Keeping Score: Understanding Pickleball Scoring Rules

Feb 7, 2024 | Rules

Pickleball scoring rules can sometimes be confusing for beginners. In this article, we will break down the key elements of scoring in pickleball, discuss match etiquette, and explore tiebreakers. By understanding these aspects, you’ll be better equipped to enjoy and excel in the game of pickleball.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding how winning points work is crucial in pickleball.
  • Knowing serving rules helps maintain a fair game.
  • Being aware of faults and let calls can prevent misunderstandings on the court.
  • Respect for the court and opponents is essential in pickleball match etiquette.
  • Good sportsmanship and effective communication enhance the pickleball experience.

Scoring in Pickleball

Scoring in Pickleball

Winning Points

In pickleball, the primary objective is to score points and ultimately win the game. Points can only be scored by the serving side when the opposing team commits a fault. A fault occurs when the ball is hit out of bounds, does not clear the net, or is volleyed from the non-volley zone, among other infractions. The game continues with the serving side earning points until they commit a fault, which then gives the serve to the opposing team.

To keep track of who is serving and who is receiving, players must be aware of their positioning on the court. The server always starts from the right-hand side of the court when their team’s score is even, and from the left when the score is odd. This positioning rule helps maintain the flow of the game and ensures fairness in the serve rotation.

Remember, the key to winning in pickleball is maintaining the serve as long as possible to capitalize on scoring opportunities.

Games are typically played to 11 points, and a team must win by a margin of at least 2 points. This scoring system encourages competitive play and often leads to exciting rallies as teams vie for the lead. Here’s a quick rundown of the scoring format:

  • The first side scoring 11 points and leading by at least 2 points wins the game.
  • If both sides reach 10 points, the game continues until one side gains a 2-point advantage.
  • In tournament play, games may be played to 15 or 21 points, with the same 2-point margin rule for victory.

Serving Rules

In pickleball, mastering the serve is crucial as it’s the starting point of every rally. The serve must be made underhand with the paddle below the waist, and the ball must be hit in the air without bouncing. The server’s feet must stay behind the baseline during the serve, and neither foot may touch the court or beyond the baseline until after the ball is struck.

The serve is directed diagonally, landing in the opponent’s service court. If the ball touches the net but still lands in the correct service court, it’s called a ‘let’ and the serve is retaken without penalty. A key aspect to remember is that the serve cannot land in the non-volley zone, often referred to as the ‘kitchen’.

Here’s a quick rundown of the serving sequence in doubles play:

  • Player A on the serving team starts from the right-hand court.
  • If Player A wins the point, they move to the left-hand court and serve again.
  • The serve then alternates between teammates each time they win a point.
  • When a serving team’s point run ends, the serve passes to the opposing team.

With a volley serve, the player tosses the ball up and hits it on the way down before it bounces. This technique requires precision and timing but can add an element of surprise to the serve.

Understanding these serving rules will not only keep you in compliance with the game’s regulations but also enhance your strategic approach to starting each point effectively.

Faults and Let Calls

In pickleball, faults are critical to the flow of the game, as they immediately halt play and can result in a point for the opposing team. Faults occur for various reasons, such as a ball hitting out of bounds, a serve not clearing the net, or a player stepping into the non-volley zone (NVZ) during a volley. A unique aspect of pickleball is the emphasis on honesty and sportsmanship, with players often self-reporting their own faults to maintain the integrity of the game.

A ‘let’ call is slightly different. It happens when a served ball touches the net but still lands in the appropriate service court. In this case, the serve is replayed without penalty. Understanding the nuances of these rules is essential for both casual and competitive players.

Remember: While faults can cost you a point, let calls offer a second chance. Use them to recalibrate and focus on your next serve.

Here’s a quick rundown of common faults:

  • Ball hit out of bounds
  • Failure to clear the net on a serve
  • NVZ violations during a volley
  • Service foot faults

Receiving team faults, like NVZ and foot violations, are particularly significant as they directly award points to the serving team. This underscores the importance of not only mastering the rules but also practicing self-reporting to ensure fair play.

Pickleball Match Etiquette

Court Respect

In the realm of pickleball, court respect is paramount, not only for the integrity of the game but also for the safety and enjoyment of all participants. Maintaining a clean and hazard-free court is a responsibility shared by all players. This includes promptly clearing any debris and ensuring personal belongings are kept well away from the playing area.

  • Always arrive on time for your match to avoid delaying others.
  • Keep the court surface in good condition by avoiding any activities that could damage it.
  • Respect the boundaries of your court and the space of other players on adjacent courts.

Remember, respecting the court also means adhering to the specific rules and guidelines of the venue you’re playing at. This can include wearing non-marking shoes, observing silence during rallies on neighboring courts, and following any posted signage regarding court usage.

