Nothing generates a retreat to one’s own philosophical corner in pickleball like the traditional scoring versus rally scoring debate. Opinions are passionate and plentiful – and, like politics, one is not likely to change the mind of another.
What is Traditional Scoring in Pickleball?
In traditional pickleball scoring, the serving team is the only team awarded a point if they win the rally. The non-serving team, by winning the rally, can only force the second player to serve – or force a side-out if both players have served.
When traditional scoring is implemented, games are usually played to 11 points.
What is Rally Scoring in Pickleball?
In rally scoring, a point is awarded to whichever team wins the rally – be it the serving team or the non-serving team.
Because a point is always awarded at the end of each rally, games are generally played to a higher score – usually to 15 or 21 points.
Benefits of Rally Scoring
Rally scoring proponents cite a couple different benefits that it has over traditional scoring:
This may be particularly beneficial for the local YMCA or Community Center where people are sidelined and waiting for long periods of time to play.
Even in a “shortened” traditional game to 7 points, the game duration could vary significantly – from 5 minutes to 20 minutes – depending on the number and frequency of side-outs.
In a rally scoring game to 15 (win by 1 point), the game duration is guaranteed to range from 15 rallies to 29 rallies – resulting in a much more predictable time for the game to be played.
How Does Rally Scoring Work?
So, exactly how does rally scoring work?
Firstly, it’s important to remember that, similar to traditional scoring, the only time one rotates court positions with his/her partner is when one wins a point on their serve. At all other times, you do not change court positions with your partner. This represents zero change.
As such, one only announces 2 numbers (not 3 numbers) when calling the score (serving team’s score first, non-serving team’s score second).
The serve will be made from the right side (from the player positioned on the right side) if the serving team’s score is even and from the left side (from the player positioned on the left side) if their score is odd. Rest assured, both partners will get a chance to serve during the game – just not immediately after your partner serves.
If the serving team wins the rally, they score a point and the partners from the serving team rotate court positions. If the serving team loses the rally, the serve goes to the other side. Remember, there is no second server in rally scoring. The other team will then serve from the right court if their score is even or from the left court if their score is odd.
Rally Scoring in Major League Pickleball
Major League Pickleball (MLP) has successfully implemented rally scoring into its events. Rally scoring for MLP events has a few nuanced modifications:
- Rally scoring games in MLP events are played to 21 points (win by 2)
- Once one team reaches 20 points (one point away from winning the game), the team with 20 points can only score going forward via traditional scoring – on their own serve. This is called being frozen at 20 points.
- Once your opponent reaches 20 points, your team can continue scoring points as the receiving team on side-outs until 18 points are tallied. Once the trailing team reaches 18 points (remember, the opponent already has 20 points), the traditional scoring method is implemented for your team as well— with points only tallied going forward if the rally is won on the serve. This is called being frozen at 18 points.
- During rally scoring in MLP events, players do not rotate sides with their partner after winning points. Player A for each team serves and receives on the right side when their score is even, and Player B serves and receives on the left side when their score is odd.
The professional players love MLP and most frequently cite MLP events as their favorite event(s) of the year. The prize money for MLP may have something to do with it, however, as the prize purse for just six tournaments in 2023 will be over $5 Million!
Where is Rally Scoring in the “Official” Pickleball Rulebook?
You may be thinking, “Quick, Show me the rule that mentions rally scoring.” Nowhere is rally scoring referenced in the “Official” Pickleball Rulebook. And that’s the crux of the debate.
Furthermore, they would argue that changing the scoring would change strategy, and, consequently, negatively impact the integrity of the game.
Personally, I’m not sure either represents an air-tight argument – although I definitely see their point and appreciate their passion. Most sports have evolved over time – to factor in nuances in scoring as well as to speed up the games for practical purposes.
Sports [and Scoring] Have Evolved Over Time
Both badminton and volleyball, for example, have evolved over the last couple of decades to incorporate rally scoring.
Tennis has noticeably changed as well – and they have done so recently to, ironically, speed up the matches.
The All-England Lawn Tennis Club — which hosts Wimbledon — is introducing a final-set tiebreaker beginning in 2019 when the final set is knotted at 12 games. This year the Australian Open matches were decided by a first-to-10-points tie-break at 6-6 in the final set. No longer will we be seeing a 70-68 5th set at Wimbledon.
