Pickleball Rules and Scoring

Read on for a rules summary or check out the full Pickleball England rules and/or the US Rules handbook


Key Features of the Pickleball game

  • Two-Bounce Rule – when the ball is served, the receiving team must let it bounce before returning, and then the serving team must let it bounce before returning, thus two bounces.  I.e. neither the serve nor the return of serve can be volleyed (hit before the ball bounces) but after the ball has bounced once in each team’s court, both teams may either volley the ball  or play it off a bounce (ground stroke)
  • Non-Volley Zone (NVZ) – commonly known as the kitchen.  This is an area that extends 7 feet from the net on each side, within which a player is not allowed to strike the ball without it first bouncing (volleying with one or both feet touching the NVZ line, or being in the NVZ when you start your volley swing, or momentum carrying you into the NVZ zone after playing a volley, are also faults)
  • Serving – you only have one service attempt which must be played underarm (paddle moving from low to high) from behind the baseline.  This can be a drop serve (ball is dropped and bounces before hit) or a volley serve (no ball bounce – this is more common).  Paddle contact on a volley serve must be below the server’s waist with the tip of the paddle below the server’s wrist.  To be good, a serve must land beyond the NVZ line in the opposite diagonal court – if it lands on or before the NVZ line it is short and a fault (in all other circumstances a ball contacting a line is considered ‘in’, as in tennis).   Deep serves (landing just before the baseline) are good for putting pressure on the opposition.  There is no let serve – the ball can hit the net on its way and unless it lands short, will still be a good serve.  As in tennis, neither of the server’s feet can contact the baseline or court until after the ball is served.


Doubles Scoring

Traditionally you only score when your side is serving and the score is made up of 3 numbers: “my score-your score-server”, with winners being first to score 11 points (or at 10-10 keep going until one side wins by 2 points).  This is known as ‘Side-out’ scoring, with both players in a team having a turn at serving before the serve passes to the opposing team (excepting the first service turn of the game*).  The first server is always the player standing on the right hand side of the court, who alternates sides to serve until they lose a point, at which point their partner serves from the side of the court they are standing on at the conclusion of the previous point then alternates sides until they too lose a point and the serve then passes to the opposition.


* the team serving first only gets one service turn initially, to lessen their advantage, i.e. they start with their 2nd server, at a score of 0-0-2, and on losing a point, the serve immediately passes to the opposition


Rally point scoring is also an option, with Major League Pickleball in the US introducing this as of the 2023 season – this form of scoring only has 2 numbers, called as “my score-your score”, with winners being first to score 21 points (or at 20-20 keep going until one side wins by 2 points).  Points won count towards your score whether you are serving or not, until the end-game*, with match-winning points only being able to be scored on serve. In Rally scoring doubles you & your partner stay on the same sides of the court throughout and each team always only has one turn at serving, i.e. once the serving team lose a point, service goes across to the other team.  The player on the right hand side of the court serves if the score is even, the player on the left hand side if the score is odd.


* the leading team ‘freeze’ at a score of 20 and the trailing team ‘freeze’ when they reach 18 (or at 19-19 both teams freeze when either reaches 20) – once a team is frozen, points can only be scored on serve


Read about the pros & cons of each scoring method and decide for yourself which you prefer!


Singles Scoring

The most common scoring format is ‘side-out’ scoring to 11, i.e. only the serving player scores points and must beat their opponent by 2 or more points.  There are only 2 scores called – “my score-your score”.  If the server’s score is even, then they must serve on the right-hand side of the court. If their score is odd, they serve on the left-hand side of the court.


Changing Ends

In a traditionally scoring game (first to 11 points), teams play from the same end for the entire game.   In a ‘best of 3’ or ‘best of 5’ match, teams alternate ends for each game then in the last game teams switch ends when the first team reaches a score of 6


In a game to 21 points (such as Rally scoring), teams switch ends when the first team reaches a score of 11.  You can also change sides with your partner at this point if playing Rally scoring.

Your Guide to Pickleball