By fostering an environment of mutual respect, players contribute to a positive pickleball culture that enhances everyone’s experience. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a newcomer to the sport, taking pride in the courts you play on reflects well on you and the pickleball community as a whole.


In the realm of pickleball, sportsmanship extends beyond mere politeness; it’s the very fabric that holds the community together. Displaying good sportsmanship sets a positive example for newcomers and inspires them to approach the game with the same level of respect and integrity. This isn’t just about being a gracious winner or a good loser; it’s about fostering a culture of fairness and enjoyment for all participants.

Good sportsmanship in pickleball includes several key behaviors:

  • Acknowledging good shots from your opponent
  • Avoiding arguments and accepting officials’ decisions
  • Encouraging your partner and respecting the opposing team
  • Maintaining self-control, regardless of the score

Remember, your conduct on the court is just as important as your skill with the paddle. It reflects on you as a player and on the sport as a whole.

By adhering to these unwritten rules, players contribute to a positive atmosphere that makes pickleball not just a competitive sport, but a community activity that values camaraderie and mutual respect.


Clear and effective communication is the linchpin of pickleball doubles play. Good partners communicate openly and frequently, discussing court positioning and strategies before the game. During play, providing clear, supportive cues to your partner is crucial for maintaining a strategic edge and ensuring both players are on the same page.

Communication isn’t just about strategy; it’s also about maintaining a positive team dynamic. Encouraging words, acknowledging good shots, and staying positive even when the game isn’t going your way can make a significant difference in your team’s performance.

Remember, communication should be concise to avoid confusion. Here’s a quick guide to effective on-court communication:

  • Use short, clear calls like "mine," "yours," or "leave" to indicate who should take the shot.
  • Establish hand signals for serves or plays if verbal communication might be misunderstood.
  • Discuss strategies during breaks to adapt to the opponents’ gameplay.

By mastering the art of communication, you can significantly enhance your pickleball doubles experience and performance.

Understanding Tiebreakers

Understanding Tiebreakers

Tiebreak Scoring

In pickleball, tiebreaks are a critical component of the game, often determining the victor in closely contested matches. Tiebreak scoring follows a slightly different set of rules to ensure a clear winner is decided. Typically, a tiebreak game is played to 11 points, but players must win by a margin of at least 2 points to secure the match.

  • The player who first reaches 6 points gets a chance to switch sides.
  • Service continues to alternate between opponents, maintaining the standard two-serve sequence.

Tiebreaks add an extra layer of strategy and mental fortitude, as players must adapt to the high-pressure situation to outscore their opponents.

Understanding the nuances of tiebreak scoring can be the difference between victory and defeat. Keeping a cool head and sticking to your game plan is essential when navigating the tense atmosphere of a pickleball tiebreak.

Deciding the Winner

In pickleball, the winner is typically decided when a player or team reaches 11 points and leads by at least 2 points. However, in some tournaments or matches, games may extend to 15 or even 21 points. The key to victory is not just reaching the point threshold, but also maintaining a clear lead. It’s crucial to understand that pickleball does not have an ‘advantage’ rule like tennis, so the first player or team to gain the necessary two-point lead after reaching the game point wins the match.

Consistency and strategic play are paramount when you’re on the brink of victory. Keeping your cool and sticking to your game plan can make the difference between a win and a loss.

Here’s a quick rundown of how a typical pickleball game concludes:

  1. A player or team reaches the game point (11, 15, or 21).
  2. The leading player or team must win by a 2-point margin.
  3. Play continues until the 2-point lead is established.
  4. The match ends immediately once the winning conditions are met, without any extra play.

Strategies for Tiebreaks

Mastering tiebreaks in pickleball requires a blend of mental toughness, strategic play, and a deep understanding of your opponent’s weaknesses. The key to prevailing in a tiebreak is maintaining composure and sticking to a game plan that capitalizes on your strengths.

When approaching a tiebreak, consider these strategies:

  • Stay Aggressive: Keep the pressure on your opponent by aiming for the corners and keeping your shots deep.
  • Serve Smart: A well-placed serve can set the tone for the point. Mix up your serves to keep your opponent guessing.
  • Minimize Errors: Focus on consistent, high-percentage shots to reduce the chance of unforced errors.

Remember, tiebreaks are not just about skill; they’re about who can handle the pressure and execute under stress.

Understanding the psychological aspect of tiebreaks is crucial. Players should practice scenarios that mimic the pressure of a tiebreak to build confidence and develop a mental edge. Whether you’re a seasoned player or new to the sport, refining your tiebreak strategies can make the difference between a win and a loss.