Tennis also has experimented with no-ad scoring and 8 or 9 game pro sets over the years at the amateur level. All changes, I’m certain, required an adjustment in strategy. In my opinion, tennis should be applauded for trying new things.
Final Thoughts on Rally Scoring
The debate over rally scoring in pickleball is sure to continue. I’m all for pickleball scoring experimentation – particularly at crowded venues. It makes the rotation go quicker and it eliminates the wild variation in game durations. It’s also a little different which makes it exciting.
I look forward to hearing your feedback. What say you? While I don’t think we should change it everywhere, I do think various venues could benefit from a modification to the rules. Does rally scoring at least have a seat at the pickleball table in some instances?
See you on the courts!
I came to pickle ball from a long history of playing squash and badminton, and table tennis. Squash has gone to rally scoring, badminton has gone to rally scoring, and as I understand it, volleyball has gone to rally scoring. I think racquetball and pickle ball are the last holdouts.
Rally scoring makes the duration of the games and matches much more predictable, as well as shorter. This is a huge advantage for busy clubs and tournament organizers.
Given that the receiving team in pickle ball has an approximately 70/30 advantage over the serving team, it’s easy to see how games can drag out interminably.
I am totally in favor of going to rally scoring. The “integrity of the game” argument leaves me cold.
Thanks, Lynn, for chiming in.
David King says
We actually play pickle ball with tennis scoring rules, and find it easier to remember the score, and faster. One server serves the whole game, using 15, 30, 40, deuce, add-in and add-out, just like tennis. Then a player on the other team serves a complete game. Most people are familiar with tennis scoring.
Thanks for chiming in, David. When you play with your own group, I say do whatever you want. I would argue the point that tennis scoring is easier than pickleball scoring, however.
Completely agree! The question is, “Why hasn’t pickleball gone to rally scoring already!”
I actually contacted the USAPA rules director recently asking that question; he was very engaging, understood my concerns, and basically said that a motion to “officially” go to rally scoring made it to the “governing board” who rejected it citing similar “integrity of the game” notions?!
Let’s review the “integrity” issue shall we; let’s see as I’ve read… started in a backyard playing badminton, swapped the racquets and shuttle for paddles and a wiffle ball, then decided to lower the net “creating” tennis on badminton court dimensions, then had to modify the game with bureaucratic rules ie the kitchen, the one bounce rule, because they “learned” if you play tennis on a court about 70% smaller, serving and volleying don’t work for the game… Genius!
And why politicians should never determine rules in sports.
So “integrity of the game” is more myth and ancestor worship, plagiarizing from tennis and badminton?
And to scoring, as stated above concerning game times, the greater inequality are points awarded. Side-Out scoring for court/racquet/paddle sports ie volleyball, badminton, table tennis, squash was changed decades ago; only PB and racquetball retain it, with racquetball in a popularity free fall since its 1980s high.
When only the server is awarded points they have a scoring advantage, that being, if they make an error on their service there is no “negative consequence” to their score, they neither win nor lose a point. In the same manner, when the receiving team/player “wins” a rally they receive no reward in points… only the chance to now serve. Yea that’s fair!
In fact, on one of the posts here, a player admitted they would try riskier shots while serving knowing their opponent would not gain any points for their error if the shot didn’t work.
Adopting rally scoring would also simplify the wacky serving rotations?, the 1s and the 2s and the 3s?, three numbers for the score and only two teams are playing?… What? Clearly politicians were at work here.
May I suggest improvements from a player’s perspective citing demonstrated successes from other sports, no plagiarizing:
1/ Rally scoring; every rally results in a point awarded to a team or player. Games are to 15 points win by 2.
2/ Serving; each player serves twice, once from the right side then once from the left side. The serve then goes to opposing team or player for two (2) serves, right and left… then continue the rotation back and forth; both singles or doubles.
Simple to track serve rotation.
Simple to keep only two numbers not three.
The server rotates equally among all players preventing one player from dominating the serve whether singles or doubles.
