What Is Stacking In Pickleball?

What Is Stacking In Pickleball

Looking at a pickleball court, you can clearly see that each side of the court is nicely configured into two service areas and a non-volley zone. However, you might see doubles partners mixing things up a little on the court and moving into non-traditional positions. This is called stacking, and not only is it legal in pickleball, but it can also be a very strategic move.

What Is Pickleball Stacking?

In simple terms, stacking is when partners on a pickleball doubles team move out of what’s considered traditional positioning and into what they feel is a more advantageous position. The most common type of stacking happens when partners align themselves on the same side of the court and then shift themselves to their preferred side. It’s called stacking because the teams stack themselves up in such a way that they appear to be piled up on one side of the court. 

What Is Pickleball Stacking?
Photo Credit: pickleballhelp.com

Stacking is typically a strategy that intermediate or advanced pickleball players use. Chances are a new player or one with a skill level below 2.5 won’t even notice that the opposing team isn’t using traditional positioning. For players who are just learning or becoming comfortable with the game, there’s enough movement going on that it almost feels chaotic.

The actual act of stacking isn’t too difficult, but developing that type of synergy with your doubles partner and understanding stacking to the point that you know exactly when and how to do it to maximize positioning can be extremely complicated. 

There aren’t really any pickleball stacking playbooks out there, so stacking tends to be one of those things that doubles teams try out to see how it works and to see if they can use non-traditional positions to overcome their weaknesses on the court. 

Advantages to Stacking In Pickleball

The main advantage of pickleball stacking is that it gives a doubles team the opportunity to overcome their weaknesses or play to the strengths of either pickleball player. This is done by positioning each player in the ideal position for their abilities. 

For example, one of the most common scenarios where stacking is used is when there is both a right-handed and left-handed player in a doubles team. With traditional positioning, when a right-handed player is on the right side of the court, their left-handed partner would be on the left-hand side of the court. This leaves a large gaping hole in the center of the court that would be difficult for either of them to play. Unlike traditional positioning, stacking allows both players to move closer together to cover the gap and eventually cross over so that they’re each playing on their preferred side. 

Stacking can also be used to move into an ideal position where a team can better compensate for one player having a weaker backhand or weak forehand. You sometimes see players stack in this manner when playing mixed doubles. There’s often an assumption that the woman’s backhand is weaker, so stacking is used to compensate by positioning to use the other player’s strong forehand. However, whoever has a weak or strong shot can easily land on either player and isn’t necessarily determined by gender.

To summarize, the advantage of pickleball stacking is that it allows a doubles team to play to their combined advantages and compensate for their combined weaknesses. You don’t need to be a pro to use stacking, but it does help to be at least somewhat familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of your doubles partner. 

Full Stacking Vs. Partial Stacking

You might hear of full stacking and partial stacking during a pickleball game. There isn’t a tremendous difference in the stacking process and how the players position themselves between partial and full stacking. The only difference is that full stacking happens regardless if the players are on the serving or returning team. In a partial stack, the stacking team only uses the strategy when they are hitting the ball, and then they move into a more traditional formation for the return of serve. 

How Stacking Is Legal In Pickleball

We know what you’re thinking. There are very specific rules regarding where a player stands when serving the ball. Plus, they need to serve the ball into the correct service court, which means a player on the receiving team needs to be positioned there, and there’s the double bounce rule following the serve. With all of this in mind, how on earth is stacking legal?

To understand how stacking is a legal strategy, let’s start by reviewing the pickleball serving rules and move forward from there. 

Starting with serving, the correct position for the serving player is behind the service line on the correct side of the court. The first serving player starts on the right-hand side of the court, and as long as the serving team retains the serve, the serving team rotates each time the ball is served. So, the very first serve of the game happens on the right. If the serving team keeps the ball, the server switches sides and serves from the left side of the court. 

Being in the correct position for serving is very important, not only because being in the incorrect position is considered a fault but also because positioning is called out as part of the score. Being in the wrong position would result in the score being called incorrectly. 

Once the ball is served, it’s to land in the diagonal service court on the receiving team’s side of the net. That member of the receiving team hits the ball back. When the serving team hits the next shot, this is called the third shot. The third shot in a game is important and strategic for several reasons. 

It’s important to note that while the server must stand in a specific position while serving, their doubles partner can stand anywhere they please. There are no rules regarding where any other player stands. And, once the third shot is made off the serve, even the serving player can stand anywhere they want on the court during a rally. 

Stacking is legal because of this lack of pickleball rules regarding positioning outside of the serve. The only real pickleball stacking rules are that you can’t break any other rules while doing it. Some feel that stacking offers an unfair advantage, but it’s a completely legal and completely ethical strategy in pickleball. 

Cautions of Using the Pickleball Stacking Strategy

So, now you know a little bit more about pickleball stacking and also that it’s a completely legal strategy when playing pickleball. It can be a great strategy to use, but there are times when you should use caution before moving into a stacking position.  

The most important caution with stacking is for the serving team. Because the serving player has to move to the opposite court with each serve, it’s incredibly important that the server moves into the right position and that the correct server is the one who serves the ball. It’s considered a fault if the incorrect player serves or if the ball is served from the wrong side of the court. 

Stacking also requires that both players on the same side of the net are able to work synergistically with each other. If players line up just to throw their opponents off, they’ll lack the ability to respond appropriately to the shots that come their way. 


What is paddle stacking in pickleball?

Paddle stacking is completely different from strategic pickleball stacking. Stacking in pickleball refers to how a stacking team moves to one side of the court or otherwise positions themselves in the most advantageous way possible on the court. Paddle stacking is used in some tournament-style games to determine which players play in which rounds and with who. 

What is half stacking in pickleball?

Partial stacking is when a team stacks while they are serving but moves into traditional positions when returning a shot. 

Bottom line

Pickleball stacking has many advantages, including getting a right or left-handed player to the side of the court where they can play most efficiently. Once the art of stacking is mastered, most teams wonder how they ever played without it. Stay with us to learn more about pickleball strategy, equipment, tournaments, and excellent tips on how to master the game. 

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