Popular Pickleball Rotation Systems

And the Pros and Cons of Using Them...

Pros and Cons of Popular Pickleball Rotation System graphic - The Pickleball Broadcast

Popular Pickleball Rotation Systems

And the Pros and Cons of Using Pickleball Rotation Systems...

Organized Pickleball Systems

Hopefully, there is an organized pickleball system in place where you play. If so, all you have to do is ask someone how it works.

The organized system should be fairly simple. Typically when a game finishes at 11 points (win by 2), the four players leave the court and the next waiting group of four plays on that court. This is referred to as "Four On/Four Off."

One of two systems are frequently used to determine who the next four players are:

The Pickleball Paddle Stacking System or The Pickleball Board System.

Pickleball Paddle Stacking System graphic by The Pickleball Broadcast

Pickleball Paddle Stacking System graphic by The Pickleball Broadcast

The Pickleball Paddle Stacking System

The Pickleball Paddle Stacking System is fairly easy and straightforward.

Paddles are lined up in first come, first serve order. The next four go out. If there are fewer than four paddles in the next available slot, someone can put their paddle there to complete the group of four (while skipping the rest of the line). However, if there's a group of four that wants to play together, for whatever reason, they would place their paddle stack at the very end of the line. Groups of four pickleball players usually can't jump ahead of any waiting player(s).

Lining up paddles on the ground or against a fence

Depending on the number of courts, court entrances and the number of waiting players, there could be some factors to consider when lining up the paddles on ground, such as:

  • need room to accommodate all of the waiting players' paddles

  • the paddles may need to be constantly shuffled

  • some players do NOT like other people touching their paddles for a variety of reasons including mix-ups, theft or hygiene

  • many paddles look the same and can cause confusion

  • the paddles could end up becoming a trip-and-fall hazard

  • it's difficult to get people ready as paddles will need to be held up while repeatedly asking players "whose paddle is this?"

Paddle Stacking Variation

A variation of this system involves players placing their paddles down facing certain directions to indicate their skill level. For example, paddles facing the courts might indicate advanced, paddles facing left might indicate intermediate and paddles facing right might indicate beginners. Often with this variation, the group that has four paddles stacked has first priority for open courts. Sometimes, the "system" is written on the ground with chalk.

Using a Physical Paddle Rack Product

At a location with fewer than 12 waiting players, a physical paddle rack product might work well as long as there's a way to move a marker to indicate next group of paddles up.

There exists several disadvantages of the paddle rack system including:

  • more difficulty in learning the names of players

  • inability to determine the skill level of players by their paddles alone; there will definitely be a mix of skill levels which isn't ideal for some players

  • may be way more players than the paddle rack system can accommodate

  • may also have difficulty getting people out on the open court as the paddles will need to be held up while repeatedly asking players "whose paddle is this?"

  • may not fit all paddle shapes and sizes

Getting a Commercial or Custom-Built Paddle Stacking Systems

If you're looking to purchase or build a paddle stacking system, make sure it includes these features:

  • will physically hold all of the new shapes and sizes of paddles including curved handles and handles with ball picker uppers on the end

  • has some type of marker to indicate which group is up next (without needing to pick up and shift all four paddles)

  • a way to indicate preferred skill levels, especially when there are more than 12 players waiting or if the location attracts many new players and visitors

  • can grow with the demand of your courts

Pickleball Board System graphic by The Pickleball Broadcast

The Pickleball Board System by The Pickleball Broadcast

The Pickleball Board System

Instead of using paddles to indicate order, players names are written on a whiteboard. Typically the whiteboard order is left to right, top to bottom. Up to four players would add their name to the next available box - first come, first serve order. The next four go out. If there are fewer than four names in the next available slot, someone can put their name there to complete the group of four (while skipping the rest of the line). However, if there's a group of four that wants to play together, for whatever reason, they would place all four names at the very end of the line (they usually can't jump ahead of any waiting players).

If using this system, it's recommended to place the board where people like to congregate. This system helps everyone to learn names and to place themselves with the appropriate players/groups. A big advantage is that it's easy to get the next team assembled and ready to go out as soon as the exiting players announce their court is free. And, when it's really busy, can get the second next group assembled as well (by calling their name or knowing who they are versus holding up a mystery paddle).

Disadvantages include educating people how to use this system, such as:

  • crossing out the name of the group who just went out instead of erasing names so groups don't inadvertently jump to the front of the line.

  • making sure that players names are not added to the board until they are off the court (their friend cannot add their name to a box when they're playing another game)

  • Making sure there are working whiteboard markers, erasers and cleaners on hand

But once pickleball players know and understand the Board System, they tend to appreciate it.

Pickleball Board System Variation

A variation of the Pickleball Board System includes players writing womens group, mens group, advanced play, social only, etc. on a box if they're the ones writing their name first.

Creating Your Pickleball Board System

It is fairly easy to create a Pickleball Board System. All you need is a large whiteboard, weather-proof tape for making the grid, whiteboard markers, whiteboard erasers and cleaner. Some venues keep it locked in a storage bin and it's placed on the bleachers or wherever people congregate. Other venues permanently (or seasonally) affix it to the fence (preferably away from direct sunlight) where a large number of players can congregate, yet close to shade and seating to facilitate getting the next group ready.

You may also be able to find a commercial printer who can print a grid document plus a few instructions onto the whiteboard.

Challenge Court Variations

There are Pickleball Challenge Court variations to these systems.

We know of one venue that treats every court as a Challenge Court. This means that two players will place their paddles on a stack next to the net (or elsewhere) of the court they wish to challenge. When the game is over, the Challengers play the winners (who may or may not split depending on that locations protocols). Sometimes winners are only allowed to stay on for 2-3 games maximum when courts are busy. Not the best system when there are a lot of individuals and visitors.

If it's not too busy and the community agrees, the first column of the Pickleball Board System is sometimes used for the designated Challenge Court. What happens here is that the two Challengers will add their names going down on the first column and challenge the winners. The rest of the boxes will be used, as normal, for the four-on/four-off rotation.

Common Court Rules for Both Systems

  • The order is determined by a "first come, first served basis" for available players.

  • If a certain player is on the court, a spare paddle can't be put into the paddle stacking system for them and their name cannot be added to the board.

  • If a player is not ready or available when their court becomes free, for whatever reason, another player may move forward and take their spot (the replacement player could be one of the players leaving the court). The player who was not ready or available moves to the end of the line.

  • During open play sessions, groups of four are expected to split up and rotate into the larger group periodically as it's open play. (For example, they might play two consecutive games then split up.)

  • During prime time or open play hours, players are to look and see if a player or any other players are waiting to play. If there is one player waiting or several players waiting, the group is to come off the court and rotate with the rotating players.

  • If there is an odd number of players, a group of four may not jump in front of a group waiting for a player or two. The group must break up to allow the group waiting the longest to play.

  • When a group completes their game (typically play to 11 win by 2), they immediately indicate that the court is open as they make their way off the court.

  • There could be a few court monitors that volunteer to assemble the next group so they can be ready to immediately proceed to the next available court.