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Murmurs from the Losers’ Bracket: “Head Targeting” Rule Change Not a Brainy Idea

Murmurs from the Losers' Bracket Frank Cerabino 07-25-2022

It’s that time of year when we pickleballers hold our breaths as people try to “fix” what needs fixing in the game.

Oh, please. Just leave it alone, we here at Murmurs from the Losers’ Bracket keep shouting. (*For those new to Murmurs from the Losers’ Bracket, this is a (mostly) humorous tongue-in-cheek opinion piece – don’t take us too seriously).

I’m not even going to get into all the changes people have asked for this year. I don’t want to scare you.

So, let’s just forget about that one that gets rid of the kitchen line. Please, erase that last sentence from your mind. You’ll feel better.

But I do want to talk about a suggested rule change which may get more consideration because it falls into the category of safety. And who is against safety?

I am. Certainly in this case.

The rule change would create a new fault called “head targeting.”

Here’s the rationale:

This rule is needed to reduce/prevent eye injury. Tagging a player is acceptable and there is minimal injury risk. It can be uncomfortable especially in the groin area but not life altering.
Above the shoulders should be off limits because of the chance of serious injury to the eye and in some cases possible concussion.
The rule should be applied to unintentional contact as well as intentional contact.

You see the problem here, right?

For starters, it’s an English language violation. The word “targeting” infers intent, but it also applies to unintentional striking of an opponent’s head. Which wouldn’t be targeting at all.

That would just be mishitting another ball, and on its way to the chain link fence behind the court, its trajectory just happened to coincide with the coordinates of another player’s noggin.

Under current rules, the fault would be on the player who got hit in the head with the ball. Which is the way it ought to be. 

I’ve never played a game with someone who intentionally wanted to hurt another player with a meat volley. Sure, there are some bangers who are aggressive and way too willing to hit the ball harder than necessary.

But we put up with them, and quickly figure out that the best defense against their style of play is to avoid pop ups and drag them against their will into dinking.

Nearly all overhead smashes are aimed at an opponent’s feet, causing the player to do a little dance like in one of those TV Westerns where the bad guy goes into the saloon and starts firing his six-shooting at the floor.

Then, there’s the occasional chicken-wing volley against an opponent on the other side of the non-volley zone. These are directed at his or her paddle-hand side at torso level.

Murmurs from the Losers’ Bracket: “Head Targeting” Rule Change Not a Brainy Idea | Pickler Pickleball

Even the biggest jerks on the court don’t do head targeting. And it’s not due to a sense of morality. It’s because any ball hit that high is probably going out if you miss the person’s head.

Head-level balls are almost always a mistake, an unintentional unforced error bound to be an out ball. Step aside and let it hit sail beyond the baseline.

I’ve had many balls whistle by my head. And I’ve made the mistake numerous times of using my paddle to volley these certain out-balls back across the net, keeping the ball in play.

The unintended consequence of this proposed rule change will be that some players will try to get hit in the head to win a point.

Sure, it’s unlikely that players would put their paddles down and take deep squats to allow drives to hit them on the forehead. But what about a lob?

An opposing player could hit a lob, and instead of running back to return it, you just run back and let the ball come down on your head for the point.

Over time, pickleballers will become as proficient as soccer players in heading balls.

That will lead to a future revision of the head-targeting rule that excludes those trying to get hit in the head. Crafty players will still figure out a way to get hit in the head with a ball without making it look intentional. And that will turn into a mess, and an unwanted new avenue of contention among players.

Better to just leave things alone here.

As far as safety goes, the biggest danger to you on the pickleball court isn’t the banger on the other side of the net. It’s your partner standing next to you at the non-volley zone.

Both of you simultaneously trying to hit a ball between you can lead to head and body strikes with a paddle – a far more effective bludgeoning instrument than a plastic ball weighing less than one ounce.

Your partner’s paddle, not the opponent-hit ball, is your biggest safety threat. So, if you want to protect your eyes, wear some goggles.

I do. All the time. During day games outside I wear sunglasses. When playing indoors or at night, I wear clear goggles.

Murmurs from the Losers’ Bracket: “Head Targeting” Rule Change Not a Brainy Idea | Pickler Pickleball

Play with your paddle up and in the ready position when you’re on the non-volley zone line, so you can quickly react to balls coming at you.

And wear protective eyewear to be there the rare times you might need protection from the ball, and the more frequent times you will need protection from your partner.

No need for a rule change.


Read past editions of Murmurs from the Losers’ Bracket, including:

Murmurs from the Losers’ Bracket: The PPA, the APP and Monty Python | Pickler Pickleball

Frank Cerabino is a long-time columnist for the Palm Beach Post in Florida, a pickleball addict like the rest of us, and a newly published author. Check out Frank’s newly released book, I Dink, Therefore I Am: Coming to Grips with My Pickleball Addiction (available on Amazon and a great read (or gift!) for any pickleball player), for pickleball tips and laughs!

I Dink, Therefore I Am | Frank Cerabino


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