For newcomers, pickleball scoring can seem a bit confusing at first glance. In fact, some people say that the hardest thing about the game is keeping the score. But don’t worry! It’s actually quite easy to learn, and once you get the hang of it, it will become second nature. Keep reading as we delve into the basics and nuances of pickleball scoring, so you can get comfortable on the court and focus on enjoying the game.
7 basic rules of pickleball scoring
- Only the serving team can score a point
- Games go to eleven, winning by two
- The serve always starts on the right side of the court facing the net
- The server calls the score before each serve
- In doubles, each team has a first server and a second server
- After winning a point, the serving team partners switch sides and the same server continues to serve until losing a rally
- Once there have been two rallies lost by the serving team, there is a side out
What are the 3 numbers in pickleball scoring?
First off, let’s explain what the three numbers mean in a pickleball score. In a doubles match, three numbers are called out before a serve is made. The first number is your own score, the second number is your opponent’s score and the third number is the server number.
For example, “6-3-2” would mean the serving team has 6 points, the receiving team has 3 points, and the person serving is the second server on their team.
Understanding server number
This is perhaps the most confusing part of keeping score for those who are new to pickleball doubles games. Unlike tennis, in which you get two tries to get the serve in, pickleball only allows one opportunity per server.
Once the first server has served and either faulted or lost the rally, then the second server will have an opportunity to serve and possibly win a point for the serving team.
When both servers have had their opportunities and both services ended with a lost rally or fault, then there is a “side out” to the other team. This means that the other team can now serve.
The first server exception
There is one exception to pickleball’s two server system that you need to know. When starting the game, the team to serve first only gets one server, the player on the right.
This server is called server two. Therefore, the pickleball game will always start at “0-0-2.”
For that reason, you might also hear the score called as, “zero, zero, start.” Once the solitary server has lost the rally, the serve immediately sides out to the other team. When that happens, the third number resets to one. So if no points are scored by the starting team, the score would be 0-0-1 for their opponents’ first serve.
The purpose of this isn’t just to make things confusing. By starting with the second server, the game ensures that both teams have an equal opportunity to serve and score during the first rotation. This is important because serving is generally considered an advantage in pickleball, as the serving team has the first opportunity to attack and control the point.
Player positioning after side outs
Following all side outs, the first server is the player standing to the right facing the net. This player will be server 1. Their partner will be server 2, regardless of which side they end up standing on. Each side out, will follow with the serving player on the right being server 1 and the player to their left eventually being server 2.
How many points to win the game
When one team reaches the score of eleven, the game ends, unless they haven’t won by two points. In that case, the game continues until one team is two points ahead of the other. So, pickleball scores can go much higher than 11 depending on how the final points play out.
Upon ending the game, both teams usually approach the net and tap paddles in a friendly gesture of sportsmanship. A few words of commendation or a quick, “good game” is appropriate.
Scoring an example game
Let’s take a look at how the scoring would work in an imaginary game between you and your partner Jane vs Rick and Emma.
- Initial Serve: You are the first to serve for your team, making you Server 2. You take your position on the right-hand side of the court and call out “0-0-2,” making it clear that both teams are starting with zero points and that you are the second server for your team.
- First Rally Outcome:
- If your team wins the rally: Your team gets a point, bringing the score to “1-0-2.” You and Jane switch positions on the court, and you serve again, but now from the left side. Your opponents don’t switch sides.
- If your team loses the rally: The right to serve passes over to your opponents and the score remains unchanged, with the server number resetting to 1.
- Your opponents’ first serving turn: Rick is now up to serve since he’s on the right side of the court. If your team didn’t score a point previously, Rick would announce the score as “0-0-1” to indicate that he is the first server. If his team also doesn’t win a point, Emma would then get a chance to serve, announcing “0-0-2.”
- Your Team’s Second Serving Turn: Suppose Rick and Emma have managed to score a point. When it’s your team’s turn to serve again, Jane, who is still on the right side, takes the serve again and announces “0-1-1.”
- If she wins: The score advances to “1-1-1,” and you and Jane switch sides again and your opponents stay in place.
- If she loses: You will stay on your side, and then serve, announcing “1-1-2.”
