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Murmurs from the Losers’ Bracket: Pickleball’s Most Powerful Spoken Word

Murmurs from the Losers' Bracket Frank Cerabino 05-01-2023

The most powerful word spoken on a pickleball court is “Out!”

All sorts of things can happen if you use it carelessly.

Here’s an example. We here at Murmurs from the Losers’ Bracket were playing a friendly game of doubles recently in open play – OK, at least it started out as a friendly game – when an opposing player made a skillful lob that bounced near the baseline.

I ran back, and in a very uncharacteristic fashion, responded with another skillful lob deep and very close to the sideline on the opposite court.

“Out!” screamed one of the opposing players. Moments later, the ball I hit bounced. Nobody on the other side made an attempt to hit it, and they seemed to be getting ready for the next rally.

It appeared to my partner and me that we had lost the rally.

Except that we both saw the ball clearly, and from our vantage points, it appeared to bounce inbounds.

“Really?” I said to the players across the net. “That looked in.”

My partner was more emphatic: “That was definitely in.”

I told the player on the other side in my best gentle voice: “Er, um. You called “Out!” before the ball even bounced.” 

But we knew the rules. It wasn’t our call to make, not unless one of our opponents agreed with us.

And then he did.

“That was in,” one of our opponents quietly told his partner.

We ended up replaying the point. I know, according to the rules, we should have won the rally. But it was just a rec game, and at that juncture, keeping things friendly seemed the thing to do.

But then a bystander got involved. (Don’t you love when that happens?)

Some guy who was waiting for his time to play and watching our game, stood up and walked into our court to Judge Judy the situation without invitation. He announced that my partner and I had no business criticizing the woman for yelling, “Out!” before the ball bounced.

“She has every right to yell “Out!” to her partner,” he said.

And if her voice sounded to us like a line call, well, that was our fault, not hers.

Yelling “out” was just her opinion on where the ball would land, and the utterance falls under the category of permissible “partner communication”, he reminded us.

It’s even spelled out in the rules.

Rule 6.D.11 states as follows:

“While the ball is in the air, if a player yells ‘out’ ‘no.’ ‘bounce it,’ or any other words to communicate to their partner that the ball may be out, it shall be considered player communication only and not considered a line call.”

It’s only a line call if you yell, “out” after the ball bounces.

I actually knew that already. But I also know that in actual play, yelling “Out!” before a ball bounces, then remaining silent in the moments after it does, creates a different impression.

You see the problem here? If she had yelled “Bounce it!” “No!” or “Let it go!” to her partner while the ball was in the air, there would be no confusion that she was engaging in partner communication.

But when you yell “Out!” on a ball you hope will land out, it tends to freeze the players on the court. And it also creates a presumption of a call that might not be accurate – especially on balls that teeter on the razor-thin margin between out and in.

And there are often plenty of those really close line calls in every game.

I don’t think there was anything sinister in the player’s yelling of “Out!” She did it again in the same game on a ball that was clearly going out.

Even though the rules allow it, I wish that players would say just about anything else to their partner, other than “Out!” while the ball is in play. 

Murmurs from the Losers' Bracket: Pickleball's Most Powerful Spoken Word | Pickler Pickleball


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

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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