Rally Point Scoring

Now that's different ... but only for this sport.

Rally Point: Other Sports

A number of years have passed since historically older sports like badminton, squash, table tennis and volleyball replaced their outmoded scoring systems with the rally point system (also known as "point-a-rally" or "PAR"). Within short order, players in those sports adapted to these simple changes and carried on competing in their games as they always had. Today, the vast majority of athletes in badminton, squash, table tennis and volleyball are happy to report the numerous benefits that rally point scoring has brought to their sports. The same, however, cannot be said for the sport of pickleball.

Pickleball OSC: Rally Point Scoring From The Beginning

In an effort to address resistance to rally point scoring in this sport, a group of experienced racquet and paddle players from Okotoks and Calgary set out in January 2017 to organize Pickleball OSC.

During its development, organizers of Pickleball OSC sought out competitive and forward-thinking athletes who were willing to score games using the rally point system. Players attending the first Pickleball OSC event came from an assortment of other clubs but despite their traditional scoring backgrounds these open-minded individuals easily transitioned to rally point scoring and never looked back.

Pickleball OSC players have discovered that:

  1. Games scored using the rally point system conclude sooner than games scored using the traditional scoring method - an outcome common to all sports that have made this change.
  2. Because rally point games finish sooner, court rotation improves while sideline waiting is noticeably decreased.
  3. Rally point scoring permits Pickleball OSC to accommodate a larger pool of talented players than what would be possible on the same number of courts using the traditional scoring format.
  4. The use of rally point scoring has not changed the fundamental nature of pickleball. Like all other sports that have adopted this system, shot selection and game strategies remain largely unchanged.
  5. The rally point system simplifies scoring by eliminating the second-server.

Don't Get Us Wrong

Just because we're doing pickleball differently doesn't mean that we think the game is seriously flawed. If that were the case, we wouldn't be playing it. Instead, experiences in other racquet games led the organizers at Pickleball OSC to adopt rally point scoring because the system offers readily measurable positive outcomes to the game, the club, and the club members. The same cannot be said for traditional scoring practices.

Members of the Okotoks South-Calgary Pickleball Club play the "traditional game" at venues that do not recognize or have not yet adopted the rally point scoring system. Transitioning between rally point and traditional scoring formats is not difficult. In fact, Pickleball OSC players have been known to do this on a day-to-day basis depending on which club they choose to visit.

Scoring Doubles Pickleball Using the Rally Point System - It's Easier Than it First Seems

  • Each side has only ONE service although both players on a team will alternate serve at points throughout the game.
  • The service passes consecutively to the players as shown in the diagram below.
  • At the beginning of the game and when the score is even, the server serves from the right court. When it is odd, the server serves from the left court.
  • If the serving side wins a rally, the serving side scores a point and the same server serves again from the alternate service court.
  • If the receiving side wins a rally, the receiving side scores a point but receiving players do not switch sides (see next point for clarification). The receiving side becomes the new serving side.
  • Players do not change their respective service courts until they win a point when their side is serving.
  • The service court is changed by the serving side (never the receiving side) and only when a point is scored. In all other cases, the players continue to stay in their respective service court from where they played the previous rally. This guarantees an alternate server.
  • The order of server depends on whether the score is odd or even.
  • Games are played to 15 points (win-by-two). If the game is not won (by two points) by the time the score reaches 20-20, the first team to reach 21 points wins (win-by-one).
Doubles Rally Point Scoring January 2018.pdf

Click on the above image to open a PDF that explains how to score pickleball games using the rally point system.

Are Pickleball Players Resistant to Rally Point Scoring or Are They Just Not Familiar With It?

Perhaps the failure of organizers to adopt rally point scoring in pickleball can be explained by a lack of understanding and awareness. In other words, it is possible that the racquet and paddle backgrounds of those organizing and playing the sport are limited to pickleball. Although such a scenario is doubtful, it would mean that pickleball players do not typically migrate to their sport from other racquet and paddle sports. If that is the case, the failure to examine an outmoded scoring system could be explained like this: pickleball organizers simply do not have broad enough racquet and paddle backgrounds to appreciate the benefits that rally point scoring brings to other games. As such, an effort to familiarize organizers with the rally point format is all that would be needed to make way for scoring improvements to this game.

