Pickleball – Let’s Talk Etiquette

Line Calls

Over the last several weeks at our community center’s recreational pickleball program, I have heard some players make line calls by saying: “I think the ball was out!” We can probably all agree that on some courts the lines are difficult to read and calling balls correctly may be a bit tricky at times, but let’s examine the sentence above.

It seems to imply that there is some doubt as to whether the ball was “in” or “out!” In such an instance, we can look to the official rulebook to learn how to deal with this situation.

Here is what the rulebook states:

“6.D.3. The opponent gets the benefit of the doubt on line calls made. Any ball that cannot be called “out” will be considered “in.” A player cannot claim a “let” because the ball was not seen or there is uncertainty. A player may appeal to the referee to make the call if he or she did not clearly see the ball land. If the referee is unable to make the call, the ball is “in.” [ USAPA & IFP Official Tournament Rulebook (2018), p. 31 – Emphasis added by me]

The remedy to “thinking” the ball was out, in my opinion, lies in the first sentence, i.e. the benefit of the doubt goes to the opponent. Secondly, “Any ball that cannot be called ‘out’ will be considered ‘in’.” Careful reading of that sentence suggests that if the ball cannot definitively be called “out” it is considered to be “in.”

When playing recreational pickleball, we should always be in a position to give the opponents the benefit of the doubt. After all, isn’t that what sportsmanship is?


Balls Coming on to the Court

At the community centers or churches where I play pickleball there is an attempt to share the fun of pickleball with as many people as possible. To accommodate a large number of pickleballers, these facilities generally squeeze in as many courts as feasible; within reason. There are times, of course, when balls come rolling or flying onto a court of play from a nearby game.

At that point someone yells “ball” or “pickle” and then play stops. The reason for this procedure is to avoid someone stepping on the ball and getting hurt by twisting an ankle or falling.

At the time the words “stop” or “pickle” are shouted, all play should stop and the point should be replayed from the beginning with the same server initiating the point as before. I often call the score and use the word “over” (2-2-1, over) to review that this is a replay of the previous point.

Naturally there will be times when the stoppage of play is called and you may be just short of making a great shot and your opportunity is removed because of the stoppage. This can be frustrating, but over the long haul those kinds of breaks seem to even out and the other team may likewise lose opportunities for a winner. [On a side note here – there really is no thing as a sure winner. If you have ever hit an easy ball into the net, you know what I mean!]

There will be times when the call for the stoppage of play will be close to a swing at the ball or during a swing. It would seem to me that if a player indicates that hearing the call caused them to react in such a way that they did not play the ball effectively because of it, I offer to play the point over. Once again, I offer the opponent the benefit of the doubt. Even if the ball is not on the court on which I am playing, if the shout affects play, let’s start the point again.

If the play is just over when the call is made, then the play stands because it “was over.” If we are going to offer each other the benefit of the doubt in the cases above, then we need to be as consistent and honest as we can be. Few people will want to play with someone they cannot trust to reciprocate in giving the benefit of the doubt.

I have tried my best to lay out my thoughts about the scenarios above. I think they make sense!

What are your thoughts?

UPDATE – 1/17/19 – Frank asks a good questions which leads to some more thoughts for consideration. Read the comments below and chime in if you so choose!



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2 thoughts on “Pickleball – Let’s Talk Etiquette

  • January 16, 2019 at 8:09 pm

    Hi Jeff. I appreciate your research and knowledge on both of these issues. One was probably born from our marathon game last week. I was upset (a rarity for me) because she initially wanted the point taken away because “ball” was called but that verbal warning came just after she missed the ball. I think I was correct in saying she was not doing the right thing. the play was over, then “ball” was called.
    The second time we got a little irritated with her is less clear in my mind, perhaps you can enlighten us on this.
    If the ball is behind the back line, in this case well behind it and we were up on the Kitchen line, easily 10 feet away should one call ball? It wasn’t affecting play of either pair. Does the errant ball need to be on the court or close to the court or just within eyeshot of a player. I have often conceded points to opponents, and they me, where the ball came onto our court but had no real impact on the play so we let it stand as if the ball was not there.

    Appreciate your thoughts, input and knowledge.


    Frank Tasnadi

    • January 17, 2019 at 6:10 am

      Here is my take on that and I must say that I don’t remember all the details and I can’t profess to provide a definitive answer, just some thoughts.

      In the scenario you are mentioning, it seems to me that you and your partner were near the kitchen line and the ball came onto the court behind you during the point. I have been in that position both as the team at the net and the team facing the oncoming ball and in most cases, we have stopped play if someone calls “ball.” When I was in your position during the point, I have found that frustrating/irritating as well.

      Here are a couple of points to consider:

      Since it is impossible to tell where the play will go and/or where the ball will end up, my suggestions try to provide as much consistency as humanly possible.

      Seeing a ball rolling onto the court “could” be distracting in itself.

      Nobody knows if there will be a lob sending the team at the net running backward.

      I have stopped play at times when I “thought” a ball was coming onto the court because it was rolling our way, and yet it didn’t quite make it on to our court.

      Teams can discuss this issue prior to the beginning of play and “agree” not to call balls behind the play if they so choose, but this adds another element of “how far back” is back.

      Of course any call can be “discussed” by calling all players to the net and presenting thoughts in a sportsmanlike manner.

      Taking the above into consideration, if the ball comes onto the court as you explain above and nobody calls ball or seeks to stop play, then the play can stand, BUT this does not lend itself to being consistent throughout the course of a game.

      These are just my thoughts and I don’t profess to be the Emily Post of what is absolutely correct in this scenario. I just try to provide ideas to stay safe and have fun playing.

      Thank you for your comment. Your thoughts are well-taken and provide more things to think about!


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