What is stacking in pickleball? [Ultimate Guide]

Alex Jones

The importance of good communication and positioning on the court becomes evident at some point in doubles pickleball. Stacking is a way to change the course of a game.

Are you not sure what stacking is? Not sure where to begin? To understand stacking in pickleball, you need to read this guide.

What Is Stacking in Pickleball?

What is stacking in pickleball

Stacking is a pickleball strategy in which both players are lined up on the same side of the court before a serve or return is made. Players shift to their desired side after the ball has been hit; this formation improves mobility and allows players to control where they stand on the court.

It is all about control here, as players shift sides based on strengths and weaknesses. 

In pickleball, stacking refers to rearranging players on a team so that one player remains on a particular side of the court rather than being in the traditional position. In contrast to traditional play, the stacking team will start on the same side and will shift into the desired position after the serve or return has been hit.

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What are the advantages of stacking?

Stacking is beneficial for a team for several reasons:

  • A team can maximize its strengths by stacking. Stacking, for example, can help keep the forehand of a strong player in the middle. The forehand poaching opportunities increase as a result.
  • To keep both forehands in the middle, stacking can be used if one of the players is left-handed.
  • Players can use stacking to hide their weaknesses (for example, their backhand weakness).
  • Team mobility can be maximized by stacking. An agile player can cover overheads for a less agile player, for example, with a right-handed player.

Adjusting to the strengths and weaknesses of the stacking team is beneficial. If a team is able to spot an opponent’s weakness, they can stack to take advantage of it since they can pick a new side after each rally. An opposing team’s weaknesses can cause it to stack to one side, or the other way around.

The ability to stack and the knowledge of stacking are two very different things.

The Ultimate Guide to Stacking

What is stacking in pickleball

Understanding traditional positioning is the first step. Teams start with two players on each side of the court – one on the ad side and one on the deuce side.

 When a team scores, they rotate back and forth. Returned team members remain on their respective right and left sides.

Traditional Positioning in Pickleball

Three and four are returning players, and one and two are serving players. Player 1 serves Player 4 as the first server in this example. Traditional positioning is used by all players.

Players start on either the ad or the deuce side for each team.

Every time they score a point, Players 1 and 2 rotate sides as long as they are the serving team. When the returning team continues to be the returning team, Players 3 and 4 are not rotated, and their score stays the same.

Stacking on Serve

It is usually the case that both players start on the same side (ad or deuce) and then one slides over to the open side.

A stacked serving team comprises Players 1 and 2, and a traditional positioning team comprises Players 3 and 4.

Player 1 is stacked on the ad side and the serving team is trying to move him there. The deuce side is the starting point for Players 1 and 2 in contrast to traditional positioning.

Upon serving, Player 1 will move to his right side, the ad side. Due to Player 1 being the first server, the team will be stacked when it has an odd score, but will be in traditional position when it has an even score. The serve will always put Player 1 on the ad side, and Player 2 on the deuce side.

Stacking on Return

The non-returning player starts next to the kitchen line while the returning player stands at the baseline. In the volley position near the kitchen, the non-returning player would slide into the volley position whereas the returning player would cross to the opposite side. If both players are receiving, the returning team will have to stack so that the player remains on that side.

Stacking with both returning players can be seen in the following two visuals. It is evident that the returning team is trying to keep Player 1 on the ad side and Player 2 on the deuce side in both examples.

They are stacked together as the receiving team. The server is Player 4 and is serving Player 1. When Player 1 returns the ball, he crosses over to the ad side. In the deuce side, player 2 slides in. By doing this, Player 1 can return while remaining on the ad side.

Server 3 is on the ad side and serves Player 2. As an example, Player 2 crosses over to the deuce side after returning the ball. The ad side will be occupied by player 1.

Return stacking can be more challenging. Scores should be noted, as well as if they are odd or even.

When the game is even, the team member who started it is responsible for returning the serve. In the event of an odd score, the team member who started the game must return to the ad side.

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Stacking considerations:

  • Ensure your team is on the correct side and that you are the correct server or returner. You don’t want to lose a point or serve by mixing these up!
  • For the returning player to cross over, stacking requires more running. It may not be a good idea to stack someone when returning if he is not as agile.
  • You can do a 344 stack if one of the players is less agile. As a result, stacking occurs more frequently on serves than on returns. You will stay in traditional positioning when the less agile player returns so that he won’t have to run across the court.

After knowing your personal strengths and weaknesses, you and your partner can use stacking to change the position of your post-serve on the court to take advantage of your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses. 

The strength and weakness of your opponent may influence your stacking strategy. 

Keep in mind that you don’t have to stay in your current position. It is more likely for a doubles team that adjusts its position to take advantage of each play to win the match!

Pickleball stacking hand signals

A system of hand signals is a common pickleball stacking strategy for communicating clearly and discretely. In order to avoid seeing the other team’s signal, players on the non-volley line usually do so behind their back.

  • Switching is signified by an open hand
  • Stay with a closed fist

As a way to confuse their opponents and create scoring opportunities, some teams will use a signal for a fake stack/switch.

Is stacking legal in pickleball

Pickleball allows stacking. Each point must be served from a specific court, and each point must be returned from a specific court. Apart from that, there aren’t many restrictions.

As stated in rule 4.B.7 of the USA Pickleball Official Rulebook for 2023:

The position of any player in doubles is not restricted, except for the server (see 4.A.4). They can be on or off the court as long as the players are on their team’s side of the net.

There have been some changes to the pickleball service rules in 2023, like banning pre-spun pickleball serves, but they haven’t affected stacking or switching.

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What is the effect of handedness on stacking?

What is stacking in pickleball

When it comes to stacking, handedness is absolutely crucial. It is very common for a left-handed teammate to stack – since both players’ forehands face towards the middle of the court when stacking.

Half stacking vs full stacking

Some players prefer to stack only while serving, since it’s more complicated when you’re on the receiving team. As a result, “half stacking” refers to stacking only while serving.

When to stack

It’s one thing to understand stacking logistics, but quite another to know when to stack. In pickleball, these are some of the best times to stack:

  • The forehands are both kept in the middle, which is ideal for when one teammate has a left hand and the other has a right hand.
  • Boosting a strong forehand and mitigating a weak backhand by complementing your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Keeping the momentum – exploiting your opponents’ struggles to adjust to your movement.
  • It can be helpful to destabilize your opponent’s momentum when they have the upper hand.

Stacking can be another powerful weapon in your arsenal when fully understood and properly utilized.

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What happens if I forget my position while stacking?

The referee can help you with your position if you forget it while stacking in an officiated game! The referee is allowed to ask a player for the score, who is the correct server or receiver, or whether he is in an incorrect position according to rule 4.B.8.

Can you yell out to your partner when stacking in pickleball?

In pickleball, teammates can yell at each other. Stacking has the disadvantage of your opponents hearing you call out to your partner.

Is there a limit to how many times we can stack?

If you are playing doubles pickleball, there is no limit to how many times you can stack.


Players stack at the beginning of service by lining up on one side, shifting positions as play begins. It is an effective way to maintain control and take advantage of your advantages.

Pickleball stacks often for you? What does it do for you when it comes to winning more games? Learning to stack well is hard, what’s the hardest part? Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have suggestions on how we can simplify stacking for you!

You can also check out pickleball sessions near you using the button below if you want to practice your new stacking skills!

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Alex jones

about Alex jones

As a freelance writer, I primarily write articles for Pickleball Click. With over 17 years of experience in playing pickleball, I have developed a deep love for this exciting and fast-growing sport.

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