How to Play Rover Pickleball


Rover pickleball is a game that is used to reinforce the importance of court positioning and net play. The way it works is like this: there are two teams, each of which has three players on a court at any time. One of the players is the “rover,” a player who will get shots missed by the people at the net. Having a rover takes away the need (for example) of the net people having to chase down lobs.


Here is what a rover CANNOT do:

  • A rover cannot serve
  • A rover cannot return serve
  • A rover cannot lob the opposing team
  • Hit any ball when his/her teammates are not at the net – otherwise, you could have three people playing the baseline
  • Stay more than three feet in from the baseline, so if he/she comes in to get a ball, he must retreat after hitting it. You don’t want three people at the net or near the net.

Here is what a rover CAN do:

  • Come into the court to get a ball his/her teammates miss (but, see above)
  • Make line calls near the baseline
  • Hit any kind of shot he/she wants as long as it is to the opposing net people. In other words, he/she can drill it, hit a push dink, or hit a long dink (drop shot). You want the rovers to avoid “down the middle” exchanges. While it may be fun for the rovers to get into a ground stroke battle, it is not good for the game.

The rover’s teammates should yell “yours” if when they think they can’t get a shot. (I was in a game where a player tried to hit a lob on the fly and missed. That caught me off guard.)


Each team will have a captain. The captain will decide who is on the court and where, as well as give constructive criticism to his team’s players (this is less necessary when the players on the court are experienced players). The captain will also have a short meeting to go through strategy before a game begins.


A game will be played as usual, except that there will be a “rover” at the baseline. Team “A” serves, Team “B” returns (and should get to the net), Team “A” hits the third shot, and after that it is normal pickleball, except for the rover getting balls that the teammates cannot get.

Alternate version: you can start with 4 net players and have the rover serve. This is a good solution when players on the court are not accustomed to “getting to the net.”


Suppose you are in a straight-on dink battle. You and your partner should be about 11 feet apart. Given that a court is 22 feet wide, you are leaving 5 feet on the sides. Assume you have about a 2-foot reach, then there is three feet left between you and the side line. See diagram below.

Starting net position

What happens when your opponent dinks way to the side of your partner (int his case, the leftmost side of the NVZ). The net players should move in tandem to make sure the sideline and middle are covered. See below (the star represents where the ball landed).

Wide Dink

If your opponents don’t move in the same way, then you have the open down-the-line shot. Either way, both teams should be moving with the ball.

What if a net player partner moves to get the dink, but the other net player remains stationary? Well, you are leaving the middle open (see below) and your opponent (or the opponent’s rover) has a nice shot down the middle. If you are organizing this game, this is a good time to demonstrate this situation, and also a good time to show where the rover comes into play – the rover should be able to track down and return the shot that gets by the net people.

Wide Open Down the Middle

So, the captain should remind all the net players should move together when at the net.

Now assume the red dot is the rover. If the ball is hit way to the side of the court, and your opponent’s rover gets it, what is going to happen if the net players are like this? See below.

Ball to rover on the sideline

A skilled rover will take advantage of the sideline space and drill a winner down the line. If only one of the net players moves, then the middle will be open.

If the net players move together, the rover’s options are limited, and they will most likely have to go crosscourt. That is more of a difficult shot than straight ahead. See below. Note to rovers: don’t hit your partners!

Third shot wide

What if the net players are as shown below?

Stuck in the middle

They make it easy for the rover to go down the line, or you have the dreaded, “Oh. I thought you were going to take it” when it is hit down the middle.

A very important part of this game is reinforcing the importance of moving “with the ball” together. It doesn’t matter if you are playing rover pickleball or just a doubles game in general, but this game puts a lot of importance on court movement.

Note to rovers: you must move with the ball as well!


The game is not supposed to be a blood sport, yet there will invariably be people who want to drill their opponents at the net. If you are at the net, and either you or your partner pops the ball up, your opponent is most likely going to try to hit it hard. In that instance – DUCK! Get own so your head is net level and let the ball go. It just might go out or into the net. If it is in, rely on your rover to get it.


When at the net, emphasize the fact that the net players have their paddles up and in front of them. If they do, and a player hits a body shot at them, they are more likely to block it back than if their paddle is down.

Of course, if your team’s net players have retreated because a ball has been popped up, they should have their paddles down so they can block back anything hit at their feet (the optimum shot). If they have backed up, and a ball is hit at them high, let it fly.


Captains should tell their players that if they are at the net, the rover is going to hit the next shot, they should back up two or three feet from the NVZ. If the rover’s shot is good, they will be able to get to a dink (if that is what happens). If the shot is not good, and the ball is going to be hit hard, they will be in a better position to get it back. Also, if it is hit at you high, they are in a better position to determine if it is going to fly out.

Backing up to get some more time


Captains should remind their players that when they return serve, their partner is at the net. Tell them to try to the return deep and get to the net! If you cannot get all the way to the net, tell them to stop when their opponent is about to hit the ball.

Stopping in the transition zone


Yes, we want to win, but this is as much a training exercise as it is a game.


If you play this with three on a side, it is called Mortimer. Players rotate clockwise after each change in the score.

If playing with less-than-experienced players, view this as a training exercise.

If playing with 3.5+ an beyond players, watch out! This is an all-out gotta win game!