Para Pickleball: Can you play wheelchair pickleball? How do you play?

What is para pickleball or adaptive pickleball?

There are a ton of sports options for those who are in a wheelchair: tennis, basketball, curling, volleyball, rugby, and many others, — you can see all of the wheelchair sports in the Paralympics at the IPC site.

Pickleball is no different and has a growing community of wheelchair pickleball players around the world. As with most adaptive sports, players use special equipment and modified rules in order to accommodate their play.  

Quebec, Canada has a significant para pickleball scene, they helped develop the rules that are the basis for the official USAPA wheelchair pickleball rules. 

Can you play pickleball in a wheelchair?

Yes! In fact, it’s a great option for veterans and wounded warriors who are looking for a sport to get into. The barrier to entry is low — when compared to wheelchair tennis you have much smaller ground to cover.

You can also play with standing players – and you can have as many or as few standing and wheelchair players as you want. You can play wheelchair pickleball in singles or doubles. You play in a doubles game with a mix of able-bodied and wheelchair players. Check out an example of how to approach the serve here:

For safety and maneuverability, you should really get a sport wheelchair that will ensure you don’t tip forward or back and allows for quicker turns and movement around the court.

How do you play pickleball in a wheelchair? What is the gameplay like?

This is an excellent video covering a point in a para pickleball game during the 2019 US Open

Unlike for a standing player, you will likely need to switch the paddle from hand to hand throughout game play. 

As noted by para pickleball player Scott Brehaut after falling out of his chair chasing a ball he secured his feet to the chair using a bungee cord. To avoid that type of issue, and to adapt to the game there are parasport wheelchairs available that will give you an edge over other players who are in traditional wheelchairs.  

When serving he recommends turning the chair at a 45 degree angle towards the hand that’s serving in order to allow for an underhand serve. The serving team should both be at the baseline when serving due to the 2 bounce rule.

How to move with the paddle:

What are the rules for wheelchair pickleball?

One difference: in a game played with only standing players, you must hit the ball after one bounce, but in para pickleball, you are allowed 2 bounces before hitting the ball. The first bounce, of course, has to be in-bounds, but the second bounce can be anywhere inside or outside the court. 

The player’s wheels are not allowed in the kitchen area when hitting the ball. This means that the main rear wheels of the chair cannot enter the no volley zone. The front castor wheels on the chair ARE allowed to enter the kitchen.

If after hitting the larger rear wheels are in the NVZ, the player must get their wheels out of the kitchen before hitting the ball again or it’s a fault. 

As mentioned you are also allowed to play with any mix of standing and para-athletes, but the rules apply to each player individually — standing player rules to standing players and wheelchair rules to those in a chair. 

If it is a singles game with two wheelchair athletes, they have to play on half-court, keeping only to their serving side and service side. 

When serving you have to start at a stationary position and you can push one time before striking the ball. And during the serve, no wheels may be touching any of the lines of the court.