When playing pickleball, switching and stacking are similarly-purposed strategies that are implemented into the “game-plan” in order to move doubles partners out of their “traditional” starting court positions and into more strategic, rearranged positions in order to maximize the strengths of one or both partners.
Both strategies are very commonly implemented when one partner is right-handed and the other left-handed. By switching and/or stacking, the team is able to position both players in a way such that both of their forehands (traditionally, the stronger shot) are in the middle.
If both partners are the same-handed, the goal of stacking and/or switching is typically to position the player with the “better” forehand in the middle. You will often see this in mixed doubles as the male partner traditionally (but not always) has the more powerful forehand.
We have previously written an exhaustive primer on stacking on both the serve and/or the return-of-serve. When stacking, there is no surprise as to the intent of the stacking team. Both partners – when stacking – will initially be positioned on the same side of the court with one partner sliding into the “near” position and the other crossing over to the opposite side of the court.
Switching – when implemented – is executed by the team returning the serve. Whereas stacking has both partners initially positioned on one side of the court, switching has both partners starting the rally on their “traditional” side and then switching after the return-of-serve is hit. The partner that began on the left is now on the right and the one that started on the right is now on the left.
Advantages of Switching
Switching has several advantages:
- Similar to stacking, firepower (one or both players’ dominant side) is placed in the middle.
- Chaos/confusion is created because your opponents won’t initially know (different than stacking) if you will be switching spots with your partner or staying in the traditional position.
- Faking the switch can be executed – further exacerbating the chaos/confusion for your opponents.
- The switch (unlike stacking) can be aborted if the opponent executes a serve that would put the return-of-server grossly out of position, such that they wouldn’t have time to make the switch.
Disadvantages when Switching
Although there are several benefits to switching, there are a few disadvantages to the strategy as well. Extreme care must be taken so that you don’t end up positioned in the “I” formation on the same side of the courts as your partner.
- For just a brief moment when doing the switch, the return-of-server’s sight will be obstructed by the switching partner. That could make returning a third shot drive from your opponents a bit more challenging.
- Switching – like stacking – can be confusing. Am I required to start the next rally on the left side or the right side? Don’t mess that up or you’ll incur a fault.
- Partner communication is critical. If you miss a sign, you’ll be in that dreaded “I” formation with both partners covering the same side of the court and leaving the other side “open” and undefended.
Hand Signals when Switching
Hand signals as a means to communicate with your partner are most commonly used when implementing a switching strategy. As the return-of-server is preparing to return the serve they will glance at their partner who is positioned at the non-volley line and acknowledge receipt of the signal.
Open hand frequently means, “switch.” Closed fist typically means, “stay.” You may also likely have a signal indicating a fake. Regardless of the actual sign, it’s imperative that you’re on the same page as your partner.
Both switching and stacking are solid strategies that will put weaponry in the middle of the court. When stacking, your opponents know what’s coming. When switching, there’s an added element of surprise.
What about your team? Do you stack? Do you switch? Let us know in the comments below.
See you on the courts.
I love switching (signalling) vs stacking, for all the reasons that you mentioned. I especially like having the option of aborting the switch in case I or my partner have a poor return off a great serve.
With traditional stacking, the better teams will try and return the ball as close to the stacking partner so they are jammed or delayed from moving, and also forcing the returner even further away from the side of the kitchen he/she needs to be on. And if the return is bad…it could mean major trouble for the stacking team.
Good overall review of the benefits–I love switching, especially with my lefty male and female partners!
Thanks, Ernie. Your analysis is spot-on! Thanks for chiming in.
mike flynn says
when stacking can one player always receive the first serve ? by moving always
Hi Mike, No, the rules dictate both the actual server and the actual returner. Stacking is meant to potentially “move” the actual returner or server to the other side immediately after the serve or return is executed. Hope that helps.
Kerry Berman says
Stacking makes sense.
I’m having a hard time with the switching if both partners are right handed on return of serve?
Hi Kerry, Switching and stacking have the exact same goal. It’s to put the best shot(s) of one or both partners in the middle. If both partners are right-handed (and one doesn’t have a significantly better forehand than the other), it wouldn’t make sense to switch… nor would it make sense to stack. Switching and stacking are just different ways to accomplish the exact same thing – positioning the weaponry of one or both players in the middle. You’ll frequently see switching (and/or stacking) in mixed doubles when both players are the same-handed. It’s simply because, traditionally, (but certainly not always) the male player will have the stronger forehand and, therefore, the team wants to position that stronger forehand in the middle. Hope that helps.