One of the more intimidating concepts for the new pickleball player is the pressure of keeping score. While games are generally played to 11 points (win by 2 points) there are nevertheless scoring nuances in pickleball. Although pickleball scoring is pretty straight-forward in singles, it can be particularly confusing when playing doubles.
Pickleball Doubles Scoring — A Summary
- Points can only be scored by the serving team — the receiving team cannot score.
- Both players (server #1 and server #2) on the serving team will get a chance to serve and score points for their team before relinquishing the serve to the other team. The one exception to this occurs during the very first serving rotation of the game in which case only one player from the serving team (server #2) will get to serve before the other team earns the side-out.
- At the start of the game — and after any subsequent side-out — the player positioned on the right side of the court (even side) serves first.
- If the serving team wins the rally, a point is scored. The server then rotates with his/her partner and serves to the receiver in the opposite court.
- This same server keeps serving (and rotating with his/her partner) until the receiving team wins a rally — at which time the server’s partner will serve.
- If both players on the serving team have served — or if it’s after the first serving rotation of the game, then it’s a “side-out” and the team receiving serve will now become the serving team.
- After every side-out, the server number “resets,” with the person positioned on the right (even court) becoming server #1 and his/her partner who is positioned on the left becoming server #2. (Note: In the course of the game, a player can be server #1 or #2 — it simply depends on where her/she is positioned [given the score] at the side-out).
- Score is announced as 3 numbers.
The first thing to understand about pickleball scoring is that points are scored only on the serve. The receiving team cannot score. This applies to both singles and doubles. Obviously, while the serving team wants to win the rally to score points, the objective of the receiving team is to win the rally(s) and induce a “side-out” so they can serve and, ultimately, add to their score.
To negate the inherent advantage that the serving team has when serving first to start the game, only one player – the player on the right side of the court – gets to serve during the first service turn of the game. After this initial service turn, each subsequent service turn is comprised of serves by both players on the serving team – beginning with the player on the right side of the court.
If the serving team wins the rally (thereby, scoring a point) – the server rotates sides (from right-to-left or left-to-right) with his/her partner and serves to the receiver in the opposite court. Each time a point is scored, the partners on the serving side alternate sides. The receiving side never alternates sides.
When a rally is lost when the first server is serving (with the exception of the first service turn of the game), the serve goes to the partner. When a rally is lost when the second server is serving, the serve reverts to the other team.
Pickleball doubles scores – as opposed to singles scores – are always comprised of three numbers, called out in the following order: (1) server’s score, (2) receiver’s score and (3) the server number (either 1 for the first server or 2 for the second server). For example if the serving team has tallied 5 points, the receiving team 4 points and the second of the two servers is serving, the score would be announced as “5-4-2.”
It may be extraordinarily confusing at first, but it’s important to note that the player number is typically announced as “2” in the very first service turn of the game – even though he/she is the first server! Remember, only one player – the player that started on the right side of the court – gets a service turn on the first service turn of the game. Prior to the very first rally of the game – before any points have been played – the score would be announced as “0-0-2.”
For Those Prone to Forget (Like Me) – Use Colorful Wristbands!
After playing a long point – or simply because of the age demographics associated with pickleball 😉 – it can be easy to forget who is serving, to whom and to which court. To minimize confusion it is generally effective to simply remember which player served first for each side – and have that person wear a colorful wristband. If the rotation is executed correctly, a team’s score will always be even (0, 2, 4, 6, 8 or 10) when that player (the one with the colorful wristband) is on the right side of the court and odd (1, 3, 5, 7 or 9) when that player is on the left side of the court.
Keeping score seems intimidating – but, luckily, after playing several times it will become second-nature. See you on the courts!