Pickleball Stacking – What is it and How Do You Do It?

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The stack. If you stick around the game enough, you will run into it. Players often think of pickleball stacking as an advanced technique. But you don’t have to. Stacking is fun and an excellent tool to bring out of your tool kit if you would like to change up the game. After this article you will know:

  • How to stack in pickleball
  • Common times players will think about stacking
  • Tips and tricks to keep in mind when stacking

Let’s get started!

How To Stack (Serving Team Pt 1)

Before we get into stacking, let’s start off with traditional positioning in pickleball. For this portion, we will use my state of the art pickleball 3d modeling prototype.

Cartoon showing the standard setup for a pickleball game.

JoAnne, Fred, Janice, and Ted are about to play. JoAnne and Fred start with the serve and score the first point. With a basic return/serve strategy in place, JoAnne and Fred would simply switch sides and JoAnne would continue serving.

Resource: How to Improve Your Pickleball Strategy

Showing beginning sequence before a pickleball serve starts

If, however, Fred and JoAnne decided to stack, they would not switch. Instead, JoAnne would take her place on the left side of the court with Fred standing to her left. The result would be what I call an ‘unbalanced’ look as both players would be standing on the left half of the court. Let’s check out high-tech 3-d model again for a visual representation.

Cartoon image showing stacking during a serve in pickleball.

After serving, JoAnne would step into the right half of the court and play would resume as normal.

Now let’s say JoAnne and Fred lose this point. This means they would now be the receiving team. Let’s see how they stack would look there.

How To Stack (Return Of Serve)

Now remember from the previous section JoAnne and Fred were in an ‘unbalanced look.’ This means they will continue their unbalanced look even though they are now returning serve (for now we will assume JoAnne and Fred are implementing a full stack as opposed to a half stack).

Resource: How to Improve Your Return of Serve

In order to abide by the return of serve rules, Fred MUST return the serve. With Fred returning JoAnne will most often stand off the court to allow the serve to be hit. Once Fred hits his return of serve, he will move diagonally across to the left side of the court.

JoAnne, will then simply step into the right side of the court.

Cartoon showing the return after the serve while stacking in pickleball.

Reciprocally, let’s say JoAnne is about to hit the return. The motion would be the exact same except now Fred would step in from the left side of the court and JoAnne would move diagonally to the right side of the court.

Cartoon showing the reciprocal of teams stacking in pickleball.

How To Stack (Serving Team Pt 2)

Now let’s assume you just grabbed a quick side-out (great feeling isn’t it). Now there is where folks can get a little confused. Remember when you last left off, JoAnne had served from the left side of the court. By the rules of pickleball, this means it is Fred’s turn to serve. Now Fred will serve from the right side of the court and step into the left side after the serve is hit.

cartoon pickleball players showing stack demonstration.

Play will proceed as normal from there.

Why Do Folks Implement Stacking?

There are a variety of reasons a team may elect to stack. The most common reasons are

1.) You Are Playing with a Left-handed player

My fiancée is left-handed. With a more traditional setup, we would inevitably run into the dreaded ‘two backhands in the middle of the court.’ As neither myself nor she has strong backhands, we would lose A LOT of points this way.

By stacking, you now guarantee that both players will have their forehands in the middle of the court. This can be a very powerful way to score points, particularly in mixed.

I cannot tell you how many times a player has hit the ball very hard right at Lesley (my fiancée ) thinking she has hit the ball to her backhand and hoping for a popup. Lesley simply redirects back to the corner using her forehand.

2.) One Player Is Significantly Stronger Than The Other

A lot of the most successful teams in pickleball stack. Look no further than Colin and Ben Johns as an example. When you are playing with a player like Ben, you naturally want to cede more of the court to him. By stacking, you ensure Ben has his forehand middle of the court at all times. This is important because it is much easier to let a player dictate the game from the forehand (or left side) of the court.

3.) It Provides a Different Look To Your Opponents

As you move up the ranks in pickleball, strategy becomes a more and more important part of the game. Sometimes a team may be crushing you and you need to try something different. Stacking is a strategy to have available to you if you need to switch things up!

Tips To Keep in Mind During The Stack

1.) Let the Score (or your positioning) Guide You

Too often I see players make stacking far more confusing than they need to. One of my favorite benefits to stacking in pickleball is it can really help you keep track of the score.

If you start the match in traditional positioning spots then stacking can assist you in keeping track of the score. For example, when the game starts the serving team announces 0-0-2. In this 0 can be thought of as an even number. With stacking, any time your score is even, you will always have the balanced look. That means you will only ever be in one of the three positions whether you are hitting a serve or return.

Cartoon showing the structure for even serving while stacking in pickleball.
cartoon showing what the receivers on the even side look like during a pickleball stack.
Cartoon showing even receiving on the other side while stacking.

Now, let’s say your score is odd. This means you will now have the ‘unbalanced look’ from the start of the point. So if your score is odd, there are only 4 possible ways you can start the point

cartoon showing odd number receiving while stacking in pickleball.
Diagram showing off receiving while on the other side of stacking.
Odd serving diagram for pickleball stacking
Cartoon showing odd team serving in pickleball while stacking

I have lost count of the number of times we have had an incorrect score called and because of our stacking position we have been able to check it. On the flip side, if you know the score and who is serving, you are always capable of figuring out where you should be standing on the court. Internalizing the even side/odd side concept for stacking will make your life a lot easier on the court.

2.) Be Purposeful When Returning

We’ve all been there. You’re about to hit a return of serve and you mindlessly flick your return. If you are stacking in an unbalanced look this minor mental lapse could cost you a point. Let’s say Ted is about to hit a serve to JoAnne.

Cartoon of beginning of serve while stacking in pickleball

It is critical JoAnne hits the return of serve to Janice. Remember, JoAnne has to run diagonally across the court to get to the right side. If she hits a return to Ted, he has a much easier down-the-line shot. If JoAnne returns the serve to Janice, it allows her more time to make her way across the court.

3.) Remember the non-returner can stand anywhere

Once you have mastered stacking, you can experiment with the position of the non-returning player. For example, instead of standing off to the side of the court, I sometimes like to stand in the right half of the court. A disadvantage to stacking is the player who has to run across the court can often end up in a precarious position (especially if the return of serve was weak). If I stand on the right side of the court I am making the receiving team consider their return just a little bit more.

That’s It!

Thanks for reading this article! I hope you feel more confident installing a stack in your own games! Pickle on!

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