Opinion: The Benefits of Rally Scoring

December 17, 2019

By Scott Hedrick, GAMMA Brand Partner

Rally Scoring! There, I said it.

In the world of Pickleball, there are no other words that can bring the blood pressure increasing, heart rate rising, red face turning, angry word spewing, “ITS NOT PICKLEBALL!” yelling responses.

Not even the legendary ball and paddle controversies or the never ending misunderstandings about the Non-Volley Zone have brought the kind of ire that suggesting you try using rally scoring can do.

For anyone who hasn’t been caught up in the firestorm, rally scoring is different from side-out scoring, which is what Pickleball currently uses, in that a point is scored on every serve. With side-out scoring, you only score a point on your own serve, and if you win the rally. In rally scoring, the victor of every rally scores a point. If you played volleyball prior to 1999, you may have used side-out scoring, just like Pickleball does now. But if you’ve played since then, you’ve likely played using rally scoring, knowing that every time the ball hits the floor, someone has increased their score.

So what’s the big deal? Why are people even bring up considering changing the way you keep score? Well, there are a few reasons, and here are some of mine:

  • Rally scoring has become the norm for sports that have side-out scoring, and it’s been a huge success.
  • More younger people are playing, and eventually they are going to drive the way the sport is played.
  • More and more people in general are playing and longer wait times will be reduced.
  • While it does “change” the game, it is exciting for both the player and the crowd knowing that EVERY swing could result in a point or a point loss.
  • It helps increase focus and therefore product better performance.
  • Even though people constantly protest that, “it’s not in the rules” or “it’s not part of the game” or whatever variation of that, governing bodies change rules to games all of the time.

With the hope by many for Pickleball to become a televised sport and an Olympic sport, rally scoring will go a long way toward making that happen. In an article on Pickleball Max, they noted that the length of games becomes more predictable, knowing that a rally scoring game to 15, win by one, will end in exactly 15 to 29 rallies. On side-out scoring, it is an even shortened game to 7, which could range from 5 to 20 minutes or more, depending on the number and frequency of side-outs that occurs.

“The use of rally point scoring has not changed the fundamental nature of pickleball. Like all other sports that have adopted this system, shot selection and game strategies remain largely unchanged.”

-Jay Kennedy, Pickleball OCS

I LOVE rally scoring. I love Pickleball. I also love tennis and volleyball, and still play both. Volleyball is a much better, more exciting game with rally scoring, and the game adapated by more than just changing the way you score; but by the winning score would be as well. I actually believe there is room for regular AND rally scoring in Pickleball. Tournament directors will simply state which type of scoring will be utilized during play. “Team Tennis” is played all over the world and is embraced all over the world – and has a very different way of scoring from the traditional method. I get that change is usually difficult, but that is not a reason not to change. Volleyball is still volleyball, tennis is still tennis, and Pickleball will still be Pickleball. The strategies and shot selection will remain largely unchanged, but the level of excitement and intensity will have the opportunity to increase. Rally scoring goes a long way toward improving your game and doing it a whole lot more quickly. It serves to make a player more focused. Each rally matters more and they become more exciting, and the drive to win increase the excitement (fun) and on and on…

Both young, and not so young, people play everything harder and faster (have you ever watched a 4.5 or 5.0 level open final in person?) and rally scoring fits into that mindset.

Clearly not everyone is convinced. A statistical analysis of variance that was conducted by a member of an online group to which I belong and he posted the results as well s the data for the study, demonstrating definitively that rally scoring and reduced play times. Some players in the group simply replied, “I still don’t think it does.” Pickleball is a game of passion and people are passionate about not changing anything about it. They may be passionately wrong.

When I began to play the game over three years ago, rally scoring was played 90%-95% of the time. We had four permanent outdoor courts and a pool of about 20 players, and rally scoring was used to reduce wait time. After my first year and the departure of the best player on the court, the prominent players decided to go back to traditional scoring and play shorter games. I was too new to have a voice at that time.

As I stated, I love rally scoring and believe Pickleball will eventually go that direction. I’ve played rally scoring nearly 100 times, but lately, it has been a bone of contention and pretty much shunned within my circle of friends.

We’ll see.