Ever heard your partner or opponent say, “The score must be even because you were over there before and now you’re over here…”?
You’re not the only one who’s heard such a proclamation and just moves obediently in the direction they’re pointing while wondering, “WHICH number is even? What does that even mean? And how they heck does that tell you anything anyway?”
If you’ve found yourself in that confusing situation, then this article is for you.
This article is NOT about the basic rules of pickleball scoring (click here for those). Instead, it will walk you through the logic and patterns that arise from the basic pickleball rules so that you can use them to figure out the score in those inevitable circumstances (which seem to be unique to pickleball) when no one on the court remembers what the score is.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- The one thing to check at the beginning of every game in order to make it MUCH easier to know what side of the court you should be—and even who should be serving. (HINT: If you don’t do this, there’s NO WAY you can figure out who should be serving from which side of the court.)
- How to figure out which side of the court you should be on, based on what the score is. (This is helpful when you’ve had a long, exciting rally where you and your partner have switched sides of the court and are having trouble remembering where you started.)
- How to tell whether it’s your team’s first or second serve, based on what position you are in.
Secret #1: Know Your Starting Positions
Knowing the score, or rather, figuring out the score, is made MUCH easier by knowing which side of the court* you and your partner each started the game on.
By “side of the court,” I mean, when you are FACING the net, whether you are on the right-hand side of the court (in tennis, “the deuce court”, where your partner is on your left), or whether you are on the left-hand side of the court (in tennis, “the ad court”), which means your partner’s on your right.
So here’s the secret: At the beginning of every game, make a point to note which player on each team is starting on the right side of the court.
Easy enough? Great! That’s why we started simpler. Maybe you already do that, maybe not, but keep reading for the more advanced tips.
But before we get into Secrets #2 and #3, let me remind you about two pickleball rules that are particularly relevant to figuring out the score and whose turn to serve it is.
The Relevant Rules
Relevant Rule #1
As you (hopefully) know, the rule in pickleball is that the player whoever is on the right side of the court serves FIRST at the beginning of the game (and each time your team receives the ball).
We’ll often say that you will “serve first” because you will serve your team’s first serve of the game, but thanks to Rule #2 listed below, this does NOT necessarily mean that you will ALWAYS be the first server each time your team gets the ball back.
Relevant Rule #2
Each time a team scores a point, the players switch sides of the court. i.e. the player on the left moves to the right side of the court and the player on the right moves to the left side of the court.
Secret #2: If You Start Out Serving, The Score Will Always Be Even When You Are on the Right Side of the Court
Together, the two rules above mean that if you start out serving on the right, then every time your team’s score is EVEN, you’ll be on the RIGHT side of the court. (And, therefore, that every time your team’s score is ODD, you’ll be on the LEFT side of the court.)
(Since the “deuce” and “ad” tennis terms don’t directly apply to pickleball, it’s more common to call the right-hand side of the court the “even” side and the left hand the “odd” side. Again, this is because when we track the FIRST server, the score will always be EVEN when they are on the RIGHT (deuce) side of the court and ODD when they are on the LEFT (ad) side of the court.)
In practice, we’ll sometimes say, “You’re the EVEN server”. Also FYI, this is one of the few situations where it is socially acceptable to call your partner ODD.
Need a little example to understand exactly WHY this is true?
You’re not the only one.
Here ya go…
So: Let’s say your name is Chris and your partner’s name is Pat.
Let’s follow the tournament tradition, where we’ll mark you, the first server, with red to keep track of your position throughout the game. In a tournament, it would be a red bracelet but for our purposes we’ll show your paddle red.
Since you’re the first server, Relevant Rule #1 means that you’ll start the game on the RIGHT side of the court. Your partner Pat will start on the—Yes, you guessed it!—LEFT side of the court.
Okay, so, it’s the first serve of the game…
The score is 0-0-2 or, as some some groups say, 0-0-Start.
(Quick Sidebar: The USAPA has recently ruled that 0-0-Start is not valid for official matches. Although 0-0-2 can be confusing for beginners, if you consider the last number in the score as an indicator of whether it is your team’s FIRST (Score is 1) or LAST (Score is 2) chance to serve, it makes more sense that the beginning score is 0-0-2 because it’s your LAST chance to serve before the other team gets the ball. Okay, let’s be frank, it still doesn’t actually make sense but hopefully that gives you a better way to explain it to newbies.)
Now back to our first set of the game, when the score is 0-0-2.
If we can fudge and call “0” an EVEN number, our logic holds: You are on the RIGHT, and the score is EVEN.
Here’s a diagram:
Now, let’s say the other team misses their return of serve and you score a point.
You & Pat now switch sides of the court as per Relevant Rule #2.
The score is now 1-0-2.