As a lifelong tennis player, pickleball is a lot of fun! I can hit ground strokes like Roger Federer and they don’t fly over the fence! Plus, and most importantly, people over 50 who would not otherwise do anything fitness related are now exercising. Pickleball provides both a fitness and social component… both good things!
So write your congressperson if you want change… kidding!
Joe Brown says
Couldn’t agree more!
Geoff Walker says
Volleyball may have switched to rally scoring to ensure more predictable game times, but players like it because side-out scoring is convoluted and nonsensical. Nothing like making a great shot only to find out that you don’t get to score just because you weren’t serving. Huh?? What possible sense does that make? We only play pickleball with rally scoring and won’t even consider playing with the “traditional” rules. Dumb traditions are meant to be changed. I’m 56 years old fwiw.
Thanks for chiming in, Geoff.
Mark Steven Taitz says
I’ve played and refereed volleyball for decades now…and one of the BEST changes to the game was to go from side-out scoring to rally scoring. The games are much quicker and more predictable in length making tournament management much easier. We went from a winning score of 15 to 25 and everyone has benefited from the change. I’d be all for the change, but would recommend also changing the winning score to a higher number…perhaps 21 like ping-pong….perhaps even changing the service order to the same as doubles ping pong with each team serving 5 times from one position before the opposing team takes over the serve (service change every time total score becomes divisible by 5).
Thanks, Mark, for the thoughtful response. I would think this is something definitely worth considering.
Ping P. Ong says
Ping Pong scoring was changed too. Games are played to 11, and serving switches after two serves, not five when played to 21. It has been like that for 20 years.
Hi P-Max and everybody !
Thanks a lot for your clear explanations.
I am also a squash player, who recently came to pickleball. Well, i must say, at first because squash courts still closed because the $?&%$%?$ covid (snif snif snif…) but now i am very happy to have discovered this excellent sport.
I prefer the rally-scoring mode, as i think this way lets more chance to be “rewarded” for a good rally than the “old” way. For instance, imagine 2 players (or two teams), one stronger than the other. On the traditional scoring way, as points count only on the serve, and as it is way more difficult for the weaker player to win 2 rallies in a row, this weaker player will have hard time to finally get one “true” point ! More likely is that he (she) got one rally (yeah !), then serve, then… lose the rally “which counts” for points(hence remaining at 0 while the better payer will likely get the other rally, and then another point…) etc… Concretely, for instance having played with better squash players than me, i was often beat by 9-1 or 9-2 using the old scoring way, while with the rally scoring (in force since many years), i still lose… but with 11-6 or 11-7. This score better reflect the “true” difference in skills and, what’s more important in the eye of a weaker player, being way more encouraging !…
Just my 2-cents
Have a good spring time everybody !
Thanks for chiming in! Definitely some good points that I, frankly, didn’t consider. Appreciate your perspective.
Brian G says
Good thinking and analysis. I agree, award each won rally with a point. All rally wins, then are equal. I like equal.
Prefer traditional scoring but when you’ve got 30 people playing/waiting on two courts, rally scoring is the way to go.
My thoughts exactly, Rick. Thanks for chiming in.
I have come to pickleball through a history of having played many sports including volleyball, badminton and over 15 years of squash. In each case those sports went to rally scoring to make the games quicker and more exciting. As a player it allows my skills and winning shots to be rewarded regardless of who served. I don’t see why there is so much debate over it as it will make the game quicker and more dynamic. . If pickleball is to become more broadly accepted throughout the world and make it into the Pan-Am games or Olympics it will need to be a quicker and more simple game to score.
Thanks, Dan, for your thoughts on rally scoring.
Teresa Mann says
I am not a fan of rally scoring – I would much rather just wait a bit longer. I feel ‘rushed’ in rally scoring and a bit more tense (reminds me of tie-breakers in tennis). The group(s) that I play with are all about the same level so not sure if that makes a difference. I also like the feeling of “stopping the opponent” to get the serve back. The scoring of PB is what makes it unique, which is another reason I am against rally scoring – we already have that in other sports.
Thanks for your feedback, Teresa. You’re not alone with that sentiment.
Todd Norton says
Well down here on the South Texas Gulf Coast (pirate beach on Corpus Christi bay), we love the idea. It’s has it’s place like anything else.