On the other hand, the converse may well be true: the majority of pickleball players and organizers do have broad racquet and paddle backgrounds and, consequently, this group of people is well aware of the positive attributes of the rally point scoring system. If this scenario is correct, the continued resistance to the adoption of this scoring system is, at the very least, puzzling.

Did you actually say, "Zero, Zero, Two"?

The phrase zero-zero-two signifies the beginning of a pickleball doubles game that is being scored in the traditional manner. The third number in this three-number sequence indicates which person on the team is serving (first-server or second-server) and whether or not that team is permitted to continue serving once it makes a fault.

This three-number scoring system (known as "hand-out" or "side-out" scoring) is used persistently in the sport of pickleball and is inherently confusing and sometimes difficult for beginning players to learn. Even popular pickleball websites readily acknowledge that three-number scores are troublesome and regularly offer advice on how to cope with these complications. For example, one such site recommends that the first-server "...wear a colorful wristband" to help keep scoring matters straight. It is amusing to note that advice designed to reduce scoring confusion is itself often confusing (see article here).

Furthermore, because pickleball players also insist on reporting scores as three numbers (ie. zero-four-two) rather than as as two numbers followed by a server-phrase like other sports used to do (ie. zero-four; second-server), the interpretation of pickleball scores is particularly prone to misinterpretation. Specifically, scoring confusion may be created by three-number scores if the server either accidentally or purposefully calls part of the score indistinctly.

Mumbling: What Did That Player Say?

To illustrate this point, consider a doubles pickleball game situation where the score is "two points" to "three points" and the second-server is serving. In this case, pickleball players will report this score as "two-three-two" rather than the identical but much clearer scenario of "two-three; second-server". In fact, pickleball players have been known to boast that the three-number-scores that are peculiar to their sport happen to distinguish it from all other racquet and paddle sports. What is largely unrecognized by these players, however, is that three-number-scores provide an opportunity for confusion not found in scoring systems of other sports.

Specifically, when reporting the score in this manner (where the server calls "two-three-two", for example), if the server mumbles over the first number (two) but enunciates the other two numbers properly (three, two), the opposition may well hear "three-two". If that is the case, the receiving team may then mistakenly surmise that the score is three-points to two-points (rather than what is correct: two-points to three-points). Furthermore, because the receiving team may be conciliatory, players on the receiving team might choose to carry on with that rally assuming that the server simply neglected to call the server-number (which is, of course, not the case in this example: the server actually called the score by inaudibly mumbling "two" then clearly calling "three" followed by clearly calling the server number "two").

Although not widely acknowledged, attentive pickleball players do understand that this sport's insistence on calling three-number scores rather than two-number scores followed by the server-phrase can and does result in scoring confusion.

Forget All That - Let's Play Rally Point!

Games scored using the rally point system feature simpler two-number-scores. The first and second server-numbers particular to traditional pickleball scoring (where players can be heard saying, "one" for first-server and "two" for second-server) are never heard in a rally point game because rally point games do not have second-servers. Consequently, people choosing to score pickleball games using the rally point system will never be found wearing colourful wristbands unless, of course, they are using those wristbands to fashionably control sweat.

A misconception common to pickleball players who may be considering the transition from traditional scoring to rally point scoring is that somehow rally point scoring offers only one player on a team the opportunity to serve for the duration of a particular game. This of course couldn't be further from the truth: in games scored by the rally point system, both teammates end up alternating serving responsibilities at certain times throughout the game. For more on this, rally point scoring rules and a rally point scoring diagram have been provided above.

Your Comments - Rally Point Scoring System

Are you going to try the rally point system at your pickleball club? If you are considering this change to the scoring system or if you have already adopted the rally point scoring system, we'd like to know about it. What did it do for your club? Did it alleviate waiting issues? Do the games move more quickly? Do your players find the system to be much simpler than the traditional (hand-out) scoring system?

Click here to submit your comments and ideas to Pickleball OSC.