What is Service outside scoring in Pickleball?

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Service outside scoring means that only the serving team can score points in pickleball. The receiving team cannot score any points on return of serve.

Pickleball is a fun, social sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis. It has exploded in popularity in recent years, with people of all ages flocking to pickleball courts across the country.

One of the unique rules of pickleball that sets it apart from other racquet sports is called “service outside scoring.” This refers to the fact that only the serving team has the opportunity to score points. The returning team cannot score any points on the return of serve.

This service scoring system is quite different from most other racquet sports like tennis, where either player or team can score regardless of who is serving. So what exactly does service outside scoring mean in pickleball, and why is this rule in place? Let’s take a closer look.

What Does “Service Outside Scoring” Mean in Pickleball?

The term “service outside scoring” simply means that points can only be scored by the team that is serving. The receiving team is unable to score any points on the return of serve.

For example, if Player A serves the ball and Player B returns it, Player A and their partner are the only ones who can score on that rally. Even if Player B hits a fantastic return that Player A cannot reach, no point is awarded.

The serving team continues serving, and scoring, until they commit a fault or the rally is lost. Then the service rotates to the opposing team.

So in pickleball, the server is the only one awarded points during their team’s service turn. The receiver just tries to maintain the rally and get the ball back in play. Scoring only occurs on the serve.

Why is Service Outside Scoring Used in Pickleball?

Pickleball developers chose the service outside scoring system for a few key reasons:

1. It encourages longer rallies.

By preventing the returning team from scoring, it promotes extended back-and-forth exchanges as players rally the ball. This creates fun, continuous play.

2. It maintains serving advantage.

The ability to score points provides a definite edge to the server. This balance of power shifts back and forth as service rotates.

3. It simplifies scoring.

Straightforward point scoring for just the serving team eliminates any confusion about which side can tally points. Easy scoring fosters quick games.

4. It differentiates pickleball.

This unique service scoring gives pickleball its own identity compared to tennis or badminton. It’s a defining feature of the sport.

The service outside scoring system is central to pickleball’s character. It shapes the flow of the game and strategy for players and teams.

How Does Scoring Work in Pickleball?

Now let’s break down exactly how scoring operates with service outside rules in effect.

Singles Play

In singles pickleball, only one player per side competes.

  • The server announces the score before starting their serve. The score is called as: “Server’s Score, Receiver’s Score.” For example: “1-0.”
  • The first number called is always the server’s score. The second is the receiver’s score.
  • Only the server can earn a point and advance their score.
  • When the server loses the rally, service rotates to the other player without any change in score.
  • Games are played to 11 points, win by 2.

So in singles pickleball, scoring is simple. The server’s score increments up until they reach 11 and win. The receiver’s score stays at 0 the entire game.

Doubles Play

Doubles pickleball involves 2 players per team.

  • Before serving, the server calls out the score as “Server’s Score, Receiver’s Score, Server Number.” For example: “1-0, 2
  • The first two numbers are the team scores just like in singles play.
  • The third number called indicates which player on the serving team is up to serve (1 or 2).
  • When the serving team scores, they stay at the same service position. When they lose the rally, service rotates to the other teammate.
  • Games are played to 11 points, win by 2.

The extra number identifies the designated server and helps avoid confusion in doubles play.

Two-Bounce Rule

One other unique pickleball scoring quirk to note is the “two-bounce rule.”

On the serve, after the ball bounces once in the receiver’s service area, the receiver must let it bounce once more before hitting their return. This gives the serving team an early advantage in the rally.

The two-bounce rule further accentuates the scoring edge for the serving side.

What Happens When the Server Loses the Rally?

Service outside scoring bestows an inherent advantage upon the serving team since only they can score points. But what happens when the server loses the rally?

If the serving team hits a fault or loses the rally, here is the sequence:

  1. The service and scoring opportunity transfers to the opposing player/team.
  2. No point or score is awarded to the receiving team. Their score stays the same.
  3. The new server calls out the unchanged score before their service turn.
  4. Play continues in this back-and-forth sequence until one player or team reaches 11 points (and leads by at least 2).

So when the server loses the rally, it is simply a “side out.” Nothing happens except the other team gets to serve next.

Why Can’t the Receiver Score Points in Pickleball?

For new pickleball players, not being able to score any points on the return of serve seems unfair. Why can’t the receiver also earn points?

The service scoring rules are just part of what makes pickleball unique as a sport. But there are some good reasons why scoring is limited to the serving team:

  • Simple scoring. Straightforward point scoring eliminates any dispute about which team can tally points. The server scores. Easy.
  • Uniformity. It enables consistent scoring and flow of play across singles and doubles.
  • Comebacks. Allowing only the server to score enables quick swings of momentum as service rotates back and forth.
  • Suspense. Close scoring builds excitement and suspense as players must hold serve to inch closer to the win.
  • Strategy. The scoring scenario promotes planful shot selection and court positioning to desperately hold serve or break serve.

At the end of the day, the one-sided scoring adds fun and flair to the pickleball experience for all players regardless of skill level. It’s part of what makes pickleball unique.

New players catch on quickly to the distinctive rhythm created by service outside scoring. It’s one of the rules that shapes pickleball into the enjoyable, social game that it is.

Singles Pickleball Strategy Based on Service Scoring

Now let’s explore some key pickleball strategies that emerge based on the service outside scoring system in singles play.

As the sole player on your side of the net, these tactics will help you capitalize on your service opportunities.

