Have you ever wanted yourself or your partner to play on one side the whole game? Some players feel more at home on the left or the right. That would be a dream, right?
Except it's not a dream. You can do it, legally! You can have a player play on the same side of the court every point if you'd like to.
"Stacking” is a pickleball doubles strategy.
Newer players may find it a bit confusing, but don’t despair. It is easy with some practice. First let’s discuss what stacking actually is, then we will discuss reasons why to consider doing it. There are also several expert tips sprinkled down below.
Stacking is a strategy that keeps teammates on the same sides of the court, on any given point regardless of the score.
It can be done on both serve and return.
Sounds like magic, but it’s really just a matter of court positioning and “thinking outside the box” (sometimes, literally).
The basic element of stacking is that one player is in a mandatory position to serve or return. But, their partner is free to stand wherever they'd like.
So instead of the normal way of standing off on the other side, they can stand off to the OTHER side, with both players shifting over after the serve and return. Or, a player can start in their regular position but then slide in front or or behind their partner until they are on their desired sides.
When stacking, one player serves or returns from their regular position. The only thing that changes for your team is that the non-server or returner will migrate to the other half of the court after the serve and return. The server or returner will then slide over to the other side.
This is possible because the player who is neither serving nor returning for your team does not have any rules restrictions on where they can stand. On serve, that means you can scoot over and stand to the preferred direction of your partner, whether that means left or right.
On return, the non-returning player can stand in their normal position and slide across during the return, or they can stand outside the court completely to a preferred side, then slide over.
Stacking is only tricky when your team has an odd number of points. If you have an even number, you don't do anything!
Assuming you began the game at zero points on your preferred side. Then, when you have an even number, you don’t have to do anything, as you will have started a game on the sides you wanted to be on when the score was zero.
That means you will also be on your proper side when you have 2/4/6/810 points. You will be on the opposite side when you have an odd number. Hence, stacking is mostly done when you have 1/3/5/7/9 points.
Tip: When you are serving and there is a side-out, always pause to make sure you and your partner go to the correct sides.
If you have an odd number of points, then whoever started the game on the left side has to go to the right side to actually return.
Once they do hit the return, you can shift that person back to the left side, but they must hit the actual return! Below you can see A returns on right side, but plays on left side. B begins the point off the court entirely, then scoots over.
What is stacking good for?
Stacking allows teammates to take advantage of their strengths.
For example, if you have a lefty and a righty on your team, it may make sense to keep the lefty on the right side of the court and the righty on the left side of the court.
Sometimes it feels funny to have zero forehands in the middle, which can happen with a righty and lefty team. But while stacking, both forehands can always be in the middle.
The same may go for keeping the more powerful, taller player in the middle of the court. Or the one who is simply receiving fewer balls and “has less to do” but to cover the middle. Doubles is a two-person team, but the court does not and should not always be an even split of coverage. You see stacking in mixed doubles frequently.
Advanced tip: You can also decide to stack (make the switch) or not immediately before each point.
You will often see experienced players use hand signals behind their back or paddle. Typically, a fist means to stay put. Think of it as a rock. An open palm means to switch after the serve and return. Think of it as waving hi or bye because you’ll both be on the move. Teams can also decide to pause or resume stacking mid-game, like a light switch. It’s flexible.
Stacking in pickleball takes practice.
You will forget to return the correct way after stacking on serve. You will forget to slide over.
There are several little mistakes that can be made when stacking.
But give it some practice, and eventually it will become as easy as simply keeping score. Keeping score used to be hard, and now it's easy! Same will go for stacking after a while.
And worst comes to worst, you can just stop stacking if you get confused mid-game. You can always abort mission and just play regular straight-up at any time.
Overall, stacking is an intriguing strategy for doubles teams to try. It allows teams to take advantage of strengths and control court coverage. If you're newer to pickleball, it's definitely worth trying out this strategy and seeing how it works for you. Try it in a rec game for fun.