Pickleball Stacking: Advanced Doubles Strategy Explained

Third Shot Blog

By Third Shot Blog

As players become more skilled and competitive, strategies evolve to gain an edge on the court. One such advanced doubles strategy that has gained traction is “stacking.” In this article, we’ll explore what stacking is, its legality, advantages, and how to implement it effectively in your pickleball doubles game.

What is stacking in pickleball?

In pickleball, stacking is a tactical move in doubles where both players on a team start off on the same side of the court before a serve or return. Once the ball is in play, they then adjust to their preferred positions, enhancing their movement and control over court positioning. This strategy is employed when players deviate from the conventional setup to ensure one player remains on a specific side of the court. Unlike standard play, the stacking team begins on one side and then repositions themselves after the serve or return.

Is stacking legal in pickleball?

Yes, stacking is entirely legal in pickleball. The official rules of the game don’t dictate a specific formation, allowing players to adopt different strategies based on their strengths and preferences. Stacking is widely accepted as a legitimate and effective doubles strategy within the pickleball community.

What are the advantages of stacking in pickleball?

Stacking in pickleball offers numerous advantages for a team: It enables them to capitalize on their strengths, such as keeping a player’s strong forehand in the middle to create more poaching opportunities. Additionally, it allows for accommodating left-handed players by positioning both forehands in the middle. Stacking can also be used to conceal a player’s weaknesses, such as a backhand weakness. Furthermore, it enhances team mobility by strategically placing more agile players to cover certain areas of the court.

By adjusting their positioning based on their strengths and weaknesses, a stacking team can gain an advantage over their opponents. Moreover, they can exploit an opponent’s weakness by adapting their stacking strategy during rallies. Essentially, stacking can be employed based on a team’s own skills or to exploit the weaknesses of the opposing team. However, understanding stacking and effectively implementing it in a game are two distinct challenges.

How to stack in pickleball

Stacking in pickleball can be confusing at first. But once mastered, it can be a game-changer for you and your doubles partner. Here are the basic strategies when stacking in pickleball:

Stacking on serve

When beginning a game with a stacked serve, the server typically starts on the right-hand (even) side of the court in their usual position, while their partner positions themselves to the right of the server to avoid obstructing the serve. After scoring a point, the first server must switch to the left-hand (odd) side, and their partner will stand to their left without crossing over to the right-hand side. This allows both players to easily slide back to their preferred positions when play resumes.

Stacking on return of serve

Typically, when you receive the serve in pickleball, one player stays near the baseline while the partner stands at the edge of the non-volley zone. However, with stacking, there’s a variation where the partner waits out of bounds beyond the right-hand sideline. When you return the serve, both players slide to the left. The partner will already be at the non-volley zone line, which is an advantage, while you’ll need to take a few extra steps from the right-hand baseline to reach the left-hand NVZ line.

This stacking strategy can also be applied with positions flipped. If your partner is receiving the serve from the left-hand court, you would stand at the non-volley zone line out of bounds on the left side. When they make contact with the ball, you’ll shift right and they’ll move from the left-hand baseline to the right-hand kitchen line.

Switching and stacking

Switching and stacking are often mentioned together, but they have distinct meanings. Typically, switching occurs when the non-receiver moves to the opposite side of the court while the receiver takes their place at the NVZ line on the left-hand side after a serve. This allows the non-receiver to cover the middle of the court as their partner moves into position.

Effective communication is crucial, especially if you don’t switch every time, to avoid collisions with your partner. Switching can also be used strategically during play to disrupt opponents’ tactics or improve your positioning. When combined with stacking, players can use stacking to expedite a switch by having a player in their preferred position before a serve is made.

Pickleball stacking hand signals

A popular tactic in pickleball stacking involves using hand signals to communicate effectively and discreetly. Typically, the player positioned at the non-volley line will signal behind their back to avoid alerting the opposing team. An open hand gesture signifies a switch, while a closed fist indicates that the player should stay in their current position. Additionally, some teams employ a clever strategy by incorporating a fake stack switch signal to confuse their opponents and capitalize on scoring chances.

Does handedness matter in stacking?

When it comes to pickleball stacking, the question of whether handedness matters is a contentious one. Some players argue that having a left-handed player on the right side can provide an advantage, while others believe that sticking to traditional right-handed positioning is more effective. The truth is, both perspectives have merit, and the decision ultimately depends on the players’ individual skillsets and comfort levels. It’s important for players to experiment with different combinations and strategies to find what works best for their team dynamic.

When to stack in pickleball

Mastering the art of stacking is essential, but the timing of when to employ it is even more crucial. Below are some optimal situations for using stacking in pickleball:

  • Positioning both forehands in the middle is advantageous when one teammate is left-handed and the other is right-handed.
  • Leveraging your strengths and weaknesses can be achieved by emphasizing a stronger forehand while minimizing a weaker backhand in the center.
  • Sustaining momentum allows you to capitalize on opponents struggling to adjust to your court movements.
  • Disrupting your opponents’ rhythm by changing tactics can help you regain control when they have the upper hand.