Serve Aggressively

The only time you can score points is on your serve. So go for a powerful, well-placed serve to gain an immediate advantage in the rally or force a quick error. Move the opponent out of position.

A strong serve also makes it tougher for your opponent to effectively return the 2nd bounce. Be aggressive from the start.

Control the Net

Poach at the non-volley zone line. Step up and take control of the net as often as possible since your opponent is on the defensive during your serve.

Cut off angles and hit volleys, drop shots, and swinging volleys to dominate the net.

Pick on Weaknesses

Observe where your opponent struggles with returns – forehand, backhand, low, mid-range, on the run, etc. Then target those vulnerable areas with your serve and follow up shots.

Exploit your opponent’s weak zones while they are unable to score.

Stay Consistent

While tempting, avoid going for too many low percentage shots in hopes of a winner. Stay steady. Keep the ball in play and let your opponent make errors. Don’t give away the service opportunity.

Wait for high percentage scoring chances before pulling the trigger.

Reset After Side Out

When you lose the rally, quickly reset your focus before your next service game.

Do not dwell on the lost point since your opponent still gains no score. Regroup and restart your scoring opportunity.

Using these tips and strategies, you can develop effective singles pickleball play based on the unique service outside scoring system. Study your opponent for weaknesses, control the net, and capitalize fully on your service games.

Doubles Pickleball Strategy Based on Service Scoring

Doubles pickleball adds communication, teamwork, and new formations like the dink and rally. How should doubles teams adjust their strategies based on service scoring rules?

Here are some key tactics to maximize your service opportunities with a partner.

Both Players Serve Aggressively

Do not hold back when it is your turn to serve. Your team can only score when serving, so go right after a winning serve or a weak return to get ahead.

Be aggressive and attack the net off both team members’ serves.

Call Out Set-Ups

Constantly communicate with your partner about prime offensive opportunities the opponents leave open – backhand weak spots, poach scenarios, lobs, etc. Discuss patterns as you see them develop. Verbalize cues on when to make aggressive moves as the serving team.

Pick On One Opponent

If one opponent is less consistent or adept up at the net, deliberately target them with serves and return shots.

Mercilessly pick on the weaker link while their team cannot score.

Fake and Confuse

Disguise serve placement, change up return angles, swap positions, and move unpredictably.

Keep the opponents off balance so they cannot take advantage of service changes.

Stay Up at the Net

As the serving team, there is no need to retreat after serving. Continue attacking the net and looking to pick off any weak returns.

Maintain offensive positioning and a scoring mindset while at the service line.

Leverage these cooperative doubles strategies to stay on the offensive while you have the sole scoring opportunities during your service time. Keep opponents unsettled and under pressure.

Why You Must Hold Serve in Pickleball

Due to service outside scoring, “holding serve” takes on crucial importance in pickleball singles and doubles play.

Holding serve means successfully defending your service game without allowing your opponent to break your serve and rotate the service opportunity.

Since only the serving team can score, you must string together consecutive service points to build a lead. Failing to hold serve eliminates your scoring chances and hands momentum to the other side.

Here are some key tips to help hold serve in pickleball:

  • Serve with variety – Mix up placement and spins to disrupt your opponent’s timing.
  • Stay consistent – Avoid unforced errors that surrender your service turn prematurely.
  • Maximize offense – Apply pressure by controlling the net and striking decisively when you have a chance.
  • Communicate with your partner – Call out poaches, switches, and scoring opportunities (doubles play).
  • Reset after the side out – Quickly refocus after a service loss and dial in for your next service opportunity.

Holding serve is critical in pickleball due to the service scoring structure. Players must string together points and games one serve at a time. Breaking serve switches the momentum.

Every player battles nerves and pressure to consistently hold serve and gain an edge. Managing errors, controlling the net, and executing high-percentage shots are all part of winning the serve-score-serve sequence crucial to pickleball.

Why You Must Break Serve in Pickleball

To prevail in pickleball under service scoring rules, breaking your opponent’s serve is equally as important as holding serve.

Breaking serve means winning the rally when your opponent is serving, thereby gaining the service opportunity for your team. This stops the opponent’s scoring potential in its tracks.

Here are some strategies to help break serve more effectively:

  • Return deep – Force your opponent back and reduce their net attack options.
  • Vary return placement – Keep your opponent guessing where returns are headed to disrupt their poach timing.
  • Target weaknesses – Notice if certain serves or areas give your opponents trouble. Exploit those vulnerabilities.
  • Communicate – Discuss patterns you see developing with your partner. Call out plays.
  • Stay steady – Avoid unforced errors and don’t take unnecessary risks. Wait for high percentage shots.

Gaining the serve back limits the opponents’ scoring chances while giving your team opportunities to score. Breaks of serve are momentum-changing turning points in any pickleball game.

Players must maintain concentration during their opponent’s service turn, studying tendencies and scenarios to get the ball back in play. Finding ways to break serve gives your team the edge needed to ultimately prevail.


Service outside scoring gives pickleball its distinctive rhythm and character. Only the serving team can score points, which incentivizes aggressive play and longer rallies. Holding serve and breaking serve take on special importance thanks to this signature scoring system.

While initially unfamiliar to new players, service scoring quickly becomes second nature. The consistent flow of the game adapted across singles and doubles helps pickleball feel accessible for any experience level.

So now you understand the essence of that quirky pickleball question, “What is service outside scoring?” Embrace this unique system to enjoy fun and extended rallies, close games, and exciting comeback opportunities that exemplify the sport of pickleball.

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