Carrie Z Plays Pickleball

Pickleball Rules and Scoring

pickleball rules and scoring girl

Pickleball rules and scoring is unique and sometimes confusing. If you play volleyball, then you’ll understand the term side-out. If you play tennis, it may be confusing because partners serve right after each other. It takes a bit of understanding and then it’s not so difficult. Let’s break it down.

Three Numbers Are Called Out Before the Point

There are three numbers called out in pickleball scoring before each point is played. The first number is the server score. The second number is the opponent’s score. Got it so far?

Here’s the unique scoring and where it may get confusing, the third number is which server is serving. The player is either server number one or server number two. The player on the right-hand side of the court serves first, so they are server number one, in every case except for the very first point of the whole game. They are called server two, just that one instance, to not give the serving side total advantage by having both players serve back to back at the match’s beginning.

As the game continues the person on the right side of the court (as you face the net) is server number one. Server number one continues to serve points until they make a fault, and server number two takes its turn directly after its partner. These numbers are not permanent during play. It will depend on the player’s court position when a side-out happens. (More on that later).

Games Are Played to 11 (Mostly!)

Other rules to note: most games are the first to 11 with a margin of two points. A game can be finished at 11-5 or 11-9 as an example but not 11-10. In that case, the game would continue until 12-10 or possibly even higher before finishing. 

In some tournament situations, it’s the first team to 15 points, with either a one or two-point margin and a change of sides at 8 points. Another alternative is the first to 21, with either a one or two-point margin.

It is best to know what that end game is, before starting play or it could be an unpleasant surprise. A simple question, “What are we playing to?” works.

A team can only earn points as the serving team. If the receiving team wins the point from each server (one and two) then it is a side-out and they will be able to score when they begin serving. This unique serving system can be challenging, but also rewarding. Players often play unbelievably, with very few points to show for their efforts!

Pickleball Scoring Part I Video

Pickleball Scoring Part II Video

Service Technique

A service is hit with an underhand motion, in a cross-court direction, and must bounce in the service box to be continued considered in play. The ball is returned and the point is on after server one hits a fault or the opponents win the exchange. Server two will serve from the left side of the court if server number one’s point ends with them serving from the right and continuing until that team makes a fault or the opponents win the point.

Fault Definition

An important definition to note is the word fault. In pickleball, a fault is a mistake or a shot that can not be returned. In tennis, the word fault is a missed serve. In tennis, a double fault is two missed serves and the other team earns a point.

In pickleball since you only get one chance to serve the ball into the service box, (unlike two times in tennis). A missed serve is a fault and any other mistake is also a fault. The terms overlap in that case.

anne z juggling pickleballs


A side-out occurs when both servers (number one and number two) fail to win points or stop winning points. The ball goes over to the other side of the net and server one, who is on the right-hand side serves first. Side-outs are used in the game of volleyball unless rally scoring is in play. 

Rally Scoring

In rally-scoring, a point is earned as each point is played. Either side can win the point, regardless if they were the serving team or not. This is used on occasions when time is limited since the games will finish much quicker. Rally scoring is very common in volleyball these days.

Call the Score Out Loud

The score is called out loud before each and every point by the server. Tennis players may have difficulty with this rule, because many play tennis without calling the score out loud, and just keep track in their own heads.

In pickleball, it clearly says in the rulebook that the score must be called out before each point. Once the score is called, there is a ten-second for the ball to be hit. The rules also state that the partner of the server can call the score out loud, but traditionally in pickleball, it’s the server’s duty. It should be called before the actual service is hit and not while the ball is being delivered. 

Scoring May Take Practice

Scorekeeping in pickleball can sound complicated but you’ll get the hang of It. To recap, the first number is the server’s score (no matter which team is ahead). The second number is the receiver’s score. The third number is either a one or a two, depending on which partner’s turn it is.

Two-Bounce Rule

Once the serve lands in the service box, the receiver returns it back over the net. At that time, the ball has bounced twice, once in the service box, and the second bounce back on the server’s side of the net. Now any player can hit a ball as a volley, which is a ball that it’s the air as it’s struck. 

Taking Offense

Once the service has been returned, both partners should try to move up to the non-volley line to gain the offensive position. Keeping in mind that the team that gets to that position first has about a 50% or more chance to win the point. 

Third Shot Drop

The answer to the receiver’s team advantage position-wise, is what is commonly called the “third shot drop”. The serving side tries to aim their shot across the net, into the non-volley zone, also known as the kitchen. The idea is to give the opponents a ball that won’t be smashed back. It’s not easy to do and requires a lot of practice. Click here to watch a couple of videos by the Z Sisters Pickleball on how to improve the third shot drop. 

