Learning to play pickleball may not be hard but keeping track of the score is definitely challenging. Lots of players, especially beginners, have a tough time wrapping their heads around the pickleball scoring system. As an experienced player, giving away silly points can be frustrating at times and can often result in misunderstanding. ‘You got it wrong. It’s not pickleball’, is the term that’s thrown around a lot on the court.
Fun fact, even the controversial ‘Non-Volley Zone’ and the ‘Kitchen rule’ is easier to understand than the basic pickleball scoring system. Rally scoring and the entire scoring method can be confusing for beginners and thus today, we’ll be simplifying the pickleball scoring system so you never lose track again.
Basics of Scoring in Pickleball
Each game of pickleball requires the winning team or a player to score 11 points with a margin of 2 points. This implies that if the game is tied up at 10-10, the winner of the next point wouldn’t win the content. They’ll be required to score two points to win the contest. While a regular pickleball game has 11 points bar, some professional tournaments even set it to 15 or 21 points. Even then, the point margin should be equal to or greater than 2 points.
Side out Scoring System
In pickleball, points are won based on the side out scoring and not rally scoring. If you’re wondering what the difference between both these points is – it’s simple. Side out scoring implies that you ought to be serving to win the point. Basically, winning the rally alone won’t help you win the point unless you or your team were serving. On the contrary, rally scoring can be seen in a sport such as tennis, wherein regardless of which player/team serves, the one who wins the rally wins the point. Now, while many players would have a tough time digesting this scoring system, volleyball enthusiasts prior to 1999 would be quite familiar with this system.
What is Side out?
In pickleball, only the serving team can win a point. So, if a serving team scores an ace, wins a rally or gets the opponent to commit a fault, they win the point. However, if the serving team loses the rally, they don’t lose a point. It’s just the server that loses his/her chance to serve. If the second server commits the same error and his/her team loses a point, that will result in a side out.
Doubles Pickleball Scoring System
Image Credit: Anthony Thomas
Serving Rules – Impact on Points
In pickleball, both members of a team get to serve. Based on USAPA’s guidelines, the player who stands on the right gets to serve first when the game begins. However, it doesn’t mean that you’ll be serving from the right side of the court every time. After every point, the players are required to switch their positions. So, if you served and your team won a point, you’ll serve again but this time, from the left and not from the right side of the court.
How does scoring work in Doubles Pickleball?
Understanding scoring in Doubles Pickleball can be tumultuous for a beginner. Since it doesn’t work follow the rally scoring format, things tend to get a little complicated. I’m sure that the sections above gave you a fair idea about how scoring works. But we’re going to simplify it even further. And we’ll do so with an example. Consider two teams Team Alpha and Team Beta.
Team Alpha has two players – AA and BB.
Team Beta has two players – CC and DD.
Now imagine the following scenario:
The first serving opportunity is granted to Team Beta. Since their player CC is on the right side of the court, he gets to serve first. Team Beta after a short exchange, wins the rally and thus the team, as well as the player (CC), gets to serve again. When CC serves the second time, he over hits the shot and it leads to a fault. However, at this moment, his team (Beta) doesn’t lose a point, it’s just CC who loses his chance to serve. Now, the same team (Beta) will serve again but it’s going to be DD who’ll be serving this time.
In pickleball, the serving team can very well serve all the way to the victory if they keep winning the points. However, once a team loses two points, the other team gets to serve. The best part about this is everyone gets to participate and have an equal opportunity to shine.
Calling the Score
Now that you’re well-versed with serving and scoring in pickleball, let’s get to the numbers. These might come off as confusing at first but trust me, you’ll grasp it in no time. Calling the score in pickleball is slightly different as compared to other racquetball sports – No surprise. And the funny part is that more debates on pickleball court happen in relation to score calling than actual line calls. Below is an example of what a pickleball score can look like:
What? Three numbers? Does it even make sense? These three questions are enough to set you in the head-scratching mode. But don’t worry, it isn’t as complicated as it may seem. The first number i.e. 6 represents the score of the team that is serving. In pickleball, the score of the team that serves appears first. Thus, 6-3-2. In case if the other team would be serving, it’d be 3-6-2 instead of 6-3-2. Understood? To frame it in a single sentence.
- The points of the serving team appears before the returning team
Okay Julian, what about the ‘2’? Well, the third number would either be ‘1’ or ‘2’. The number ‘1’ suggests that the first member of a particular team is serving. The number ‘2’ suggests that the second member of a particular team is serving. Let’s understand this with the help of the same example we used above.
Beta – 6 points
Alpha – 3 points
Beta is leading the match with 6 points and Alpha just has 3 points. Server 1 (CC) from Team Beta has lost his chance to serve and now Server 2 (DD) is serving. Is that clear?
If (DD) manages to hit an ace, the score will then be 7-3-2. However, If he commits an error or his team loses the rally, it’ll result in a side out. Therefore, the score will then become 3-7-1 and it’ll be Team Alpha’s chance to serve. Now, either (AA) or (BB) from team Alpha will get to serve based upon whose standing on the right side of the court.
Singles Scoring System in Pickleball
Scoring in Singles competition is not as complex as the doubles’ competition. It’s fairly straightforward. In a singles’ competition, the player serves from the right side of the court if their score is even i.e. 0, 2. 4. 6, 8, 10. On the contrary, if their score is 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11*, they are required to serve from the left side of the court. The receiving player is required to line up in the diagonal angle to the server. The score calling just has a sequence of two numbers with the number of the server appearing before the receiver.
Image Credit: James Hackenberg
Difference Between Singles and Doubles Scoring System
In singles competition, there are just two numbers as there’s just a single server on each side of the court. In doubles competition, there are three numbers as each member of the serving team has to serve before a side out.
In singles competition, the server has to serve from the left if his score is an odd number and from the right, if his/her score is an even number. In doubles competition, the first server has to serve from the right-hand side of the court. However, if he/she wins a point from an ace or a rally, he’ll need to switch positions and serve from the left side of the court. On the contrary, players on the receiving teams do not switch positions.
I hope that you’re no longer confused with serving and points calling in pickleball. If you still need a little clarification, you can watch this YouTube video below and I’m sure it’ll clear all your doubts.
Initially, it’ll be difficult to keep track of the points or remember it accurately especially if you’re playing in a doubles’ competition. However, as time progresses, you’ll get a hang of it and it’ll become natural almost like an instinctive element.
Before wrapping up this guide, you must know that it’s every server’s responsibility to call the point. In addition to that, I’d also like to share with you some information about line-calling. All the players on the court whether in a single or a doubles’ competition are responsible for ethical line calling. This means that if the opposing team is serving and their shot is within the court, you don’t challenge it. Similarly, if the opposing team suggests that the shot was out, you get on with the game. That’s just the spirit of this game and let’s try to keep that intact.
That’s it for this guide. I hope you’re clear about the pickleball scoring system. Though there is more to this game than just scoring and line-calling, it’s important that we get the basics right. If you have any query, please feel free to add them in the comment section below.