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Murmurs from the Loser’s Bracket: Red Light, Green Light: Playing Traffic Cop on the Court

Murmurs from the Losers' Bracket Frank Cerabino 02-06-2023

We here at Murmurs from the Losers’ Bracket occasionally feel compelled to address pickleball etiquette matters.

Recently, I’ve been playing a lot of “open play” on facilities that have multiple courts. On many of those courts, the only way to get access is to pass through another court.

OK, I think you know where this is headed.

It’s shocking how many pickleball players can’t seem to master getting to their courts without creating an unnecessary interruption in game play going on in the other courts.

I know. I know. I sound a little preachy here. And I don’t mean to. There was a time when Mrs. Murmurs from the Losers’ Bracket and I would be that couple who crossed a court unaware or unconcerned about a great rally we were potentially interrupting.

But we’ve learned over time to be more considerate, and I’m just passing it along because, well, there’s always a legion of new pickleball players out there.

So, don’t be offended. Be aware.

(*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.)

Dead balls only

The first rule of thumb is to wait to cross when the ball is dead. Ideally, this would happen while the players on the court are retrieving a ball from the previous rally.

Maybe a winner that rolled to the back fence, or a rally-ending shot into the net.

Those would be good times for you and others to cross from behind the baseline to your empty court.

If you approach a court to cross, and you see the server on the court holding the ball and appearing ready to serve it, that’s not a time when you should step into the court to cross it. Wait.

If the server wants you to go, he or she will waive you through and hold up the serve. But you should not make a move to cross when play is about to begin again on the court.

Dinking counts as playing

Just because the four players on the court you want to cross are all standing at the non-volley-zone lines on their sides of the court, that doesn’t mean the court is available for you to cross behind the baseline.

That dinking action at the net could suddenly be upended by a lob that comes down on or near the baseline, sending players scurrying back to where you are crossing.

You could get in the way. So, wait out the dink rally until it’s over before thinking of crossing.

Murmurs from the Loser’s Bracket: Red Light, Green Light: Playing Traffic Cop on the Court | Pickler Pickleball

Get organized before you cross

Don’t try crossing the court until all four of your players are standing there, paddles in hand, ready to cross.

When players just straggle to an open court, it creates as many as four potential interruptions on the courts you cross.

It’s better to wait and do it as a group of four. Think of yourselves as a herd of frightened deer rather than four individual bull moose sauntering by at your own pace.

To run or not to run

Should you run across the court?

It’s not necessary, but it’s a good idea to pretend to run.

You can achieve this by pumping your arms while you walk. This gives your journey an air of urgency and purpose. It shows you are considerate without actually being considerate.

For tips on this technique, you can watch the slow-motion beach scenes in the movie Chariots of Fire. Remember, even if you have two bum knees, you can give the illusion of speed by bending your arms at the elbows and pumping them like a runner as you walk.

Not a time to practice your comedy stylings

It’s OK to say, “Thanks,” or “Hello”, as you cross, but it’s not a good time to stop mid-court and try to impress players in the middle of a game how funny you can be.

“Oh, I see from that last point you’ve got one of those paddles with the holes in the middle. Ha-ha-ha …”

We get it. You’re high-larious. Save it for the parking lot.

Pass the catch-up

Sometimes during these crossings, a crosser suddenly recognizes a player in the ongoing game as a vague, former acquaintance. One who could be named Laura, or is it Lisa? Or maybe Rachel. No, Rochelle.

Anyway, maybe it’s somebody from the gym. Or somebody whose child went to school with your child. Or somebody who might be a neighbor. Or not. Whomever it is, he or she looks familiar.

Resist the urge to reconnect at this moment. Don’t be the court crosser that stops during mid-crossing to ask people you barely know for updates on their lives.

Hold off. You’ve gone years without catching up. It can wait a little longer.

Coordinate with the leavers

Chances are, as you are among the four people walking onto the court, you will be met by the four people leaving your new court.

A good way to do this player swap is to coordinate the passage through the nearby court at the same time. Time your crossing to coincide with the leavers in the opposite direction.

If you do it right, eight people will cross quickly behind the baseline during a stoppage of play in the adjacent court.

I know. I know. Never happens.

But we all have our dreams. 


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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