Pickleball scoring rules 101: Everything you need to know to start playing

Pickleball scoring rules 101: Everything you need to know to start playing


By Jaclyn Brandt

On: 02/14/2024

Basic pickleball scoring rules for beginner pickleball players.

When you are first learning to play pickleball, the rules and scoring can seem very complex. But the more you play, the more it will become second nature. Here are the basics for pickleball scoring:

The basic rules of pickleball scoring

Although there are many scoring rules of pickleball, there are a few basics that are really important to remember, including points, how to keep score, and what happens during a serve.

Points

Pickleball can be played as singles or doubles, but the scoring stays pretty much the same.

  • Pickleball is usually played to 11 points, and you have to win by two.

    • Tournaments can be played to 15 or 21, win by two.

  • Pickleball can be played as singles or doubles.

  • Every rally begins with a serve.

  • Only the serving team can score a point by winning a rally.

  • In doubles, each player on a team has a chance to serve.

    • Only one player serves during the first serve of the game before it is handed over to the other team.

Your score

Before each serve, the server should call out the score by saying: their team's score first - the opposing team's score - their server number (which may either be one or two).

An example of this would be 2-0-1, which is 2 (your team’s score), 0 (the opposing team’s score), and 1 (whether you are the first or second server on your team).

Serving

After you announce the score, there are a few serving rules in pickleball to remember:

  • The player in the right service court will always serve first for a team.

  • If the serving team scores a point, the two players switch places so the first server now serves from the left service court.

  • The serving team will continue switching places until they lose a rally.

  • When the serving team loses a rally, the second server will now serve in the position they are already in.

  • Once the serving team loses another rally, the opposing team now has two chances to serve. This is called a side out.

  • In singles play, each player serves until they lose a rally.

    • It is only necessary to call out the score during singles and not the server's number (examples: 1-5, instead of 1-5-1).

Serving example

  1. The score is four to three, with the serving team in the lead. The first server is still serving. The score is called out as 4-3-1. 

  2. The serving team loses the rally, so now the second server will serve and call out the score as 4-3-2.

  3. The serving team wins the rally, so the serving team will switch places. The second server will call out the score as 5-3-2, and serve.

  4. The serving team loses the rally this time, so it is side out. Now the opposing team has two chances to serve.

  5. The first server on the opposing team will call out the score as 3-5-1 before serving.

First serve of a pickleball game

  • The only exception to both players serving is with the very first server of a game.

  • The very first server of the game still serves from the right service court, but he or she starts as the second server so the team who serves first does not have an unfair advantage.

  • The very first score of the game is called out as 0-0-2.

Because the first server of the game is considered the second server, a side-out is called as soon as the serving team faults and the other team gets to serve. Here are a few more pickleball scoring rules to remember concerning the first serve of the game:

  • Once a player loses the rally, it is a side-out.

  • It is important to keep track of which service court you serve from.

    • If you are the first server of the game and your score is an even number, you should be serving from the right service court.

    • If you are the first server of the game and your score is an odd number, you should be serving from the left service court.

Pickleball tournament scoring

Pickleball tournament scoring is the same as regular games, with a few potential exceptions:

  • Tournament games may be scored to 11, 15, or 21.

  • The winner must still win by two.

  • Some tournaments may have their matches be best of three or best of five games.

Pickleball scoring rules for singles play

In pickleball singles, each player only serves once. If your score is an even number, you serve from the right service court and if your score is an odd number, you serve from the left service court. Once a player loses the rally, it is a side out.

Read all the rules for pickleball singles.

Learning the scoring rules of pickleball

The scoring rules of pickleball may seem very complicated at first, but getting out and playing will help you learn more quickly. Whether you are taking a beginner pickleball course or just jumping right in to play, fellow players will help you learn and remind you of the best way to score pickleball games.

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