Pickleball Scoring Rules
9 Must-Know Pickleball Scoring Rules
- Pickleball scoring is done sequentially (1,2,3,4 etc).
- The score goes to 11 points (in some tournaments, the score goes to 15 or 21).
- The winning team must win by at least 2 points. If the score is 10 – 10, the winning team must get at least 2 more points to win or in this case, at least 12 points.
- Only the team that is currently serving can score points. On occasion, rally scoring is used which means both the serving side and the receiving side can earn a point when they win a rally.
- Each team gets to serve at least twice, once per player. Except at the start of the game, when the serving side gets only one serve. This is called the “first server exception” rule and only applies to doubles pickleball.
- The serving side scores a point when the receiving side doesn’t successfully return the ball or commits a fault.
- When the serving side scores a point, the server switches to the other side of the court and serves again.
- The serving player must hit the ball to the diagonally opposite court and the ball must land between the center line, the baseline, the sideline, and the non-volley zone line. The ball can’t touch any of the lines on a serve.
- The server must always say the score before serving. The serving side’s score is stated first, then the receiving side’s score, and then the server number (server 1 or server 2). Looks like 10 – 10 – 1 or 10 – 10 – 2.
Pickleball Serving Rules: To Help You Better Understand Pickleball Scoring
Understanding how serving works in pickleball is extremely important in helping you understand pickleball scoring.
Here are some pickleball serving scenarios that will help you understand pickleball scoring:
For the purpose of explaining how serving and scoring work, we’ll have 2 teams, each with 2 players.
- Team A with Player 1A and Player 2A, and
- Team B with Player 1B and Player 2B
Scenario 1: The first serve of the game
The “First Server Exception” rule applies to the first serve of the game. The rule states: To minimize the advantage of being the first team to serve in the game, only one player, the one on the right side, gets to serve on the first service turn of the game.
The first team, in our case Team A, Player 1A, serves the first ball of the pickleball game from the right side of the court.
Player 1A continues to serve. Each time a rally is won, Player 1A and Player 2A change sides of the court and Player 1A serves again until they lose a rally or the game is won.
When or if Team A loses a rally, the ball goes to Team B. Player 2A on Team A does not serve.
Scenario 2: Team A loses the rally after the first serve of the game (side-out).
- Player 1B serves and their team, Team B wins the rally.
- Player 1B switches from the right service court to the left-hand court and Player 2B moves to the right-hand court.
- When Player 1B serves again and their team, Team B, loses a rally, Player 2B serves.
- Player 2B hits the next serve from the side of the court where they’re standing (right-hand court).
- Each time Team B wins a rally, Player 2B and Player 1B switch sides and Player 2B continues to serve until they lose a rally (side-out) or make a fault.
- This is done until the score gets to 11 points and Team B is at least 2 points ahead of Team A.
- If a rally is lost, the ball goes back to Team A.
To win a game in pickleball, you must win by at least 2 points.
Most games are played to 11, sometimes to 9 points.
If you’re playing your game to 11 points and the current score is 10-10, then one team must win by 2 points – which means one team must get 12 points in order to win.
But if each team continues to win 1 point, the game continues until one team is ahead by 2 points.
This means that a game can go on and on for quite some time until a 2-point spread is achieved.
Here’s a great video that explains how to score in pickleball.
Pickleball Scoring And What’s The Third Number Mean?
Scoring in a game of pickleball is different than other racquet sports which causes a lot of confusion for newer pickleball players.
I’ve included some examples below that will help clarify how to score in pickleball and clarify why there are 3 numbers to call out when announcing the score.
The first number and second number represent each player’s score (serving side score is the first number) and then the third number represents whether the player who is serving is the 1st or 2nd player to serve in that rally. I go into detail with examples below.
The score will look and sound like this:
Example: 0 – 0 – 1 (neither team has a point, and the 1st player on the serving side is serving – represented by the last number)
Example: 1 – 0 – 1 (the serving side has 1 point, the receiving side has 0 points, and the 1st player on the serving side is serving)
Example: 1 – 1 – 2 (the score is tied and the 2nd player on the serving side is serving)
How to Score In Pickleball – Examples
These scoring examples use Team A (Player 1A or 2A) and Team B (Player 1B or 2B).
