Five Rule Changes That Need to Happen Right Now In Pickleball

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Five Rule Changes That Need to Happen Right Now In Pickleball

Everyone knows that pickleball is booming. Fastest growing sport, yada, yada, yada. We have blown past the days where you know that one weird guy at work who plays the game with the funny sounding name, to a world where tens of millions of Americans play regularly.

A world where you either play the game yourself or at least know addicts who struggle to talk about anything but pickle. As with any great growth comes great responsibility, and pickleball’s growing pains are inevitable.

We have seen rule changes and tweaks as the game has evolved both strategically and technologically.

We have seen a couple variations of spin serves come and go (good riddance), have seen paddles banned (with more bans potentially on the horizon), and are seeing interesting ideas being tested (ie rally scoring, progressive draws).  

As more money pours into the sport and more eyeballs take notice every day, there are a few glaring rule changes that need attention right now. 

The following is a list of five of those ranked from least pressing to the number one pickleball rule must be changed ASAP! 

Honorable Mention: PEDs

Performance enhancing drugs are an issue in most sports and pickleball is no different. 

An even playing field is hugely important and there have been rumors and speculation circulating throughout the pickle-sphere about certain pros using illegal and/or misappropriated substances to give them an edge in recovery and/or focus.

Although this is no doubt a serious topic that deserves attention, it is also costly and extremely hard to monitor and police and pickleball simply isn’t in the place to do so currently.  Let’s check back in 2025 about this topic and see if it has bumped up the list.

5. The kitchen line needs be in on serves!

This one is pretty straightforward. Explaining the rules to a newbie starting at 0-0-2 takes up the lion’s share of attention. Then comes the double bounce rule on a serve return, then the kitchen concept, which is all fine and good. 

But somewhere in there we’ve got to explain that if the ball hits any line anywhere at all on the court it is in, except for the kitchen line on a serve which is out

When they inevitably ask “why?” we are forced into the role of the authoritarian parent who doesn’t have any good explanation: “well, that’s just how it is!”  Well, what about that’s not just how it is?  Make that line in, today, please and thank you!

4. Change sides every 6 points in deciding games.

Right now in pickleball there is a coin toss, or a pick-a-number behind the back system commonly used in matches from recreational play to tournaments, all the way up to the pro game.

The winning team gets to decide if they would like to serve first or select side first.  Each game the teams switch sides which is great, except that in the final games of a match (usually third or fifth games) the teams switch only once when one team reaches six points in games to 11 or 8 points in games to 15. 

The problem with this system is that if sun, wind, or defects in the court are a factor, the team that finishes on the more favorable side has a major advantage, as they will play more match deciding points on the better side. 

Many pros have talked about the importance of winning the “coin toss” and have even gone so far as to cite it as a key contributor to winning a match.

Although I don’t generally point to tennis to solve pickleball problems, in this case, they have it figured out.  In tiebreakers in tennis matches they switch every 6 points.  This is a clean solution that pickleball could immediately implement to improve the fairness of competition.

3. Ban white paddles

You know how zebras have evolved over thousands of years to camouflage themselves when the sun strikes their white and black stripes?  Well the white and black Selkirk Power Air has taken that concept and run with it. 

It doesn’t seem to be everyone that has issues seeing the green ball come off the white paddle, but those that do really have trouble with it and it can prove to be an unfair and potentially dangerous advantage.

Major League Pickleball has noted this and has banned any paddles that are mostly white, gold, or green.  It is time for the PPA, APP, and USAP to follow suit.  I believe this change is coming, maybe Selkirk just had a few (thousand) units to move before the news drops.

2. Penalize incorrect line calls

Zane Navratil has put it best on his podcast a few times recently when he said that in today’s pro game if you aren’t overly concerned with morality, from a game theory perspective you should call every single ball that loses you a point “out.” 

Obviously no one would go to that extreme, but certain players have been known to make questionable calls and even be accused of “hooking” (intentionally making bad calls to win points) regularly.

I hate to go all tennis-y again, but yeah they’ve got this one figured out too. Obviously the platinum standard solution would be to get a Hawkeye system for pro events like they have at some of the major tennis tournaments. 

Still waiting on that TV deal to come through to pay for that one.  In the meantime, a punitive system at the discretion of the referees should be put in place like in tennis.  You make a bad call you get a warning, two and you lose a point, three and you lose a game, etc.

Megan Fudge recently popularized this idea when she announced her retirement from singles until a system is implemented and I think it is time the pickleball world paid attention.  Bring back the Fudge!

1. Standardize paddle testing

What kind of article could discuss pickleball rules in 2023 without talking about paddle testing? 

This year has been chock full of drama as pro leagues have scrambled to establish and enforce rules while manufacturers have matched and exceeded their efforts to comply and at times circumvent those very rules and regulations!

To anyone paying attention just the mention of CRBN, Legacy, Selkirk, Joola, Proxr, and Gearbox brings up palpable memories of scandal, innovation, drama, and intrigue. 

