Fitness

How to Keep Score in Pickleball

Pickleball is reportedly the fastest-growing sport in the United States, increasing by 158.6% over the past three years, according to a 2023 Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) report. One reason why pickleball is so popular could be that it’s incredibly approachable.

Enjoyed by individuals of all ages and abilities, the tennis-like game is relatively simple to learn. One of the most essential parts of a pickleball match is scoring. Admittedly, it’s also one of the trickier components of the game, especially for new players.

But don’t fret. If you’re interested in learning how to track the game and keep score with confidence, this guide will cover everything you need to know.

Understanding Pickleball Scoring Basics

You can play pickleball in singles or doubles. There are two servers in doubles, server one and server two. As a result, the score has three numbers. For example, in 10-6-2, where the first number (10) is the score of the serving team, the second number (6) is the score of the receiving team, and the third number (2) is the server number.

In singles, there are only two numbers, such as 2-0, where the first number is the server’s score and the second is the receiver’s score. Each side only has one serve in singles, so there’s no need to keep track with a third number.

Unlike tennis, in pickleball, you can only receive a point when you (or your team) serve. When serving, you need to win the rally (the name for the back and forth of the ball) to obtain a point.

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Generally, you’ll play a pickleball game to 11 points and must win by two points. Variations include games played to 15 or 21 points, still needing to be won by two. Most players and teams prefer to play the best two out of three games.

Scoring Terminology and Court Setup

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A pickleball court is divided into four quadrants. The perimeter lines form the sidelines and the baseline. A center line divides each side of the court into two quadrants, the left (the odd side) and right (known as the even side) service areas. Seven feet from the net on either side is the no-volley zone, also known as the kitchen. Knowing the layout of a pickleball court is vital to keeping score.

There are also a few terms you should be familiar with.

  • A rally is the back and forth of the ball, while a volley is the period after the server serves the ball when it is still in the air.
  • Serving is placing the ball in play and happens with an underhand motion “cross-court,” meaning the ball is served diagonally across the court to your opponent. You receive a point if you serve the ball and your opponent does not return it.
  • Sometimes, the serving team can score points through various “faults” or any violation of the rules that stops play committed by the receiving team. Faults include hitting the ball into the net or out of bounds regarding the court lines. Allowing the ball to bounce twice on your side of the court or hitting it without a bounce in the non-volley zone (kitchen) are also faults. We will get into faults in a future section, but it’s important to note that a fault has one of two results.
  • Either you receive a point if your opponents committed a fault during your serve, or the chance to serve moves to you if the serving side committed a fault during their rally (and in doubles if both server 1 and server 2 had the opportunity to serve). If one side of the court fails to make a successful serve during their opportunity and is “out of serves,” it is called a “sideout,” in which the other team gets an opportunity to serve.  Service happens according to “serve rotation,” which we will dive into next.

Keeping Score in Singles and Doubles Matches

Scoring for Doubles Matches

In a doubles game, the first serve will come from the right side and be served diagonally to the opposite side of the court. The first serve starts with the second server so that if they lose the rally (side out), their opponents get a chance to serve. Therefore, the first score call-out is always 0-0-2.

Moving forward in the game, each player on a team gets a chance to serve (remember the first and second server in the third number of the score)? If the first player messes up, the serve goes to the second player.

If the serve goes out, it is considered a fault and is, therefore, a side-out, meaning the other team gets their turn to serve. If the serving team scores a point, they continue to alternate sides from right to left until they lose a point. If they lose the rally, service moves to the second player, who stays where they are to serve.

During this time, the receiving team does not need to alternate sides of the court; it’s only when serving. You don’t keep your server number, either. Whoever is on the right (serving side) when the ball comes back to them for service is the first server, or server number one.

Scoring for Singles Matches

It’s a bit simpler in singles. If the server’s score is even, they will serve from the right side of the court. This is also true when just starting the game. Alternatively, an odd server’s score means they will serve from the left.

If they receive a point, they move to the left side of the court, alternating until they lose the rally; at this point, the serve moves to their opponent. Service must occur from behind the baseline and within their (imaginary) quadrant lines—sideline and center line.

Serving

Service is important because it’s the only way to score a point. Even if you return the other team’s volley and they miss, you don’t get a point unless you serve the ball and the other team makes a fault.

The receiver’s position is just as important. Because serves are made cross-court, the receiving quadrant diagonal to the server is the only one to return the serve in doubles.

If the wrong person returns the serve, it’s a fault and will award the serving team a point. A server should ensure the receiver is ready, and both the server and receiver in play should check to ensure their teammates are ready.

Faults

Ways to score a point in pickleball aside from the opposing team not returning the serve include: 

  • The wrong receiver returns a serve.
  • The ball lands in the no-volley zone or its surrounding lines. 
  • The ball hits the net, landing in the no-volley zone or its surrounding lines.
  • The ball has to bounce twice at the beginning of a game, first for the serve, and then for the return. You can not poach a ball or volley until the ball has bounced twice, or it is considered a fault.
  • The serving team hits a shot that the opposing team misses.

If the serving team commits a fault, the serve moves to the second server. If the serving team commits a fault during the second server’s turn, the serve moves to the other team. The serving team gets a point if the receiving team commits a fault. 

Scoring Situations and Challenges

Certain situations and challenges arise because pickleball scoring is more technical than other racquet sports. One of the most common challenges is a discrepancy in terms of line calls. The pickleball must cross-court during a serve and land in the correct service court. 

What Is Considered “In”

However, all of the lines aside from the kitchen are considered “in,” while any landing point in the kitchen, on the kitchen line, or outside the service court lines (the baseline, sideline, or centerline) is considered “out.”

