Positioning & Scoring

Now that the rules of the game, the serve, and the basic strokes have been covered, it is time to get players involved in a game. It is important that players get on the court quickly. Playing a game can be introduced earlier but make sure you cover critical things on rules first. It is much easier to teach the right way first rather than try to correct bad habits later. Having the players working together in a comfortable learning situation is critical at this point. Select teams of four players trying to get a stronger player on both teams if possible.
Practice the Serve
          Have players start by serving three times to each court at the directionally opposite side. It is important to have players serve to different courts so they are familiar with how they are serving. Encourage them to try serving deep to the opponents backhand if they feel confident. However, it is more important to get the serve in than trying to serve an ace. You cannot score a point if you do not get the serve in.
Practice Ground Strokes
          Next have the players rally the ball back and forth across the net on the bounce from the baseline   trying to hit to the opponents forehand and backhand. Have players count out how many times they are   able to get the ball back and forth over the net without a fault. Make a game of this acknowledging the   winning court. If one or two players are having difficulty, partners should observe and demonstrate what   they think their partner can correct. The most frequent error will be hitting the ball into the net or “skying it”   in the air. The player needs to focus on hitting the ball with the paddle face straight up and down.
 Practice Volleying
          Now have the players move to the just outside the non-volley zone. I suggest having them step back   about 6 inches from the NV line to start. Again have them hit back and forth across the net, this time   without the bounce. Encourage shots to the forehand and backhand. No smashes at this point. Smashing a  shot can be very intimidating to some players and force them to stay back so they don’t get hit. You want   to encourage them to stay at the net so instruct players to keep shots slow and easy at this stage. Again, have the players count out each time the ball crosses the net. Remind players to keep the paddle up in front of them in the ready position in the centre of the body above the waste.
Playing a Game
          Have players rally to decide on the serving team. The ball must cross the net three times and then it is in play. The team that wins the rally serves first.
Line up one court as shown in the diagram below. The serving team is on the left and the receiving team on the right. Because of the two bounce rule the serving team should have both players at the base line waiting for the ball to make the second bounce on their side.
The receiving team can move one player up since the ball will hit on their side in the right service court and once it is returned they can both move to the net and play it in the air. Have all other courts line up following the example of the court you have positioned. Tell the server that they cannot serve the ball until they check to make sure everyone is in proper position even their opponents. The server under normal circumstances would check to make sure their partner is ready and positioned correctly so this is good training. If a server does not do this, the other players should put up their arm or paddle to indicate players are not ready. If the server does not wait, call play and play a “let” for a distraction.
It is critical that the teacher explain the reasons for the above positioning so players will remember. The serving team must keep both players back because of the two bounce rule. If one player moves up, they are likely to hit the ball in the air and violate the two bounce rule, believe me; I still do it on occasions. The ball must bounce on your side before you can move up.
The receiving team can move one player up because the ball has to go to the player standing at the back service line or it will be a service fault. The idea is for the player receiving the serve to return the serve slightly elevated, deep, and as slow as possible. The shot can go to either court on the other side. Why? So that player can move up to the non-volley line before or after the ball hits on the other side. Remember, you want to keep the other team back as far as possible and on the defensive. Now both players on the receiving team should be at the non-volley zone ready to attack the next shot by the team at the back on the defensive. Al and Judy, shown on the right, are positioned perfectly and Al has just completed a volley and Judy is set for the return shot.
The two Jims on the other side are totally out of position. Tall Jim is at the NV line for a volley his partner is at the base line. As you may be able to see the return was to the person deep. Tall Jim is never going to see the ball unless his partner is able to lob the ball high and move up. The offensive team is going to hit the hall continually to the player at the back line until they can put it away. Notice how much court is open on the opposite of the net. In summary, the player receiving the serve should remind themselves, "return it deep and move up".
Keeping Score
          Keeping score seems to be very confusing for some players. This is especially true of players who are taking up a racquet sport for the first time. Remind players they can only score a point if they are serving. The right hand court always starts to serve first when their side gets to serve. The serving team switches sides when they get a point. Remind everyone the server and only the server should call out the serve before they start. However, in the early stages of playing a game, tell the players that it is more important that they help each other learn the scoring system and what court they should be in.
Before starting the game have each side of the court review their positions before they start the game. One way to do this would be to have each player introduce themselves by saying “Hi, I’m Bob and I’m in the right court.” “Hi I’m Sue and I’m in the left court”. Have them repeat the other person’s name and their court position. Tell each court that the reason you have asked them to do this is so they have practiced good pickleball etiquette by introducing themselves to their partner and that when the person who started in the right court is back in that court the score has to be even. When they are in the left, court the score is odd. This helps more mature players remember the score.
Instruct players the sequence of scoring is their score first, opponents’ score next and the server number last. When starting a game, the team starting gets only one serve. The score to start is 0, 0, 2. Explain that the server is number 2 because of the one serve rule. Ask players to help each other with the scoring. If one partner is having trouble remembering, ask the other partner to state the score and have them explain how they figured it out. This is where it is really helpful to have players teaching each other.
Depending on the number of players waiting and the ability of players, the instructor may wish to have players play games to 7 and then rotate reminding them a real game goes to 11. If there are an odd number of players but free courts, have players simply rally back and forth hitting various strokes. Keep players constantly rotating in and out of games so no one is sitting for long periods of time. Although you want players to follow the rules and the correct positioning, you may want to worry about getting them playing and keeping score correctly first and really work on positioning in the next session. Beginning players find it difficult to remember to move to the net. I will talk about reasons for this and how to work on it in the next session.