Delamination, cease and desist orders, grit, quality control, dwell time, and deflection all swirl around in our brains as we scramble to try and figure out the best paddles to use and what should be banned.

Virtually everyone agrees that there needs to be limits in place.  Left unchecked paddle manufacturers will come out with better and better paddles until pickleball becomes a mix of racquetball and tennis with rallies lasting 3 shots and everyone wearing protective eyewear.

Paddle testing is currently somewhat of a mess with the different tours and organizations all having different rules and testing in place. If you listen to Jill Braverman, the PPA changes/obscures rules regularly to protect their star players and to pass paddles mid tournament.

Within this sea of uncertainty it is none other than the GOAT himself, Ben Johns who has the best path forward, namely exit velocity testing.  As in Major League Baseball, pickleball needs to streamline the testing and get it to a place where it can simply measure the ball speed a paddle can generate. 

The governing bodies can then agree on an optimal maximum speed a paddle can produce and ensure that all paddles are below that speed.  Make the paddles out of carbon, kevlar, graphite, or concrete if you want, just don’t go over that maximum speed and we are all good.

Conclusion

On the cusp of 2024 pickleball is in a great place. 

Although there is still a lot to figure out regarding tours, schedules, spectatorship, and rules and regulations, there is a huge influx of money, public interest, and talent.  There is undoubtedly a twisty road ahead as different parties jockey to put forth their own interests. 

I am not purporting to have all the answers, but I will say, if USAP, the PPA, MLP, and the APP make some or all of the changes on this list, the sport we all love will be even better than it is right now.  That being said, most of us are hopeless addicts who will play whatever the rules are.  But seriously, make these changes, I promise, it’ll be better.

Written by:

Daniel Hawk

Daniel Hawk is a Northern California transplant from the Washington D.C. area. He grew up playing as much basketball as he possibly could while mixing in tennis, ping pong, and whatever other sports he could find that would get his heart rate going, test his reflexes, and fuel his competitive drive. He picked up pickleball in 2021 and has never looked back. Daniel is a 4.5 player who is constantly studying the game and working to improve. Daniel has been writing his whole life. His father is a professional editor who helped imprint the beauty and necessity of clear writing in Daniel at an early age. He studied English at the University of Colorado on Boulder and has written countless works of fiction and nonfiction since.

13 thoughts on “Five Rule Changes That Need to Happen Right Now In Pickleball”

  1. I have to say I completely agree with everyone if these. Though my #1 would be penalized for incorrect line calls

    We’ll done Daniel!!!

  2. #5 – It doesn’t take that long to learn the rules. People are smart. The kitchen line needs to OUT, otherwise, where do you call a foot fault? You can step on the line and it’s ok but any part of your foot is over the line then it’s a fault. Way too confusing and argumentative.
    #4 – Are you talking about every 6 points as in rally scoring? Not necessary for rec. play. Sometimes just switching sides after one team scores 6 people forget where they are supposed to go. Now you do that possible three more times.
    #3 – How about banning white shirts as well.
    #2 – How are you going to enforce that in rec. play? We don’t need any more arguments over line calls. Let’s keep the game going. Cheaters have to live with themselves.
    #1 – I agree. All sports have standards they must meet. You can’t play baseball with a corked bat. Pickleball is no different.

    1. Dean, thanks for the read and the comments. Here is my response:

      5. I think it either needs to be that if the ball lands on the line on the serve it is in, but the volley rules stay exactly as they are. Or just scrap the idea (which is fine too) and just leave it as is.
      4. This is more for tournament settings. Every 6 points in a deciding game like they do in tennis. Currently if one side is very sunny and you end on that side you could be at a major disadvantage trying to close out.
      3. Sure 🙂
      2. This again would just be enforceable in matches where a referee is present as punitive measures would need to be at the discretion of the ref.
      1. Yes, agreed.

      Thanks again for the thoughtful comments.

  3. I don’t get the white paddle one – I play with many folks with a white paddle – never had problem, never heard a complaint. So what’s the issue?

    1. Dave, I really believe this one only affects certain people, but those it does it really does.
      I played a bit with a white Selkirk power air and every few matches I’d play against someone who would repeatedly lose balls off of it.
      These are high level players with good eyes who I play with regularly who would really struggle to see the ball off that paddle.

  4. I would like to see the governing bodies address illegal volley serves. IMO, either enforce the current rules or abolish them. The side arm swing path with the paddle head above the wrist can generate more power and spin than the bowling swing path of a legal volley serve. It is an unfair advantage.

  5. Re: #5 I think people explain this badly. All lines are in. If it’s on a serve, and the ball hits the kitchen line, then it’s counted as in – in the kitchen – and so a fault. I don’t call those as out, I call them as in the kitchen.

    1. Trish,
      From what I can gather it seems like you hold the majority opinion on this and I am in the minority. I still think it would be smoother to allow a ball hitting that line on the serve to be counted as in play, but I could very well be wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time. What did you think about the other proposed changes?

  6. Serves that hit the net and land in?

    Those should be an easy “let” call, and I don’t understand why the rules are what they are.

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