Scenario 1 – New Game, 1st Serve of the Game
In this example, let’s assume this is a new game and Team A is getting ready to make their 1st serve of the game.
STEP 1 – Team A, Player 1A stands on the right side of the pickleball court because that’s where the 1st server always stands on the 1st serve of a new game.
STEP 2 – Team A, Player 1A calls the score, 0 – 0 – 2 or 0 – 0 – start
- The serving team’s score is said first, and the receiver’s score is said second.
- Notice that the server says 2 or start, NOT 1
Remember, the starting side only gets 1 serve so the server calls its position as if they were the 2nd server – the “First Server Exception Rule”.
- Team B successfully returns the ball but Team A misses the return ball
Here’s what happens:
- Neither team gets a point so the score is still 0 – 0.
- Team A is now ‘side out’ because as the starting team, only 1 player (the starter player) gets to serve. And since they have now missed the ball or committed a fault, Team B gets to serve.
The “first server exception rule“ minimizes the advantage of being the first team to serve in the game, only one player, the one on the right side, gets to serve on the first service turn of the game.
Scenario 2 – In-play game until a fault is made
In this example, let’s assume:
- The game is in-play and the score is 5 – 3 – 1 for Team A (Team A has 5 points)
- Team A, Player 1A successfully serves the ball and Team B (the opponent) misses the ball
Here’s What Happens:
- Team A gets 1 point so the score is now 6 – 3
- Team A, player 1A, will switch sides with their partner (Player 2A)
- Team A, player 1A, calls the new score, 6 – 3 – 1 (it was 5 – 3 – 1 previously)
- Team A, player 1A serves the ball
- Rinse and repeat until Team A makes a fault or gets 11 points and 2 more points than Team B
- When Team A makes a fault, Player 2A serves and they continue playing, serving, and scoring until Team A makes another fault or gets 11 points
- When Team A makes a fault, they ‘side out’ and Team B Player 1B serves
How To Keep Track of The Score
Okay, so now that you know how to score, the big question is, how do you remember what the score actually is?
This is tricky, particularly for beginner players because when you are so focused on the other aspects of playing a game it can be difficult to keep track of the score.
One important rule in pickleball is that the server must call out the score before serving.
It’s a rule but it’s also important to do this so that everyone knows where you are in the game and to be sure that everyone agrees on what the score is.
And remember that learning more about the strategy of pickleball along with the rules, will help your overall game performance.
But how do you remember the score?
By remembering which side of the pickleball court you are on when you start playing the game.
If you are the first server, the score will always be an even number when you are on the right side of the pickleball court.
And when you are on the left side of the pickleball court, the score will always be an odd number.
Some people like to wear a colored wristband to help them remember that they were the first server and therefore, the score will always be an even number when they are on the right side and odd when on the left side of the court.
How To Score Playing Pickleball Singles
Scoring in singles is very much the same as scoring in doubles.
You use the same strategies for serving and keeping score except that when a ‘side out’ is called which means the player loses their serve, the ball goes to the opponent.
When keeping score playing singles, if the opponent’s score is an even number, the player serves from the right side. If their score is an odd number, they serve from the left side of the court.
The player serving still needs to say the score before serving but it’s a series of 2 numbers, not 3 numbers. Let’s assume the serving team has 5 points and the opposing team has 8 points. The server will say 5 – 8.
How does scoring work in pickleball?
In pickleball, only the serving team can score a point. When the opponent misses a hit or commits a fault, the serving side gets a point. Sometimes rally scoring is used and in this case, either team can earn a point when the opposing team misses a hit.
How do you score in singles pickleball?
In pickleball singles, the server scores a point whenever the receiver (the opponent) loses a rally or commits a fault.
Can you score without serving in pickleball?
No, you can’t score without serving in pickleball. Only the serving team can score in pickleball unless rally scoring is used which means that either team can score a point when the opposing team loses a rally.
Summary – How To Score In Pickleball
There is so much to remember when you initially begin playing and scoring is just one more thing. But don’t worry, it gets much easier as you progress your pickleball game.