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How to keep score in pickleball: A beginner's guide

By Brynn Grissom

on Aug 03, 2023

Mary Brascia celebrates a won point

One of the most common questions asked by beginning pickleball players is how to keep score. Staying on top of the pickleball scoring system as a beginner can be difficult, but once you know the basics, you’ll be ready to keep score like a pro. 

Pickleball Scoring Basics:

In pickleball, there are five basic scoring rules you need to master, including: 

  • Matches are played in a best-of-three format. 
  • Games are played up to 11 points, but you must win by a margin of two points. 
  • With traditional scoring, you can only score when serving
  • You must call the score verbally before every serve
  • The score for singles contains two numbers, while the score for doubles contains three numbers

Now that you know the basics, let’s take a deeper look at each rule to help you start mastering the score. 

How do you win a pickleball game? 

In pickleball, matches are typically played in a best-of-three format, meaning the first player or team to win two games wins the match. Some major tournaments, such as the PPA Tour, will play the best three out of five matches during championship matches. 

Each game in the match goes to 11 points, but there's a catch — you must win by a margin of two points. This means the game can go beyond 11 points if the becomes tied at 10-10 or higher. 

When do you score a point in pickleball? Traditional vs. rally scoring

Following traditional scoring in pickleball, you may only earn a point when you or your team is serving. If you or your teammate commits a fault, or error while serving, it doesn’t result in a loss of point but the loss of the serve.

In rally scoring, a point is awarded after each rally, regardless of which team served. This means you can win a point on offense and defense, which typically means the game moves more swiftly. 

What are serving numbers in pickleball? 

Before we explain the 1 and 2 serving system, let's clarify the concept of serving order. In singles, there is only one player on each side of the court, so there is no server number to remember. 

However, in doubles, each team has two players, and they each serve before a side-out is declared. A side-out means serving possession switches to your opponent. 

After each side-out, service always begins with the player positioned on the right side of the court. This player is referred to as Server 1, and the player on the left side of the court is referred to as Server 2. (In the below image Selkirk pro Jade Kawamoto is Server 1 and Selkirk pro Dylan Frazier is Server 2)

Jade Kawamoto shows where Server 1 stands

Server 1 will continue to alternate serving positions from right to left as long as the serving team continues to win points. When the serving team’s score is an even number, Server 1 will serve from the right side of the court. When the score is an odd number, Server 1 will serve from the left side of the court. 

The exception to the two-serve rule is at the start of each game when the team starting with service will only serve once. The starting server, who is positioned on the right side of the court, is designated Server 2 for the first service. Once the serving team fails to win a point, a side-out occurs and the two-serve rule is enacted. 

Although you may start the game as Server 1, you may not remain Server 1 for the duration of the game. For example, if you start as Server 1 and win a point, you’ll move to the left side of the court and serve. 

If you and your partner fault out, the serve passes to Server 2, who is now on the right side of the court. If you fault out again, a side-out is awarded and your opponents get to serve. When your team receives service again, the person on the right is designated Server 1, making you (as the new left-side player) Server 2. 

To see the serving changes in action, check out this video on serving rules from professional pickleball official Maddie Toren. 

What are the three numbers in a pickleball score? 

You may have noticed three numbers displayed before the serving team's score, such as 4-3-2 or 7-4-1. These numbers represent the server's position in the serving rotation. 

The first number is the serving team's score, the second number indicates the receiving team's score, and the third number represents which player on the serving team is currently serving. 

For example, in the score 7-4-1, the serving team has seven points, the receiving team has four points, and the first player on the serving team is the current server. 

How to score a doubles game in pickleball

The only way to score a point in pickleball is by winning a rally. A rally starts with the serve and continues until a fault is committed, the ball goes out of bounds, or one team fails to return the ball within the court's boundaries. 

Because there are two servers on each team, you will get two serving opportunities to score. Server 1, or the right-side player, will serve first and will continue to serve, switching sides of the court after each point, until their team loses a rally. 

Server 2 will then serve from whichever side of the court they are on. Server 2 will continue to serve, switching sides with each point won, until the team loses a rally. At that point, a side-out is awarded and the opponent’s Server 1 will begin service. 

The game continues in this way until one team wins 11 points while serving.

How to score a singles game in pickleball

There is only one player per side of the court in a singles match, so there is no second server. Therefore, after a player loses a point, a side-out occurs and service is awarded to the opponent. 

Collin Shick shows where to stand when serving in singles

If the score is even, the server will serve from the right side of the court. If the score is odd, they’ll serve from the left side of the court. 

Do you have to call a pickleball score out loud? 

When not playing in a tournament, you do not have to call the score out loud, but it’s typically a good idea so that you don’t lose track. 

When playing in a tournament, calling the score prior to serving is a rule laid out by USA Pickleball’s official rulebook (4.A.1.). In most tournaments, failing to call the score prior to serving results in a fault. 

As the serving team, you will call your score first, then your opponent’s score, and finally which server you are in the rotation. So, if your team has 8 points, your opponent has 4 points, and you’re Server 2, your service call will be 8-4-2. 

Remember the pickleball scoring basics as you practice

Keeping score in pickleball is a fundamental skill that every player should grasp. Whether you're playing singles or doubles, these rules will make your pickleball experience more enjoyable and rewarding. 

Remember: You can’t trust your opponent to keep score for you. The more you practice, the easier scoring will be!

Catch up with professional pickleball official Maddie Toren’s beginner-friendly course for a look at more beginner-friendly service rules.  

For more beginner pickleball tips and tricks, check out Selkirk Sport’s beginner-friendly pickleball content

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