How would Rally Scoring Change Pickleball?


Leigh Waters, Scott Crandell, and more weigh in on the hot-button issue

How would rally scoring change pickleball?

A: Pickleball is growing so quickly, it can be difficult to know all the rule changes, from the removal of service lets to the addition of the drop serve. None, however, are taken lightly. Rather, they are debated widely within the sport before USA Pickleball adopts them. That has certainly been the case with any potential change involving rally scoring.

For those unfamiliar with the term, rally scoring is a more conventional scoring method in which points are earned by whichever team wins the rally. Currently, pickleball is played with side-out scoring, in which points are scored only by the serving team. While USA Pickleball did not adopt rally scoring as a rule change for 2022, discussion continues as to whether the change should be made and what the consequences might be for the sport if it ever happened.

Many players don’t warm to the idea of rally scoring; others argue that pickleball is late to the party, with volleyball and badminton converting to rally scoring in 1999 and 2006, respectively. Those in favor say it will speed up the game, shorten waits at crowded courts, and make it easier to schedule televised tournaments and—eventually, they hope—Olympic matches. “It’s not a matter of if,” says Morgan Evans, a renowned professional player, commentator, and coach. “It’s just a matter of when. If you ask the pros whether they’d keep side-out scoring or make a million dollars a year, I know which they would choose.” 

“Please don’t fix something that’s not broken,” says Scott Crandall, 51, who is ranked No. 6 in the World Pickleball Rankings for both pro senior men’s doubles and pro senior mixed doubles. Crandall recently decided to try rally scoring, just to give it a chance, and didn’t like it. “Every shot matters more, so play will become more conservative. The only reason for this is TV,” he says, alluding to increased interest among broadcasters in better estimating playing times when scheduling tournaments. “Please don’t let television ruin our sport.” 

Crandall also mentions that one of the joys of pickleball is the ever-present possibility of big momentum shifts. He thinks rally scoring will be the death of the comeback. Leigh Waters, a top 10 professional player of the sport, agrees. “One of the best things about pickleball is the ability to be down in a game and come back to win,” she says. “With rally scoring, if a team goes on a large run, it will be nearly impossible to come back and win. I feel like that takes away one of the major pluses of pickleball.” Waters also points out that for pros and amateurs who are paying large entry fees into tournaments, rally scoring could create very short matches, depending on draw matchups. So conceivably, players could pay a lot of money in travel expenses and fees to be on the court for a very short time.

For amateur players, who relish pickleball’s accessibility, the concern is that rally scoring will dilute that. They say pickleball is easy to pick up, and the structure of the game and size of the court allow older players to challenge younger ones. Avid player and Mashpee, Massachusetts, pickleball ambassador Jill Alpert, 55, fears that rally scoring will “change mindsets” and encourage people to limit dinking, skip tougher-to-learn moves, and “go for the jugular” more often.

Hannah Johns, a spokesperson for the PPA, says, “While the PPA Tour is open to innovation within the sport, preserving pickleball in its truest form remains our highest priority. Rally scoring would only be incorporated at the highest levels if it was demonstrated that such a system would, first, create indisputable advantages, and second, would not fundamentally alter the traditional style of competition.” 

For 2022, however, scoring will not change and the game will stay true to its origins.