In a recent pro pickleball match, one pro pickleball player, Matt Wright, hit a speed up at another pro pickleball player, Jessie Irvine, which caught Irvine in the face. Upon winning the point with the body/face attack, Wright screamed “YEAH!” to exclaim his excitement. Then, Irvine’s partner, Julian Arnold, stepped in and called Wright out by saying, “You just hit her in the face, man.” To which Wright responded, “Yup.”
This interaction on the pickleball court begs a few questions:
- Is there such a thing as "pickleball etiquette"?
- Was this the "right" etiquette?
- Does "pickleball etiquette" differ between competitive play (like the pros) and recreational play?
- Are there other on-court etiquettes to be aware of?
Most pickleball players probably would have checked to see if Irvine was okay after hitting her in the face with a pickleball. Or, at least, said “Sorry” or even have given a casual wave to non-verbally signal an apology. However, most pickleball players are not professionals playing with money on the line and, further, most pickleball players are not Matt Wright.
So, while I personally think Wright should have responded differently in that circumstance, I do think running afoul of “pickleball etiquette” at the professional level may be easier to swallow for a couple of reasons:
- Competition can bring out the best and worst in people—particularly, when money is on the line or even livelihoods are on the line. This certainly comes to light in professional pickleball in moments like the one between Wright and Irvine. Pro pickleball players are pushing themselves to the limit, both physically and emotionally, so sometimes you get moments like this one.
- Pickleball is both a physical and a mental game. With that said, one strategy in competition is to get into your opponents’ heads. In other words, use on-court antics to throw your opponents off their game. This includes vocalizing emotion after every point won—even if the pickleball hit your opponent for you to win the point.
- Professional pickleball is a form of entertainment. The pros are putting themselves out there to show off their top-notch pickleball skills for an audience, for the fans. Part of this entertainment is taking on personas (i.e., an outspoken player (like a John McEnroe from pro tennis)), so the fans can get behind certain players and become part of the stories.
As an aside, this “story-telling” and fan engagement is something that pickleball needs more of. I have been a supporter of more “rowdiness” during pickleball matches, meaning more fan involvement, cheering, and other engagement. By having more on-court personas and more story-telling by the pros—even if polarizing, like in this instance—there is more room for the fans to get involved.
With that said, “pickleball etiquette” is still relevant, even for the pros.
Pickleball is a "social" sport. This generally means that pickleball is as much about interacting and socializing with people as it is about physical activity and competition. This "social" culture around pickleball is one defining characteristic of the sport itself. In connection with that unique culture, it is important to understand some "pickleball etiquette" tips before hitting the pickleball court. These include:
- Introduce Yourself to New Players - Before starting a pickleball game with new people, be sure to introduce yourself to others.
- Do Not Cross a Pickleball Court During a Point - Avoid crossing over a pickleball court when a point is ongoing. This includes avoiding entering the baseline area or the sideline area.
- Know the Rules - Do your best to know and understand the rules of pickleball. This will help avoid disputes on the pickleball court and ensure that everyone is playing by the same set of rules.
- Bring Your Own Ball - Do not rely on other players to always bring the pickleball. Have your own stash! Also, when a pickleball rolls onto your court, avoid switching the pickleball with your own. Keep the pickleball that you or your court is playing with—most players are particular about their ball.
- Call the Score Loudly - When you are serving, be sure to call the score loudly so that all players on the pickleball court can hear you.
- Call “Ball on Court” If the Ball Is Actually on the Court - For safety reasons, if you see a stray pickleball roll on your court, stop play and call “Ball on Court.” This is a hindrance and you should replay the point. However, do not abuse this calling to help you avoid losing points (for more on this, check out Murmurs from the Losers’ Bracket: Ball on Court).
- Allow the Players to Make the Calls - If you are a spectator, avoid the urge to make the call, including line calls. Allow the players on the pickleball court to make the call.
- Keep the Coaching to Yourself - Only provide coaching advice when asked. Be wary of coaching other players on the pickleball court, as they may not want to hear any unsolicited advice.
- Welcome New Players and Play with Weaker Players Every So Often - The culture of pickleball is welcoming, so, in recreational play, do not be afraid to welcome new player onto your court. Also, if you are a stronger player, consider playing with weaker players from time to time, as they will greatly appreciate your game and you may have an opportunity to work on a specific skill or shot. By welcoming new players and helping weaker players, the sport of pickleball will grow in number and in talent.
- Don't Play Keep Away in Recreational Play - If you are a weaker player that is able to play with a stronger player, avoid the urge to play keep away from the stronger player. Hit more shots to the stronger player for the opportunity to improve your pickleball game and to keep the stronger player willing to play with you more! Also, do not outwear your welcome with the stronger player. Play a few games and say thank you.
- Sorry for Let Cords and Praise for Good Shots - This one is probably “common practice,” but not universal. If a pickleball hits the net, then, oftentimes, the striking team will win the point because the net will throw off the expected trajectory of the pickleball. In this instance, the striking team will usually say “Sorry” or give a casual wave to non-verbally signal an apology (this “tradition” seemingly comes from tennis). With that said, the striking team really is never “Sorry,” but rather excited to win the point. Similarly, you may also see hand claps or “thumbs up” for good shots by opponents in recognition of good play. These are common on-court gestures, but not universal.
- Practice Good Sportsmanship - Fair play and good sportsmanship are cornerstones of pickleball. Be sure to respect and practice both. (For instance, if you know that you were in the Kitchen when you hit a volley, call a Kitchen violation on yourself. Or, if you hit someone with the pickleball—particularly, in the face, like Matt Wright did to Jessie Irvine—ask if they are okay or apologize, rather than screaming “Come on!” or “Yeah!” in excitement at your body/face attack.)
- Practice the Golden Rule - As in life, treat others the way that you want to be treated. Be nice to others and have fun on the pickleball court!
- "Paddle Tap" After Every Game - After every game, players meet at the pickleball net to tap pickleball paddles - either with the head or butt of the pickleball paddle. When paddle tapping, also consider giving your opponents a compliment - for instance, "great game."
Do you have any pickleball etiquette tips to add? Share with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.