Rally Scoring
By: CJ Johnson | November 21, 2023 |

What is Rally Scoring? Learn the Rule Reshaping the Game

Rally scoring is likely the next major evolution in the growth of pickleball. Below, I will explain what rally scoring is and how to play it. We will be exploring the most commonly used rally scoring system adopted by Major League Pickleball.

We will not be explaining how traditional side-out scoring works in this writing. If you want to know more about traditional scoring (the one with the 0-0-2), then click here for more information.

How to Keep Score in Rally Scoring

In its simplest form, rally scoring is a scoring method where a point is awarded for a single rally played, regardless of which team won that rally. Under conventional scoring, a point is awarded only to the serve team when it is the victor in the rally. In traditional scoring, the return team was never able to score a point. The non-serving team could only side-out the serve team, thereby becoming the serve team.

In a rally scoring game, each team is able to be earn a point no matter whether they serve or return.

To account for the point-each-rally approach, rally scoring games are played to 21 points, as compared with the standard games to 11 used for traditional scoring.

Keeping Track of the Server in Rally Scoring

One advantage about this version of pickleball, is that there is no need to keep track of the server in rally scoring. The 3rd figure used in the traditional scoring method simply drops off and the score is simply serve team score-return team score (e.g., 7-6 rather than 7-6-1).

The player that will serve will be the player who corresponds to the score of the serve team. If their score is odd (like the 7, above), then the player in the left-hand service box will serve. When the score is even (such as if the serve team wins the rally that started with them serving at 7-6) then the player in the right-hand service box will serve the ball into play.

One of the effects of rally scoring is that it is easy to remember and implement: the player standing on the left-hand side will serve when the serve team’s score is odd and the player standing on the right-hand side will serve when the serve team’s score is even. Easy peasy.

This will greatly simplify the game for new players and also avoid some of the disagreements found in traditional pickleball scoring that relate to server number.

How Sideouts are used in Rally Scoring

That said, sideouts are still part of the game in rally scoring. The only modification to sideouts is that it is a single sideout rather than a double sideout that sends the serve from one side to the other.

Upon losing a rally, the other team is awarded a point and also the serve. That team will continue serving until it is sided out.

Court Position during Rally Scoring

This is another advantage of rally scoring over traditional scoring: each player stays on the left or right half of their side of the court usually for the entire game. Players no longer switch from left to right when they win points on the serve team. Their position is set for the game – see below about changing this position.

This approach essentially removes the chance of serving – or returning – from the wrong side of the court. As mentioned above, the server is the player who corresponds to the score of the serve team. The returner will also be on the correct side, as the players do not switch left to right between rallies.

There are two ways players can change their starting positions:

    1. During a time-out. MLP grants each team 1 timeout per game, plus there is a timeout during the changeover at 11. Something similar will likely be made a part of the USA Pickleball rules once rally scoring becomes official.
    2. Stacking. While the importance of stacking will diminish in a rally scoring world, it will not completely go away. You will be able to use stacking to modify position from time to time as it makes sense, as well as to overcome a lack of timeouts if you get stuck in a formation that is not working for you.

The “Freeze” of Rally Scoring

Now we get to the fun stuff: the score freezes. Just when you thought traditional scoring had ridden off into the sunset, it comes back into full view at the end of a rally scoring game. This is an awesome way to allow dramatic comebacks and to make the team in the lead earn it on their serve. It also strikes an arguably perfect balance, rewarding the team that makes it to 20 first by freezing the score of the other team at 18 – assuming they make it that far. It is a beautiful solution. Here is how it works.

The first team to get to 20 has its score “frozen.” We will refer to this team as Team A. This means that Team A must score the final point (21) on its serve. A team cannot win the game by winning a rally when it is the return team. Only on serve.

The other team (Team B), which is not yet at 20, remains unfrozen as long as its score is less than 18. Team B will still be awarded points when it wins rallies as the return team up to 18. For example, if the score is 20-14 and Team B wins the rally, then Team B would become the serve team and earn a point. Team B would be serving at 15-20.

This remains true until Team B reaches 18 points. When this happens, Team B is also frozen and cannot score except on serve. At this stage, both teams are frozen and can only score on their serve. Winning as the return team only results in a sideout.

In theory, a game could remain deadlocked at 20-18 indefinitely with no team scoring points (the same thing that sometimes happens in traditional scoring where the score locks up for some time). It is a beautiful hybrid scoring approach with a newer approach to the game.

Are You Ready to Give Rally Scoring a Try?

Those are the features of rally scoring. You now have the information you need to give this new (and likely coming) approach to scoring a try. Who knows? You may even like it ☺.

If you want to learn more about playing your best in a rally scoring game, click here to get our latest pickleball strategies designed around a rally scoring approach to the game.

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)