How Does Turn Ordering Work in Doubles Pickleball?

By Lexi Mattick · 2023-09-06 · All posts

Alternate title: Putting the “Ball” in Pickle

I had a blast playing pickleball for the first time yesterday. While I can still barely hit the ball, my friends did a great job getting me into the game. However, I could not for the life of me figure out how the turn ordering or player numbering worked! Nobody managed to cohesively explain this to me, and I left the game infuriated and confused.

Today, still frustrated, I did some online research and didn’t find a satisfactory explanation anywhere. I’ve also never played tennis or any other racquet sport, so I’m not familiar with terms like “rally” and found a lot of resources assumed similar prior knowledge.

So, after grilling my friends about various permutations of possible moves, I decided to write a short explainer that would’ve helped me understand pickleball.

If you scroll down to the bottom, you’ll also find a helpful flowchart.

Hey, this isn’t a programming article!

My blog is a place to put anything I write, no topics barred. The first post on here is actually about electroacoustic music, not tech! I did, however, choose not to email this out to all of my lovely new newsletter subscribers.

Serves, Rallies, and Faults

Breaking pickleball down into digestible units helped me a lot.

A rally starts when a player serves the ball and ends when one team commits a fault. Faults include anything from the serving player hitting the ball outside of the playing area — this happened a lot in our game, since I am incapable of properly serving — to just missing the ball. To emphasize: every serve begins a rally that ends in a fault. Faults are always the same concept! There is no meaningful difference between screwing up a serve and missing the ball when it comes back to your team after many back and forths.

One team is the serving team, and the other team is always the receiving team. At the start of the game and whenever the serving team changes sides, server numbers reset and are assigned to all players. The players on the right (from the perspective of each team) receive server number 1 and the left players receive server number 2.

The serving player announces before each rally:
“<serving team’s score> <receiving team’s score> <serving player’s server number>”

A scrawled drawing of a woman holding a pickleball paddle shouting "0-5-2!"

The player on the right (player 1) of the serving team begins the game by calling out “0-0-1” and then serving the ball diagonally across the court. Now, only the serving team can ever win a point. Two things can happen:

Wait, so when you switch sides you keep your number?


… But you keep your number for the whole game, right?

Nope, of course not, this game can’t be reasonable!

When the serving team screws up after player served, player 2 gets to serve. When player 2 eventually screws up, sides switch and the receiving team becomes the serving team and the ball switches sides. Nobody changes position, but now all the server numbers are reassigned based on current positions. 1 is assigned to whoever is on the right, and 2 is assigned to whoever is on the left. Again, this only happens when the serving side changes and at the start of the game.

As long as the serving team doesn’t screw up, the servers keep their numbers and the same person keeps serving, alternating sides every point.

Example Game

Let’s look at a simple example game. The court starts like this, with the serving player circled:

Pickleball court, score 0 0 1

(Steve is outside the court because you always have to serve from behind the outer line. Eve is also a little closer to the center than Bob; this is a common strategy to make it easier to hit the ball.)

Player 1 on the serving team serves the ball diagonally across the court (shouting, “0-0-1”). Let’s say the receiving team hits it back, the serving team hits it back, and the receiving team misses the ball — committing a fault. The serving team wins a point, and players 1 and 2 on the serving team physically switch positions, (keeping the same server numbers). Since player 1 served last time, they serve again (“1-0-1”):

Pickleball court, score 1 0 1

This time, player 1 screws up their serve. Just like the opposing team missing the ball last turn, this counts as committing a fault. Since this time it was the serving team’s fault, it is now player 2’s time to serve (“1 0 2”). The receiving team doesn’t win a point because the receiving team can never win a point. Here’s the current state of the game:

Pickleball court, score 1 0 2

Now, player 2 does a great serve, the receiving team hits the ball back, and player 2’s team screws up and misses the ball, or maybe hits it out of the court. The serving team committed a fault again. The receiving team still can’t score a point, but the serving player needs to change because player 2 screwed up. However, this time it was player 2 and not player 1 — so the ball needs to go to the opposing team! So, all the server numbers reset. The receiving team becomes the serving team, the serving team becomes the receiving team, and the rightmost players become the player 1s:

Pickleball court, score 0 1 1

Player 1 of the opposing team calls out the score (“0-1-1”) and serves the ball. The play continues!

Additional Rules

I have a couple notes to make about what counts as a fault.

First of all: the serving player always has to serve into the square of the diagonally opposite player. If they don’t serve diagonally, that’s a fault and play changes players.

There is also something called the double bounce rule. The ball has to bounce once on both sides of the court before teams are allowed to volley the ball (hit it before it bounces). This means that spiking the ball before it has bounced once on each side of the court also counts as faulting.

Here’s a full list of what counts as a fault, modified from the pickleball Wikipedia article:


I made a handy little flowchart to illustrate everything we just learned:

Pickleball Doubles Scoring Flowchart

I hope this helped and you learned something about pickleball!