One of the most confusing parts of playing pickleball, especially for beginners, tends to be figuring out the scoring system. Between position changes, knowing who scores when, and calling the score, it can be a lot to keep track of! So, in an attempt to make things a little easier, here is a complete explanation of the pickleball scoring system.
In this post, we’ll discuss:
- The Basics of Scoring
- Doubles Scoring
- Calling the Score
- Singles Scoring
- The #1 Tip for Figuring Out the Score or Your Positions (if you lose track)
The Basics of Scoring
In a regular game, a team or player must score 11 points and win by 2 points. That means, even if a game is tied 10-10 in a regular game, the next team or player to score a point would not win. They would have to score two additional points to win the game. (In some tournaments, games can be played to 15 or 21 points, but a team must still win by 2 points.)
Points can only be scored by the serving team. So, how does a serving team score a point? Simple. If the serving team hits an Ace or if a fault is committed by the receiving team, the serving team scores a point.
Now, if the serving team commits a fault, no points are awarded but the server does lose their serve. It then moves to the second server (if playing doubles) or it’s called a “side out,” which means the team or player is out of serves and service switches to the other team.
We’re starting with doubles scoring because singles scoring is nearly identical, with just a few differences. If you understand doubles scoring, you’ll be just fine with singles scoring!
The person on the right side of the court always serves first. Always. Whether it’s the first serve of the game or your team has just gotten the ball back after a side out. The person on the right will always be the one to serve first.
If the serving team scores a point, the players on that team switch positions. (The player who served from the right side of the court would move to the left side of the court, and the player on the left would move to the right.) This continues as long as the serving team scores. The players on the receiving side do not switch positions when a point is scored by the serving team.
Calling the Score
As strange as it might sound, one of the most confusing parts of doubles pickleball scoring is how the score is called. But we’ve got a few tips to make it less confusing!
When playing doubles, the serving team calls the score as a series of three numbers, such as 5 - 2 - 1
Okay, okay, but what do those numbers mean? Let’s break that down…
The first number is the serving team’s score. Whenever you serve, you will call your score first. Always.
The second number is the receiving team’s score. That should be easy to remember since you already called your score.
The last number is where the confusion tends to set in. The last number signals serving position. So, if you’re the first person to serve, you would call “1”. If you’re the second person to serve, you would call “2”.
Seems simple right? Well, here’s where things can get a little confusing:
The first serve exception. In an attempt to minimize the advantage the first serving team would get to start the game, only one player gets to serve and fault before a “side out” is called and it switches to the other team. All turns after that allow both players to serve before it switches again.
For this reason, the first server of the game will call “2”. Just think of the number “2” as the signal that the serve might switch to the other team. So, rather than labeling yourself as a “1” or a “2,”, think of those last numbers merely as indicators for when the serve needs to switch to the other team.
This is especially important for if/when your serving position changes in the middle of a game. Depending on the score and where you are on the court, you might call “1” for your team’s first service and then “2” when your team gets the serve back.
Why is that? Because you and your partner switch sides every time you score a point, but you don’t switch sides when the other team scores a point.
Let’s look at an example…
Jason and Alex are on the same team and they are up to serve. Jason is on the right side of the court, so he serves first. He calls the score: “5 - 2 - 1”. The receiving team faults, so Jason and Alex score a point and switch positions. Jason now serves from the left side of the court and, after a rally, they fault. The players don’t switch sides, and now it’s Alex’s turn. Alex is on the right side of the court, and he calls the score: “6 - 2 - 2”. They don’t win the point, so the serve moves to the other team and both Jason and Alex stay in their current positions.
After a few rallies, it’s time for Jason and Alex to serve again. But this time, Alex is on the right side of the court, so he serves first. He calls the score: “6 - 4 - 1”. See what happened?
On the previous turn, Alex was on the left side of the court when they got the serve back, so he was the second server. On this turn, Alex was on the right side of the court, so he was the first server.
If that’s still a little confusing, be sure to watch CJ Johnson’s Pickleball Scoring Basics video where she uses a “Me, You, Who?” score calling suggestion.
Okay, let’s review. We know the basics:
- Points are scored only by the serving team
- Games are normally played to 11 points, and a team must win by 2
- Tournament games may be played to 15 or 21 points, still must win by 2
We also know the scoring rules for doubles:
- The player on the right side of the court always serves first
- Both players on the serving team switch positions after every point
- Players on the receiving team do not switch positions
- The score is called as a sequence of three numbers: the serving team’s score, the receiving team’s score, and the serve position. A couple of examples are: 5 - 2 - 1 or 5 - 2 - 2
So, what are the differences between singles and doubles scoring? In singles scoring:
- A player serves from the right side of the court if their score is even (0, 2, 4, and so on)
- A player serves from the left side of the court if their score is odd (1, 3, 5, and so on)
- The receiving player always lines up diagonally from the serving player
- The score is called as a sequence of two numbers: the serving team’s score and the receiving team’s score. An example is: 5 - 2
That’s it! All the other rules are the same for doubles and singles scoring.
The #1 Tip for Figuring Out the Score or Your Positions (if you lose track)
Before we wrap up, we have to mention one last tip that is essential for being able to recall the score and everyone’s positions if you should forget while playing.
Start every game by memorizing your and your partner’s starting positions, and who is lined up diagonally across from you.
As long as you know where you start the game, you’ll be able to figure out whether the score should be even or odd based on your position or figure out your positions if you come off a rally and can’t remember which side of the court you began.
If you start the game on the right side of the court, the score will be even every time you’re on the right side of the court. Likewise, if you start the game on the left side of the court, the score will be odd every time you’re on the left side of the court. (It’s important to note that, in pickleball, zero is considered an even number.)
Trust us, that simple tip can make all the difference -- and save a lot of headaches!
Want a couple more secrets for figuring out the score? Check out The Pickleball Guru’s 3 secrets top pickleball players know for figuring out the score.
And don’t forget to save the graphics in this post for easy reference the next time you need to brush up on your pickleball scoring knowledge or when you need to teach a newbie how it’s done!
Need help selecting the perfect paddle? We’ve got just the guide for you. Check it out here!