Rally Scoring in Pickleball is the Future
Racquet sports including Pickleball increasingly adopting rally scoring
Anyone who has stepped onto a pickleball court knows that the hardest part of the game is keeping score.
The score has three numbers?
And you start out serving at zero-zero-one except on the first serve of the game where Server 1 is actually Server 2?
Remember to make sure you say the score in the correct order.
And you thought tennis scoring with its love, 15, 30, 40 was peculiar.
For many, pickleball’s scoring system, known as side-out scoring, is one of the biggest obstacles to newcomers picking up the game. It’s an artifact of the sport’s humble origins, where only the serving team could score points. Side-out scoring is a "traditional scoring" method and was the way to keep score in badminton, one of the sports that influenced pickleball – Fun fact: a pickleball net and a badminton net are both 22-feet long. But badminton’s governing body changed its scoring method to rally scoring in 2006 to shorten the length of games and increase the level of excitement. And it worked.
As pickleball becomes more mainstream, there’s a growing groundswell of support to follow badminton’s lead and change from side-out to rally scoring to make scorekeeping easier for players, to speed up play, and make pickleball more spectator- and TV-friendly.
So what would rally scoring games in pickleball look like and how might it impact the game moving forward? Let’s dig in and find out.
Rally Scoring Basics - It’s So Easy!
Rally scoring is a very simple concept to understand. Either team or player can score a point at the end of a rally. That means anytime the ball goes out of bounds, bounces twice, or gets slammed into the net, a point is awarded regardless of who’s serving – just like in tennis and ping-pong. Since both teams have a chance to score points whenever the ball’s in play, each shot takes on greater importance. Games become more competitive and exciting.
But which side of the court do you serve from? That’s pretty easy too. If the score is an even number, you serve from the right side and if the score is odd, you guessed it, you serve from the left. In doubles, only one player per team serves rather than both partners. If the serving team wins the point, the server switches to the opposite side and continues serving. When the serving team loses a rally, the receiving team earns a point and it's their turn to serve.
In a game featuring rally scoring, you pick your side of the court and stay there. No more switching from right to left and back again after each service point win. This allows teams to position players where they are best suited for or more confident playing. For example, if you have an amazing backhand, you can camp out on the left side of the court (for a right handed player) and turn a potential vulnerability into a team strength.
By now you’ve probably noticed that one of the big changes due to rally scoring in pickleball is its impact on the serve, not just on the server. The serve is still the only shot you have 100% control over. But unlike side-out scoring, where two servers per side with cannons for serves can totally dominate a game, rally scoring gives the receiving team a more balanced opportunity to score since a service fault results in a point. In addition, the receiving team can still get to the non-volley zone line faster than the serving team and can take control of the point.
Faster, More Predictable Game Times
Since the score changes after each rally, pickleball games tend to be played at faster clips than with side-out scoring. Rally scoring in pickleball would eliminate the need to remember who is “server one” and “server two.” As long as you know your odd and even numbers, you’re all set. With rally scoring producing faster games, you’ll play to 15 or 21 instead of 11, win by two. And in a nod to its side-out heritage, the game’s final point can only be won on your serve.
At the pro level, side-out scoring remains the norm, but rally scoring is making headway. Major League Pickleball, the league made up of teams of professional players, has implemented rally scoring, which has led to dynamic and exciting pickleball action. And since the pro game has a direct influence on rec players – from paddles to strategies and rules – many local pickleball clubs are giving rally scoring a try.
Rally scoring in pickleball has a number of benefits that make games more exciting and fun for players and fans. The first thing spectators notice is the faster pace of play. It allows for relentless action with points hinging on each rally and a more consistent flow to games. It eliminates the ‘hurry up and wait’ effect when each player on a team is required to serve. With every rally being a potential turning point in a game, rally scoring offers an opportunity for a higher level of excitement and relentless back-and-forth scoring that creates momentum shifts throughout the game.
Rally scoring is gaining in popularity as well because it appeals to players’ sense of fairness. Something just feels right when your hard work to win a rally results in a point. How many times have you run down a tough ball or hit an amazing ATP only to have your opponent retain the serve? With rally scoring, if you win the rally, you win the point and what’s more simpler and fairer than that.
Side-out scoring versus rally scoring can also impact game strategy. Players may tend to go for a riskier serve or a more daring putaway under side-out scoring, knowing that if they fault, they don’t lose a point for trying. In a rally-scoring match, players may think twice about trying for that low-percentage backhand winner for fear of losing serve and handing their opponent a point.
Rally scoring may also contribute to shorter match times. As the sport gains in popularity and more rec players flock to courts, rally scoring can reduce the times people have to wait to get to play. Shorter game times also allows tournaments to run more efficiently. With network broadcasters and streamers becoming more interested in covering pickleball, rally scoring can lead to more predictable match times that allow for better scheduling.
While rally scoring may appear to be a major modification to the pickleball universe, keep in mind that the sport is always undergoing change to meet the evolving needs of the current state of play. Paddle technology seems to improve almost daily from simple wooden paddles to fiberglass, graphite, composite, polymer cores, carbon fiber, and kevlar. Paddles are being designed with different shapes and a variety of handle lengths and widths to suit individual playing styles and experience levels.
Pickleball courts have also changed over time – from impromptu chalk-drawn lines on driveways and playgrounds to gym floors, relined tennis courts to standalone, state-of-the art pickleball-only facilities – all in response to the sport’s growing demand. And pickleball’s governing bodies regularly issue new rules – remember the furor over the chainsaw serve? – to streamline play, improve competition, and make the sport more accessible to players and fans.
Is pickleball changing to rally scoring? It very well may be the next step in the sport’s progression as it continues to push into the sports and cultural mainstream. By transforming one its most confusing, quirky aspects, pickleball can attract more players, make games more exciting, and become more broadcast friendly to reach even more players.
Where do you stand on rally scoring? Has your local club implemented it? Maybe you’ve played in a tournament that featured rally scoring. Let us know whether you think rally scoring is the future of pickleball or just an experiment that will get dropped like the one-handed spin serve.