So let’s double check: Now, the score is ODD and you are on the LEFT side of the court. (Conversely, your partner, is now on the RIGHT side of the court.)
You serve and score again. (You lucky dog!)
As per Relevant Rule #2, you switch sides again and the new score is 2-0-2. Now you’re back where you started, on the RIGHT side of the court, and the score is EVEN.
Now, let’s just say you had the game of your life, and got 11 straight points in a row. Do you see how the pattern would continue?
Even score, Right side. Get a Point, Switch Sides. Odd Score, Left Side…Even score, Right side. Odd score, Left Side…
And even if you lose the serve and the other team scores some points, because you and your partner stay in the same position until your next serve, the logic still holds true. If you were on the right side when the score was 2-0-2 and the other team scored three points, when the serve comes back to you, your score will still be even and you will still be on the right side of the court.
Is that starting to make a little sense?
This is how people can say, “Well, the score must be odd because you started the game over there, [indicating the right side of the court] and now you’re over there [standing on the left].”
Another Way of Looking at Secrets #1 & #2
Basically, if you know who started the game, then looking at who is on the RIGHT side of the court, will tell you if that team’s score is odd or even. This is true no matter who is serving or what the other team’s score is.
If the FIRST server is on the right, the score is EVEN.
If the SECOND server is on the right, the score is ODD.
That’s why it’s super helpful to pay attention to who serves first at the beginning of the game.
And while you’re taking note of that, you might as well take notice of which of your opponents is serving first as well.
In fact, at the beginning of each game, you might imagine a diagonal line between the first server on your team and the first server on your opponent’s team and try to make a mental note of which players are in those starting positions.
Or, Make a Habit So You Don’t Have to Remember!
Often, in mixed doubles play, teams will have the women serve first just to make it easy to remember.
In recreational play, some players prefer to always serve first or, always have their partner serve first. You can imagine how much easier it is to know that the score is odd when you are on the right side of the court if you have a habit of NEVER serving first.
Extending from There…
Now, all of that is useful to figure out the SCORE based on your POSITIONING. But it can also be helpful to figure out your POSITIONING based on the SCORE.
One of the highlights of a day playing pickleball is one of those seemingly-endless rallies where you or your opponents are running all over the place returning impossible shots and keeping the ball in play.
Often, if you and your partner have switched positions during the point, it can be hard to know for sure which side of the court you are SUPPOSED to be on.
In this case, provided that at least one person on the court can recall the score and you know who was the first server on your team (which is sometimes a big “if”), it’s easy enough to know what position you should be in.
If that team’s score is EVEN at the end of the amazing point, the first server returns to the RIGHT side of the court. If the score is ODD, the first server goes to the LEFT side of the court. (And their partner moves accordingly.)
Secret #3: How to Know If It’s the First Serve or the Second Serve Based on Your Position
Most of this article so far focused on your team’s score, but positioning can also help you figure out that pesky third number in the score—whether it’s a 1 or a 2.
Now, this may seem slightly more complicated than before but stick with me.
(Or, feel free NOT to stick with me. If you are happy to just go with the majority on the court when the score gets forgotten, you don’t have to know much more…)
This tip is useful in those instances when you or your partner has served several points in a row and you can’t recall whether they were the first server (in which case your team still has one more chance to serve) or if they were the second server (in which case it’s sideout).
“Sideout” in case you aren’t familiar with the term, is what we say when the right to serve passes from one team to the other (i.e. you’ve lost the point and it’s the other team’s turn to serve now or vise versa).
Let’s say you are still wearing the red because you were the first server of the game. If your score is EVEN when your team gets the ball after a sideout, then you will still be the first server for that next round of serving, and when you’re serving, the last number of the score will be a 1.
If your score is ODD when your team gets the ball after a sideout, then you will be the second server for that next round of serving, and when you’re serving the last number of the score will be a 2.
So let’s put it into practice for a minute: Let’s say you’ve just finished a great rally. You’ve been serving for a while, but no one can remember whether you were a 1 or a 2 (first server or second).
If any of you can happen to recall what the score was at sideout when your team GOT the ball (which actually does happen sometimes), then you can figure out whether you are a 1 or a 2.
For example, if the score was 3-6–1 when you got the ball, then it means you’re the SECOND server. Here’s the logic: the score was ODD when your team got the ball, which means that your partner served first because they were on the RIGHT side of the court at side out, making you the second server.
This is true even if you’ve won several points in a row, the last number of the score has to be a 2.
If you’re reading this it means you stuck in there with me ’til the end! Way to go!
I don’t guarantee that this article will keep you from ever losing track of the score again (don’t we wish?), but hopefully it WILL help you the next time you are on the court when all 4 players have a brain fart so that you can figure out what the score is or who should be where.
Got any other score-keeping tricks #GuruNation would benefit from?
Need any clarification on any of the above points?
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