What is Stacking in Pickleball?

Pickleball, a sport that feels like a combination of tennis and ping pong, is the fastest-growing sport in America. You may have tried it and found it so fun that you can’t stop. If that’s you, “Welcome to the club!” As you’ve played more, you may have noticed an exciting strategy in pickleball games where the players don’t seem to stay on the “correct” sides of the court! What’s with all that extra running and switching around? That, my fellow pickler, is called stacking in pickleball!

Stacking is an advanced doubles pickleball strategy where 1) both players line up (stack) on the same side of the court before a serve or return and then 2) shift or run to the preferred sides after the ball is hit. Read on to learn more about how and when to stack.

We’ll cover the following help you learn and master stacking:

  1. What is stacking?
  2. Why do teams stack?
  3. How to stack (on the serving and receiving team)
  4. What to watch out for when stacking

What is stacking?

In its most basic form, stacking is where both players line up on the same side of the pickleball court instead of being spread out where one person covers the left side (ad side) and the other covers the right side (deuce side). 

Stacking is an advanced doubles strategy that helps teams improve court positioning and mobility.

Of course, having both players on the same side is not advantageous once the ball is in play. Thus, you’ll see some running around, and the stack will “unwind” to the one-person-per-side state. However, if you watch closely, you might notice that the players don’t end up on the side they are “supposed to” be on.

Here’s an good tutorial by Jordan Briones on stacking:

For example, let’s say the serving team has an even score, so the serve comes from the right side. Before the serve, both players are standing on the right side. After the serve, suddenly, the server ends up on the left side of the court, and the partner is on the right side.

Is it legal to stack in pickleball?

Yes, stacking is legal in pickleball. The rules do not stipulate where the players must be after the serve. Pickleball rules do not restrict the partner’s position, only the server before the serve:

4.B.7. Partner Positions. In doubles, with the exception of the server (see 4.A.4) there is no restriction on the position of any player, as long as all players are on their respective team’s side of the net. They can be positioned on or off the court. The correct server must serve from the correct service court, and the correct receiver must receive the serve.

USA Pickleball 2023 Official Rulebook, page 23

For example, when not stacking, both players on the serving team line up behind the baseline. The rules stipulate which player needs to serve (server #1 or server #2, depending on the score shouted) and from which side the serve must come (left or right, depending on whether the score is even or odd). But players can move to different sides immediately after the serve.

Why do teams want to stack?

Regardless of which side of the court each player is supposed to be on (based on the player position rotation), stacking in pickleball allows players to reposition onto the side she wants to be on. 

There are several reasons why players may have a preferred position on the court:

  1. One player might have a much more dominant forehand. It is advantageous for that player to line up so that her forehand is always in the middle of the court. (Since more balls play toward the centerline.)
  2. One partner is a lefty (while the other one is a righty). Forehands tend to be zippier and more accurate strokes than backhands. It can be beneficial for players to line up so that both people’s forehands are in the center of the court.
  3. Better player-to-opponent matchups. Each partner may want to position across a specific opponent, especially for particular matchups.
  4. Keep your opponents on their toes. You and your partner want to mix things up and surprise or confuse the opposing team. Surprising your opponent can help turn the momentum of the game.

For sure, these are not the only reasons to stack. Stacking can help a player or teams compensate for or overcome player weaknesses (e.g. short reach, low mobility, or weak backhands). Your team can be more competitive with stacking.

If you or your partner is a lefty, kudos! Stacking can be a strategy. Learn more about Lefties in Pickleball: Advantages, Disadvantages, and Strategy.

Lastly, while stacking is a great way to compensate for weak backhands, it is also advantageous to continue improving your backhand. If your backhand is not consistently helping your pickleball game, consider trying a two-handed backhand. Two-handed backhands can give you more consistency and accuracy, while also adding power and control.

Here's our guide to Mastering the Two-Handed Backhand in Pickleball.

How to execute stacking in pickleball

Stacking on the pickleball serve (serving team)

If you’re serving, the simplest way to stack:

  1. You (the server) stand behind the baseline, close to the centerline. 
  2. Your partner lines up next to you, away from the centerline. 
  3. After you serve the ball, you slide across the centerline to the opposite side of the court. 
  4. Your partner slides in your direction and now covers the side of the court you served from.

Generally, both players stand on the serving side when stacking on the serve.

  • Even points: Both players will be on the right side.
  • Odd points: Both players will be on the left side.

But both players won’t be just standing in the same square. Instead, the player who’s not serving will stand close to the baseline, just out of bounds. When the serve is hit, the players run and rotate into the position they agreed to play, ahead of their third shot. (Sometimes teams/players will decide beforehand who is is responsible for the third shot, so they may take longer to rotate into position.)

A more advanced way to stack would be for both players to line up at the baseline the “normal” way, with one person per side. After the serve, the players would switch sides. There’s more running with this method. But since you’re not lined up in a stacked position, your opponents cannot guess you’ll be switching sides!

Stacking on the return of serve (receiving team)

From the rule we previously cited, you’ll see that it states, “the correct receiver must receive the serve.”

Typically serves are hit deep. So if you’re receiving the serve, you should generally line up at the baseline. However, you want to play on the other side of the court for the rally. Using the simple stacking method, you and your partner will line up near the kitchen line on the same side but off the court.

Once your opponent hits their serve, you (the returning player) sprint diagonally to the opposite non-volley zone line when the return is hit. At the same time, your partner (who started outside the court) slides onto the court.

There’s also a similar, more advanced way to stack on the receiving team so that you don’t reveal the switch to your opponents. In this version, your partner, instead of standing out-of-bounds, will line up on the “normal” side at the kitchen line. After the return, your partner slides across the centerline to the preferred side while the returning player must run diagonally to the non-volley zone on the opposite side.

What to watch out for when stacking

Stacking can be a great strategy and confuse your opponents, but only if you must clarify yourself! The most significant danger of stacking – especially for beginners – is getting confused and lining up on the wrong sides of the court. That is a fault! 

Double-check and triple-check that you’re serving from the correct side of the court or that you’re the correct person to receive the serve. 

Remember that you’re allowed to ask whether you’re lined up in the correct position before the serve.

The second danger of stacking is being unable to get to the right place in time. However, this danger affects receiving stacking more than serving stacking. When switching sides as the receiving team, the receiver needs to cover quite a distance running diagonally. If you are returning the serve, you might want to rush your return and start moving as soon as possible, but don’t do this! Focus on making a good shot before making your sprint.

Lastly, stacking requires excellent communication with your partner, especially if your team starts mixing “real” stacking with “fake” stacking. Some players communicate using hand signals behind the back, so the opposing team can’t see the communication. Other players decide beforehand that they may always stack while serving but never stack while receiving. It’s up to you and your partner to communicate to avoid collisions!


Stacking can be a fun strategy to implement and bring your pickleball on-court play to the next level. It can help maximize your team’s strengths while minimizing the weaknesses, and let’s admit it, one reason we love to play pickleball doubles is that a team can be more than just the sum of its parts. If you add stacking to your doubles game, practice it with your partner first outside the game. And remember: communication is key!

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