Pickleball Stacking
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Pickleball Stacking: What it is and Strategy How to

Stacking in pickleball. You’ve likely seen it in some form or fashion on the courts – and, perhaps, at first – you were convinced that it was illegal.

Afterall, both the server and the server’s partner were positioned side-by-side (as if in a stack), on one side of the court. Nobody was on the other side – that is, until after the serve was executed – at which time, the server “slyly” slid over to the previously vacated side and played the rest of the rally from that side of the court.

Surely, you thought, if not illegal, this maneuver/manipulation of players was certainly “sneaky.” In reality, it was neither. It was a legal strategy – called stacking – employed by the serving team to maximize the strengths and weaponry of one or both partners.

What is Stacking in Pickleball?

Stacking is a pickleball doubles strategy designed to move players (partners) out of their “traditional” starting court positions and into a rearranged position on the court so as to gain an advantage or desired result during the rally.

Definition of Stacking within a Non-Pickleball Context

Interestingly enough, as I was researching the term, “stacking,” within a non-pickleball context, I came across the following two definitions:

  1. “to shuffle or arrange (a deck of cards) dishonestly so as to gain an unfair advantage.”
  2. “to manipulate events, information, etc., especially unethically, in order to achieve an advantage or desired result.”

Based on both of these definitions within a non-pickleball context, it is little wonder that those who are new to the concept of stacking on the pickleball court may think the tactic is illegal or unseemly at best.

Why Stack in Pickleball?

Teams stack for several reasons – with the overarching goal to legally garner an advantage during a rally by positioning each player to start a rally in such a way as to maximize each player’s strengths (or minimize the weaknesses).

Because the net is two inches higher at the sidelines than at the middle – and because hitting towards the sideline(s) brings with it added risk for the opposing team (they could hit the ball wide) – it stands to reason that the middle of the court is the safest area for your opponents to hit. Therefore, the middle of the court is also the area where you want to position your “fire-power.”

When to Stack

You will most often see teams stack when the partners are opposite-handed – one is a right-handed player and the other is left-handed. Generally speaking, players have a strong forehand. It’s important to keep in mind, however – and I see it from time-to-time – that some players do, indeed, have better backhands than forehands.

If both players are same-handed, stacking may be employed to maximize the weaponry (likely forehand) of one of the players by keeping that player’s stronger side in the middle.

Teams may also stack to give one of the players more opportunity to poach from their stronger wing. For most, it’s easier to poach when your strong side (likely forehand) is in the middle.

Is Stacking Legal?

Based on the official rulebook, stacking is, indeed, legal in pickleball.

Pickleball Stacking Rules

The official rulebook clearly defines which player must hit the serve, from which court the serve must be executed and to which court it must be hit. Additionally, it clearly defines which player on the receiving team must receive the serve.

As rule 4.B.7 states, however, “in doubles, there is no restriction on the position of the partners of the correct server and receiver as long as they are on their respective team’s side of the net.”

Because the rulebook does not define where the partner of the non-server or non-returner is respectively positioned, stacking is legal.

Traditional Pickleball Court Positioning

To understand stacking, it’s important to first understand the nuances of “traditional” court positioning. With traditional positioning, one player from each team begins the rally positioned on the right side of the court while their partner begins the rally positioned on the left side of the court.

With “traditional” court positioning, these rally-starting positions do not change – unless you are on the serving team and you win a point – in which case, you would rotate rally-starting positions with your partner. The player who was on the right is now on the left and the player that was on the left is now on the right.

This makes stacking a strategy to strongly consider.

How to Stack When Playing Pickleball

Shown below are diagrams and descriptions for stacking on the serve and the return-of-serve. In the following examples, we show a righty and lefty playing together. Their goal with stacking is to put both of their weapons (presumably their forehands) in the middle.

If a team only stacks on the serve, it is called a half stack or partial stacking. If a team stacks on both the serve and the return of serve, it’s referred to as full stacking.

Stacking on the Serve

When stacking on the serve, both pickleball players on the serving team are typically positioned side-by-side (as if stacked) on the even side or the odd side to begin the rally. Once the serve is hit, the server (the server should be the one closer to the centerline), will slide over to the other (previously vacated) side of the court.

Lefty is Serving from the Even Side of the Pickleball Court

There is no need to stack when lefty is serving from the even side because both forehands are already in the middle. Therefore, they use non-stacked, “traditional” positioning.

