Each year, USA Pickleball evaluates the rules through its rules change process, which considers the input of the pickleball community at large. The 2023 rules change process is in its final stages and currently being finalized with the USA Pickleball Board of Directors. One such rule change proposal that arose over the 2023 calendar year was to address the appropriate color for pickleball paddles. In particular, the rule change was to add the bolded / underlined text below:
Safety and Distraction. A player may be required to change apparel (also player’s equipment) that is inappropriate, including that which approximates the color of the ball.
This proposed rule change is targeted at the white, yellow, neon, and gold pickleball paddles out on the market, as these colors can cause the pickleball to blend in with the paddle, making it difficult to track the pickleball on the court. Since the sport of pickleball can happen in fractions of a second, in fast exchanges at the Kitchen line, the slightest advantage—like difficulty discerning the pickleball against a similar color paddle—can make a big difference.
USA Pickleball already addressed this issue when it comes to clothing, as players were known to wear similar colors to the pickleball for the same reasons (as an aside, this rule does not apply in the sport of tennis, which I was surprised to learn after seeing Coco Gauff in a full neon outfit at the 2023 US Open).
Other organizations—in particular, Major League Pickleball—has already taken steps to address this issue. Major League Pickleball noted that player safety (in addition to the competitive advantages) are driving this new rule regarding paddles. Specifically, Major League Pickleball stated that:
Players have indicated that certain paddle cosmetic designs impair their ability to visually pick up and track hit balls. The paddle faces of primary concern have cosmetic designs in which a large percentage of the face is covered with one or more colors that have insufficient contrast to the color of the ball. Paddle colors with insufficient contrast include various shades of yellow, green, gold and white. There is growing concern that the reduced ability to visually pick up and track hit balls increases the likelihood of injury and will result in unfair competition.
As a result, Major League Pickleball adopted the following recommendations for paddle manufacturers:
[T]he graphic design within any circular area that makes up more than 20% of a paddle face not consist primarily of a Regulated Color [see below]… It is also recommended that any Regulated Colors be distributed over the face of the paddle and not cover the central, or “sweet spot”, area of the paddle face.
Now, the question is will USA Pickleball follow the new rule amongst the pro players in Major League Pickleball? The rule proposal described above for USA Pickleball failed, so the paddle color issue will not be addressed in the official rules. However, the USA Pickleball Rules Committee provided the following reasoning for failing the proposal:
This is being addressed in the Equipment Standards Manual so that it is addressed with the manufacturers, not dealt with at individual tournaments. Acceptable paddles will be those that are on the approved Paddle List.
In light of this reasoning, it seems like USA Pickleball will address rules on paddle colors for manufacturers. What the parameters of these paddle color rules will be is yet to be determined/disclosed. However, if you prefer any of the white-, yellow-, or neon-colored paddles, it seems that you may want to buy a back-up paddle or get the most use out of it now ahead of year end—just in case.