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The Unwritten Rules of Pickleball


By Stephen Bass

on Aug 16, 2023

The Unwritten Rules of Pickleball

All sports have a certain basic courtesy or decorum expected by its players which are not explicitly stated in the official rulebook. In the NBA, one unique unwritten rule is not wearing the signature shoe of an opponent. While not required, golfers should remove their ball out of the hole before someone else putts and in baseball, players should not throw the bat at the catcher or umpire on your backswing. The sport of pickleball is not immune to its own set of unwritten rules widely accepted as etiquette.

While pickleball is not (yet) considered to be America’s favorite pastime, pickleball is going through a huge growth phase and is the nation’s fastest growing sport. But pickleball was invented in Seattle, Washington in 1965 and there are over five decades of unwritten rules you should keep in mind. 

Here are 10 of Pickleball’s unwritten rules:

1. Introduce yourself.

It's important to introduce yourself before the match. Pickleball is a social sport so before leading off with the 0-0-2 count, begin each match by introducing yourself to your partner and opponents and learn their names. If there are  new players at your local tennis center, club, or park, go the extra mile and make them feel welcomed by introducing them to others.

2. Make an effort to learn and understand the rules of pickleball.

This will help avoid disagreements on the court and ensure all players are abiding by the same set of rules. Of course, no one is an expert right off the bat, so if you are still learning, don’t be afraid to politely ask questions!

3. Respect as a spectator.

If you are a spectator commenting on a match, please do not make hostile, disruptive, or disrespectful comments. It’s also not a good idea to call in or out balls as a spectator. Unless you are directly asked, it’s best to let the players make the out calls.

4. Apologize when needed.

Sorry, not sorry! This one may be up for debate. Oftentimes in pickleball the ball will strike the net and dribble over making it impossible for your opponents to return the shot.  When this happens, the casual “sorry” or non-verbal hand up is always welcomed. Similarly, when a hard shot or put away makes contact with a person’s body rather than paddle, the striking player should always apologize. Everyone knows (or should know) you are not trying to hurt your opponent, but a polite apology is proper etiquette nonetheless. If the “sorry” is not genuine or made sarcastically, then best to not say anything at all.

    5. Mind Ongoing Matches.

    Be mindful of other matches in progress when navigating pickleball courts, particularly when entering and exiting the baseline area or the sideline area. This rule seems obvious but…you know.

    6. Be honest about line calls.

    If the ball lands out of play on your side of the court, then call it out.  But if  you are not 100% sure it was out, you should give the benefit of the doubt to your opponent (easier said than done in those close matches). It’s also ok in rec play to replay the point if everyone agrees to it, just don’t expect any do overs in tournament play. If you or your partner foot faults in the kitchen, call it. 

    7. Announce the Score Clearly

    When calling out the score prior to serving, project your voice loud enough where every player can hear you. The last thing you want is a dispute about scoring during a close match.

    8. Prioritize Safety - Call Out "Ball On!"

    Watch your step. Keep your safety and other players’ safety in mind. Be aware of any stray pickleballs slowly rolling into the court of play and potentially causing injury. A quick “Ball on Court” call or a non-verbal hand up will notify players to stop play. Ensure that the ball is near the court when you call "Ball On!", and don't chase a ball that rolls onto someone's court.

    9. Paddle Tap After Each Match.

    Conclude every game by meeting at the net. Do not walk off the court until you acknowledge and exchange a “good game” or “way to play” with the other team. Consistently blowing off opponents and not meeting at the net is rude and disrespectful. Other positive exchanges include the paddle "bump" or "tap", but do not smack the paddle as it could potentially damage both paddles.

    10. Share the Court.

    Lastly, do not hog the courts. Make sure all players get to play and cycle through different combinations of matches. If you are on a hot streak and there are several players waiting to play, it is ok to take a match off. Be sure to abide by any rules about court usage if there are any.

      Bonus Tip: If you are an advanced player, consider occasionally playing with weaker players and/or showing a weaker player specific skills or shots to work on. There is no problem with politely declining an invitation to play with lower level players, but you should make an effort to dedicate some of your time to letting lower level players experience a higher level of play. And remember, advice should only be given when solicited. Some players may not want to hear about how to improve their backhand or why they should never drive on a third shot. 

      Overall, be respectful of your local courts and have good sportsmanship!

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