USA Pickleball just released a mid-year Rulebook revision, eliminating player out of position faults. Let’s examine this rule change in some detail. Most of what follows relates to non-officiated play since that is what most of us play. There are similar rules for officiated play with guidance for referees, but I won’t cover all those here.
So, what exactly changed? It is no longer a fault if:
a. the incorrect server serves
b. the correct server serves from the wrong position/incorrect court
c. the correct receiver returns the serve from the wrong position/incorrect court
d. the incorrect receiver returns the serve
Before we dig into this a little further, let’s remember that in non-officiated play, players have never been able to enforce a fault on their opponents, even out of position faults. The rule that tells us this is Rule 13.D.1.d. If you are not familiar with that rule, I recommend you take a look at it. Doing so may prevent future on-court disagreements. Nevertheless, herein lies one of the primary advantages of this rule change; whereas before a receiving team had no enforcement remedy if the serving team served out of position (and vice-versa), accidentally or on purpose, now they do. The enforcement remedy? Now the opponent can call a replay if the out of position player is caught before the end of the rally.
Here is how this works: It is both teams’ responsibility to make sure the correct server and receiver are in the correct position before the serve occurs. This should result in just a simple reminder from one team to another that they are out of position and need to move. But, what if the serve occurs with one or more players out of position? This is where a common-sense approach takes over. As long as the incorrect server or incorrect receiver is realized before the end of the rally, any player can stop play, note the error, and call for a replay. If incorrect, however, it is a fault for stopping play, so be sure you’re right if you stop play!
What if the rally ends and then a player realizes that either a, b, c, or d above happened? Since every player had an equal chance to identify the error before the serve and during the rally, the rally and any points scored stand. At that point, you just correct the out of position player(s) before the next serve occurs.
Here are some advantages in this rule change:
- Players now have an enforcement remedy if the other team either purposely or accidentally lines up incorrectly and the serve occurs. This has never been in the rules until now.
- It reinforces that points are scored based on superior strategy and paddle skills on the court.
- It eliminates or greatly reduces any impact on players who unfortunately suffer from a form of dyslexia. People dealing with dyslexia can have issues reading maps, following directions, and confuse their left and right.
- The player experience is enhanced. I’ve never been a fan of repeated questions from opponents of mine who ask, “Am I good?” And, let’s face it, the spectator experience is enhanced as well.
On a related note, many will find it of interest that out of position faults did not become part of the official rules until 2007, so these faults have only been in place for 16 years. Therefore, to some extent, by taking this action, USA Pickleball is reverting to the original rule that was in place for 42 years, the sport’s inception.