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Beginner Tips: What Is Rally Scoring In Pickleball?

Rally scoring is a widely-used scoring method utilized by most rally-based sports like tennis and, more recently, squash, table tennis (ping-pong), volleyball and badminton.

It is a more internationally-recognized scoring system where participants can score on all the points played in a game and match.

Pickleball’s current accepted system is known as the “side-out” scoring system.

Only the serving team’s score determines how quickly the scoreboard changes, with receiving teams unable to score.

This scoring, or lack thereof, contrasts with the rally scoring system, where you can win points as both the serving and receiving teams.

In rally scoring, when a team wins a rally, they score a point, no matter whether they’re serving or receiving.

Neither scoring system allows any deduction for losing a point, and winning points is the focal area.

Differences Between Rally Scoring and Side-out Scoring in Pickleball

pickleball tournament
image: Michael & Sherry Martin/Flickr, CC 2.0

There are several differences between the two scoring systems when it comes to the sport of Pickleball:

Games finish faster, so teams play rally scoring matches to 15 or even 21 points per game, and games can be won by either one or two points depending on the tournament.

In rally scoring matches, a point will be won by whichever team wins after every rally, as opposed to only the serving team being able to win a point using side-out scoring.

In doubles, the confusing “1” and “2” serving turns in side-out scoring are no more.

The player on the right of a serving team with an even score in rally scoring games will serve, and if the score is odd, the left-sided player does.

Also, in doubles using the rally point scoring system, a single team player will serve during a serving rotation, and serving players will only rotate sides if the serving team wins.

The server will change only once a team loses a point on a serve, and both players have to serve on alternate serving rotations.

Pickleball rally scoring certainly will make a difference for the non-serving team compared to the traditional scoring method, so the team serving has one chance with the rally point system.

If you have an excellent returner on your team, you’ve got an advantage that didn’t exist in the traditional game, as the receiving team wins points they couldn’t previously.

Why Does the Rally Scoring System Make Sense?

More recently, certain sectors of the Pickleball fraternity have begun using the rally scoring system, and it is becoming more recognized in the sport.

Pickleball events adopting rally scoring typically play to scores of 15 or 21 points per game, higher than those in traditional Pickleball.

The reason for the adjusted scoring is that games move quicker using rally scoring.

There have been calls made to recognize the rally scoring system universally in Pickleball for numerous reasons:-

  • As already mentioned, games progress much faster, meaning you can rotate courts more often and complete more matches within a certain period.
  • It’s easier to predict the times of matches.
  • Scoring does not stagnate as players or teams win alternative points. There is more encouragement for spectators to watch faster-scoring games and matches. More spectators mean more significant ticket sales and greater potential for broadcasting, as Pickleball would be more appealing to television audiences.
  • More viewership means more sponsorship and investment in the sport.
  • Tournament directors aren’t under as much pressure to get through a program through a match that is so even that winning points are at a premium.

Rally scoring encourages quicker gameplay for everybody concerned.

With our lives increasingly governed by time and schedule, it makes sense to play our sport in the same way, which, in turn, alleviates some of the pressure applied by other sectors of life in general.

Why Wouldn’t Players Want to Change to Rally Scoring?

Many traditionalists within Pickleball circles are vehemently opposed to the official introduction of rally scoring to the sport.

There are a few reasons for this opposition.

  • Plenty of Pickleball players don’t believe that the sport’s founders would be happy with the proposed change to rally scoring, as it is a non-beneficial way of playing that would result in losing much of the game’s strategic element.
  • Rally-scoring Pickleball could make it more difficult for novices as they’ll struggle to improve their skills and techniques because of the risk factor involved in potentially losing a point.
  • Pickleball’s third shot already involves risk and would become even riskier using the rally scoring system. A player can hit the ball into the net or give it too much elevation, so would a team be prepared to lose a point as an alternative to only losing their serve?

As there are still so many points of contention regarding rally scoring in Pickleball, those in control have been hesitant to change the rules officially.

Perhaps, as a Pickleball player, you need to try the new rules and see what you think.


Will Pickleball change to rally scoring?

At present, Pickleball uses the side-out rule.

USA Pickleball didn’t change the practices for 2022 but is holding ongoing discussions.

What Pickleball rule changes did take place in 2022?

The 2022 rules state that a referee won’t stop a rally for a technical foul or warning on a transgressing team, assessing these only after a rally.