I personally use it in my clinics and lessons when match play needs to be engaged to exercise the topic of training for that particular session.
Regular PB scoring moves differently and tends to drag when I am having my players try and focus on certain game scenarios. With Rally Scoring the variance in momentum switches is more frequent and gives players a chance to understand not only physical parts to the performance but the mental and psychological or dare I say emotional aspects to the game.
Let’s not forget rally scoring can be more fun in mixers or social tournaments which we call SCooP’s tournaments. Social Competitive Pickleball is a way of life down here on the beach say I.
Thanks, Todd, for your feedback and insight on rally scoring. Good stuff!
James T Klinger says
I have played a modified version of rally scoring where all doubles rules stay the same except the scoring. Simple enough and works great when you are playing a round robin both competitive and non competitive. Especially when all courts are ready to rotate except one. Some of us don’t ever play singles. Why muddy the waters with singles rules. KISS applies. Regardless, I think that rally scoring has a place in round robins but tournaments, no, unless agreed to ahead of time. I think that rally scoring is a temporary fix to a temporary problem and etiquette demands that both players agree to this temporary fix or no go. Unless of course the round robin chief/boss says rally scoring and it was agreed to in the beginning. Understand I am in the over 70 crowd and simple is always better.
Keep up the good work. I appreciate the emails and the comments section.
Hi James, I appreciate your kind words and feedback on rally scoring. Thanks for taking the time.
BERNARD MILLS says
I fully agree. I have been using rally scoring for about 10 years with 9 different Rec Centers and 2 private clubs. The only thing that changes from regular play is the scoring. All the other rules of pickleball remain the same. We play a game to 15 win by 1. Using only 3 courts we typically have 35-45 players at a time. We use “paddle stacking. Where the teams slide down the courts when a match ends. The players that finished a match come off the courts. 4 new players now start their match on a court close to the bench, where the stacked paddles are located. The server always starts on the same side of the courts as designated by the group.
The average match is 15minutes, +- 5 minutes.
The players that come off the court. paddles are “stacked” in groups of 4. (althrough we have paddle holders, have used different methods of better control of the paddle, it is not necessary. You can make markers on the bench , ie 1, 2, 3, 4, etc based on how many players are waiting to play. the 4 player paddle in #1 take the next court available (on the court near the bench). The winners of the court now get first choice of where they may place their paddles. If there are any opening’s in the paddles that are currently “stacked” on the bench, they may choose to participate with them, if there are no openings, they would place their paddles at the end of the group. The losers of than match now can see if there are any openings in those paddles on the bench. If there are, they may play with the players waiting to play. If no slots are available, they need to place their paddles at the end of the line. Thus they can play with the team they just player with, or they can drop back a slot, which now makes 2 teams that have openings when the next group comes off the courts. etc. It may sound confusing, but it really is not. Players quickly learn that this method gives them a lot of freedom of either playing with new players or selecting the players they wish to play with. If you want a specific 4some, you have to pay the penalty of starting at the end of the list and graduallly moving up until your group reaches the #1 slot. When I am there, I help with this activity, as an Ambassador, I also try a be in any group that has beginners. This method does allow the advanced players to play with one another if they desire. Those that choose not to play with bangers quickly learn that they can drop back a location and avoid playing against players that can be intimidating. The banger often learn the players to not like playing against or with players that they have to protect themselves against them rather than enjoying playing the game.
Currently we have about 800 players close to Broomfield, with about 6000 players in the greater Denver area, which includes Broomfield and surrounding towns. Most use this method of scoring and play with a few exceptions. When a 4some wish to play together we do have outdoor facilities where they can rent a court in some cases, in others they can just register for the court for an hour usage.
Have fun, a great day today in Colorado, about 50 and the wind is dying down. Time to go see who is on the courts. Have fun.
Colin Broughton says
I only knew Rally Scoring until I played while on vacation in Mexico where using 3#s scoring was the only scoring method used. Stalled games were a regular feature, i.e. no server could score. Can’t happen with Rally Scoring. This alone, when there are players waiting to play, is the way to go. If you wish to continue using 3#s scoring at least try Rally scoring especially when scoring is stalled and players are waiting.
