Some might say that learning how to score in pickleball is harder than playing the game itself – and while we all know that can’t be true, it sure seems like it sometimes!
This article provides a comprehensive overview of pickleball scoring, from the basic concepts to more advanced strategies. You’ll learn what the numbers mean, how to keep track of them, and how to use them to your advantage.
How does scoring work in doubles pickleball?
Here’s a quick overview for those who want the cliff notes: in pickleball, games go to 11 points. In tournaments, it may increase to 15 points. You can only score when your team is serving, and then you swap positions with your partner. The game is won by whoever gets 2 more points than their opponents– simple as that!
Before we can discuss pickleball scoring, we need to review some of the basics of how doubles pickleball works. The first thing we need to cover is serving.
It’s important to remember that pickleball scoring is not rally scoring. If you’re curious and would like to learn more about rally scoring, check out this great article.
Serving in pickleball
In pickleball, you or your teammates must be serving in order to score a point. And each player gets one turn to serve per set.
The player on the right side of the court will always serve first when it is their team’s turn to serve.
This makes it easy to understand who serves first. So, when you think about it this way, the person on the right is always server one and the person on the left is always server two.
In tennis, instead of taking turns serving like in most other sports, the player who scores a point gets to keep serving. So if you’re good enough, you could conceivably win the game 11-0 with just one person serving the entire time. Of course, if you make a mistake while serving (hit it into the net or otherwise), then your partner takes over as server.
If he messes up, then you’re all out of serves! This is called a “side out.” That means that your team has used up its allotted number of serves, and now it’s the opponent’s turn to serve.
Another rule to keep in mind is that when your team scores a point, the person who scored will switch places with their partner.
It’s a pretty simple rule, but I want to mention it anyway because it will be crucial in helping you keep track of the score. More later!
Win by two!
The minimum winning score in pickleball is two points. So, if the game you’re playing is to 11 points and it’s currently 10-10, simply getting to 11 won’t suffice—you’ll need 12. That puts you ahead of the other team by two points and thus secures an automatic victory. This can continue until one team achieves the required spread of two points.
Let’s talk numbers
Now that you understand the basics of serving in pickleball, let’s add in some numbers. The scoring system works a little differently than in other racket sports, and it can be confusing for newcomers. In fact, there are more debates among recreational players about the score than there are about line calls.
If you know pickleball, then this next part will be a breeze. If you don’t, however, then I completely understand your confusion and frustration. Sometimes it’s hard to put into words what we see in our minds, especially when Pickleball is involved because it can be quite confusing for those who have never heard of the sport before.
What do the scoring numbers mean?
Here’s how it works:
The score on the left is always the serving teams. The number in the middle will be the other team’s perspective from when they were last serving. And finally, that last number corresponds to which player on the serve team it currently is- either first or second server.
Always remember: when one team is serving the ball, their score will be called out first. This will be followed by the other team’s score and then finally, the server number.
The image displays two different scenarios, one where your team is serving, and the other where the opposing team is. When it’s your team’s turn to serve as shown in the left photo, the score reads 4-3-1 because you have four points while they only have three.
The next pane demonstrates the opposite. Now, it is your opponent’s turn to serve. The player on the right of their court will serve and the score is 3-4-1. As I said before, their score comes first because they are serving.
The third number
If it is your team’s turn to serve and “side out” is called, the player on the right side of your court will serve first. The number at the end of the score will be “1”, symbolizing that this person is the first server.
If your team scores a few points, great. But if they make a mistake, don’t worry – it’s now your partner’s turn to serve. If they make a serving error, the opponents will get the next serve due to the “side out” rule.
Let’s look at a full example
How excellent is it to commence a match of pickleball? In this example, though, there’s one peculiar thing we have to clear up before starting. The team that starts will only get one serve each. I’m honestly not sure why that is, but it’s something you’ll just have to memorize for now.
The person on the right always serves first at the start of a game. The score is either 0-0-2 or, as most people say it, 0-0-start. Only the first team will have this happen to them at the beginning of a match.
In the next example, let’s say that you’re the one beginning the game. The score is 0-0-2, or at the start of the game, it was 0-0. You serve over to your opponent’s side and they completely miss it. Point! Your team gets a point and then you switch places with your partner.
Now the score is 1-0-2 or, a 1-0 start. You get to serve again since you scored last time. But this time, you hit it right into the net. It happens to everyone sometimes. I’ve done it too. Since you were the second server, “side out” is called and now your opponents turn to serve. Can you guess what the new score is?
In case you didn’t know, the score goes 0-1-1 when your opponent’s score is called before yours and he gets to serve first. Just like you, he served the ball into the net. Now it’s his partner’s turn to server. The score is now 0-1-2 because he is the second server. When attempting to return his serve, you hit the ball into the net giving them a point. So now, the scoreboard reads 1-1=2.
He serves the ball again and your partner can’t get to it, giving them another point. The score is now 2-1-2. He serves once more but hits the top of the net, resulting in a fault and side out!
It’s now your team’s turn to serve. The score is 1-2-1, with your team having one point, the other team having two points, and your team being on the first serve.
Create these examples in your head
If you want to learn how to score, the best way is of course to play pickleball. But if you can’t do that right now, another way is to create examples as I did above. it will help you understand how scoring works and at the same time be kind of fun. Scoring in pickleball can take time to learn but as you keep playing, second nature.
Next, we will discuss how to score your leads.
How to keep track of the score
Things get pickleball interesting when learning how to keep score. The game can seem nearly impossible to keep track of at times, but luckily there’s a neat trick that exists! However, before we discuss the solution, let’s go over something first.
Make sure to note the score when you’re serving!
It’s easy to lose track of the score if you don’t announce each serve, believe it or not. Be sure to audibly call out each time you serve the ball so everyone is aware of the points.
Above all, not calling out the server is against the rules. It might not be a huge deal during recreational games, but in tournaments where there is no referee, it definitely matters. If you don’t call out the serve and then hit the ball anyways, it’s considered a fault.
Not only is this the courteous thing to do, but it also helps your teammates keep track of where things are. This is especially important near the end of a game when strategy can change significantly if the opposing team is about to win.
The way to keep score in pickleball is explained below. As a general rule, the player who starts on the right side of the net will be designated as the “even” player. Consequently, whenever they are serving from the right side of the court, the score will always be even.
Although it may sound complicated, this system is easy to use once you get the hang of it. Plus, it works great! This is how you do it.
Make a note of which team members are on the right side at the start of the game.
How to score in singles pickleball
Singles pickleball scoring functions similarly to doubles. The same tricks I’ve shown you for tracking the score will work just as well here too. The one exception is when “side out” is called.
If the player serving loses their turn, the ball goes to their opponent as normal. The server will then go to a side based on whether their score is odd or even. Nothing complicated here.
You’ll serve on the left side if you have an odd score, and right for even, in singles.
Final Thoughts On Keeping Score in Pickleball
I hope this article has helped you to understand some of the basics behind scoring in pickleball. I know it can be tough at first, but if you use the tips and tricks I’ve mentioned above, it’ll become much simpler. Thanks for reading and please let me know if you have any questions.