How To Hit the 3rd Shot Drop

Elevate Your Third Shot Drop Practice by Using This Creative Pickleball Teaching Aid

Simple Strategy

One popular pickleball strategy is for the server to hit a deep serve to force a weaker return that lands short in the court. The receiver tries to hit a deep return to force the serving team to back up making their third shot drop more difficult.

Another popular strategy is to aim the ball to land at the opponent’s feet, so they will be forced to hit up on the ball, thus giving a set-up play to their partner or themselves. 

The middle of the court is the safest and provides a high percentage placement for both sides. Sometimes partners don’t communicate quickly enough to call the ball for themselves and a mix-up can happen. It is possible to see the ball go right between the partners after this kind of miscommunication. 

Deep, Deep, Feet, Feet, Middle, Middle, Middle

I like using phrases like this one to remind my partner what our shot-making goals might be. Over the net is the most obvious, but after that, serves and returns are effective if deep. Hitting low balls to the feet keeps players from being attacked. And the middle of the court gives lots of margin for error, meaning no wide shots out of bounds and over the lowest part of the net (34” in the center, 36” over the sidelines).

Here is our simple pickleball strategy mantra!

More Advanced, But Simple Too!

I like to wear a simple silicone wristband to add another awareness level in scorekeeping. If the person who begins on the right-hand side of the court (as one faces the net), is wearing the wristband, every time they serve from the right their score will always be a zero, two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve. All even numbers. This will be true as the game unfolds, regardless if they are a server one or a server two.

The partner without the wristband will always have even numbers, including zero when they are on the left side of the court (while facing the net). 


As you play more and more pickleball, you will find that people often forget the score, say the wrong score, and forget to call it out. Most folks are kind about offering help or figuring it out. When points go on and on, it can seem like “hours” so forgetting is highly likely. Not to worry. Everybody playing had to start somewhere, not knowing how to score. It will get easier to understand the more you do it! Side-out: 2-0-1!

pickleball paddle and balls

Pickleball Rules and Scoring History at a Glance

Pickleball is a relatively young sport that was created in 1965 by three friends: Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum. The sport was invented in Bainbridge Island, Washington, in the backyard of Pritchard’s home. Over the years, the rules and scoring of pickleball have evolved and become more standardized. Here’s a brief history of the rules and scoring in pickleball:

  1. Early Years: In the early days of pickleball, the rules were fairly flexible and adapted to the available space and equipment. The original court size was 20×44 feet, and the net height was set at 36 inches. The game was played with wooden paddles and a plastic ball.
  2. Standardization: As pickleball gained popularity, efforts were made to standardize the rules and equipment. The USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) was formed in 1984 to govern the sport and establish consistent rules. The organization has played a significant role in shaping the rules and promoting pickleball worldwide.
  3. Court Dimensions: The standard pickleball court is now 20×44 feet, the same as a doubles badminton court. The net is set at 36 inches in the center and 34 inches at the sidelines. However, there are also modified court sizes for singles play.
  4. Equipment: Pickleball is played with paddles and a perforated polymer ball. The paddle size and material have been regulated by the USAPA. The paddle dimensions are limited to 17 inches in length and 7.5 inches in width, and there are specifications regarding the composition and surface of the paddle.
  5. Scoring: Pickleball uses a rally scoring system, which means points can be scored by the serving or receiving team. The game is typically played to 11 points, but some tournaments and matches may use a higher point limit, such as 15 or 21. The winning team must win by at least two points. A unique feature of pickleball scoring is that points can only be won by the serving team.
  6. Serving: The serving team starts the game by serving the ball diagonally to the opposing court. The serve must clear the seven-foot non-volley zone (commonly referred to as the “kitchen”). Both the serving team and receiving team must remain behind their respective baseline until the ball is served.
  7. Double Bounce Rule: In pickleball, the ball must bounce once on each side (serving and receiving) before players can volley it. This rule, known as the “double bounce rule,” applies only to the serve and the return of serve. After the two bounces have occurred, players can either volley the ball or play it after it has bounced.
  8. Faults and Let Calls: Various faults can occur during a pickleball game, such as stepping into the non-volley zone or hitting the ball out of bounds. If a fault occurs, the opposing team is awarded the point. Additionally, let calls can be made when the ball hits the net on a serve and still lands in the proper service court. In such cases, the serve is replayed.

It’s worth noting that pickleball rules and scoring may continue to evolve as the sport grows in popularity and more research is conducted. It’s always a good idea to consult the official rulebook of the governing body, such as the USAPA, for the most up-to-date information on pickleball rules and scoring.

Get a Pickleball Rulebook

A big tip is to download a copy of the pickleball rulebook to be sure about all aspects of pickleball rules and scoring. Click here to find a link to the 2023 Pickleball Rulebook.

Leave any questions about pickleball rules and scoring you might have in the comments below. 

Here are a couple of videos to help you. 

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