How Do You Play Skinny Singles Pickleball?

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Have you ever wanted to play pickleball but couldn’t rally a group of four? Or wanted to play one-on-one with a partner or friend but didn’t feel like you had the stamina to cover the full court? The answer: skinny singles pickleball.

Skinny singles is a pickleball option that uses only half of the court and is played one-versus-one. “When you want to practice doubles pickleball, skinny singles is the most efficient and effective way to mimic a doubles game with only two people,” says David Dutrieuille, national pickleball director at Life Time. “It’s also just a fun, alternative way to play if you want to mix things up.”

Why Play Skinny Singles Pickleball?

When you’re playing doubles pickleball, you’re essentially only responsible for approximately half of the court, which is one reason why focusing on one half in skinny singles can be such good practice for doubles. The variation of playing your opponent both cross-court and directly in front of you mimics different dimensions and aspects of a traditional doubles pickleball game.

The areas of the court that you can send the ball are also smaller than regular doubles or even traditional singles, which encourages you to be more intentional with the types of shots you hit.

“Your shot selection when playing skinny singles is vastly different, which is a benefit to developing a player’s skillset,” says Dutrieuille. “You have to practice your third shot options — specifically drop shots, drives, and lobs — because those become viable options. Although, the drop shot does become riskier because there’s less court to cover.”

How to Play Skinny Singles Pickleball

Note: There are different variations of ways to play skinny singles pickleball, but the following is a widely adopted method and the one preferred by Dutrieuille.

Get into position.

Players position themselves diagonal from one another on opposites sides of the court. They both assume the traditional serving and receiving positions on their respective right-hand sides of the court, with the server standing just behind the baseline.

It’s best practice for the receiving player to stand near the baseline (in case the serve is sent deep). However, they may choose to stand where they wish depending on the serving style of their opponent.

Start the game with a serve.

Determine which player will serve first. (In a standard pickleball game, the player in the northwest corner of the court serves first. However, when playing an unofficial game like skinny singles that’s just for fun, Dutrieuille notes it’s acceptable for either side to start.)

Say you have two pickleball players, John and Susan, and John is serving first. John will serve diagonally to Susan and then they will play out the point cross-court. If a player hits the ball to the side of the court directly opposite of them (not cross-court), it’s considered out of bounds.

Continue to play.

If John scores the point, he moves to the left side of his half of the court to serve. Susan remains on the same side of the court she was previously standing on, positioning herself near the baseline to receive the serve from John.

Now, John and Susan play on the direct opposite sides of the court, no longer cross-court. The ball must once again remain in the court space occupied by each player during play; the other side of the court is considered out of bounds.

If John scores again, he moves back to the right side of the court to serve diagonally to Susan, and they play cross-court once again. If John continues to score, he will move sides of his court with each serve, alternating play with Susan between straight-on and cross-court.

At whatever point John loses a point, it’s then Susan’s turn to serve. For her serve, both players stay on the side of the court they’re on at the time, whether they’re playing straight-on or cross-court. If she scores, she then becomes the one to move sides of her court with each serve and corresponding score.

Play proceeds in this pattern: A player moves to the other side of their half of the court if they win the point on their serve while the other player stays put. If no point is no won, players stay on the sides of the court they’re on for the other player’s serve. Players always serve from just behind the baseline of the court.

Keep score.

Scoring in skinny singles is the same as in a traditional game of pickleball: Only the player serving can win a point. When you’re serving, you can score as many points as you’re able to in your opportunity. If you “win a point” while the other person is serving, you do not get a point, but you do get the serving opportunity back.

A game is played up to 11 points. If the score is tied 10-10, a player will need to win by two before being declared the winner.

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