Pickleball is an entertaining sport that essentially mixes badminton, ping-pong, and tennis. The name of the game is to move the ball back and forth and score on your serve. You can play pickleball with doubles or singles.
One popular version of pickleball is skinny singles, where you and one other person play using only half-court to return the serve. The primary appeal of playing skinny singles is the way the game involves mimicking doubles’ strategies.
If you are brand new to skinny singles pickleball, keep reading for skinny pickleball rules, benefits, and how to play pickleball singles. Even if you’re not new to the game, you might learn some tips and techniques that improve your gameplay and performance.
Before we begin, if you’re looking for a complete beginner’s guide check out: Pickleball Strategy: Complete Beginner’s Guide!
What You’ll Need
- A pickleball court with four quadrants and a designated non-volley zone
- Polymer ball specifically made for pickleball
- A partner
Do you need a place to store your pickleball gear? Learn how to make a moveable shelving unit to store and organize your pickleball equipment.
How to Play Skinny Singles Pickleball
If you’re new to pickleball and want to get started or improve your gameplay, play pickleball skinny singles style.
The main difference between playing a game of singles versus skinny singles is that singles use the entire court, whereas skinny singles are only half-court play. Otherwise, both are scored and played very similarly.
Below you’ll find a summary of the rules, gameplay, variations, techniques, and everything you need to know about playing skinny singles.
Pro tip: always make sure you properly warm-up and stretch before playing skinny singles pickleball. Its vigorous gameplay can cause injury if you choose not to warm up and stretch.
1. Set Up On the Court
The initial court placement depends on the score. Each player chooses opposing sides of the court/net. With a 0-0 score, the serve starts from the right corner of the court. The player returning the serve is diagonal from the server on the opposite side of the net.
2. The Initial Serve and Return
Before a player serves, they have to call the current score, even if it’s 0-0. Then, the first person serves the ball, and it’s up to the opponent to retrieve it.
There is a double-bounce rule with pickleball, meaning the served ball has to bounce once before the opposing player can return it and vice versa. After the ball is returned once on each side, the double-bounce rule is void.
Another rule that sets pickleball apart from other similar sports is the non-volley zone, situated within the court’s front seven feet. The person must wait for the ball to bounce out of the non-volley site before attempting to return it.
With the double-bounce rule and non-volley zone in mind, the player returning the serve hits the ball cross-court. At that point, the ball must stay in play in the diagonal from the initial serve, keeping it in a half-court fashion.
3. How to Score
The primary way for a person to score in pickleball is by winning a rally they served, meaning a round of volleying back and forth.
Their serve is won by the opponent not properly retrieving it, meaning it’s not in bounds of the gameplay or the ball hits something other than the racket upon attempting to maneuver it back over.
A rally can also end, or a point scores, when a player deviates from playing in the established half-court zone or breaks one of the rules.
Let’s say the server breaks a rule or is at fault for not keeping the ball in play. At that point, the next serve goes to their opponent, who then has the opportunity to score.
4. Regrouping for a New Serve
Once a player scores 1-0, their serve moves to the left. All odd-numbered scores for the remainder of the game serve from the left. All even-numbered scores continue to serve from the right.
5. How to Win
In any variety of pickleball, a player wins when they reach eleven points and have a lead of at least two points.
Techniques and Variations of Skinny Singles
Now that you’re familiar with skinny singles pickleball’s standard rules let’s go over some other variations and techniques that may interest you.
Around-the-post shots, ATP shots for short, are shots or serves that travel around the net post without technically making its way over the net. ATP shots are typically challenging for an opponent to return, and you can execute them from behind the sideline.
You might be wondering, “Is this a legal shot?” The answer is yes. There are no rules against using an ATP shot during gameplay. These shots do take some practice and skill; however, they are worth trying to perfect to improve your winning chances in skinny singles.
