Pickleball Stacking and Switching Tips, Rules, Pros and Cons

Est. Reading: 8 minutes

If you’re new to pickleball, playing in doubles will likely be better for you than in singles. The format is less physically demanding and allows you to learn much about teamwork. So far, stacking is one of the best playing strategies in doubles. 

If you are lined up to stack, you and your partner may work better in pickleball doubles. This comprehensive guide will teach you everything about stacking and switching in pickleball. So keep reading from beginning to end.

What is Stacking in Pickleball?

Traditionally, teammates in pickleball doubles stand on each side of the centerline at the start of the game. The server is behind the baseline and will serve diagonally. On the other hand, the receiver is also standing beyond the baseline, waiting for the served ball. The receiving teammate will position near the non-volley zone (NVZ) line.

On the other hand, to stack means to arrange things in an orderly pile. In pickleball, stacking can only be done in doubles. Here, you and your partner are lined up on the same side of the court before your team serves. After the serve, both of you will go to your stronger positions. You can also stack when returning the serve, but differently.

Pickleball Stacking Rules

If the serving team’s score is even (0, 2, 4...), the server should be on the court's right (even) side. But if their score is odd (1, 3, 5), the server should be positioned on the left (odd) side. Once the serving team scores a point, they will switch places, and the other teammate shall serve. You can also read our Pickleball Serve Rules Guide.

Note, however, that no rule prevents players from stacking. In fact, Section 4.B.7 of the 2024 USA Pickleball Official Rulebook states, “In doubles, with the exception of the server (see 4.A.4), there is no restriction on the position of any player, as long as all players are on their respective team’s side of the net.” Hence, stacking is perfectly legal.

When is Stacking Helpful to Improve Plays?

Why would you stack if the traditional way of playing doubles works well? Well, you don’t have to. However, there are some instances where stacking can help improve your play. If you’re a complete beginner, you must know these situations to elevate your skill level faster. Here they are:

When Teammates Have Opposite Dominant Hands

In doubles, if one of you is right-handed and the other is left-handed, this is the best situation for stacking. Given this scenario, the right-handed player should go to the left while the teammate should be on the right. 

The purpose is for both forehands to be in the middle of the court. The pickleball net specifications state that the net’s middle height is the lowest (34 inches). You should use this low height to your advantage against your opponents.

When a Teammate has a Strong Forehand

If one of you has a dominant forehand, that player should be on the left side of the court. In doing so, their forehand is always near the centerline. That player can also poach (cross over the centerline and hit the ball on their teammate’s side). 

This strategy is very effective if the teammate is too weak to do the return. Note that if you are left-handed and on the right side, it’s difficult to do backhand if the ball goes to the center of the court.

When You Need to Change Strategy

If your opponents win more rallies than you, and your team seems hopeless, it’s high time to change your strategy. Stacking is a better option if your opponents constantly hit the ball toward your specific weakness or your teammate’s.

Switching to stacking also allows your team to maximize your strengths. As a result, your opponents will feel uneasy, and you can now change the game's momentum. The best part? You may eventually win the succeeding rallies.

How to Stack on the Serve

As mentioned earlier, if you are the server and the score is even, you should be on the right side of the court. If the score is odd, you should be on the left. Therefore, here are two scenarios where you stack if you are in the serving team and how to do to them:

When the Score is Even

Since the score is even, you should serve on the right side, and your teammate should stand beside you. After you serve, slide to the left side of the court. At the same time, your teammate will simply do the ready position for a possible third shot. 

Therefore, both of you have switched positions. Just make sure you don’t bump into each other. And again, stack only when the situation needs it. Stacking at the start of the game is not ideal since you’re already in your ‘normal’ positions.

When the Score is Odd

If the score is odd, you should serve on the left side while your partner stands beside you. Again, the stacking position takes place. After you serve, move to the right side and then forward, and your teammate gets ready for the return of serve.

If your partner will serve, stand beside them and move forward after the serve. Your partner must switch to the right and then forward. In both cases, both of you are in your desired positions.

How to Stack on the Return of Serve

Stacking when returning a serve uses the same principle as you do on the serve, except that doing it is a bit more complicated. If you will do the return at the start of the game, you must be on the right side. There are two types of stacking on the return of serve - traditional and switching.

When the Score is Even

Your partner should stand outside the right side, near the non-volley zone. After you return the serve, cross to the left side near the kitchen line. Then, your partner will simply enter the court to the right side, near the kitchen line. 

When the Score is Odd

Here, you will be on the left side, and your partner should stand outside, also on the left side, near the non-volley zone. After you return the serve, cross to the right side near the kitchen line. Then, your partner will simply enter the court to the left side, near the kitchen line. 