When not served, any landing point inside the court or on any of the lines is considered “in,” and anywhere outside the lines is “out.” Generally, players are responsible for making line calls on their side of the court.

The serving team gets a point if the receiver is responsible for hitting the ball out of bounds. Any discrepancy about line calls may necessitate replaying the point. 

However, unlike tennis, there is no “let,” which essentially is a do-over or replay. You and the other players can decide if you want to replay the point for tough line calls, but the official rules do not demand it.

There Are No “Lets”

There is also no “let serve,” if a ball hits the net during a serve and lands in the correct service court, then play continues. If it falls back into your court, it is considered a fault. A player’s paddle, clothing, and body should also not come into the net, or it is usually considered a fault, and you will forfeit the rally.

The Double-Bounce Rule After Service

Aside from the court lines and net, there are also considerations regarding ball bouncing. The double bounce rule or two-bounce rule means that after the serve, each team must play the ball after a single bounce on their court.

The receiving and serving sides can only hit the ball once it has bounced once on their court. You cannot return it straight from the volley. After the two bounces, you can return the ball from a bounce or volley. Hitting the ball after a bounce is commonly called a “groundstroke.”

You Cannot Volley In the “No Volley Zone”

It’s important to note that you cannot be in the kitchen or on the kitchen line while volleying a ball; doing so is a fault. But if the ball has already bounced, the kitchen rule no longer holds; you can return a short hit, called a “dink,” when your opponent hits it into your kitchen as long as the ball has bounced once.

Remembering the rules will become easier once you’ve experienced a few of these common situations. Recreational players may be more relaxed and allow more lets than stricter, professional players. Nevertheless, the beginning and end of the game can pose problems for some.

Deciding Who Serves First

Who serves first is decided by a “fair method,” states the official rules. For most, this is a coin toss. You can also choose the spin a racket (that has a logo or letter on the bottom) and call “up” or “down.”

Server Rotations After Each Game

In the best two out of three games, the first server may rotate, meaning whoever served first in game one will not serve first in game two. For example, if my partner and I won the coin toss and decided to serve first in game one, our opponents would serve first in game two. My partner and I would then serve first in game 3.

Switching Sides of the Court

Players switch sides after the first game, so some teams choose to make one side of the court the first serving side, giving both persons or teams a chance to serve first after they switch sides after each game.

There Are No “Ties”

At the end of the game, ties can confuse some. There shouldn’t be a tie, as games need to be won by two points. For example, if a game scores 11-10, you’ll have to go into overtime and play until someone wins by two points (ex: 12-10 or 11-13).

Many recreational pickleball games require you to keep track of line calls, faults, serves, and scores. You may encounter a referee, who can help keep track of play and rules. If no referee is present, though, there is one thing that can make the game go much smoother—communication.

Communication and Score Verification

Calling is a common term in pickleball. It refers to both calls of faults, like line calls, and calling out the score. Before serving, call out the score after both the server and receiver are in their correct positions and ready to play. Remember, the score contains three numbers for doubles. Failure to call the score before serving can be considered a fault.

The server is responsible for calling the score, Doing so helps to prevent confusion and maintain accuracy during play. When it’s called loudly for both teams or players to hear, there is little chance of errors or disputes arising. But what if a player calls the wrong score?

The server or any player on the court can stop play and ask for a score recall before returning the serve. If done before the receiving team hits the ball for a return, and the first call is incorrect, the server can call the correct score and serve again.

However, suppose the play is interrupted, and the server had called the correct score. In that case, the player who stopped play will forfeit the rally as they committed a fault. The same goes if a player stops the play to challenge the score after the return is hit.

Scoring Tips for Beginners and Novice Players

If you’re new to pickleball, the best way to learn the scoring rules is to get out there and play. Scoring can be intimidating, but don’t worry. Most recreational players love introducing beginners to the sport, and it can be pretty helpful.

Calling the score out when you serve is helpful. It keeps you from forgetting the score or who is serving. Plus, not doing so is a fault.

If you start on the right side of the court, your partner will start on the left. Therefore, your score will be odd whenever they serve. It’s a hack that can help you determine the score if you need help remembering.

Scorekeeping Etiquette and Sportsmanship

Pickleball prioritizes good sportsmanship. The sport prides itself on respect, kindness, and fairness. In the ideal situation, disputes about line calls should not arise.

Generally, you should not question or disagree with an opponent’s line call. Furthermore, questionable line calls are often given to the opponent, with players giving their opponent(s) the benefit of the doubt.

A player could make a bad call, but most players strive to be prompt and accurate with their calls, as you can’t deem a ball “out” unless you can clearly see a space gap between the ball and the line. Players can defer to their opponents and ask them to make a line call, but remember if they do not see the line call, the ball is automatically “in.”

Pickleball rules keep playing fair and fun for all. While bad line calls or improper score calls can happen occasionally, there is little you can (or should do) when disputes arise. It’s best just to let it go and play on. You can appeal to the referee in an officiated game before play continues. If a call doesn’t go your way, a positive attitude is the best policy.

Pickleball scoring is a complex concept to understand. However, with regular play, you’ll soon get the hang of it. The rules vary slightly for singles versus doubles and recreational play versus officiated. 

If you’re nervous about hitting the court, watching a few videos on how to keep score and scorekeeping tactics may be helpful. The official pickleball rules are always available at USA Pickleball for reference. With a clear understanding of the rules and techniques for keeping score in pickleball, you can confidently score matches and contribute to a fair and enjoyable playing experience. 

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