Side-Out vs Rally Scoring: Which is Better for Pickleball?

Est. Reading: 6 minutes

If you're serious about playing pickleball, you should understand how the scoring system works. The side-out scoring is the traditional system in pickleball. USA Pickleball has been using it in all its tournaments since the beginning.

But in 2023, the Major League Pickleball (MLP) began implementing the rally scoring system in some tournaments. Although unpopular, some players are now proposing it to USA Pickleball to replace the side-out scoring.

Since then, the side-out vs rally-scoring debate has become more intense. And somehow, pickleball players and fanatics are divided on this matter. In this article, you'll know the similarities and differences between these two scoring formats. So hold your paddles tightly, and let's begin.

What is Side Out Scoring in Pickleball?

In many sports like pickleball, the term "side out" is used when the serving team loses its chance to serve after committing a fault. Therefore, it's now time for the opposing team to serve. As the name implies, side-out scoring means only the serving team can score a point. The opposing team can only score points once it's their turn to serve.

In doubles pickleball, after a side-out, the serving team is allowed to serve twice - once for each team player. Every time the serving team wins a rally, the server will continue to serve. The only time the serving team will serve once is at the start of the game. Here, the "second server" serves. The score at the beginning of the game is always 0-0-2.

You can also read our in-depth guide on how side-out scoring works in pickleball.

What is Rally Scoring in Pickleball?

In the rally-scoring format, the serving team will only serve once if it loses a rally, whether at the start of the game or not. Then, a side-out happens, and the opposing team will earn a point and will be the one to serve. Therefore, a point is scored whenever a rally is lost, regardless of the team that served.

There's no "second server" in doubles, and the score has only two numbers. Therefore, the score at the beginning of the game is always 0-0. The first number is the serving team's score, while the second is the receiving team's score. This scoring sequence is followed throughout the game.

Similarities and Differences Between Side Out and Rally Scoring

Judging from the definitions above, here's the summary of the similarities and differences between the side out and the rally scoring. We also add a few more, especially concerning the position of the players.


  • In both scoring systems, determining the team to serve and receive first is done using any fair method such as rock-paper-scissors or tossing a coin.
  • The first server is on the right-hand side of the court and will serve crosscourt.
  • If the serving team's score is even (0,2,4,6...), the player on the right side will serve. If it is odd (1,3,5,7...), the player on the left side shall serve.
  • After a side out, the receiving team will be the one to serve and win a point every time they win a rally.
  • In both singles and doubles, the server's score comes first, and the receiver's score comes second.


Side Out Scoring

  • In singles, the score has two numbers - the server's score and the receiver's score.
  • In doubles, the score has three numbers - the server's score, the receiver's score, and the number of the server, 1 or 2.
  • In doubles, the player on the right side will serve first. Once the team wins a rally, the same server will serve again. If they lose, the second player will serve. 
  • The first and second servers will switch positions each time they win a rally. The receiving team players don't change positions unless it's their time to serve.
  • Games are typically played to 11 points and won by 2 points. Some of them can reach up to 15 or 21 points.

Rally Scoring

  • Whether singles or doubles, the score will always be two numbers only - the server's score and the receiver's score. There's no first or second server.
  • In doubles, if the serving team wins a rally, the team scores a point, and the player on the other side will serve. 
  • If the serving team loses the rally, the opposing team will immediately serve since there's no "second server." 
  • Players A and B on the serving team may not always serve immediately one after the other.
  • None of the players switch positions in the entire game.
  • Games are usually played to 21 points, won by 2 points.

Side Out Scoring Pros and Cons

Now, it's time to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of side-out scoring in pickleball. Some of them are based on what we searched online.


  • Standard in most tournaments
  • More pickleball players are used to it
  • You may need more strategic plays.
  • More forgiving of mistakes


  • Games can be a bit longer
  • "Wasted" side outs
  • It can be less exciting

Rally Scoring Pros and Cons

On the other hand, here are the potential advantages and disadvantages of the rally scoring system if implemented in pickleball.


  • No server number that can be confusing
  • Score in doubles is easy to remember
  • Simpler for beginners
  • Shorter waiting for the score to change


  • May favor the underdogs
  • Players get used to the same position only
  • Players may find it hard to adjust
  • A comeback can be more difficult

Note that some of the pros and cons of each scoring system are subjective. This means that they depend more on the players' personal opinions. However, the rest are pretty obvious. Yet, it does not necessarily follow that side-out scoring is better than rally scoring or vice versa. It only means there's no perfect scoring format, and there will never be.

Side Out vs Rally Scoring: What the Numbers Say

The debate as to which scoring format is better for pickleball tends to be more on personal experiences and observations during the game. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's better if all opinions are supported with data. Fortunately, we can now see some numbers via TheDinkPickleball.com. Below is the summary based on their gathered data:

  • There's a negligible difference in average game length between side-out and rally scoring.
  • Games that used side-out scoring were 44.32% more volatile regarding the standard deviation than games that used rally scoring.
  • The first team to achieve a game point using the side-out scoring format won 91.3% of the time. The first team to score a game point that used the rally scoring had the same winning percentage.
  • Games that used the side-out scoring system had 17.57 on-serve points per game. This is only 0.3 higher than the 17.27 on-serve points per game of the games that used rally scoring.

The above data may not be convincing enough to some, but I think it's a good start. I hope there will be more numbers in the future. But for now, the data helps us weigh the two scoring formats more objectively. By analyzing the numbers, we can better understand the difference between the two scoring systems.

Final Thoughts

I feel the sentiments of the proponents of the rally scoring system. Badminton and volleyball are now using it, so why can't pickleball also use it? Since the MLB is also now using this scoring format, why did the USA Pickleball Rules Committee deny the proposal to change? Do they consider it a hindrance rather than an improvement?

On the other hand, there's a saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Pickleball has been using the side-out scoring since its inception back in 1965. So far, there have been no massive complaints about it, so why change it now? If most players (pros and amateurs) are already satisfied with it, then there's no need to change it. 

There's no harm in convincing the USA Pickleball Committee members to change their minds. If you think it's for the betterment of the majority, propose it but better with accompanying data. In the meantime, you can try both, but ensure you enjoy the sport. After all, pickleball was created to unite us, not to divide us.

Have you used the side-out scoring, the rally scoring, or both? Which one do you think is better for pickleball? And why? Please don't hesitate to share your experience with us in the comments below.

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