply be replayed when a let occurs. The number of lets in a pickleball game isn’t limited, but they are often flukes, so you shouldn’t expect too many in a game.

Click here to learn how faults differ from lets.

Why Is It Called a Let Serve? What Is The Origin Of The Term?

What Is A Let In PickleballThe origin of the term “let” remains a mystery, although there are some theories. Unsupported by evidence, one popular theory is that it means “let’s try that again” or “letting” your opponent serve again.

Although this may be the case, there are three other theories worth considering. 

In addition to pickleball, tennis, badminton, and table tennis share several components with each of these sports. Pickleball’s term “let” is probably derived directly from tennis, so that’s one of the most likely theories.

One theory, however, suggests that it is derived from the French word “filet,” which means “net.” Many believe that tennis players in the United Kingdom adopted this French word, eventually shortening it to “let.”

The final theory holds that Old Saxon, an ancient Germanic language, was the source of the word. “Lettian” translates more specifically into English as “to hinder”.

The rule of let serves is now completely different in pickleball than in tennis, regardless of the theory behind it. 

It’s fun to theorize what these sports creators were thinking when they developed this term, even if we will never know exactly where it originated. 

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Pickleball Terms Like “Let”

What Is A Let In PickleballIn order for a serve to be let, it must meet certain criteria. It is also worthwhile to mention another related term: “service faults.”

The term service fault in pickleball refers to any action during serving that violates the rules and causes the game to be stopped.  A fault of any kind, including service faults, results in the team that committed it losing service. 

Here are some ways a player might receive a service fault, but note that they do not necessarily mean the player should let serve:

  • The ball will land outside the service area if it hits the net
  • Upon hitting the net and not going over, the ball lands on the server’s side of the court

Here is a list of common service faults, but it is not comprehensive. It is easy to mistake these examples as service errors.

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New Changes To The Let Rule

The governing body of any sport decides how different aspects of it should be played. Among other things, USA Pickleball — the organization that regulates pickleball in America — has made a recent rule change affecting the “let.” 

The USA Pickleball Association removed all rules regarding let serves from the rule books in January 2021. Long-time players of the game will be upset by this decision, but we don’t have any say in the matter, since it has already been made.

The USA Pickleball Director of Officiating issues a statement explaining the new rule, or lack thereof, which could result in automatic faults for players and/or teams if play is stopped due to a let call, regardless of whether it is accidental or not. 

There is no leeway on whether a player receives a fault if they call a play inadvertently or out of habit. That is the decision of the governing body. 

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Why Did the USA Rules Committee Change the Rule?

Considering the fact that lets are such an integral part of pickleball and racquet sports in general, you might be wondering why they made such a substantial rule change.

USA Pickleball revealed three main considerations for any rule change (in general). I am unable to speak directly about the rule overhaul at hand. When making any pickleball rule changes, the Rules Committee prioritizes the following: 

  • Maintaining the integrity of pickleball
  • Rules should be changed to improve the experience of players or make the game easier to learn.
  • Officials’ best interest (minimize conflict between players and referees)

All of these priorities were taken into consideration when the USA Pickleball committee decided to eliminate lets from the rulebook. Further, they explained how each of these priorities was taken into account when making their decision.

Both players and officials acknowledged that it is ambiguous to make a let call. 

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Pickleball’s Integrity: Preserving It

What Is A Let In PickleballWhen making decisions, the Rules Committee’s first priority is to maintain the integrity of the game.

It explained that the let rule could be abused for cheating, whether unintentional or intentional. Nothing can ruin a well-loved sport’s integrity and fun more than cheating. 

When let calls are made, they can compromise the integrity of the game in one specific way.  Let’s walk through this.

Imagine you’ve devoted your time and energy to training for a national tournament. Your game is close to being advanced enough that referees are required, but you are not quite there yet.

Your opponent calls a let serve as soon as you serve the ball perfectly. 

It wasn’t a let, even though you know that. There’s nothing you can do about it. Perhaps your opponent thought that it was a let, but he or she was making the call to interfere with your game.

This hypothetical scenario would be completely avoided by eliminating the let altogether, thereby maintaining the integrity of the game. 

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Is it best for the players?

According to the Rules Committee, this rule could lead to conflicts between players based on players’ experience. Arguments with opponents over the ball’s location or whether it struck the net ruin a player’s experience. 

This scenario, when applied to the above example, begs for conflict between players, which could lead to game ruination for all.

Players have a second priority to the Rules Committee, and allowing conflict here is definitely not in their best interests. 

Is it best for the Officials?

As part of its analysis of the let serve, the Rules Committee also looked at the experience of the officials or referees. It is not uncommon for players and officials to argue.

When a referee fails to detect a let serve, it causes issues and compromises the integrity of the game. 

Referees are too inconsistent overall.  Because lets were removed from the game, this inconsistency was completely eliminated. 

What Is A Let In Pickleball – Final Thoughts

What Is A Let In PickleballYou won’t have to follow the let serve rule if you’re playing pickleball in 2021. New players may not notice much difference in their pickleball experience due to the change in the let rule. 

It is important to understand the let serve and the reasoning behind the change, regardless of your opinion of the rule change.

This information applies to both tennis and table tennis as well, so it is still very important. 

We’d love to hear what you think about the new rule around serving and letting.  Has it improved the game?  Has the new rule been explained during a match?

Please tell us what you think in the comments below. It will help us to improve our pickleball community.

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