While pickleball is an easy sport to pick up from the point of view of its rules, most beginners have trouble understanding its scoring. In fact I have known a few pickleball players at the start of their careers, who have opted not to spend their time “wasting” over the scoring because the “scoring is too complicated”.
It was difficult for me too at the start. In fact it took me a one-on-one session with a more experienced player – an opponent – to understand the ins and outs of pickleball scoring. It was a major relief as you would have guessed!
This is also why I think it would make sense for me to jot down my thoughts on the scoring in pickleball, in a hope it would make things easier for you to understand it. This section covers the pickleball scoring guide in depth, including the basics, singles and doubles and everything else connected with it.
Pickleball Scoring Basics
Let’s start with the basics of points and games.
Typically a match of pickleball is played to best of three or best of five games, with each game consisting of 11 points – or 15 or 21 depending on what the players might decide beforehand.
What this means is the first player (in case of singles) or team (in doubles) to 11 points (or to 15 or 21 as pre-decided) wins the game. The unsurprising part is there needs to be a difference of two points in order to win the game, which means at 10-10 a player or a team can only win the game 12-10, or 13-11 or so on.
This is the normal stuff.
Straightforward to understand.
Things, however, get slightly more complex from here on.
Seat-belts on? We will make the landing as smooth as possible for you!
Points on Serve Only
If you are a follower of squash, the scoring rules there was a time when only the serving player could win a point. If the serving player didn’t win the rally, the service would move to the opponent without a change in the score. Things changed after that and now the winner of the rally wins the point irrespective of the server.
Pickleball’s scoring follows the previous squash rules. Scoring of points happens only if the serving player wins the rally (either by serving an ace, or producing a winner or because of the opponent’s fault).
If a rally is lost on serve, the service changes hands. While it works differently in singles and doubles, that’s how the basics work for scoring.
What is a Side-Out in Pickleball?
Side-out is a term used to describe the change of serves in singles and doubles pickleball. This happens when the singles player and both players representing a team in doubles lose their respective service rallies after which the service changes hands and lies with the opponent.
How Doubles Serving Works
Before we get down to the scoring in doubles, it’s important to understand how the serving works.
Serving starts from the right side of the court in doubles, or the even side as it’s called. To emphasize on this point, the player on the right ALWAYS starts off serving.
Both players in both doubles teams are allowed to serve, one after the other. The first player from the first team, on the right, keeps serving till he/she loses the rally before the second player from the same team gets to serve.
A player serving keeps rotating the side from where he/she is serving with each serve.
After both players in a team have lost rallies on their serve, a side-out occurs and the opposite team gets the chance to serve.
The only exception to this rule is when the game is just starting out, for the first serve in the game, in which case only one player from the team serving gets the chance. Once the serving team loses the rally, the serve passes to the opposite team from when both players from both teams are allowed to serve.
Having understood how the doubles serving works, we now move to the scoring.
In most other racket sports, the score of the player and opponent are read out in succession; i.e. score of player 1 followed by score of player 2. In pickleball, things work differently.
Scores in pickleball have three different numbers associated with them; the score of the server, followed by the score of the receiver/non-server and then a third number, which is associated with which of the two players of the doubles team is serving.
So, that third number is either 1 or 2, implying which of the two players is serving.
Let’s take an example.
Team 1 consisting of A and B is playing Team 2 with X and Y. The score is 6-3 in favour of team 1 with the player A on the right side court about to serve. It will be read out as 6-3-1, where 6 represents the score of the serving team, 3 represents the score of the receiving team and 1 is the player serving at the moment.
When this player A loses a rally, the service moves to player B and he/she will read out the score as 6-3-2. The 2 here represents the fact the second player from the team is now serving.
This works slightly differently at the start of the game though. As mentioned earlier, only one player from the team is allowed a serve, which means the service changes hands from Team 1 to Team 2 after player A loses a rally.
In this case, the serving player will read out the score as 0-0-2 (as opposed to 0-0-1), to signify that the loss of a rally will turn over the serving. In some competitions, the score at the start of a doubles matches is also called out at 0-0-start.
Let’s take a real-life example from the start of a match.
Same teams and players. Team 1 with players A and B. Team 2 with players X and Y.
Team 1 starts off with player A serving. Here’s how the match will progress and the scoreline called out by the player serving in bold.
- 0-0-2, Player A serving, Team 1 wins 1st rally
- 1-0-2, Player A serving, Team 1 wins 2nd rally
- 2-0-2, Player A serving, Team 2 wins 3rd rally. Sideout Occurs.
- 0-2-1, Player X serving, Team 2 wins 4th rally
- 1-2-1, Player X serving, Team 1 wins 5th rally
- 1-2-1, Player Y serving, Team 2 wins 6th rally
- 2-2-2, Player Y serving, Team 2 wins 7th rally
- 3-2-2, Player Y serving, Team 1 wins 8th rally. Sideout Occurs.
- 2-3-1, Player B serving, Team 1 wins 9th rally
- 3-3-1, Player B serving, Team 1 wins 10th rally
- 4-3-1, Player B serving, Team 2 wins 11th rally
- 4-3-2, Player A serving, Team 1 wins 12th rally
- 5-3-2, Player A serving, Team 2 wins 13th rally. Sideout Occurs.
- 3-5-1, Player Y serving…and so on.
Check this excellent video by CJ Johnson over at Better Pickleball which goes in-depth with the scoring in pickleball.
Most of the pickleball rules associated with doubles scoring are the same in singles scoring too. These include:
- Matches are played to best of three or best of five games
- Each game is played to 11 (or 15 or 21 points) with a difference of at least two points.
- Players can score points only on their own serve, and if they lose a rally on serve, the serve is passed on to the opponent without a loss of point.
Differences between Singles & Doubles Scoring in Pickleball
The biggest difference between singles and doubles scoring is it needs just two numbers to denote it. Which means unlike in doubles where a score consists of three numbers, say, 5-3-2, singles scoring needs just the first two of those three numbers, i.e. 5-3.
This is simple to explain.
In doubles there are two players serving in both teams, so the third number in that score denotes who will serve from among the two. In case of singles that’s not the case, which makes the third number redundant.
The other difference is the side of the court from where a player can serve depends on their score. If the player’s score is even, he/she will need to serve from the right side of the court or the even side, while an odd score makes it necessary for the player to score from the left or the odd side of the court.
Who Calls the Score in Pickleball?
If it’s a competitive tournament, score calling is best left to the match referee or the umpire. The server must wait till before the score is called out and only then start the game.
In non-competitive, recreational matches, typically it’s called out by the server before he/she starts service. It can also be called out by a designated score-keeper, either one of the four players or from someone else on court.
Final Words on Pickleball Scoring
It’s not easy to maintain scores in pickleball but once you get a hang of it things do become simpler. It, however, is definitely a bigger challenge to do the same during the pressure of a match. Get your hands dirty announcing scores during practice, we suggest umpire a few pickleball matches too to get into a habit and very soon it could well be a child’s play.