Stacking-Serving-Even Side-NonStacked
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Lefty is Serving from the Odd Side

In a “traditional,” non-stacked position both backhands from the lefty and righty would be in the middle when the lefty is serving from the odd side. To remedy this, lefty will serve from the odd side and simply slide over to his right and into the open court. Now both forehands are in the middle.

Stacking-Serving-Odd Side - Stacked
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Righty is Serving from the Even Side

In a “traditional,” non-stacked position both backhands from the lefty and righty would be in the middle when the righty is serving from the even side. To remedy this, righty will serve from the even side and simply slide over to his left and into the open court. Now both forehands are in the middle.

Stacking-Serving-Even Side - Stacked
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Righty is Serving from the Odd Side

There is no need to stack when righty is serving from the odd side because both forehands are already in the middle. Therefore, they use non-stacked, “traditional” positioning.

Stacking-Serving-Odd Side-Non Stacked
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Stacking on the Return-of-Serve

When stacking on the return-of-serve, both players will begin the rally on the same side of the court (odd side or even side). The returning player will be positioned at or slightly behind the baseline. The return-of-server’s partner will be positioned beyond the sideline (out-of-bounds), but near the non-volley zone line. After returning the serve, the returner will cross-over to the opposite side while the partner who was positioned near the non-volley line (kitchen line) simply slides into volley position in the near court.

TIP: Because the return-of-server will have to return the serve and then cover the other side of the court, the return should be hit deep and high enough so as to give him/herself enough time to cover the open court.

Lefty is Returning Serve from the Even Side

There is no need to stack when lefty is returning serve from the even side because both forehands are already in the middle. Therefore, they use non-stacked, “traditional” positioning.

Stacking - Return - Even Side - NonStacked
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Lefty is Returning Serve from the Odd Side

In a “traditional,” non-stacked position both backhands from the lefty and righty would be in the middle when the lefty is returning serve from the odd side. To remedy this, lefty will return the serve from the odd side and hustle up to the non-volley line on the other side (the even side). Righty will simply slide into volley position at the non-volley line on the odd side. Now both forehands are in the middle.

Stacking - Return - Odd Side - Stacked
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Righty is Returning Serve from the Even Side

In a “traditional,” non-stacked position both backhands from the lefty and righty would be in the middle when the righty is returning serve from the even side. To remedy this, righty will return the serve from the even side and hustle up to the non-volley line on the other side (the odd side). Lefty will simply slide into volley position at the non-volley line on the even side. Now both forehands are in the middle.

Stacking - Return - Even Side - Stacked
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Righty is Returning Serve from the Odd Side

There is no need to stack when righty is returning serve from the odd side because both forehands are already in the middle. Therefore, they use non-stacked, “traditional” positioning.

Stacking - Return - Odd Side - NonStacked
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Stacking can be Confusing!

When a doubles team is stacking, it is easy to forget and become confused as to which player should be serving and/or returning serve and from which position on the court that serve or return should be executed.

To avoid as much confusion as possible, it’s critically important to (1) note the current score and (2) remember which player on the stacking team started the game as the first server. The first server of the game should always be serving from the even side of the court when their score is even and from the odd side of the court when their score is odd.

Similarly – when the stacking team is returning serve – the player who started the game serving (the first server) must return the serve from the even side when their score is even and from the odd side when their score is odd.

Is Stacking a Good Pickleball Strategy?

Stacking in pickleball is an effective strategy to maximize the weaponry of one or both partners. Extreme care must be taken, however, because stacking may create a massive amount of confusion with respect to correct player positioning to hit the serve and/or return-of-serve. If the incorrect player serves or returns and/or that serve or return is executed from the wrong position a fault will be called.

What about you? Do you stack? Do you think stacking is one of the best ways to maximize both team members? If you do stack, why? If not, why not? Please let us know in the comments below.

See you on the courts.

>>READ MORE: Switching vs. Stacking when Playing Pickleball – Which is Better?<<
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Coach Todd
About Todd

Todd is the talent behind PickleballMAX. He knows pickleball and demonstrates it on the court as a 4.5 – 5.0 player. In addition to creating content and running the PickleballMAX business, Todd is IPTPA Level II certified. As an instructor at the Ohio Pickleball Academy, he instructs students and runs adult and youth clinics. He also manages tournament desks throughout the tri state for tournaments ranging from 100-500 participants.

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