What Is Pickle In Pickleball?

What is Pickle in Pickleball?

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Pickle in pickleball refers to scoring zero points by a team in a game. When a team fails to score any points in the whole game, it is called a “pickle”. The term “pickle” is shouted by the server to inform all the other players that they are about to serve the ball. But why is a zero score called a pickle in pickleball? Where does this unique term come from? Let’s find out!

The Origins of the Name “Pickleball”

The origins of the name “pickleball” itself have some fun backstories. There are two popular tales about how pickleball got its name:

The “Pickle Boat” Story

One story credits Joel Pritchard’s wife, Joan, with coining the name. According to this story, the mix of different sports used to create pickleball reminded Joan of the pickle boat in crew racing.

In crew racing, a pickle boat is a boat of rowers picked from leftover members of other boats. Joan thought pickleball was similar since it combined elements of badminton, tennis, and table tennis into a new sport. This mashup of different sports coming together inspired her to call it “pickleball”.

The “Pickles the Dog” Story

The other story about the origin of the name involves Joel Pritchard’s dog. As the story goes, Pritchard had a pet dog named Pickles who was prone to running off with the ball during games.

Since the dog would repeatedly run away with the ball, disrupting the flow of their new game, Pritchard and his friends started calling it “pickleball” after the pesky pup. So in this version, the name was inspired by Pickles the dog constantly getting in the pickle of snatching the ball.

Why Is a Zero Score Called a Pickle?

Now that we know the possible stories behind the name “pickleball”, let’s get back to what a pickle means in the actual game.

The History Behind “Pickle” Scoring

In pickleball, a pickle refers to when one team fails to win any points at all during a game. If a team doesn’t score even a single point in a game, it’s known as getting “skunked” or being in a “pickle”.

This term and the idea of Pickle scoring originated from Joel Pritchard’s childhood memory of playing badminton. In badminton, if the serving side doesn’t score, it’s called a “pickle” and often accompanied by the server shouting “pickle!

Pritchard decided to incorporate this fun tradition of shouting “pickle” when the serving side is skunked in badminton into the new sport of pickleball. And the tradition continues today!

How Pickle Scoring Works

Here is a quick rundown of how pickle scoring works in pickleball:

  • Pickleball games are played to 11 points, with a team having to win by 2 points.
  • The server shouts “pickle!” before serving if the opposing team failed to score any points in the previous game.
  • If the server’s team then wins the game without the opposing team scoring at all, the final score is 11-0.
  • This score of zero points by a team in a single game is known as a “pickle” score.
  • Getting pickled indicates one team dominated the other team and shut them out from scoring in that game.

Why Pickle Scoring is Called Getting “Skunked”

Pickle scoring in pickleball is also referred to as getting “skunked”. Both pickle and skunk refer to the same thing – when a team fails to score even once in a game.

This usage of skunked comes from the smelly animal itself. A skunk’s defense mechanism is to spray an odorous liquid when threatened. Being “skunked” in pickleball implies one team got completely overpowered by the other team, similar to how a skunk powerfully sprays its opponent.

So the terms “skunked” and “in a pickle” paint a vivid picture of a team’s plight when they sadly fail to score even a single point in a pickleball game.

Significance of Pickle Scoring

Pickle scoring might seem like just a quirky tradition, but it has some meaningful implications:

Motivates Teams to Avoid Getting Shut Out

The possibility of being in a pickle is embarrassing for most teams. This encourages them to push hard to get at least some points on the board and avoid the dreaded donut score of zero.

Adds Pressure on the Leading Team

When a team is at risk of being pickled, it lights a fire under the opposing team. They have to maintain focus and not give away easy points that could get the other team out of the pickle.

Creates a Dramatic Moment

The server shouting “pickle!” creates an exciting, dramatic pause before the next serve. It builds anticipation for whether the trailing team can turn things around or the leading team will shut them out.

Provides Insight into Team Dynamics

Pickle scoring also offers some insight into team dynamics. One team may be clearly stronger. Or the trailing team might be having an unusually bad day. The pickle score reflects these team power dynamics.

What Does Getting Pickled Reveal In Pickleball?

When a pickle score happens, what does it reveal about the pickleball game? Here are some interesting implications of a team getting skunked in pickleball:

One Team is More Skilled

Getting pickled generally indicates one team is much more skilled than the other. The large 11-0 score reflects a significant skill gap between the teams.

Poor Teamwork

For two evenly matched teams, getting pickled may point to lack of coordination and teamwork. The pairs are not working together and making unforced errors.

Off-Day for the Losing Team

An anomalous pickle score may also mean the losing team is simply having a really bad day. Even good teams can get skunked on an off day when their playing is off.

Excellent Teamwork from Winning Team

On the flip side, the winning team achieved a pickle by working seamlessly together. Their teamwork, communication and strategies were likely on point.

Good Conditions for the Winning Team

Ideal weather conditions, courtside terrain or other external factors might have benefited the winning team and hurt the losing team’s play.

So while it may seem embarrassing, pickle scoring provides insights into team dynamics and reveals areas for improvement. Getting skunked now and then is part of the game!

Preventing Pickle Scores in Pickleball

Now that we know all about pickle scoring, let’s discuss some tips teams can use to avoid getting skunked and improve their performance:

Focus on Your Fundamentals

Sharpening fundamentals like serves, returns, dinks, volleys, overheads is key. Solid fundamentals make it easier to get points on the board.

Talk and Listen to Your Partner

Constant communication with your partner helps coordinate your game plans and strategies.

Analyze Your Opponent’s Weaknesses

Look for gaps in your opponent’s coverage of the court or habitual errors you can capitalize on. Attack their vulnerable spots.

Stay Positive and Persistent

Even when struggling, staying positive, persistent and pushing hard can help eke out a few points and get out of a potential pickle.

Change Up Strategies

If current strategies aren’t working, change formations or alter your angles of returns. Doing the unexpected could catch your opponents off guard.

Reset After Losing a Game

Losing a game is demoralizing. But shake off the loss and reset your focus completely for the next game.

With the right attitude and preparation, any team can avoid getting into a pickle!


While a pickle score implies a shutout defeat, it’s all in good fun and spirit of friendly competition. The unique tradition of “pickle” scoring adds flavor and drama that makes pickleball exciting.

Pickleball combines various sports into a pickle of different elements. And games can produce pickles when one team scores zero points. It’s an entertaining quirk that Joel Pritchard introduced from his childhood badminton memories.

So now we know a “pickle” refers to a zero score by a team in pickleball. Don’t feel bad if your team gets pickled now and then. Focus on improving your skills, teamwork and strategies to avoid pickles in the future and up your pickleball game!

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