Down-the-Line Skinny Singles
Instead of playing cross-court using only half of the court, down-the-line singles take each player’s score into account. For example, if both players have even scores, they are directly facing one another.
With down-the-line skinny singles, the ball is kept in play directly in front of one another, rather than keeping the ball in momentum using a criss-cross half-court strategy.
If transitioning the ball in a vertical direction seems foreign, you can modify this approach. An alternative is to serve diagonally, then immediately transition directly in front of their opponent post serve.
Combination of Down-the-Line and Traditional Cross-Court
If aspects of down-the-line and traditional cross-court appeal to you, then you can play a game of skinny singles combining both methods.
In this version of skinny singles, the game starts with both players on even sides of the court. The first to score during a rally switches to the odd side. Using the combination method means that the opponents’ position on the court varies depending on the scoring.
Tips to Improve Your Skinny Singles Performance
If you’re brand new to pickleball or seek room for improvement, consider the following information.
Strengthen Your Serve and Return
This tip is crucial for scoring and winning at skinny singles or any version of pickleball. It makes sense that if your hits are hard to return, you’re more likely to score points.
So how do you accomplish a strong serve and return? Learn how to hit as deep into the court as possible. If a serve or return is shallow, it’s going to be so much easier for your opponent to return.
Attack the Net Early and Quickly
With the non-volley zone in mind, approach the net as early and quickly as you can. This move puts you in an ideal court position and puts pressure on your opponent. The deeper you return the ball, the more time you’ll have to move to the net.
Know Your Opponent’s Weak Side
Whether you’ve played skinny singles with someone repeatedly or for the first time, try to get a sense of their weak side. Hint: a lot of the time, it’s their backhand because it involves more coordination and reaction time. The backhand also isn’t as strong as the front hand.
Hit Where Your Opponent Isn’t
Knowing where your partner is on the court is critical. If you hit the ball where they aren’t, you force them to move, making them less likely to return the ball. This tip also is instrumental in making your opponent tired, which increases your chances of winning.
Return and Advance to the Middle
It’s essential to refrain from being stagnant after hitting the ball. Essentially, you want to return and recover, meaning moving to the middle of the court as much as possible. Moving to the center makes you more likely to be able to retrieve your opponent’s return.
Watch this video for a visual demonstration of all the tips above.
The Benefits of Playing Skinny Singles Pickleball
Many avid pickleball players prefer to play doubles, the main reason being that it’s less work and run around. So why play singles, or skinny singles for that matter? Here are the main benefits to playing skinny singles pickleball:
- Improves shot accuracy
- Encourages use of different shot techniques based on court positioning
- An excellent method of conditioning to improve your overall physical condition and level of fitness
- Increases the challenge of the game
- Establishes more familiarity with the pickleball court
- Excellent practice for tournaments
- Can potentially improve your entire pickleball performance and talent level
- Makes you feel like you’re playing an advanced version of doubles by mimicking commonly used doubles strategies and techniques
When it comes to how to play pickleball singles, pickleball can be a challenging yet rewarding sport. It has elements that mimic tennis, ping-pong, and badminton; however, its double-bounce rule and non-volley zone set it apart from these other sports. Pickleball requires little equipment to get started.
Skinny singles pickleball is a fantastic way to improve your athleticism and challenge your gameplay. Its rules only slightly differ from traditional pickleball singles and can be played with different variations and techniques.
To find places to play pickleball, visit the USAPA to locate pickleball courts near you. If you’re enthusiastic about playing pickleball and want to build your own court, consult The Saw Guy for materials, tools, and DIY guides.
Looking for more? We have plenty of guides for you to choose from! We have guides that cover the best equipment, the history of pickleball, how to play pickleball, and more! Check them out, What is Pickleball?, Why Is It Called Pickleball?, Pickleball Scoring, How to Play Pickleball, Pickleball Rules, Pickleball Court Dimensions, Pickleball Shoes, and Best Pickleball Paddle!