As with tennis, the scoring and serving rotations in Pickleball can be a bit confusing at first. Never fear — this guide on how to keep score in pickleball will clear everything up! It takes a bit of practice but below is everything you need to know, including a few tactics to keep it all straight.
The Basic Rules of Pickleball Scoring
If you want to get into ALL of the nitty gritty detail, I’d recommend you head over to the official USAPA Rulebook, currently updated for 2020.
If you want to get more digestible instruction along with how to improve your game in book form, here are the best options:
Okay, let’s start off with some of the basic rules for keeping score in pickleball that always apply no matter what is happening in the game:
- Generally the first team to 11 wins (though that can vary depending as some tournaments might go up to 15 or 21).
- Only the serving team is able to score – the receiving team cannot score
- If the server scores a point, they switch to the other side of the court whether it’s a singles or a doubles match (right to left or left to right). We’ve also written an article that is an in depth look at how to serve in pickleball.
- The server will serve until their team commits a fault
- You must win by 2 points or more. So, if you’re playing to 11 and it’s 10 to 10, then to win the winning team has to score 2 points in a row (to make the score 10 to 12, or 11 to 13, etc)
- Since the score is always changing and shifting depending on who is serving, it is really key that the server always call out the score before serving. In the case of singles, that will be 2 numbers: the server’s score and the receiving person’s score. In the case of doubles, that will be the serving team’s score, the receiving team’s score and the number of the server (more on that later!) Another way to think about it (as found in this video by CJ…) is “me, you, and who”.
- I’ll say again – say the score when you serve! This is key, the first score called is the serving team, the second the receiving. When there is a side out, the scores will be swapped. (If you forget to call out the score among friends, it’s not a big deal but if you fail to do so in a tournament, you might get called for fault!)
- A serving team’s score will always be even when the first server is on the right
Pickleball Doubles Scoring
When you are serving you call out three things: your team score, the opposing team’s score and whether you are the first or second server on your team.
At the start of the game the serving team starts with the second server (whoever is on the right) and the score is 0-0-2 (Alternatively, people might say 0-0,second or 0-0-start). This is done to limit the first set of serves to one server in order to try to minimize the advantage of getting to serve first.
Okay, so the first server will start serving. As long as their team keeps getting points, that server will continue to serve, switching back and forth from right to left with their teammate. If this is the start of the game, as soon as the server who started the game loses a rally, the serve is passed to the other team and whoever is on the right will serve.
Losing the serve (when happens when the second server loses a point) is called a side out. The receiving doubles team does not switch sides at this point.
Now, the server number is only relevant for that service, whenever a team gets the serve from that point on, whoever is on the right at the time of getting the service will be the first server. Don’t forget that part! Your server number will change depending on where your team gest the serve back.
So: when you get the serve back person on the right = first server; person on the left = second server.
When the game starts, the server on the right serves across the net to the receiving player diagonally, on the opposite side of the court. Every time the serving team scores a point, the players on that side swap positions. Players on the serving team should only switch positions if they score a point (while the receiving side should not switch at all). That player will serve on alternating sides until the serving team loses a rally.
If the first server loses a rally, the serve goes to the second server and when that server (the second) loses a rally, the serve is handed off to the other side. That’s why it’s important to call out the three numbers each time you serve, so everyone knows what will happen next – if it’s the first server and they lose the point, the second server serves. If it’s the second server serving and they lose the point, the serve goes to the other side.
Here’s a tip if you’re having difficulty remembering who is the first server: in tournaments the first server will wear a wristband. So given that you know they started the serve on the right hand side, you can always double check throughout the game based on the score if they are on the correct side.
And another tip: everyone should make a note of who started on the right side of the court on each team at the very beginning of the game. Whenever that person (who was on the right) starts serving, the serving team’s score will be even. And every time your team’s score is odd, the person on the team who served first will be on the left side of the court.
Pickleball Singles Scoring
I put the singles scoring after doubles because once you know the doubles scoring, the explanation for singles is much easier!
Since there is only one server on each side of the court, you don’t need to announce the server number when calling out the score. Whenever serving, the server should call out their own score first, followed by the receiving person’s score.
After each point by the server, the receiver will need to switch sides to return the serve.
The server serves until they commit a fault – in singles you only get one fault per side out not 2 faults like in doubles.
Keep in mind that whenever the server’s score is even they should serve from the right. If you’re serving and your score is 0, 2, 4, 6, 8, or 10, serve from the right. If the server’s score is odd ((1, 3, 5, 7, or 9), they should serve from the left. If you ever notice this is not the case, something is off!
Still feel a bit unsure about how to keep score in pickleball? Check out this video to see a walkthrough of the scoring of a game:
What about Pickleball Rally Scoring?
There is another – unofficial – way to score a pickleball game that makes the game scoring faster paced and doesn’t require remembering which side someone is on. Some folks have some strong arguments for shifting to a rally point scoring system.
The differences in rally scoring vs regular pickleball scoring:
- Whoever wins a rally gets a point regardless of whether they are the serving team or not
- There is no server one or two. The side out occurs every time the serving team loses a point. Only one server serves per side out.
- Since there is no first or second server, you only call out your team’s score followed by the opposing team’s score when you serve – just 2 numbers are called out, just like a singles game.
- As with doubles, the first serve of the game comes from the even or right side of the court.
- When the serving team wins a point they change sides (left to right/right to left). That’s the only time that switch happens.
- If the serving team’s score is even they serve from the right, if it is odd they serve from the right.
- Given the faster pace of scoring, it is advisable to increase the winning score to a higher odd number.
- Given that it’s an unofficial way of scoring, it’s up to you if you want to enforce winning by 2 or just 1.
All clear now!?
Now you know everything you need to how to keep score in pickleball! But there’s no substitute for actually being in a real game with real scoring so get out there!
If you have any questions about either pickleball rally scoring or pickleball scoring in general, leave a comment below. Or if you’re curious why not check out How Pickleball Got Its Name?