You win! Or do you? Staying on top of your pickleball score as a beginner can be difficult, especially when you’re tracking the score in doubles pickleball. What are the basic scoring rules you need to know?
Here are the basics of pickleball scoring for beginners:
- Pickleball games are typically played to 11 points
- You can score only when serving
- You have to verbally call your score just before you serve
- Singles pickleball scores have 2 numbers, and doubles scores have 3 numbers
- Each time you score a point, you should move to your other service court
That was a lot of information we just threw at you, but don’t worry. Ahead, we’ll elaborate on everything so you can begin mastering the concept of scoring and winning in pickleball!
What Score Do You Need to Win in Pickleball?
Let’s start with something very easy. How many points do you need to score in pickleball to win?
Following traditional pickleball rules, the first player or team to get to 11 points within a 2-point margin (having at least 2 points more than the other side) is the winner. Only the serving side can earn a point, which is caused by the other side faulting.
A fault is any error, forced or unforced, on the part of a pickleball player.
An example of a forced error is missing the ball on a return serve because your opponent hit it hard and you didn’t see it coming.
An unforced error is bad foot placement or volleying in the non-volley zone.
In pickleball tournaments, the scoring system is somewhat different.
You might play to a higher number of points, such as 15 or even 21, or play a best 2 out of 3 style in the 11-point format.
If you’re just beginning, you may not need to know tournament scoring for a while. But the point of all of this is to show you that typically 11 is the point total you’re playing to in rec games.
Decoding the 2 and 3 Numbers of Pickleball Scores
Next, let’s break down what a pickleball score looks like. Depending on whether you’re playing singles or doubles, you’ll call the score of a game with either 2 numbers or 3 numbers.
What Are the 2 Numbers in a Pickleball Score?
Next, let’s break down what a pickleball score looks like.
You’ll see the score denoted by either two or three numbers, with two numbers being the common scoring system for singles pickleball. What do the numbers mean?
The first number represents the server’s score, while the second number shows the receiver’s score. Both numbers can go to 11, but since games must be won by 2 or more points, the numbers can be higher than 11.
For example, let’s say the score is 7-10. This means the server has a score of 7 and the receiver has a score of 10.
In this example, the server is 3 points away from winning, while the receiver is only 1 point away. Since the receiver can’t score while in that position though (remember, only a serving player can score points,) it’s still anyone’s game.
What Are the 3 Numbers in a Pickleball Score?
In doubles pickleball, scoring gets more complex, since it’s made of 3 numbers instead of 2. Well, maybe the better way to phrase this is that doubles scoring seems more complex at first, but after a few games of doubles, it becomes second nature. So what do the numbers mean?
In doubles pickleball, the first number is the serving team’s score, the middle number is the receiving team’s score, and the last number is the server number. These first 2 digits operate the same as singles pickleball, going to 11 points or higher, while the 3rd number is never higher than 2.
Let’s break down that information a little bit more. The first 2 digits are no different than the 2-digit system used in singles pickleball. The server’s score is always first, and the receiver’s score is always second.
It’s the third number that can throw off beginner pickleball players.
What Are Server Numbers?
The third number is the server number, and it’s either 1 or 2. For instance, let’s say your team has the opportunity to serve, and you’re on the right. You’ll serve first and be server 1. If you fault out, the serve passes to your partner, who’s server 2.
The next time your team gets the chance to serve, you might be on the left. That means your partner is server 1, and you’re server 2.
Your server number isn’t necessarily the same throughout the game, which is a common beginner’s mistake.
In case you missed it above, after each side out, serving possession switches to the opposite team. Server number 1 goes to whoever is on the right service court at the time of gaining possession of the serve, and their partner is server number 2 by default.
That’s why players aren’t guaranteed to be server number 1 or 2 for an entire game.
Do You Have to Call a Pickleball Score Aloud?
Another beginner’s mistake is assuming that the pickleball court will have a scoreboard advertising the current score in big, glowing digits.
While that would be nice, and maybe is an option in some serious tournament settings, you can’t rely on a digital scoreboard, let alone some flimsy plastic numbers to keep score on a net post.
Instead, you should call the score aloud when you serve. On a non-tournament level, this isn’t a requirement, but more or less accepted etiquette for playing as calling the score before serving is part of USA Pickleball's official rules (4.A.1.)
But many tournaments do require it, and adhere to rules around score calling that can result in a fault, such as calling the score while serving. Others, like serving the ball before calling the score result in a replay.
Between court etiquette and the risk of faulting or replaying a serve, it’s best to make calling the score before your serve a habit as early as possible.
The serving player announces the score before their serve. If you’re serving when the game has just begun, you’ll say “0, 0” for a singles game or “0, 0, 2” in doubles (or commonly as “0, 0, Start.)
Which Side of the Court Do You Move to After a Point Is Scored?
In pickleball, you don’t stand on the same side of the court for the entire game. You’ll move from one side of the court to another, and this isn’t random by any means.
Let’s say your game of doubles pickleball begins with your team serving, and you’re standing on the right side. If you score a point, you move to the odd court, which is the left side. If you score from there, you switch sides again.
This can keep repeating if you’re scoring points when serving.
You should switch sides only if you score a point, as positions on the court in doubles can still denote whether the score is even or odd. Only the serving side switches court sides. The players on the receiving side stay in their positions.
What Happens When Server 1 and 2 Fault?
This is known as a side out, and it grants your opponents the opportunity to serve. Think of it like 3 outs in baseball where the pitching and batting teams switch.
An odd-numbered score in pickleball is any of the following digits: 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, or 11, while an even-numbered score is 0, 2, 4, 6, 8, or 10. That’s why you always start on the right side of the court when the pickleball game begins, because both you and your opponent have a score of 0-0, and 0 is an even number.
Standing in the correct serving position when playing pickleball can help you remember your score if you forgot to call it.
Even in doubles, the first server begins on the right side, so whenever the team’s score is even, the first server will be on the right side of their court, ad whenever their team’s score is odd, they’re on the left side of the court.
More importantly, standing in the right position when on the pickleball court is necessary for avoiding a fault. If you’re in the wrong position, then you fault and automatically lose the rally (4.B.9.-4.B.10.)
That can put you in a bad position and possibly prevent you from winning the game!
Remember the Scoring Basics
As you first begin playing pickleball, remember that you can’t rely on other players or even your partner (if you’re playing doubles) to call the score when you’re serving. If you’re up to bat so to speak, it’s your responsibility to call the score before you serve.
It’s okay if you forget to do this sometimes, especially as you’re first getting started. But the more frequently you do it, the more it will be ingrained in you.
There's a good chance that if you read this article, you're brand new to pickleball. If that's the case, be sure to check out Paddletek's other pickleball content for beginners, such as the 8 Basics of Pickleball for Beginners.