Pickleball Points

Rally scoring for pickleball

Although I’m fine with pickleball scoring, I thought I should explain rally scoring. Now that professional pickleball has started to get some traction, rally scoring might become more popular.

I can almost hear my readers say, “Honey, bad news: The Baron said they’ve got more pickleball scoring rules.” Relax, it’s not bad at all. The television producers that produce these events will like it because any boring mismatch between two players will be much shorter, and they can plan more frequent commercials to better inform you about all the wonderful products America has to offer.

Here goes: With rally scoring, every rally of the ball — regardless of if you are serving or receiving — results in a point for one team or the other. Depending on your team’s score, you serve from the right side (even score) or left side (odd score).

Let’s say I won the toss of the coin. The score is 0-0, so I serve from the right side. If my team wins the point, the score is now 1-0, so I move to the left side (backhand side, in some circles), and my partner to the right. Why? Because my team’s score is now 1(odd) -0.

We win the next point, I switch back to the right, because the score is now 2 (even)-0.

I call out the score 2-0 .... and no third number! Did you hear me? No third number. Isn’t it absolutely wonderful for all you instructors not having to explain that third number? The first number is still the server’s score, and the second number the receiver’s score... but no third number!

That first number is what determines which member of the team will begin to serve on each side-out. If it is even, whoever is on the right, you or your partner, will serve. If it is odd, the person on the left serves. That’s it!

If I serve the ball into the net or too long, it is an error, it immediately becomes the opposing team’s point, so the score is now (because they are now going to serve) 1(odd)-2.

We prepare to receive. I remain where I was, which was on the right side, at the conclusion of the previous point. My partner will receive because she was on the backhand side when I hit the error. My partner hits a brilliant winner down the middle, so now the score is 3 (us)-1(them) and our team will now serve.

Since our score, 3, is odd, my partner serves from the left side. Let’s say she loses her serve — she will remain in place. Our opponents will serve from their forehand side because the score is now 2(them)-3(us). The opponent on the even side will serve to our team’s forehand side. If they win that point, that server will switch back and forth until they make an error.

So the only time you switch with your partner is when your team’s server wins the point. Because the process is faster, the score is typically to 15, win by two, rather than 11. At 21-21, you play a sudden-death point.

Rally scoring might be something for crowed indoor venues to consider.

On another note, a platoon of pickleballers from Sussex County went to Jamaica over the holidays and took so much gold, silver and bronze in the Jammin’ In Jamaica Pickleball Tournament that the Jamaican national security forces must have gone into full alert to protect their cache of precious “metal medals.” Thanks for bringing this to my attention, gold medal winner Jeff Marshall.

Pickleball courts are the same size as badminton courts, and the scoring system has badminton roots. In 1977, I attended the first International Badminton Federation World Championships in Malmo, Sweden. I was there to study if Wilson should be in badminton.

Badminton at that level is extraordinarily physical, with nothing but drop shots and overheads — back and forth to the point of exhaustion. Most of the players are very fit, and also are members on their national Olympic teams for track-and-field. The contestants were mostly nice and polite, much like pickleballers.

Tennis was heavily televised in those days, and the Wilson logo was everywhere, so everyone after hours wanted to know what badminton needed to do as a sport to get similar television exposure. I really admired those players and wanted to offer more encouragement, so I asked them how important their underhand serve was to the integrity of the game. They said: Very!

If you ever see the game played at that level, the serve is typically an unimpressive little underhanded shot exactly placed just over the net, and then it is followed by an exhausting series of impressive slams and drop shots. The fellow I played could actually make the birdie walk down my side of the net time after time.

I explained that I felt the TV public liked to see the serve in tennis blasted across the court, and I thought the badminton serve would hold them back.

Tennis at a similar level is much more physical than it appears on television. Just like television adds 20 pounds to your body, it also reduces for the viewer the explosive power and foot speed.

I suppose I was correct, because badminton never did get any serious coverage, but badminton did give us pickleball, and they have adopted a rally scoring in their sport. I have no doubt television will soon give us professional pickleball.

Don’t dally, let’s rally, for a faster tally, when folks are also waiting to play around the galley.


By Vaughn Baker
Special to the Coastal Point

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.