Colin. Staying safe and hoping for an early return to Pickleball.
Hi Colin, Thanks for chiming in. I completely agree. Hope you’re doing well.
What I would like to see at rec centers for a better mix of players is timed games, maybe 12 minutes each or so. (Let me whine here: it seems like I am always getting “stuck” with beginners while their spouses are enjoying a more advanced game on the other court, with one beginner. Yes, I should be more assertive and try to work my way onto that court but, we only have two courts and no possibility of extended hours for a division of levels, and spouses of differing levels travel many miles from home to play at the same time.) So: timer goes off and everybody scatters. It would also free a court when four beginners can’t seem to score enough to finish a game.
Yes, I know, I was a beginner once, too. But I spent 30 years improving my tennis skills and etiquette and back in the day we silently cursed the pickleballers marking the parks courts with chalk. Don’t hate me, I miss my first love, tennis, but now I’m a pickleballer.
Timed game is definitely another good option. It’s always so helpful when two courts finish at the same time! I like it.
I’m all for rally scoring, the sooner the better. I think this makes for even more exciting games as every rally won by either side earns a point, as should be the case, just like it is in badminton. Even if the scoring is increased to 21 points, the game would still be completed in a fairly short time.
Thanks, Mark, for your opinion. Appreciate the feedback!
Brian G says
I know with traditional scoring the score quite often gets forgotten and sometimes even who is supposed to serve is forgotten. I see rally scoring is just two numbers to remember, and the server seems more easily to know. So which do you think is the easiest system to remember?
Hi Brian, With rally scoring one does need to remember the following:
This is easy — just have to remember this. Sometimes easier said than done!
Miguel Enciso says
Hey Maxie (see what I did there) I have experimented with the rally scoring and have even done some community tournaments. We have done a 29 serve format (games to 15 not winning by 2) and games with 25 serves (13 points wins.) Outside of getting the players to understand the scoring at first, this format ensures about a 7 minute game and is very exciting. Every serve, every smash and every mistake brings a point and a lot of pressure on the players. Isn’t that what it’s all about?? Keep living THE PICKLEBALL LIFE (available on YouTube, Spotify and Apple Music) and always PADDLE UP! Miguel
Hi Miguel, I do, indeed, see what you did there. Thanks for chiming in. I also like the “guaranteed” 7-minute games.
George Scott says
Some interesting nuances are surfacing at our indoor, half-gym rec center when “Rally” scoring is being used as crowds grow. First off, a sort of modified rally is being used as we still have each player serve when the ball comes to their side. As we have no practice sessions, just open play, our play is our practice. With rally scoring I find myself less willing to attempt new shot variations which I willingly do when my team is serving. I think the rally system stifles creativity a bit. Another thing I have noticed is that players are less willing to take on beginners for partners as their mistakes seem more glaring when every point marches to 15. As is probably the norm, the rec center staff seems oblivious to the plight of Pickleball competitors. They set up nets and go away. Perhaps expanding hours for play, having a set time for beginners/advanced, and seeking a way to expand court availability should be on the minds of rec coordinators as interest in this wonderful sport for all ages is going to ever increase, not dry up and blow away.
Great comments, George. I appreciate the time you spent jotting these down here. Have a great rest-of-the-week!
Looking forward to trying rally scoring,
Thanks for the tip,
Thanks for chiming in, Tod. Let me know how it goes when you get the opportunity to use rally scoring.
Peter Frost says
Squash went through this years ago and rally point scoring won out, for all the reason you mentioned, but primarily to speed up the game and provide for a more attacking style. Without the serve, players often took a very defensive wait-and-see attitude, that had the effect of slowing down the game significantly. Game time at the professional level is now up to 50% shorter and rallies are more exciting. I personally think rally scoring would help our game.
Incidentally, in doubles squash, each player serves whether a point is won or lost and this format has held since the game was created in Philadelphia over 100 years ago.
Hi Peter, Thank you so much for chiming in. Great insight.
I understand the controversy over rally scoring — both sides. My comment/question is about the rally format you suggest with only one partner serving per side out and each side out starting serve like in Pickleball singles (odd score on add court, even on deuce). To me that guarantees only the same person keeps serving on each team? You have to have each partner serve per side out but also start the serve like singles scoring. This guarantees that each side out starts with the person on the team that did not serve their last service rally — in other words, guarantees the serve switches every time.
