Land of the Sky Tournament information can be found by clicking on the button above.

Newcomers to the site should note the pickleball book "chapters" in the left column and the repository of expert articles and videos in the right column.

Saturday, January 23, 2016


Several months after I started playing pickleball I was ready to serve when I saw something like this on my opponents' side.

Since this was a social match, I stopped before serving to tell them I was ready and they should get into position. They told me they were ready as well and to start the game. I didn't know what to think so I just played my normal game. That was my introduction to stacking.

Stacking is a positioning strategy where players on a team stay on the same side - right or left service court - throughout the game.  To be clear, the rules state that players must receive and serve in the courts in a specific rotation or lose the point. But there are no rules about the positioning of players not involved in the service. Nor are there rules about where the players may go after the first hit ball on each side. This results in some odd positioning and movement compared to the normal player rotation described in the Doubles Scoring and Player Positioning post. Players will be positioned side-by-side or on the same side of the court. Players will run diagonally across the court. It seems like mass confusion.

Since stacking is so, well, abnormal, why do teams do it?  Simply put, it takes advantage of different partners' strengths and hides their weaknesses. Stacking is typically used by teams under two conditions.
  1. One partner is left-handed and the other is right-handed.  These teams use stacking to keep both forehands in the middle to protect the easiest lane for opponents to hit their returns.  If these teams didn't stack, both backhands would be in the middle. That is a huge disadvantage as the partners would have to move closer together to fill the gap.  This leaves more room down the lines for opponents to hit.
  2. One partner is much quicker and more consistent than the other.  The stronger player should play as much of the game as possible in the court where his forehand is in the middle.  For a right-handed player, this would be the left court.  This positioning allows him to take more shots overall due to the forehand takes the middle rule of thumb.  It also gives both players more forehands.
Offsetting the advantages is one big disadvantage.  It is difficult to learn and the learning process can gift free points to opponents when stacking teams are not properly positioned.  As with learning any new skill, it takes practice to learn a different system.  One rule of thumb for positioning was mentioned in the Doubles Scoring and Player Positioning post, which stated:

One simple rule of thumb to start in the proper position is to remember which team member started the game as the server and returner, respectively, for each team. That respective team member will always be in the starting (right) court on even points. Each started in the right court on zero and should be there when their team has 2, 4, 6, etc. points. Obviously, when their team score is an odd number (1, 3, 5, 7, etc.), that player should be in the left court. Rather than relying on memory (and to assist referees), many tournaments will give the first server and returner wrist bands to help identify their proper positioning.

When using stacking outside of tournaments, the use of a wristband or some other tool, like a coin in the pocket, can be used.

Normal Positioning

Before moving into a discussion of stacking positions, let's review the positioning of normal play while serving.  In this example, Player A is the stronger overall player, including the serve.  Therefore, he starts the game in the even court.

From this position, Players A and B will likely stay in the same courts throughout the rally. Since Player A is stronger, this fails to take full advantage of the team's overall skills.  Now let's assume that the team wins a service rally and switches courts for the next serve.

Again, Players A and B will stay in the same court throughout the rally.  But this positioning maximizes the team strengths.  Unfortunately, with each service point, the players rotate to the other side.  Therefore, team strengths are maximized only on 1/2 of the service rallies.

Stacking on the Serve

Next, we will discuss stacking on the serve, using the same assumptions that Player A is the stronger player and has the better serve.  The positioning on the first serve may look like the following.

From the starting position, both Players A and B immediately shift to the left toward the center of their respective courts.  They do not move forward because of the rule that the return of serve must bounce before being hit.  This positioning allows the team to maximize its strengths while Player A serves from the even court.  The same positioning would be used every time the team serves on an even score, e.g., 2, 4, 6, etc.

After a service win gains a point, Player A moves to serve from the odd court. Since the players are already aligned in their proper courts, no stacking is needed. This is the alignment when the team has an odd score, e.g., 3, 5, 7, etc. and Player A is serving or when the team has an even score and Player B is serving.

The only other stacking issue when the team is serving is when Player B serves from the odd court.  Stacking positions are based on the same concept.  Players A and B stand side-by-side in the odd court during the serve.

Both Players A and B shift right to the center of their respective courts immediately after Player B serves.

Stacking on the Return of Serve

Stacking also can be used on the return of serve.  But the positioning is very different and can vary depending on opponents' abilities to take advantage of the easiest stack.  As with stacking with the serve, when the players are in their preferred courts to return serve, no stacking is necessary.  Stacking is needed only when the rotation requires a player to return serve from the non-preferred court. Below is an example when Player A must return a serve from the even court.

Player A is positioned to take the serve and then move diagonally into the odd court to play out the rally.  Player B is positioned off the court near the kitchen line and ready to move into the even court for rally play.  Player B starts outside the court in order to avoid getting hit by the serve, causing an immediate fault.

A similar stack and movements are used when Player B returns serves on the odd court.

My partner and I stacked on both serves and returns for awhile.  We then ran into a couple of teams that exploited the positioning with their serve as shown below.

The serve (red line) would force Player A to move in the opposite direction from his preferred move to the odd court.  The odd court was left wide open into which the opponents would drive their third shot for a winner.  We quickly abandoned stacking on the return of serve but continue to use it on the serve.

A short Pickleball Channel video called Stacking is below to explain technique.

There is one final factor that should be noted.  The choice of whether and when to stack is entirely up to the team.  A team may stack on both the serve and the return of serve.  It may stack on the serve and use normal positioning on the return of serve.  It may change its decision from rally to rally.  The choice is wide open.  As noted above, my regular partner and I stack only on our serves.  As always, do what works for you.


  1. Question about stacking in the context of the team serving. Can player A hit every serve for the team regardless of where player B is on the court?

  2. Russell, I'm not 100% sure what you're asking so I'll answer a couple of ways.

    - Stacking does not allow the basic rules to be violated. Those rules include the rotation of serve between partners. Both player A and player B must serve when it their turn and they must serve from the proper side of the court.

    - When player A is serving in turn and from the proper court, player B can be anywhere on the teams' 1/2 of the court, including against the side or back fence if they so choose...although that would not be wise.

    Thanks for the question. If I haven't properly addressed your situation, let me know.

  3. After the last sideout from the opposing team and the the stacking team is now serving and the score is odd, who serves from the right side court?