When fully comprehended and effectively executed, stacking becomes a formidable addition to your strategic repertoire.

When not to stack in pickleball

Although stacking can be a useful tactic, it also has its drawbacks. It’s important not to rely on stacking excessively or for the sake of it. There are numerous instances where stacking can be detrimental:

  • It can expose weaknesses, such as if a teammate struggles with their backhand, stacking in a way that emphasizes this weakness would be unwise.
  • It can also neutralize a player’s strengths; for example, forcing a player with a strong forehand to play more backhands limits their effectiveness.
  • Additionally, if both players’ backhands are positioned in the middle without them being stronger in that area, it could limit their reach and put your team at a disadvantage.

If stacking leads to more errors, it indicates that you need to focus on developing fundamental skills before mastering advanced tactics like stacking. Practice is essential until stacking becomes second nature.

Other things to remember when stacking

As you work to incorporate stacking into your pickleball doubles arsenal, there are other things you should keep in mind:

Make sure your team has time and space to move

Make sure to handle the serve in a manner that allows you to switch without any issues. Aim for deep, slower service returns with a slight arc. If possible, direct your return straight across to the opponent opposite you, rather than diagonally back to the server on your future court side. This will buy you extra time to get ready as that player is farther away.

Be aware of the gaps on your side of the court

Consider the potential for your opponents to take advantage of any gaps in coverage as you move. Skilled players can quickly send a powerful shot into any unprotected areas that become available as the opposing team shifts positions.

Know where to hit your return of serve

If you find yourself losing to your opponents while playing as the receiving team, consider whether your return of serve is contributing to the situation. Is your return setting up your opponents for an easy third shot, placing excessive pressure on you and your partner as you move across the court? If this is the case, it’s important to prioritize improving your return of serve.

Some additional things to keep in mind with the return of serve:

  • Don’t rush the return of serve – make sure you are using sound technique before rushing to the net in your stacked position.
  • Return deep in the court – don’t give your opponent an easy opportunity to drive the ball and expose your stack before it’s set.
  • Return with more height and less pace – you don’t need to crush your return. The purpose of the shot is to put it in play so you can get to the kitchen.
  • Return to the player with the weaker drive – don’t make stacking harder than it needs to be. Give yourself the best opportunity to win every point.

Remember the score of the game

It’s crucial to remember the score of the game at all times. While this might seem obvious, keeping track of the score can be surprisingly challenging in the heat of a competitive match. A momentary lapse in concentration can lead to confusion and potentially costly errors. To avoid this, players should make a conscious effort to regularly check and call out the score to their partner and opponents.

Remembering the score not only ensures fair play but also has a significant impact on strategy. Understanding whether your team is serving or receiving, and whether you are ahead or behind in points, directly influences how you approach each rally. It can dictate your level of risk-taking, shot selection, court positioning, and even communication with your partner. In high-stakes matches, mental clarity around the score becomes as important as physical skill – making it an essential aspect of advanced doubles pickleball strategy.

Try stacking in your next doubles game

As pickleball continues to evolve, so do the strategies employed by players. Stacking, with its emphasis on strategic court positioning and exploiting player strengths, offers a dynamic approach to doubles play. Experiment with stacking in your next pickleball game, and with practice and coordination with your partner, you may find this advanced strategy becomes a valuable tool in your arsenal.

Frequently asked questions about stacking in pickleball

What is stacking in pickleball?

Stacking in pickleball refers to a strategic positioning of players on the court to gain an advantage.

When should I use stacking in pickleball?

Stacking can be used to exploit opponents’ weaknesses or maximize your team’s strengths during a game.

How do I communicate with my partner when stacking in pickleball?

Clear communication with your partner is essential when coordinating stacking strategies on the court. You can communicate vocally, as well as with hand signals before the return of serve.

Can stacking in pickleball be used in both doubles and mixed doubles games?

Yes, stacking can be utilized in both doubles and mixed doubles pickleball matches.

Is there a specific rule regarding stacking in pickleball?

There are no specific rules prohibiting stacking in pickleball, but it’s important to ensure fair play and sportsmanship.

What are some common mistakes to avoid when implementing stacking in pickleball?

Common mistakes include improper positioning, miscommunication, and failing to adapt to changing game dynamics.

Are there different types of stacking formations in pickleball?

Yes, there are various stacking formations that players can employ based on their playing styles and opponents’ strategies.

How can I improve my understanding and execution of stacking techniques in pickleball?

Practice, observation, and seeking guidance from experienced players or coaches can help enhance your knowledge and skills related to stacking in pickleball.