The Perfect match Format?

Gill Bushell shares some insights from The Bourne Club

Gill is pictured left.

At the Bourne Club in Farnham we had a problem. We were organising our annual Club Championships, but with around 100 entries, we had a lot of matches to get played! We needed to know how long matches would take. With traditional, or “side out”  pickleball scoring, with players only winning points on their own serve, some matches could take forever! How could we schedule sufficient court time? 

Rally scoring, as used in the US Major Pickleball League (MLP), and used here in the UK for the South East Pickleball League (SEPL) last year, and now being rolled out for other leagues across the UK, looked like the perfect fit for our doubles matches. Each point you play results in a point being awarded to either the serving or receiving pair, so you can estimate how long games will last with some accuracy. The serve, rather than the players, swaps sides, so each player of the serving pair will stay on their side of the court, ie left or right side, and serve in turn.

However, our players were feeding back to us that they missed swapping sides. We are a specialist racquets club with tennis, padel, squash, badminton and table tennis. Our players were loving playing a new sport and the complexity added by swapping sides made the game more interesting.  It seemed that, with players staying on either the left or right, court through the match, something essential to the enjoyment of pickleball was being lost. You always face the opposing players in the same position. You are always in the same position. The whole game is much flatter and less dynamic. The complex match up between the four players in positions which keep changing has gone.

Yes, you can choose to switch sides when you change ends at 11 points. But the constant movement of players up or down the court when receiving, or side to side if serving, is part of the intensity of the game: you really are immersed in the game with no time for your attention to wander. You stay in the state of flow, as the sports professionals describe it: how fundamental to that is the change of position? Having to play in the two different positions, against partners who are also swapping sides as the serve changes, brings freshness and variety to every point. 

To this end, we introduced a hybrid model for scoring in doubles during our club championships last autumn, dubbed “Bourne Club rally scoring”, so we knew how long matches would take. Every point results in a score for either the serving or receiving pair. Unlike rally scoring, the serving pair continue to swap sides.  Essentially side out pickleball but both sides score if they win the point. This was asked for by our members as they enjoy the variety of playing on both left and right courts, rather than just forehand or backhand for the duration of the match, as in rally scoring. We played first to 21, clear by one. Brutal but so much fun! Of course you can set rules for how many points, or score clear by two to win, if you have more time. We stayed with side out scoring for singles, which resulted in some awesome gladiatorial contests and schedule over-runs!

We have found that this is the perfect format for doubles club sessions as all our matches finish about the same time: perfect for mixing around. And most importantly it contains all the elements of pickleball which make it so much fun.

There are discussions going on about match formats within the game. Rally scoring is seen as providing faster, closer and more exciting games, within predictable timings, and giving more accurate player ratings. It does have a big impact on game strategy and tactics. It certainly takes out a lot of the uncertainty in the game, if the positions of the four players are static. It only requires two numbers in the score line – servers’ and receivers’ score. The player on the left serves if their score is an odd number, the player on the right serves if their score is even. But there is a conversation to be started about what makes pickleball so challenging and so much fun to play. Do we risk throwing the baby out with the bath water?

I hope a hybrid format like “Bourne Club rally scoring” will be considered as a possible way forward. It really does give the best of both formats.

Other sports have a rich history of changing scoring formats to best serve the needs of the sport. Try out Bourne Club rally scoring, along with the other two options, and see what you think!

Do you have some insights as to what works for you at your club?  PbE would love to hear from you.  Simply email your idea or story to

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