Open Play In Pickleball – What is it And How Does It Work?


Open play is probably the most common type of play in your area. You can show up by yourself or with a group and get in line to play.
Open Play In Pickleball – What is it And How Does It Work?

If you have spent any time on the pickleball forums you will see a lot of discussion based on open play (aka drop-in or free play). 

Open play is probably the most common type of play in your area. You can show up by yourself or with a group and get in line to play. Usually, there is a paddle system where you line up your paddle to simulate a line. 

Once a court finishes a game you either have the winners stay and the next two people in the queue go play or if it is busy all four players come off and four new players go on. 

Each court has different rules on how open play works and the hard part is sometimes these rules are unwritten. Open play also can have undefined times at some courts, but I have found open play is usually reserved for mornings. 

Sometimes open play will be designated for certain levels, or the courts might be divided up based on levels. If you are just starting, you are probably a 2.5-3.0 unless you come from a racquet sports background. 

Also Check Out: Top Tips For Beginners

Pickleball Open Play Tips For A Complete Beginner

  • Ask someone at the court to explain how things work. Most pickleballers will be happy to explain how the local open play system works and it is easier than reading the posted rules because those are sometimes not how it works.
  • Bring a friend so you have a guaranteed partner that you know you will have fun with.  Don’t have someone to bring?  Ask someone there to partner up with you just for a game and tell them you are new.
  • Don’t get discouraged if you lose 11-0.  It has happened to me and will happen to you. Try to take a lesson from it or just move on to the next game.  Short memories are needed in pickleball.  

What To Expect in Open play

Open play is usually a more casual fun environment. Don’t get me wrong, the games can get competitive and I am always there for competition. 

I just recommend setting your expectations more toward having fun. You will have games that are mismatched in terms of skill level, and I try to practice certain shots in those scenarios. 

I don’t keep hitting shots that I know will result in winners because then nobody is having fun. If winning is the only thing that matters to you then open play isn’t the format for you. 

Open play can be great for meeting new players and playing with a wide variety of players. I have met some pickleball friends at open play and it can be an awesome way to get started in the pickleball community in your area. 

While you are waiting to play you can get to know the local players and most are usually helpful if you have questions about how open play works at the courts or any other questions you have. 

Open play is amazing for not having to arrange a group of players at a specific time. There aren’t too many sports you can just show up to a location and play with zero coordination. It reminds me of playing pickup basketball and even that could be hard sometimes because there isn’t always a designated time.

General Player Rotation

There are two main player rotation systems. One is the winning team stays and the next two paddles in the queue come on. The second is all four players come off the court after finishing and the next four players in the queue come on the court. 

If it seems like these are not the rules when you are at a local court just ask someone. I have seen so many complaints about confusion, but many times it can be fixed by asking someone. It really is that simple.  

General Etiquette For Open Play

The best etiquette is to follow the rules of the courts. If they are doing winners stay or four on four off just follow the rules. Don’t be the person that keeps playing more games when there is a queue of 20 people waiting.  

Have a positive attitude and encourage your partner.  Open play is how most people get started meeting their pickleball friends and you aren’t going to make a lot of friends by being negative when someone misses a shot.  

Don’t lob people with mobility problems.  This can be dangerous for them and what does it do for you?  You lobbed someone that can’t get to a lob.  Save the lobs for when you know the game is competitive.  

What is the best Open Play System?

What is the ideal open play system? I think the best open play system is one that has courts designated for specific levels so everyone can enjoy the games and you can come with people of different skill levels that can each find the appropriate level for themselves. 

To have this work you need the rules set up and a community that helps educate new players of the rules.  This system can be difficult to implement if you don’t have enough courts, you have players refusing to play at their appropriate level (always an issue because some want to play up or down) and you might have too many players of a certain skill level with too few courts. 

Since this system isn’t always possible it is up to the community at the courts to make open play an enjoyable experience and that can start with you.  Next time you are at open play and see someone not getting a game in, just ask them to play one and you will make their day. 

Written by:

Jacob Hoisington

Jacob discovered pickleball when he one day was biking past local courts and started a conversation with some players. He asked what they were playing and got invited to a beginner’s night where he got hooked on the game. As a long-time doubles’ tennis player, pickleball was a natural fit for Jacob. His first love of the game was trying different paddles as there were so many and ever since he has become obsessed with trying every paddle, he can get his hands on. Jacob appreciates that pickleball is accessible to anyone while still offering competition.

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