Can Pickleball Be Played with Three Players?

What is the No-Man's Land in Pickleball?

A question often heard in pickleball circles is whether three or five or an odd number of players can play the sport of pickleball. In the passage below we look at all the possibilities on how such a possibility can be worked out.

The game of pickleball is most often played with two players, in singles and four players in doubles. While doubles play in pickleball is supremely popular, singles tournaments are played as regularly.

Then there is the tricky situation of what to do with when there are three of you. In tennis, this is known as American singles, and while it is not a competitive or professional form of the game, it is a recognized method of playing. In pickleball, there is a three player variation too.

Rules of Three-Player Pickleball

If you are playing pickleball for fun, and you have an uneven number of players, say three, you can follow the rules as loosely as you would like. If you are more serious though, try and follow these rules:

  • Two players are on one side of the court, with one player on the other side.
  • Each player will take turns to serve.
  • The server gets two service points at a time. (Usually it is one)
  • The server will serve from the right hand service line when the score is even.
  • The server will serve from the left hand service line with the score is odd.
  • Each player gets scored, or not scored, per point.
  • The server must call out the score prior to serving, first to the opposing player on the left hand side, and then to the opposing player on the right hand side.

The other option in a three-player pickleball game is to include the following rule:

The team returning the ball to the solo player, must return the ball to the half of the pickleball court from which the server has served. This makes it a lot easier for the server to get to the returning ball, without a partner.

Including the above rule is only needed if you think it is necessary.

If the three players are all of equal standard and extremely fit and athletic, i.e. quick on their feet, it may not be a necessary inclusion.

But if speed or agility is an issue, this is a good rule to include. It also gives the solo player the opportunity to use all of his or her pickleball shots, including dinking and lobbing, rather than just reaching for the ball and playing forehands, backhands or volleys.

Also Read:

What If You Have More Than Four Pickleball Players?

Again, when you are playing competitive or professional pickleball, it is either going to be a singles or a doubles game, and most likely, doubles. But if you are playing for fun, and you have MORE than four players, you have a choice.

Four players play at the same time while the others drink tea and eat scones! You all get on the pickleball court and have a load of pickleball fun.

Jokes aside, the twelve-player game that you are going to see below was in fact developed by USA Pickleball, and it has since been picked up by a lot of pickleball clubs and players.

It’s a lot of fun and everyone gets to have a chance and you have all twelve players on the pickleball court at the same time. It’s also a fabulous way to play the game for a fun event, a charity event, a fundraiser, or the beginning or ending of a pickleball tournament.

(please note, if you are reading this during the time of the pandemic, the advisory is to play only singles)

12-Player Pickleball Rules & Passage of Play

  • You are going to divide your 12 players into two teams of six. This can be done by two team captains, or it can be decided upon in order of strength and capability. Either way, you are going to have two teams of six players each. Then…
  • The teams will give themselves names. For the sake of this article, we will say A and B. Each team will have a captain.
  • It is the captain who will make the substitutions.
  • The captain of the first team, Team A, will choose the players who are going to serve.
  • The captain of the second team, Team B, will choose the players who are going to receive the serve.
  • Team A will start serving and they will continue to do until the returning team is able to win two rallies on the opponent’s serve.
  • When there is side out, new players are substituted on to the court, two offensive and two defensive.
  • Everyone needs to be quick, getting on and off the court; there is no time to waste between serves.
  • Substitutions are rapid, which is what makes the game so much fun.
  • If a player has won two points, he needs to be substituted, quickly!
  • The score must be kept by both team captains.
  • The team that earns 11 points first, wins.

Scoring is interesting in a 12-player pickleball game.

It is not just the fact that there are so many people playing pickleball that makes this 12 player game so much fun, and it not just the very speedy substitutions that make this game so wonderful, it is the way it is scored.

Only two winning points are allowed per offensive player. Once a player has his points, he has to be substituted, rapidly! This means that all team players need to do their best to earn points for their team.

If your mind is boggling at the thought of 12-player pickleball, don’t worry! It’s all about fun, movement, energy and excitement.

It’s probably bit of a rowdy game where everyone shouts and cheers, the wrong people run on the court, then off the court, the game is so speedy that it can be hard for anyone to keep up. And it’s all good.

At some point, you are all going to dissolve in heaps of laughter.

The game, which was first played in the Dominican Republic at the Pebble Creek AZ Club, has quickly caught on. As fun! But it’s not just fun, because this is a great way to practice and improve your pickle balls skills, including your speed, agility and your shots.

Also Read:

You Can Play Pickleball Alone Too

If you want to get better at pickleball, you need to practice and it’s perfectly fine and achievable to do that on one’s own. Here’s our exhaustive guide on how pickleball can be practiced alone.

As we mentioned above, you can easily play pickleball with three players, and you can play and practice a standard doubles pickleball game. But it doesn’t really matter how many people you are playing with, if you just want good, solid practice. Playing with six people and making up the rules as you go ahead is great, and if you are like the Pebble Creek AZ Club, you can play with twelve!

Practicing pickleball is about having fun, and its also about drills. The more drills you do, the better you are going to become.

Drills help you to warm up before a game, they definitely improve your game, and they’re good for your overall agility and stability. The more you play pickleball, the more you will find your own drills, but to get a good idea, here is some great information from The Pickle Kitchen.

For some of the drills, you do need one other person to drill with.

Drills may come naturally to you; the more you play the more you will get an idea of which shots you need to or want to work on. Follow a few videos for drills, or get some coaching. Pickleball coaches know all the drills and will get you playing good pickleball in no time.

In the meantime, if you have more than four people who want to play Pickleball, go for it. As long as the club allows it, you can make up the rules as you go along. And if you are playing seriously, follow the general American USA Pickleball rules.

Stan Boone

I am the editor of Racket Sports World. I love my tennis, pickleball and most of the other racket sports played around the world and started this blog as my way to help other racquet sports fans even as I learn, explore and improve by connecting with them. Tweet at

Recent Posts