How to Switch on the Return of Serve

Switching is a variation of stacking, wherein you and your partner will start at the standard position. It means that you, as the returner, will be behind the baseline while your partner will be near the kitchen line and will give hand signals.

This time, you would want to deceive your opponents on your next positions. This strategy makes communication crucial because your partner will give you hand signals behind their back.

Stacking Hand Signals

  • A closed fist means ‘to stay.’ Therefore, you’ll go forward after you do the return, and your partner will not move.
  • An open hand means ‘to switch.’ Therefore, both of you will cross to the other side of the centerline immediately after you do the return

Note: If the score is odd, you and your partner will start in opposite positions. Then, do the switch the other way around.

Although effective, your opponents may notice you if you switch periodically. The solution? Fake your switch sometimes, and don’t follow a particular pattern. In doing so, your opponents will keep guessing whether you will switch.

Switching on the Serve

The best thing about switching in pickleball doubles is that you can also do it on the serve. But because your opponents will see your hand signals, you, as the server, can simply say “stay” or “switch” loud enough so your partner can hear. To hide it from your opponents, stand closer to each other. Better yet, cover your mouth with your paddle while speaking. At some point, you can also fake the switch.

Full Stack vs Half Stack: What’s the Difference?

The main difference between full and half stacking is when you do it. Full stacking means you stack as the server and the receiver. On the other hand, half stacking means you stack only on the serve. Hence, a full stack is more tiring than a half stack.

When Not to Stack

While stacking can be advantageous, it does not necessarily mean you should always do it. If you want to know when you should not stack, here are some scenarios:

  • When both of you are right-handed. Again, stacking is an ideal strategy only if one of you is left-handed. Otherwise, you’ll just be inviting your team into losing rallies.
  • When your weakness is exploited. If you or your partner is right-handed and really struggles with a backhand, your opponent can use it against both of you.
  • When both backhands are more powerful. Stacking is helpful if both forehands are powerful. But if your team is better at backhands, there’s no need for stacking.
  • When it leads to more errors. Stacking is designed to help you win. If it’s doing the opposite, stop and practice more.
  • When it leads to confusion. Stacking requires knowing your score and where to stand. If you’re always getting confused due to switching, it can lead to multiple replays.

Note: Per 2024 Rules Changes and Updates, there are no more faults for incorrect server, receiver, and player position errors. Instead, the referee should correct any such errors before calling the score. But if a rally was stopped to correct a wrong position, it should be replayed.

Pickleball Stacking Pros and Cons

Stacking is an optional strategy in doubles pickleball. But if it does more harm than good, don’t use it. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of stacking to help you decide whether to do it.


  • Great for righty-lefty combination
  • Offers stronger centerline coverage
  • Can help change momentum
  • Covers the team’s weaknesses
  • Also applicable to stronger backhands
  • Ideal for poaching


  • Requires extra, faster movements
  • Teammate collision is inevitable
  • Can cause confusion
  • Could lead to unforced errors
  • Don’t help in improving weaknesses
  • Hand signals may be overlooked
  • Not applicable to every situation

Basic Tips When Stacking

If you think the pros outweigh the cons, you might want to consider stacking as part of your team’s strategy. If you do, here are some essential tips that can help you:

Stack With a Purpose

Don’t stack just to show off or scare your opponents. Although stacking can help distract their strategy, this may get over it soon. Remember, stacking requires speed, mobility, and being alert. If your opponents are smarter than you think, stop stacking.

Keep Track of the Score

Standing in the wrong starting position is the most common mistake if you’re stacking from to time. Always remember the serve rule - Right side at even score and left side if it’s odd. If you are unsure of your position, you can ask the referee if there’s one.  

Know Your Partner

Is your partner left-handed or right-handed? Is forehand their weakness or backhand? In what situations would you stack? These are only some of the questions you should ask your partner. So yes, knowing each other is the key to success in stacking.

Hit Deep Return of Serve

Returning deep gives you more time to switch because your opponents must back off the kitchen line. The 2-bounce rule states that the ball should bounce before the serving team can hit the third shot. This extra time also helps avoid teammate collisions.

Return to the Weaker Opponent

Returning the ball to a weaker opponent doesn’t only help you buy more time but can also lead to winning the rally. So, if one of your opponents is weak in hitting a drive shot, grab this chance. Otherwise, you need to rush while switching to make the fourth shot.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, stacking is not for complete beginners but rather for intermediate and advanced players. In fact, not all professional players do it in major tournaments. But then, there’s no harm in trying it. After all, it might be the last option to win the game.

Have you tried stacking? What was the result? Was it worth doing? Do you think it’s an excellent strategy to change the game's pace? Go ahead and share your thoughts below. We would love to hear your side of this.

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