- Approaching the Game’s End:
- As either team approaches 11 points, the need for a 2-point lead to win becomes increasingly important. For example, if the score reaches “10-10-2” and you are serving, two more points are still needed for a win.
- The game only concludes when one team secures at least 11 points along with a minimum 2-point lead. So, if your team achieves a score of “11-9,” you and Jane would be the winners.
Singles pickleball scoring
Pickleball singles scoring doesn’t have the complexity of the first and second servers. Once it has been determined who serves first, either by court tradition or flip of a coin, then that server will continue to serve until a fault or rally is lost. There is then a side out to the other player.
Just two numbers to remember
In singles, the score is simply, “your score, your opponent’s score.” So for example, the game starts with, “zero, zero”. Then upon the server winning the rally, the score changes to, “one, zero”.
Since there are no server numbers in singles, the game simply starts with both players having a zero score.
Singles Serving Positions
In Singles, the game will start with the server standing to the right of the center mark (facing the net), behind the baseline, within the width of the court. Upon winning the rally, the server will then serve the second point of the game from the mirror position to the left of the center mark facing the net.
The same server will continue to switch sides, left and right, until the server loses a rally or faults. Then, the serve sides out to the player on the other side.
After the start of the game, the serving position in singles pickleball is determined by the score. If the server has an even number score, they will serve from the right hand side of the court. If their score is an odd number, then they will serve from the left hand side of the court, regardless of their opponent’s score.
Tricks to remembering the score/positioning in doubles
There is a trick to remembering the correct score and correct player positioning in doubles. In tournament play, the player that starts on the right will wear a bracelet. This bracelet indicates that they started on the right and helps to ensure that the players are in their proper position.
In recreational play, it’s a good idea to take note of which player is starting on the right. If the serving team has an even number score, then the player with the bracelet, who initially started on the right, should be on the right. Players only switch left/right positions upon winning a point.
Uncertain Line Calls and Scoring
In unrefereed tournament play and recreational play, when a ball is hit “out” it is the team that is on that side that makes the determination. The other team does not get to provide input on the decision. However, if the two players on that doubles team cannot agree on the call, then the ball is determined to be in.
To be called out, a player should be able to see a gap between the line and the ball, exposing the color of the outside of the court area. A ball that bounces on any part of the line is considered in.
Having said all this, line calling is very subjective. What may appear “out” from one angle can appear completely “in” from another angle. So, in recreational play do your best to call lines accurately but know that there may be other opinions out there.
If the other team insists that your call is wrong, then perhaps you will allow a re-do on that point.
It’s better to preserve your relationship with the other players than win that one rally. In tournament play final matches there is often a referee that you can appeal a line call to. Usually, their answer will be to support the call already made if they didn’t see it clearly “in” our “out”.
Tournament scoring considerations
In a tournament, after each game played, there is a score card that gets filled out. Usually the doubles teams are printed in one direction on the top and in the other direction on the bottom. (insert graphic)
Also the score card will indicate how many games will be played, to what score, and whether the teams switch sides.
In a quick round robin format, teams within a bracket will all play each other. To speed things up, tournament organizers may select for the match to be one game to 15. In this case, there is usually a switch of sides at 8.
If the game format is best 2 out of 3 games, then the teams will switch sides after the first game. If the match results in a 3rd tie breaker game, the teams will switch sides after the second game and then switch sides again as soon as one team reaches a score of 6 in the third game.
At the end of the match, usually a player from the winning team will fill out the score card by circling the numbers that indicate the score of each game. Then writing out the scores of each game below. Then circling their own names as the winners.
Lastly, one player from the winning team and one player from the losing team will sign the score card. Finally, usually a player from the winning team will deliver the score sheet to the tournament administrator.
A few minutes later, your scores for the match you just completed are texted out to you and your opponent. Then, you’ll receive another text message that your next match is in the queue. Then, a third text message that tells you to pick up your next score sheet and which court you are playing your next match on.
DUPR, UTPR and Scoring
If you’re playing in a sanctioned tournament, your match scores are put into either the DUPR or UTPR system and help to calculate your player skill level. You will have a different calculated skill level for doubles, mixed doubles, and singles.
Your level is determined by the level of the players on the opposing teams and whether you won or lost to them.
What is rally scoring?
