Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America and a lot of new players are coming into the sport with tons of questions.
Questions like: is pickleball rally scoring? This is a common and valid question. After all, most racket sports use rally scoring.
Well, to answer that, pickleball was invented in 1965. And since then, it has used side-out scoring as the main scoring system in tournaments and casual plays. But, with court sports like volleyball, badminton, and tennis using rally scoring as their official system, should rally scoring be the norm of pickleball as well?
Rally scoring for pickleball is one of those topics where everyone is either on one side or the other. There’s no one in between. Despite all that, the trend says rally scoring is slowly becoming more and more popular, so it looks like it might eventually become the norm for pickleball. It’s really more a question of “when?”.
Is Pickleball Rally Scoring?
Rally scoring is by far the most popular and common way that court sports are played. Sports like tennis, badminton, and volleyball all use rally scoring. So, you’re probably asking if pickleball uses rally scoring in official tournaments.
As of right now, most pickleball tournaments use the traditional scoring system, otherwise known as side-out scoring. It’s been the standard scoring system for almost 60 years. Pickleball is one of the longest sports that hasn’t transitioned to rally scoring yet.
That being said, I did say “most” pickleball tournaments, not “all”. Rally scoring has slowly been adapted and used by the pickleball community in some tournaments. The first pickleball tournament played with rally scoring was the 2013 USA Pickleball National Championships. It was a big tournament, but the reactions to the game were mixed. Lots of players enjoyed the excitement and fairness that rally scoring brought to the game. Meanwhile, other players felt that it made the games too fast-paced and unpredictable.
Pickleball Tournaments that Use Rally Scoring
There are a handful of major pickleball tournaments that used rally scoring at some point. These tournaments are the biggest pickleball tournaments in the world, so having them use rally scoring was a big thing for pickleball.
These tournaments were:
- The 2013 USA Pickleball National Championships (as mentioned above)
- The 2015 US Open Pickleball Championships
- The 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships
USA Pickleball National Championships
This is the oldest and most established pickleball tournament in the world. It’s held every year in different cities across the United States. The prize money for this tournament is often the largest prize pool of any pickleball tournament in the world, making it the most prestigious pickleball tournament. It is often also referred to as the World Championship.
US Open Pickleball Championships
A newer tournament that has quickly become one of the most popular pickleball tournaments in America and the world. This pickleball championship is held every year in Indian Wells, California and is considered the biggest unofficial “World Championship” of pickleball.
Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships
This is also a new tournament that’s quickly gaining popularity. It’s hosted every year in Naples, Florida. The Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships is known for having a more relaxing, family-friendly environment.
Why Did Pickleball Tournaments Go Back to Side-Out Scoring?
If this is such a good idea, why did all the major pickleball tournaments go back to side-out scoring? Although it’s hard to find official statements from these organizers, it’s safe to assume that these were the reasons why rally scoring was abandoned.
- Shorter Matches
Since points are scored on every serve, matches can end more quickly. This might not give a team or player who started poorly enough time to make a comeback.
- Reduces Serving Importance
In traditional side-out scoring, the only way to score points is to be the serving team. This places a premium on holding the serve. In rally scoring, since either side can score anytime, the importance of the serve is somewhat diminished.
- Less Strategy on Return
In traditional scoring, there’s a strategy involved in returning serves, especially the second serve, since forcing an error means getting the serve back without the opponent scoring. With rally scoring, every rally has the potential to result in a point, which can change the dynamics of risk-taking in the game.
- Less Dramatic Comebacks
Traditional scoring allows for more dramatic comebacks. The trailing team can’t score while they’re receiving, but they can potentially string together a series of points when they get the serve back. In rally scoring, the leading team can inch closer to victory with every rally, making large comebacks harder.
- Viewer Understanding
For those familiar with the traditional scoring system, switching to rally scoring can be confusing or less satisfying. Part of the enjoyment for some fans is the strategic element introduced by side-out scoring.
Now, just because rally scoring has its drawbacks as a scoring system doesn’t mean that it’s all bad. There’s a reason why rally scoring is one of the most popular scoring systems in the world.
Why Use Rally Scoring in Pickleball
Us players here at thevolley aren’t rally-scoring enthusiasts, but we do see that it does have tons of merits for tournament organizers and players.
Here are some reasons why pickleball should use rally scoring:
- Faster Games
Rally scoring can make games shorter and more predictable in length, which is helpful for scheduling and maintaining viewer engagement.
- Every Play Matters
Since points can be scored regardless of who serves, every rally holds significance. This can heighten the excitement for both players and spectators.
- Easier to Follow for Newcomers
Rally scoring can be simpler to grasp for those new to pickleball, as points are always on the line.
- Minimizes Service Advantage
It balances out the game by reducing the immense advantage the serving team has, promoting a more level playing field.
- Intensified Pressure
Both teams are always at risk of losing a point, which can create a more tension-filled and engaging game environment.
Other reasons like consistent pacing, fewer stalemates, and forcing pickleball players to evolve their strategy are also compelling reasons to use rally scoring in pickleball. I mean, if other sports are using rally scoring, why shouldn’t pickleball?
What Other Sports Use Rally Scoring?
There are a ton of other sports that use rally scoring, such as:
These sports also have a history of using side-out scoring in the past, but they transitioned to rally scoring later on. Volleyball used side-out scoring all the way up to 1999 when it finally adopted rally scoring. The same goes for table tennis in 2001 and Squash in 2010.
Shoulder Rally Scoring Be the Norm of Pickleball?
So, should rally scoring be the norm of pickleball? While it’s definitely the norm of the most popular court sports in the world, pickleball as a sport is unique in so many different ways that we believe side-out scoring only complements that uniqueness.
All we can say is that we aren’t in a rush for rally scoring to make an official comeback in pickleball.