Hi Robin, Which partner is serving is dependent upon the serving team’s score (just like singles). Because the serving partners will still rotate only if they win a point on their serve (and not anytime else), it guarantees alternate server.
For example, assume you are the first server of the rally scoring game. As the first server, you are serving from the even side. Assume you win 2 points as the serving team. Because you rotated twice with your partner (because you won 2 points on your serve) you remain on the even side. Now the other team serves (and scores however many points they can) and you eventually win the rally. In rally scoring you win the point when you win the rally as the receiving team. Your team now have 3 points and are once again the serving team. Because your team has an odd number of points (3), the person on the left serves — your partner.
As another example, assume you are the first server of the game. As the first server, you are serving from the even side. Assume you win 3 points as the serving team. Because you rotated three times with your partner (because you won 3 points on your serve) you are now positioned on the odd side. Now the other team serves (and scores however many points they can) and you eventually win the rally. In rally scoring you win the point when you win the rally as the receiving team. Your team now have 4 points and are now the serving team. Because your team has an even number of points (4), the person on the right serves — your partner.
Hope this helps!
Arun s says
Mostly correct, and easy to understand. The game will progress faster and without confusion. One reason is that only 2 numbers are said instead of 3 currently being used. That 3rd number representing the server can be dumped. In so doing, there goes the confusion currently present. So the score would be stated as e.g. 4, 3 before serving. Yes the server would be on the right side (even side) of their court. So, conversely if the score was e.g. 5, 3 then the server would be on the left side (odd side) of their court.
You mention ad side and deuce side. Keep in mind that pickleball does not use most tennis terminology. In fact, they call the baseline a back line or service line. Rally scoring means exactly that. Any team (doubles) winning a rally wins or is awarded the point. Similar to singles, the server would switch sides if they win the rally.
Conversely if the other team (receiving) wins the rally, they earn a point. Each side out has the server who did not serve the previous time serve. So, alternate players will be serving when the side out occurs. Just like in singles, if the score of the serving team is even then the serve will be made from the right side. If however, the score of the serving team is odd then it will be made from the left side. Only two numbers in use, less confusion and clear cut. Simple, smooth and quick transition throughout the game.
It takes a lot less time for the game to progress smoothly, and for that reason alone, the game can be played to 15 or 21 points. Clearly absent is the archaic waste of time with repeated ‘side in’, ‘side out’ scoreless delay of progress. In fact, many disgruntled tournament players have experienced undue and lengthy delays before getting on court. If their match was scheduled for a 10 am time slot, there have been occasions when their match isn’t called until 12N or 12:30 pm. You guessed it! That’s is the single most valid reason that is in fact the culprit.
Rally scoring is also a must if they entertain any hopes of being a mainstream Olympic sport. Also, that’s only one of many changes Pickleball (USAPA) is going to have to make. One of the other ones is a singles court within the doubles court, as in Tennis and Badminton (both Olympic sports). That means the singles court would be 3 ft narrower than the doubles court. As it stands now, the Pickleball singles and doubles are played on the same 44’x20’ Badminton sized court. Simply put, it is senseless. You have 2 players in singles covering the same real estate as 4 players in doubles. Lolol! You tell me it makes sense, in any way and from any perspective.
Absolutely absurd and unfounded.
The USAPA is not only short sighted but seriously out of the loop aka out of touch and their minds. Sorry, I’m just frustrated at their stubbornness to do what is inherently good for the sport. A sport we all passionately love and play every chance we get.
Of course we want to see it in the Olympic Games, and for obvious reasons. Not gonna happen until, as I said earlier, some necessary changes are made in order to comply with the IOCs rules as set forth that other sports have had to comply with. Oh, yes there are other ones aside from the two i stayed herein.
Cheers! Trust I did not leave out anything important.
Brian G says
Well said, agree whole heartedly.
Well, I don’t think Pickleball will be an Olympic sport until it becomes an international sport. I am not aware of other countries playing Pickleball? Perhaps I am wrong on this.