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When to Switch Sides in Pickleball? Is It Mandatory?

A woman, playing in a mixed pickleball tournament, is about to serve.

In pickleball, you do change sides, but not from one side of the net to the other. The sport of pickleball does things a bit differently than, say, baseball, changing from outfield to batting. If you serve from the wrong side of the court, you commit a fault and lose the point.

That means the server loses the rally and the opponent gets a shot at racking up the score.

The Pickleball Court

The Pickleball Court and the mountains.

In pickleball, each side of the net features three sections of the court. The largest side-to-side area stretches from one end of the net to the other. That’s the non-volley zone, also called the kitchen.

Don’t stray there or you’ll incur a fault. It stretches backward seven feet. Behind it, the court divides into a left side and a right side.

In a doubles match, both sides of the rear court host a player, one on the left, and the other in the right zone. In a singles match, each player starts in their right volley zone.

Serving and Scoring Decide the Side of the Court

A senior is about to serve as he competes in a pickleball tournament.

To determine who goes first, you can draw straws, flip a coin, etc. The first player serves from the right volley zone diagonally to the other player. When a point gets scored, the two players switch to the left side of their own side of the court.

This just changes things up. You can use a simple check of which side of the court you’re on to determine whether you have the score right. With an even score, both singles players should stand on the right side of their volley zone.

With an uneven score, both singles players should stand on the left side of their volley zones.

Keep Serving and Serving

A ball is tossed during a pickleball serve.

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In pickleball, the server continues to serve until they incur a fault. Then the serve goes to the opponent. Gameplay continues to a score of 11 and to win, the successful player must win by two.

The score can seem lopsided since the server keeps the ball until faulting. The opposition then gets an opportunity to even it out though. Doubles work a bit differently. Only the serving side moves in doubles.

That means the server switches places with their partner. This affords both individuals on the opposing team the opportunity to return serve.

Variations on the Standard Pickleball Rules

As the sport grows, so have game variations. Some of these variations make switching optional and allow a doubles strategy called stacking. Don’t worry about those complexities if you just started playing the sport.

Just have fun. For the most part, stacking and optional switching in doubles evolved at the professional pickleball players level. If and when you do become serious about the sport, check each tournament’s rules.

Different tournaments allow different strategies, but some do not allow stacking or optional switching. You must rotate as you score points. Other variations use multiple games of pickleball to decide the winner.

In these cases, one variation has the players change sides at six points. Some games go to 21 points. Other versions of the game go to other point values.

Pickleball Skinny Singles

A guy hit a pickleball.

The term skinny singles refers to the court, not the players. In skinny singles, the two players use only one side of the court to play. They can do this across the net or using the lines on one side of the net.

The three most common versions of this game include:

  • Down The Line Only,
  • Crosscourt Only,
  • Odds & Evens.

Because this version of pickleball only uses one side of the court lengthwise or on one side of the net, you do not switch sides during it the way you would in regular singles.

How Do You Know When to Switch?

Before you begin to play, decide which rules you want to play by. The easiest way to play will invariably be the original rules. This means you switch at each point.