Starting Score in Pickleball
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Starting Score in Pickleball: 0-0-2 or 0-0-START?

This post has been updated in 2024 according to the USA Pickleball Official Rulebook (2024).

There’s no question that scoring in pickleball when playing doubles can be confusing for the brand new player. The majority of the scoring confusion arises immediately when the game begins. When the game begins, it’s important to remember that only one player – the player that begins the game on the right side of the court – gets to serve during the first serve rotation of the game.

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Most newbies pick up that concept fairly quickly. However, if you head out to your local courts, you’ll likely hear two different variations of the score called to begin the game, with some calling 0-0-2 while others insist on 0-0-START.

USA Pickleball Official Rulebook (2024)

Pickleball scoring convention states that the server announces three numbers when calling the score.

Rule #4.J.

Calling the Score in Doubles Matches. The score is called as three numbers in doubles matches. The proper sequence for calling the score is: serving team’s score – receiving team’s score – the server number (one or two), (e.g., “zero – one – one”). To start each game, the score will be called as “zero – zero – two.”

So When Did 0-0-START Become a Thing?

I have heard it mentioned on more than one occasion, that 0-0-START was the scoring convention that was cited in previous years’ rulebooks. But was it? To provide a bit of historical perspective, Mark Peifer, former Managing Director of Officiating and Chairman of the USA Pickleball Rules Committee, recently chimed in when posed with this question in an “Ask the (USA Pickleball) Refs” Facebook Group:

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A comment from Mark Peifer

The first verifiable use of calling the score as “server score, receiver score, then server 1 or server 2” shows up in the 2010 Rulebook (revision 3/28/2010). That language is listed as a note in Section 10. It stays that way until the 2016 Rulebook. It wasn’t until 2016 that language was written into the Rulebook (Rule 10.F) that specifies how to start the game, namely, “To start the match, the score will be called zero-zero-two”. The only reason I can think of why that level of specificity was needed is because the previous guidance (in the Note) was seen as how to call all subsequent scores, not the game’s first score.

I can find no evidence that the ‘start’ version was ever in the Rulebook, though it is used frequently and is now part of the rec game, just as much as 0-0-2 is. The earliest copy of the Rulebook I have is 1987 and it [the reference to calling the score as 0-0-start] is not in there.

Mark Peifer, Former Managing Director of Officiating and Chairman of the USA Pickleball Rules Committee

Why Does Pickleball Start at 0-0-2 and Not 0-0-1?

Okay. So we have determined that, to begin the game, the score should technically be announced as 0-0-2 and not 0-0-START. But why would it be announced as 0-0-2 and not 0-0-1?

When announcing the score when playing doubles in pickleball, the third number in the three-number score refers to the server number. Since both players on a team get the opportunity to serve before the other team gets the opportunity, a player is designated as a “1” or “2” – the first or second person to serve.

This third number announced (1 or 2) is a clue/hint to what happens next in the serving sequence. If “1” is announced as the third number, there must be a second person (server #2) to serve. If “2” is announced as the third number, the receiving team understands that the next rally they win will result in a side-out and will become their turn to serve.

As mentioned previously, in the very first serve rotation of the game, only one of the two players on the serving team gets to serve. Therefore, the one and only server in the initial serving rotation of the game is designated as server number 2 as the “2” means that the receiving team will earn a side-out at the next rally they win.

Hence, the initial score of the game is 0-0-2 and not 0-0-1.

Final Thoughts

Most “rule-followers” will continue to insist on calling the initial score of the game as 0-0-2 according to the most recent, official USA Pickleball Rulebook. And they are technically correct. And this will be the score that’s called in sanctioned, tournament play.

Most will argue, however, that it doesn’t really matter how you call the score. Afterall, you’re still enjoying the same, fun game regardless of how you call the score to begin the game.

Play on! 0-0-START. Or 0-0-2. Your choice!

See you on the courts.

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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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