You often hear the term ‘rally’ in sports like tennis, especially when things are heating up in a match. And while it’s important for that racquet sport, it’s even more vital to understand what rallies are when playing pickleball since the rules of pickleball are designed to encourage them.
So that begs the question, what is a rally in pickleball?
A rally in pickleball is any continuous back-and-forth play after the serve where the ball crosses over the net multiple times and ends with a fault. Unlike other racquet sports, a rally in pickleball doesn’t always result in an actual point.
In pickleball, a rally and a “point” are related but are actually two different things.
In this article, I’ll cover what a rally is, how it’s different than a point and outline rally scoring, and more. Let’s get into it!
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A rally in pickleball is everything that happens after the serve but before a fault or an error is committed.
Depending on who served, that fault may or may not result in a point. Remember, in pickleball one of the main rules is that only the serving team can earn a point.
So, if the serving team goes back and forth with their opponents, and then the return team hits it into the net, the rally ended in a point because the return team committed a fault – resulting in the serving team earning a point.
Conversely, if the return team hits a winning shot down the line that the serving team cannot return back, the rally does not end in a point. The result is that the server loses serving privileges.
The serve then goes to either their partner if playing doubles or it goes to the opponent so they can then try to earn a point.
So, points and rallies in pickleball are connected but are two very different things.
To start a rally, all you need to do is serve the ball over the net to a player who then returns it back to you. This is considered a two-shot rally if the ball crosses the net since you include the serve in the shot count.
This example is also as short as a rally can be; just two shots.
From there, rallies can become long and intense, involving players sending shots to and from all corners of the court.
In fact, the Guinness book of world records claims the longest pickleball rally was over 16,000 shots and took well over 6 hours. It should be noted though, that this was not in a competitive or tournament-level environment. It was purely for fun and for the record.
An entertaining rally at the tournament level is usually anywhere between 7 to 15 shots in length.
Rallies don’t last forever. They can be long and grueling, but they have to come to an end at some point. You lose a rally in pickleball when you commit a fault, and there are many ways to do this.
The most common way to lose a rally is when your opponent hits a shot you can’t return. This happens when the ball bounces twice on your side of the court — as long as all the shots are in-bounds.
Sometimes your opponent will hit a powerful shot that lands in bounds before flying past you (this is called a passing shot), and other times they’ll make a more subtle play that softly bounces twice on your side of the court. In either case, you lose the rally.
And depending on who served, a point may or may not be awarded.
In pickleball, you must play the ball in bounds on the opponent’s side of the net. If you mess that up, you lose the rally. There are two main ways to hit the ball out of play. The first way is by hitting it onto your opponent’s side of the net but outside the boundary lines. More specifically the sidelines and baseline.
The ball is also considered “out of play” if you fail to hit it over the net and it stays on your side of the court.
One of the features of pickleball that makes it so unique is the rectangle stretching out seven feet from either side of the net, called the ‘no-volley zone.’ Players can hit the ball from this area, but it must bounce first. If you hit the ball in mid-air from this area on the court before it bounces it’s another fault that ends the rally.
Sideout scoring in pickleball is a system used where players can’t earn points unless they’re serving. If the serving player or team loses a rally, they lose that serve and the next player in line serves. You can only earn points if you or your team served to start the rally.
Most racquet sports began with sideout scoring but switched to rally scoring. Pickleball is one of the few exceptions.
Rally scoring in pickleball is where a point is earned regardless of who served. This is not the traditional way pickleball is scored. All league play and sanctioned tournaments use sideout scoring instead of rally scoring.
Even singles play at pickleball tournaments is all sideout scoring.
However, you may see rally scoring used in less formal settings where the play is more casual or recreational. Rally scoring in pickleball is more common in casual singles play so that it helps speed up the match.
Sports like tennis, volleyball, and badminton switched to rally scoring long ago, mainly to make game times shorter. Under a rally scoring system, both the serving and receiving team can win points at the end of each rally, but service changes work the same way.
So if the serving team loses a rally, they lose the serve and the point. This helps speed up the game and match considerably. In rally scoring, someone is always winning a point, ending the game much quicker.
This ultimately makes game times shorter than sideout scoring because under sideout scoring, it’s possible for neither team to win points for long stretches of time. Instead, they would only lose their serve.
Because pickleball has stayed true to sideout scoring, points come at a premium and are always earned. Making the game feel like a more defensive battle. Despite pickleball being prone to long droughts of scoring when skill levels are evenly matched this actually makes the rallies even more fun to watch.
So just because points aren’t being scored, that doesn’t mean long pickleball matches aren’t fun to watch. The opposite is usually true. Those matches are usually the most fun to watch!
When a rally ends, a few different things can happen depending on several factors.
The main factor is whether you’re playing singles or doubles pickleball. After that, things depend on whether you’re playing with the traditional sideout scoring or with rally scoring. Let’s walk you through what happens at the end of a rally using pickleball’s traditional sideout scoring model.
In the singles game, The serve is traded back and forth from one player to the other. If the server loses a rally, the player who returned gets to serve next. With a sideout scoring system, the serving player, and only the serving player, can win a point at the end of a rally. If the serving player faults, no points are won, and service is transferred back to the other side of the court.
Doubles is similar but with a slight adjustment. Since there are two players on either team, losing a rally means that the next person in the serving order gets to serve. If a team lost a rally on their first serve, the second server then has a chance to serve. If the team loses a rally on the second serve, then a ‘sideout’ occurs, and the other team gets to serve.
Related: Looking for some simple tips to improve your serve as a beginner? You must read this!
The inventors of pickleball designed it with fun in mind, and nothing is more fun in racquet sports than a good rally! The two-bounce rule ensures that tactics like the serve-and-volley strategy seen in tennis, are not abused to end a point early.
In fact, they’re eliminated entirely because of the double-bounce rule.
Instead, the advantage of serving is minimized, creating longer points.
Players have the chance to get set up rather than being forced to scramble all over the court early in a rally, and players of all abilities have a decent shot at a successful play.
Rallies are encouraged in pickleball via the two-bounce rule. This leads to points being slightly longer than in other racquet sports where players use tactics like the serve-and-volley to win points quickly. This is uncommon in pickleball.
In pickleball, you don’t see a lot of aces when serving and the serve and volley tactic is virtually nonexistent because pickleball is a sport built for rallies. It’s rules are designed to create rallies and extend them.
You can win a rally in many different ways, all of them requiring creativity and skill. Now get out there and win that rally!