Rally scoring is a method of keeping score in which a point is awarded on every rally, regardless of which team is serving. This differs from the traditional or “side-out” scoring method used in pickleball, where only the serving team has the opportunity to score points. In addition, games are played to 21 points instead of 11.
Here are some other differences to traditional scoring:
- Once players have chosen which side they will start the game on, they never switch sides with their partners.
- Similar to singles, the score determines whether the player on the right or the player on the left starts serving. Even numbers mean the player on the right serves.
- When the serving team wins the rally, they get a point and then their partner subsequently serves. For as long as they win points, the serve will alternate between the two partners.
- Teams change ends of the court at 11.
- If the serving team loses the rally, then the point goes to the receiving team and the serve sides out to the team on the other side of the net.
- Once one team reaches a score of 20, the rally scoring changes dramatically. For the last point(s) of the game, only the serving team can win a point. So, if the score is 20-18 and the receiving team wins the rally, they do NOT win a point. They then become the serving team.
- Players can only change left/right positioning after a time out or the end change at 11.
Major League Pickleball and Rally Scoring
Rally scoring has been adopted by Major League Pickleball as a means to make pickleball more action packed and formatted better for television.
Pros of Rally Scoring
- Because points are accrued at the end of each rally, the length of games are far more predictable
- Game outcomes are reflective of each and every rally played, meaning game scores carry more information.
- It is a scoring system that would be easier for a beginner to understand.
- Player ratings are easier to calculate since every rally ends in a point awarded.
- Gambling on outcomes may be more consistent.
Cons of Rally Scoring
- It changes the balance between offense and defense, allowing a strong defensive team to be a point winning team.
- It changes the game that the founders created.
- By keeping the partners in fixed positions, it doesn’t encourage a balanced player with a strong forehand and backhand.
- A right handed player on the left with a left handed partner on the right will have both of their paddles in the middle and have a stacking advantage throughout the game.
Pickleball scorekeeping apps
The fact that pickleball doubles scores include three numbers sometimes causes confusion on the court. After all, it can be difficult to play your heart out while keeping several numbers in your head throughout the match. But if you own a smartwatch, there are several apps available that do most of the work for you and let you focus on your play.
Pickleball Score Keeper (iOS/Apple Watch)
This app turns your Apple Watch into a seamless score-tracking tool. With swipe gestures, you can keep tabs on scores, unforced errors, and service stats for both singles and doubles matches. The app also syncs with the Health app for fitness insights and allows you to note your opponents’ strengths and weaknesses. Stay in the game with spoken scores and subtle vibrations.
Pickleball Scorer (Android Wear OS)
This app is for Android users, and keeps track of scores, serving sides, and rally outcomes. It offers voice announcements for scores, highlights the side serving next, and displays various statistics like wins-losses and play time. The app also allows users to correct entries and provides options for customizing game points. It’s designed to work on Wear OS devices that can access the Google Play Store directly.
Pickleball Score Keeper (Garmin Devices)
This app for Garmin devices keeps track of various game elements like sides, server rotation, and scores. Primarily aimed at doubles games, the app provides a graphical interface where users can tap to indicate which side scored. It allows for easy reset options to start new games or switch starting players. The app also offers a feature to count unforced errors during gameplay.
Midyear Revisions to 2023 Scoring Rules
There have been recent midyear revisions to the 2023 USA Pickleball Rulebook. These revisions contain many rules regarding scoring and positioning. Behind these rules is the intent to streamline the flow of the game and make it less subject to disruptions. Here’s what’s new.
If there is incorrect positioning and a player stops a rally in progress, there are two possible outcomes. If the referee deems that the player is correct, then the rally will be replayed. But, if the player who identified the situation is incorrect, then it is a fault on the player/team that stopped the rally.
If the referee stops a rally, then regardless of whether the referee is correct or not, the rally will be replayed.
If an incorrect position is identified after a rally has been completed, then the result of that rally will stand.
Technical foul scoring
In the situation where a referee has given a technical foul, then a point will be removed from a player’s score. If that player doesn’t have any points, then a point will be added to their opponent’s score.
After your first couple of games, player positioning and scoring will become like clockwork. Everyone out on the courts was a beginner at some point, so give yourself some room to make mistakes and don’t be embarrassed. Just play nice, make friends, and if you didn’t win this game, you’ll probably win the next one.