Basic Rules and Tracking the Score

Basic Rules and Tracking the Score

Pickleball is a fun sport played in singles or doubles format. One unique aspect is that the court size does not change between the two formats, unlike similar sports such as badminton and tennis. For those of you interested in pickleball but are not yet familiarized with the game, below is a list of the more important general rules and a breakdown of how to keep track of the score.

General Rules

  • The Serve: A legal serve is performed with an underhand motion so the paddle movement is up-to-down. The ball must be hit below the server's waist and the top of the paddle must be below the wrist. The ball needs to land on the other side of the net, into the adjacent server box, and beyond the non-volley zone. If the ball lands outside of the court, within the non-volley zone or on the non-volley zone line, it is considered a fault and the player loses their possession of serve. 
  • Two Bounce/Double Bounce: In pickleball, the ball must bounce once on both sides of the court before any player is allowed to volley (hit the ball in the air), which means the serve and the return must bounce. Failure to let the serve or return shots bounce results in a fault. For you tennis players, the concept of “serve-and-volley” does not carry over into pickleball.
  • Non-Volley Zone (NVZ):  An area that players are not allowed to volley in. It appears on both sides of the court, 7ft deep. Players can hit the ball inside the NVZ (also commonly referred to as the “kitchen”) only after the ball has bounced.

To help clarify the court area and the NVZ, check out the diagram below:

For the full index of rules, regulations, and specifications, click here for the most up-to-date rulebook.


Games are played up to 11, 15, or 21 points - win by 2 - and points are only scored when the side serving wins the rally. There is also a serving sequence that can often confuse first-time players. If you’ve observed pickleball at a local recreation centre or by watching a video online you may have noticed the score being called out before each rally and that there are three numbers being called out. An example is “0-0-2”; so here’s what you need to know about these three numbers.

  • First number called out is the amount of points the serving team has.
  • Second number called out is the amount of points the receiving team has.
  • Third number called out represents the server. 
  • The team that serves first in a game only gets 1 server. Once that team loses a rally, the possession of serve goes to the other team. Both teammates have a chance to score. 
  • Player on the right side of their teams' court is always server #1, and you only switch sides with your teammate after you've scored a point.

There’s a sequence to the scoring and this is where I’ve seen students and participants become confused. With the help of some gummy bears and a few other items around the house, I’ve drawn some diagrams to help explain the three-digit score and how it changes throughout the game. The player serving is circled in green.

A. It's the beginning of a game, the score is "0-0-2", with Red Bear serving. 

 B. Red and Green Bear did not score in rally A., so the serve moves to Yellow Bear and Snowflake. Score is "0-0-1". Zero's because neither team has scored a point and Yellow Bear serving because they are on the right side of their half of the court.

C. Yellow Bear and Snowflake scored a point! Note how they switch sides and Yellow Bear remains the server. The score is now "1-0-1".

 D. In a rally, C. Yellow Bear and Snowflake did not win the rally. Now, Snowflake is serving, so the score is "1-0-2". See how the third digit changes from "1" to "2"? That number still represents the server, which is Snowflake, who's serving second, after Yellow Bear.

E. Snowflake lost possession of serve and the ball comes back over to the other side. Red Bear is once again the server and because your own score is said first, it's "0-1-1".

F. At last, Red and Green Bear score their first point. Red Bear remains the server and the score is now "1-1-1". Should they lose this rally, Red and Green Bear would move to their second server (Green Bear) and the score would be "1-1-2".


If keeping track of the score seems overwhelming, you are not alone. It is confusing at first and at some point, every player has forgotten their score due to an extra-long or exciting rally. Someone on the court will keep track of the score, and as you become more familiar with the game the serving sequence and scoring pattern becomes second nature. Whether you've decided to try pickleball at home during these unpredictable times or have decided to wait until recreation centres re-open, I hope this article is helpful to you in understanding the basic rules and scorekeeping!

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