How to Respect Pickleball Etiquette
Pickleball etiquette ensures that all players in a given pickleball community can make the most of their time on the court, enjoy the social spirit of the game, and continue improving their skills. If you’re new to the sport or joining a new group of players, you might benefit from being aware of the areas of the game where etiquette plays a big role in maintaining good sportsmanship and facilitating play:
Beginner Resource: Beginners Guide to Pickleball Rules
Playing at a New Court
Maybe you’ve decided to play pickleball at your neighborhood court for the first time, or perhaps you want to play at a venue different from your usual one. Either way, stepping into a new environment means you might be playing with people who have different systems for managing matches or who enforce rules somewhat differently.
As the new player, the most courteous approach is to avoid making any assumptions about how this new environment operates. Be sure to ask someone familiar with the facility about how to find a partner, get a spot on the court, and transition between games.
Your consideration will likely go a long way in making sure your new acquaintances on the court welcome you into their games eagerly and bring you up to speed.
Pickleball’s popularity often means showing up to the courts and finding they’re all full. To deal with this common situation, most courts have established rules about how players are to rotate.
Depending on the size of a pickleball community, rules might differ about how many players stay on after a game. Usually, the winning team can remain on the court and the losing team vacates their side. However, since some teams can be overly dominant in competition, many courts’ rules state that after two or three consecutive victories, a winning team should split up and find new partners.
Respecting these guidelines is fundamental to good etiquette in pickleball. Doing so allows everyone to get their turn, keeps matches competitive, and eliminates the need for any debates about who plays next.
Since doubles is the most popular pickleball format, finding a teammate is often the first step when showing up to play. Often, courts simply use a paddle saddle or rack to form a queue and the next two players in line team up.
However, it’s just as common for it to be a bit more complicated, requiring some common decency to maintain a positive playing environment. More skilled and experienced picklers, for example, often want to play with someone relatively equal in strength. While some courts may have systems to keep teams competitive, such as separate racks or skill-designated courts, others might not.
This means individual players often have to compromise or respectfully communicate their preferences. If you’re new to the game, a veteran player might pass on the opportunity to play with you. Ideally, they’ll let someone else take their spot so you don’t have to wait longer, but some might ask you to let someone go ahead of you or to swap spots in line.
Ultimately, there are no universal rules for these situations. However, good pickleball etiquette suggests embracing a spirit of compromise and open communication. It’s always preferable to wait a few minutes to get in a game with a suitable partner rather than get into a disagreement. If you’re the talented player in this situation, be willing to play with all skill levels every so often and use less competitive matchups as an opportunity to share your knowledge, build relationships, and create a stronger pickleball community.
Respecting Other Players’ Games
Since pickleball courts are usually adjacent to each other, good etiquette goes a long way in making sure all players are able to enjoy their matches with minimal interruption.
If you need to go through a court to get to the one you’re about to play on, wait until play has stopped before entering and passing the players in the middle of a game. Whenever possible, even if it means taking a longer route, try to avoid stepping onto a court with a live game entirely. This kind gesture allows other players to maintain their pace of play.
You also might hit a ball into a neighboring court. If the ball rolls into an area where it could be stepped on, presenting an injury risk, it’s appropriate to call out ” ball on court” or “pickle” loudly enough to warn the other players. However, if your ball is well out of the way, wait until the rally has ended and then ask for help retrieving it or do so yourself as quickly as possible.
Sportsmanship During Rallies
A competitive game of pickleball can quickly become an intense back and forth, with emotions alternating between elation and frustration. The desire to win can be a great motivator, but it also can make it easy to forget the proper etiquette that defines good sportsmanship.
For instance, celebrating won points is a totally valid aspect of play, but becoming overly animated or being too glad about opponents’ mistakes creates a less friendly environment. If a returned ball hits an opponents’ body, scoring your team the point, it’s polite to apologize or make sure they’re okay if you hit them anywhere near the face.
Conversely, when your opponents hit an awesome shot, it’s great pickleball etiquette to acknowledge it. Complimenting everyone you play with when they deserve it shows you’re a supportive member of the community and not solely interested in what you can get out of your matches.
Perhaps more common than butting heads with the opposing team is having an unsportsmanlike interaction with your own teammate. All too often, a player will make a mistake and their partner will show signs of frustration or say something critical. This lack of etiquette can quickly turn a great match into an uncomfortable experience all around.
Even the best players botch an easy return once in a while. Practicing good etiquette on the court means maintaining a positive and encouraging attitude, especially when partnered with someone still relatively new to the sport.
The urge to offer tips and feedback often feels well-intentioned, since you want to help the players around you get better. However, people often respond differently to even a friendly recommendation. While some might thank you and apply your suggestion, others might feel criticized or prefer to discuss feedback off the court, after the match has ended.
Generally, the most considerate approach is to hold off on giving feedback during a game. Positive encouragement rather than constructive criticism often goes a lot further in helping someone refocus and start playing better. If a teammate wants your advice, they’ll often ask for it directly.
Settling Close Line Calls
One of the most frequent disputes you’ll see on the pickleball court occurs over line calls, when a team thinks its serve or return is in but the opponents call it out. Here, good etiquette is extremely important for quickly and calmly moving on from close shots.
Players make calls on their side of the court, but, above everything, a willingness to operate in good faith is key. This means giving the benefit of the doubt to your opponents. If you think a ball was out but have any significant doubts about the call, err on the side of calling such shots in. If you have a great point of view and your opponent calls a ball out when you feel sure that it was in, speak up. Pickleball etiquette dictates your teammate should defer to you and let your opinion overrule theirs.
If your opponents do voice disagreement about your call but have been great playing partners, it’s not a bad idea to accept you may have been mistaken. Over the course of regularly playing, you will certainly have a great winner on, or even in, the line get called out by your opponent, so just remember that if it has happened to you, you can just as easily make a genuine mistake. If every person on the court maintains a sense of humility, games run smoother and are much more pleasant overall.
At the end of a game, most players consider it good form to meet the other team at the net and tap paddles. As in many other sports, concluding with a friendly gesture and a kind word such as “good match” or “thanks for the game” is the courteous move that signals you appreciated having the opportunity to play with other members of your pickleball community.