Pickleball Scoring Basics
Now that you’ve practiced dinking at the non-volley zone and are comfortable with serving and returning, you’re just about ready to play a game of pickleball! The last component you must understand is scoring.
Beginners may see keeping score as something small they can pick up along the way as they play, but everyone on the court benefits when all the players can keep track of the score confidently. Some seasoned players may feel comfortable keeping track of the score for their partners or even all the players on the court, but this burden can be confusing and distracting. Plus, what if there are four players on the court who aren’t confident in keeping score?
The scoring system may feel confusing at first, but learning the system will help players feel more confident on the courts, keep the pace of the games steady, and may even help players call a fault on their opponents - which will be handy during tournaments!
My Score, Their Score, Server Number
Every rally begins with the score being called – usually by the server. This has several purposes. First, it signals to all the players on the court (especially the receiving player) that the server is about to begin. It also helps all players keep track of the score which supports the pace of the game. Calling the score before every rally also helps all players ensure they are standing on the proper side of the court.
To call the score during doubles games, the server will say three numbers: the serving team’s score, their opponent’s score, and then their server number. The server number is a one or two and is based on whether the server is the first or second server for their team. Beginners may find it easier to literally use the terms first server and second server when calling the score.
Each team gets two serves before a side out (when their opponents gain the serve) except for the first serve of the game. The team that begins the game will only get one serve before a side out. When the serving team loses a rally, they will either go to their second server or it will be side out and their opponents now serve. When the serving team wins a rally, they gain a point.
It’s very important to remember: a team can only score points if they win a rally when they served the ball.
Positions on the Court
The score also tells players where they should be standing on the court. The court on either side of the net is divided by the center line into two sides: a right or even side and a left or odd side. When a team gets the opportunity to serve, they will always begin the serve on the even side. The player who serves first will be the player who started on the even side at the beginning of the game.
Players can remember even side/odd side with the scoring. Every game begins with the score 0/0/2 (the serving team has zero points, the receiving team has zero points, and the server is the second server). Since the player on the right side must serve first and zero is an even number, then the right side of the court is the even side and the player is the even server.
Once the serving team scores a point, the teammates swap positions by crossing over the center line, and now the server serves from the other side of the court. Using the previous scoring example, the score would now be 1/0/2 (the serving team now has one point). The even server is on the left side of the court with an odd score, making the left side of the court the odd side. The serving team continues to serve until they lose a rally with their second server, in which case it is a side out and their opponents now gain the opportunity to serve.
Note that it is the number of points and not the server number that determines the players’ positions on the court. The odd server will serve first if the score is 1/0/1 (the serving team has one point, the receiving team has zero points, and the server is the first server). This is because when the team gains the opportunity to serve, the player in the even court must serve first (right side always serves first).
This is true of the receiving team as well. Just as there is a proper server, there is a proper receiver. When the receiving team’s score is even, the even server on the receiving team must be the player to receive the ball. In other words, no matter which team has the serve opportunity, if their score is an even number, their even server must be on the even side of the court. Similarly, if their score is an odd number, their even server must be on the odd side of the court.
Even seasoned players can get confused by the scoring system. Long, heated rallies and players switching sides to get deep lobs can distract players. There is one easy technique to help players remember which teammate is the even server: have the even server wear a wristband. Whenever their score is even, the player with the wristband knows they must begin the rally on the even side of the court.
Learning How to Keep Score
While this feels like a lot to remember, as you practice calling the score you will begin to develop a natural rhythm. With your first few recreational games, try to work with at least two seasoned players who will help you keep score. Don’t rely on them to call the score – instead, ask them to correct you when you call out the wrong score. If you have four beginners trying to learn how to call score, play a modified game at the non-volley zone line where you focus on dinking. There are fewer rules to remember and the game is less skill intensive so you can take the time to learn scoring.
The best way to learn how to keep score – as well as all the rules of the game – is to sign up for an Introduction to Pickleball class at Pickleballerz. These classes are designed for players new to pickleball and can accommodate individuals who don’t have any experience playing sports. Our pros will get you on the courts as quickly as possible so you can start playing recreation games right away!
Northern Virginia’s first indoor dedicated pickleball facility, Pickleballerz is conveniently located off Routes 28 and 50 at 14424 Albemarle Point Place, Chantilly, VA. Keep up with Pickleballerz by following us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and subscribing to the mailing list.