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Should Protective Eyewear Be Required in Pickleball?

Strategy & Technique Stacie Townsend 07-24-2023

Pickleball is a game where a small, perforated whiffle ball flies back and forth over a net, as players run around a court to hit the ball with a paddle. And, for a majority of the game, players who are positioned at or near the Non-Volley Zone (or Kitchen) Line are only 14 feet apart. Given both the close proximity and the flying object—the pickleball—there is a risk for injury present. One possible injury on the pickleball court is an eye injury.

With rising participation, there are a rising number of injuries (including eye injuries) on the pickleball court. And, with rising skill levels—i.e., more power, more spin—there is increased risk of injury as the pickleball is coming harder and faster than ever. This is true even at the professional level, as pro pickleball player Jessie Irvine took a shot to the eye area during a recent pickleball tournament. After trying to recover for a few minutes after the blow, Irvine had to withdraw from the bracket on the day and even had to withdraw from the following day’s event, as she could not pass concussion protocol. Occurrences like this one—to one of the sport’s top players—reignites the discussion of whether eye protection should be mandated in the sport of pickleball.

Other sports—like racquetball, squash, and lacrosse—have mandated various forms of eyewear at different levels of the game. Pickleball has not (at least not yet) followed suit. Most pickleball players do not wear any eye protection, as eye protection is not required on the pickleball courts at any level. In other words, the rules of pickleball do not mandate any use of protective eyewear on the court.

However, while not explicitly mandated, the use of protective eyewear is generally recommended in pickleball, especially as accidents (such as stray balls or collisions) can happen, and protective eyewear can help prevent eye injuries.

Some pickleball players—including the world #1 pro Anna Leigh Waters—have started to wear eye protection (whether for prescription or otherwise), even though it is not mandated. This is likely because wearing eye protection offers two main benefits on the pickleball court:

  1. Less Risk of Injury – Wearing protective eyewear on the pickleball court helps to protect your eyes and reduce your risk of an eye injury. Good eye protection will generally prohibit any objects (whether it is a pickleball or any other object) from making contact with your eyes and injuring your eyes—which are so important on the pickleball and in our daily lives!
  1. Better Visibility – Eye protection may also offer better visibility depending on what type of eye protection that you use. In other words, certain eyewear can not only protect your eyes and prevent injury (which will prolong your pickleball play), but can also actually improve your vision and visibility on the pickleball court, which may give you an advantage on the pickleball court against your opponents. For instance, eye protection can:
    • Include prescription lenses to improve your vision;
    • Include UV protection to shield your eyes from harmful UV rays and prevent you from squinting on the pickleball court;
    • Protect your eyes from wind and other elements; and
    • Include special lenses that enhance the color of the pickleball to allow you to see the pickleball better on the pickleball court.

With that said, common reasons that pickleball players elect not to wear any protective eyewear include: style (i.e., not “cool”), fogging of lenses (which leads to worse visibility), uncomfortable fit, unnecessary for me, and cost. However, many of these common reasons not to wear protective eyewear are increasingly overcome as more and more quality eyewear products are coming into the market. As a result, given the main benefits of less risk of injury and potential for better visibility, it may be worth revisiting the discussion of whether eyewear should be required on the pickleball court (at least in sanctioned play).

This is a critical question that the governing body for pickleball—USA Pickleball—will be increasingly faced with. Should players be given a choice on whether to wear or not to wear protective eyewear (at least in sanctioned play)? Or, should the governing body step in and mandate eyewear in order to help protect players at all levels? Further, given the risk of injury (such as the one experienced by pro Jessie Irvine in a recent pickleball tournament), will you consider wearing protective eyewear to prevent any injuries to your eyes despite any rules mandate?

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