I once asked a player, “Do you like to stack?” and he replied, “I like to stack my pancakes!” Needless to say, that was not the type of stacking to which I was referring. Many players have seen or heard of stacking, but are not familiar with the concept enough to try it themselves. That is really too bad. Stacking adds a whole new dimension to the strategy and fun of pickleball. But what is stacking?
Stacking is the act of positioning the non-“active” player (i.e. non-serving or non-returning) to a position on (or off!) the court that allows the “active” player to move to the opposite side of the court after his/her “action.” This allows players who return or serve on the right side to move over to the left side of the court after hitting their return or serve. If you and your partner decide to stack, be sure the designated first server has a wrist band on (assuming rec play or non-sanctioned tournaments, since sanctioned tournaments require it). This will decrease the number of “correct position” arguments. It is important to note that even when your team has decided to stack, (in most cases) you are only stacking half of the time because you will either be stacked on your odd score or your even score, but not both.
Let’s list a few common types of stacking:
Stacking Serve (only): When you want your partner (or you) to always be on one side (right or left) during your team’s service.
3 Quarters Stacking: If you stack on serve, and only stack on one player’s return, that is 3 quarters stacking and is used when one player does not feel confident returning serve and running across to the NVL. Remember, you can stack or start stacking whenever you want; just check your team’s first-server band to be sure you have the correct server or returner!
(Full) Stacking: When your team decides one player should always be on one side. This is most common when the partners are opposite handed.
Comfort Stacking: Most people feel more confident and comfortable in a certain position on the court. If the opponents are “picking on” your partner, it may be to your team’s advantage to keep your partner in his/her comfort zone (position). This can usually be accomplished through stacking!
Target Stacking: Sometimes players are most confident when they are in a certain position with respect to another player. For example, your partner is confident dinking straight across from Opponent A but not Opponent B; then you will stack so that your partner will always be straight across from Opponent A. This means your team will stack and “unstack” as your opponents score points (assuming they’re playing normal).
Signal Stacking (Signaling): This may not technically be stacking because you only do it on return, and you start in a normal position, but you “signal” to your partner (via the standard closed fist meaning stay; open palm is go) that you will “switch” or not after the return.
A few tidbits of advice when you and your partner start thinking about trying to stack:
1. Be sure your partner agrees to stack!
2. Be sure you and your partner understand what stacking is, how the positioning works, and where you have to move to get where you want to be.
3. Be sure you and your partner agree as to why you are stacking.
4. If you are stacking to “maximize” a stroke, be sure that your partner agrees on the stroke to be maximized! Believe it or not, sometimes your partner thinks his/her backhand is better than your forehand. Whether it’s true or not, if that’s the thinking, you shouldn’t be stacking!
5. If you try stacking and it isn’t working or it isn’t fun, don’t forget that you can always stop at any time. Just refer to your server band to be sure you end up in the correct position.
Stacking is a lot of fun and can add a fiery element to the game. It can save your partner if he/she is in a funk or getting picked on, or it can allow your partner to be aggressive. Go out and try it yourself!