"Well, that escalated quickly" ~Ron Burgundy
The sport of Pickleball is exploding in the United States and even worldwide. The growth has been attributed to the social nature of the game and the relative ease with which one can learn to play. With minimal equipment and a basic understanding of the rules, you’re ready to play this fun sport!
While it’s not necessary to take lessons or receive instructions to be able to play, it is still a great idea to do so. One important reason is to learn etiquette and sportsmanship guidelines that are critical to ensure that the sport continues to be a fun experience for all.
As an experienced tennis player, coach, and now pickleball instructor, I have witnessed plenty of poor etiquette and unsportsmanlike behavior on the pickleball court. This comes as no surprise because many pickleball players come from non-tennis backgrounds. They haven’t learned how to compete in a way that the tennis world would deem ‘classy’ because they didn’t grow up taking lessons, attending camps, or weren’t coached by an experienced adult who could mentor them on do's and don'ts. Tennis and pickleball are similar enough that these often unspoken “rules” or value systems should apply to both sports.
Following these tips will help you become a class act on the pickleball court by going above and beyond the basic rules of the game:
Call lines fairly and give your opponents the benefit of the doubt.
Remember, in pickleball, the lines are in. The only exception to this rule is where a fault occurs in the case of a serve where the ball touches the NVZ line. Unless you can clearly see green (or blue or whatever the court surface color is) between the ball and the line, you must play the ball as in. If there is any doubt that the ball was in, call it “good.”
The line call should only be determined by the players on the side where the ball lands.
Don’t ask your opponents if their ball was in or out. Don’t ask any spectators either. It’s your responsibility to make the call. If you’re not 100 percent sure, the right thing to do is call the ball “in.” Now, if you see that a ball you’ve hit is clearly out but your opponents play it, you have the right to call your own shot “out.” You’re more likely to make friends in recreational play by doing this, but if you’re playing in a tournament or competitive game, it is up to the other team to make the call. Hopefully, most players want to win fair and square.
Wait until the point has ended before walking behind a court of people who are playing.
It can be very distracting to players if they become aware of people moving behind them or their opponents during a point causing them to lose focus on the ball. It’s best to wait for the point to end and then quickly walk behind their court to get to yours and not disrupt their game. Many places will have a foursome “shift down” when a court opens up to avoid the new players from having to walk through their court.
Don’t celebrate when your opponent makes an unforced error.
Yelling “let’s go” or pumping your fist is totally acceptable when you’ve made an incredible play. But celebrating in the same way when your opponent simply misses a shot that they would typically execute, is poor etiquette. Don’t be that guy.
Call the score loudly and completely before serving.
First, this is just good etiquette. Secondly, I have seen so many people make service errors because they were caught up saying the score. To reduce errors, say the score completely, then serve.
Give the ball to the serving team in a helpful fashion.
Kicking, smacking, slamming, or rolling the ball to the serving team is like any nonverbal communication. It can be perceived negatively by others. Most of us prefer to have the ball picked up and gently tossed or hit directly to us when we are serving. So remember the golden rule here.
Don’t give someone advice unless they ask for it.
For some reason, certain people feel completely empowered to tell complete strangers what they should or shouldn’t be doing during a pickleball game. As a woman, this has happened to me way more times than I would have imagined - always from men, and often from players who were not as even skilled as myself. Only in the instances where I’ve asked other players to give me feedback and advice has this made me feel good and play well. For most people, it makes them feel bad, annoyed, or angry. Pickleball is fun. Keep it that way by only sharing advice with those who ask for it.
Call a “Let” immediately if a ball rolls on either side of the court.For some reason, pickleballers tend to yell “ball” (often aggressively and repeatedly) if their ball is rolling on to a neighbors court rather than calling a let. If a ball rolls onto your court call it right away rather than waiting to see how the point plays out. You will regret it if you don’t and you end up losing the point. Also, it’s likely distracting to your opponents, even if it's not to you.
Respect pickleball organizers.
It is an art to organize a group of people for pickleball. There are many considerations: Where? How many players? Which days/times work for everyone? What is the level? Does everyone get along? What if someone backs out last minute? Cost to book courts? How do we communicate? Etc. Therefore, if you are invited to play, don’t invite other people without asking, show up if you said you were going to, and be very kind to that lovely person who put in the work to organize the fun!
Compliment your opponents when they make a good shot.
This is a great way to demonstrate class and good sportsmanship. If your opponent or partner hits a great shot, say “Nice shot!” We all deserve to be recognized for standout moments. The more you dish out positivity, the more you’ll get back. Kindness is contagious.
Don’t take the game too seriously.
I’m a highly competitive person and love to push myself out on the court. But at the end of the day, we are all humans coming together to play, laugh, and be active. Pickleball is an opportunity to connect with others, lift them up, and positively impact their day. Pickleball can be competitive AND fun- they are not mutually exclusive. So if you find yourself getting frustrated, angry, or pouty when you’re playing, take a deep breath and remember that it is a privilege to be able to participate in this joyful game.
If you follow these tips, you’ll absolutely make more friends on the pickleball court and likely be invited to more opportunities to play. You’ll also model behavior others can learn from and ultimately play an important role in defining the culture around the fastest-growing sport in the country.
In the end, no one is going to remember how many wins you had or how many medals you acquired. They will remember how you made them feel when they played with or against you.
So in the words of Ron Burgundy, “Stay classy” pickleball friends. Keep it fun.