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CJ Johnson
Tony Roig
Tony Roig

Pickleball Singles-Start with Skinny Singles

Stop by any pickleball court, and you probably won’t see many games of singles. Most players over 50 tend to prefer doubles; it’s less physically demanding. If you haven’t played singles before, I think you’re in for a treat. It’s fun, good for your footwork, and improves your doubles game.

If you’re not sure that pickleball singles is the right game for you, start with a modified version called skinny singles.

In skinny singles, you use half the pickleball court at a time. It improves a variety of skills; strategy, ability to pre-plan, accuracy, and physical conditioning. You’ll find many of the shots you need will be similar to those you use during a doubles game.

First, let’s review the rules for pickleball singles, and then I’ll give you three fun skinny singles games.

The rules for singles are the same as the rules for doubles, except for serving and calling the score.

Rule 4.B.5  if the players score is even (zero, two, four….), the serve must be made from the right/even serving area and be received in the right/even service court by the opponent.

4.b.5.b  if the players score is odd (one three, five….), the serve must be made from the left/odd serving area and be received in the left/odd service court by the opponent.

4.b.5.c after the server loses the rally or faults a side-out will occur, and service is awarded to the opponent.

One last thing you need to know is how to call the score in pickleball singles. It’s merely two numbers, the servers score first and the opponents second.

One point of clarification. The two bounce rule which states, after the ball is served, each side must make one groundstroke prior to volleying the ball, is still in effect for pickleball singles. Which means different from tennis, there’s no serve and volley.

There are several variations on skinny singles, but these are three that I like the best.

Down the Line

One player stands on their even side, and the other player stands on their odd side. Strategy-wise, this might make you hit some new shots. Typically in doubles, because the net is lower in the center, players hit a higher percentage of cross-court shots. One additional variation is to serve cross-court and then play the rest of the point down the line. Some people like this better since you always serve cross-court in pickleball.


When your score is even, serve from the even side when your score is odd serve from the odd side. The same goes for your opponent. Cross-court makes you play and defend from different angles. Of all three versions, I think it’s the one most similar to doubles.

Combination Down the Line and Cross-court

Perhaps my favorite way to play is a combination of both. The game begins with both players on the even side of the court. The server will switch sides if they win a point. The minute the server loses the rally, the opponent begins serving from the position they’re currently standing in

As an example, if I’m the first server of the game, and I win the point, I move to the odd court for the next serve. My opponent stays in the same place, and now we play down the line. I lose that rally, so my opponent now serves from the position they are standing in, which is their even side of the court and we play that point down the line. They win the point so the move to the odd court and now we are cross-court again.

One of the things I like about this modification is it makes you pre-plan. A good shot on the last point might be out this time.


Pickleball singles will improve your accuracy, challenge your shot-making abilities, and boost your fitness. Start with some skinny singles and see where it leads you.

Better Pickleball CJ Johnson

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CJ Johnson

Hey there — I’m a professional three-sport athlete and coach who has spent my entire adult life earning a living from playing and coaching sports. Since I started coaching more than three decades ago, one thing has remained the same: My commitment to see students not as they are but as what they can become and to move heaven and earth to help them realize their untapped potential. You should know that when it comes to helping pickleball players over 50 live their best lives on and off the courts, I'm an expert. Good pickleball is not just technique; it's the mind and body working holistically. That's why I'm also a personal trainer and weight management specialist. When I’m chillin', you'll find me watching Star Trek with my husband John and our two fur babies, Shirley and Ralph. (Yes, Happy Days)


  1. Avatar photo Amy Smith on May 2, 2020 at 3:22 pm

    Love this – and great news that Pickleball will soon be legal again in my state!!

    • Avatar photo Cathy Jo Johnson on May 2, 2020 at 7:34 pm

      It’s nice to have pickleball coming back. Stay safe Amy!

  2. Avatar photo Ken on May 2, 2020 at 3:24 pm

    Sounds like fun.can hardly to wait to try it out. Hope I can quickly learn the new rules and strategy.Cheers

  3. Avatar photo Jose Sosa on May 2, 2020 at 5:16 pm

    Combination Down the Line and Cross-court is my favorite way to play singles. It gives you an opportunity to work on all aspects of your game.

  4. Avatar photo Pete Ture on May 2, 2020 at 7:21 pm

    My partner & I played Combo Skinny Singles but with a twist; we use Rally Scoring.
    It achieves the same variety but it makes scoring and serving very simple since both Server & Receiver just stand in the Odd or Even court based completely on their score.
    It’s our new favorite way to play Skinnies.

  5. Avatar photo Lorie on May 4, 2020 at 12:31 pm

    My intro to singles was a full-court game against a much younger and more skilled player. Needless to say, it almost killed me! The options for singles that you’ve outlined here seem much more “civilized” and I can’t wait to try them out. Thanks!

    • Avatar photo Cathy Jo Johnson on May 4, 2020 at 2:53 pm

      Skinny singles is a lot of fun. Let me know what you think!

  6. Avatar photo Sherry Bruster on May 8, 2020 at 5:51 pm

    Very helpful. Enjoyed the presentation.

  7. Avatar photo Kathleen D'Andrea on May 20, 2020 at 8:51 am

    Thank you. The video was very helpful.

  8. Avatar photo Kenster Rosenberry on June 29, 2022 at 4:59 am

    Hello Ms Johnson,

    Great video to get us old folks playing singles! I just ran across your video so i confess, I am guilty of being a couple years late to the party!

    A friend and I have been playing our own version of skinny singles for a couple of years now. I call it “receiver’s choice.” The way we play is: All normal singles Pickleball rules are in affect except that each point the receiver gets to choose if she will return the ball down the line or cross court. Play continues down the line or cross court for the remainder of that point only. Repeat the same “receiver’s choice” for every subsequent point.

    I think the advantages of “receiver’s choice” are 1) serves are always served into the even or odd side of the court based upon the score, 2) serves always occur cross court just like they do in full court Pickleball, and 3) it gives the receiver something tactically to think about as she decides if the point should be played down the line or cross court.

    I can’t think of any disadvantages of “receiver’s choice” Skinny Singles. But there may be downsides I’m not thinking about. I’d be curious to hear your and other peoples’ opinions.

    • Avatar photo CJ Johnson on June 29, 2022 at 12:39 pm

      Sounds like fun. Going to give it a try.

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