ON COURT ETIQUETTE:
To begin with Pickleball is only a game. It is not a metaphor for life. You will not eat differently tonight based on your success during a recreational pickleball match. We need to keep in mind that we are playing a GAME! Much of what follows is based on that concept.
a. Begin each game by acknowledging the other players, introducing yourself if you don’t know them. If you do know them, tip a paddle towards them on the other side or salute or stand on your head or whatever is appropriate to let them know that you know they are there and are saying “hey”.
b. During open play (mixed skill-levels), players play with all skill levels. No complaints. Good sportsmanship is the rule. If you are a significantly stronger player, if you have limited time available to you, go wait for a stronger game. In any event, can the whining. It makes you look older.
c. If you are playing against a team where there is a significantly stronger player, play against the STRONGER player. You will forget about who wins a given game tomorrow, but if you play against the stronger player you may learn something.
d. If YOU are the strongest player of the four, play to the weakest players in a way they can handle and learn from. Sometimes you can even ask people what they are working on (e.g. drop shots, lobs, returning balls hit to their backhands, whatever) and if they tell you, hit them shots they can use to work on those shots.
e. At the end of each game, find something positive to say to the other team at the net. “Nice game” isn’t always appropriate if in spite of your efforts at sportsmanship you have won 11-0. But “you made some great shots!”, or “much closer than the score”, or “Wow, we were lucky today!” would be just fine. At least, “Thanks for playing with us!” is nice. NEVER leave a game without acknowledging the other team.
f. If the ball is out, and it’s on your side, call it out. If it’s close, give the benefit to your opponent. This is hard to do when the game is close but do it anyway. If your opponent does not do it, suck it up and you do the right thing anyway when it’s your turn.
g. If you step into the kitchen on a volley, or if your partner does, call it on yourself. Be very cautious about calling kitchen or serving faults on others. Most of us are at an age that we would doubt that we can clearly see a serving violation (illegal serve, foot-fault on baseline) – it’s 44 feet away at worst and about 23 feet away at best! (C’mon…you can’t find your keys in the morning until you find your glasses, which are already on your head, but you can clearly see a tiny foot-fault violation at 44 feet? Hah!)
h. Never ask for, or accept, line calls from spectators.
i. If spectators continuously comment on the play itself, while this is normal and fun, ask them not to if their comments are loud, disruptive, argumentative, hostile or combative. Even if (OK, ESPECIALLY if) they are on your side!
i. NEVER yell at, swear at, or say a hostile or sarcastic word to your partner or your opponent in anger. We repeat, NEVER! (one of us finds this almost impossible to do but we keep trying, we keep trying….)
j. Trash-talking, which is teasing your opponents in a fun and lighthearted way, is part of pickleball. It’s one of the things that distinguishes us from our more formal and reserved counterparts who play tennis (unless of course they are playing “Team Tennis” – in which case they are just as “bad” as we are!) But be careful – don’t trash-talk someone who is sensitive, who you don’t know, who is a weaker player or can’t for any reason trash-talk back. Do we need to say the obvious – don’t trash-talk someone’s physical or mental limitations, use racial or other politically incorrect statements (at ANY time in your life!), and etc.? Statements like “You could have got that before you lost your leg!” would NOT be considered appropriate. Among peers, “you could have got that LAST year!” might be considered appropriate. Just be careful.
k. The corollary to the above is obvious. ALWAYS compliment people on outstanding “hero” shots or on a really great game. (Not on every point, but when it’s most appropriate, you silly goose.)
l. Play your strongest game against better players but work on stuff you need practice on with the weaker players. We will often individually tell our partners “I’m working on (say) placement today” and they know that will mean that we’re not necessarily going to put every shot away. Saying this beforehand gives you a chance to gauge what your partner wants out of the deal. Recently I had a friend say “But I want to win this game!” so we played a bit harder – against a comparable team, and did win, and she left the practicing for the next game.
m. Do not take advantage of a person’s physical limitations when you play them socially. If someone cannot go back for a lob when they’re at the line because of physical limitations, for instance, why lob over their heads? It’s a cheap shot, you won’t learn anything by doing it, and you certainly will not be respected for it. Anyway, perhaps they have great hands at the line and you could learn something by hitting shots to their strength and trying to make good shots out of their returns. (It’s appropriately a different story in tournaments, believe us, but even there some limitations apply. Examples of good sportsmanship abound from tournament play. Makes people better people, yeah? And refer to “a” – it’s just a game!)
n. At the end of a game, if you believe another player would benefit from an observation about their play, DON’T OFFER IT. Who made YOU court-captain today? Most people don’t want observations about their play and will not take it well. Even if they ask, be very cautious. See the next point.
o. Eventually even YOU will get to the point when you are a senior player. Just teasing, but it really is that kind of a game and most of us do get there before too many years go by (thankfully, as most of us don’t have that much time!) At that point you inherit the obligation to, in fact, give advice WHEN ASKED, if you believe that the party is really sincere about wanting it. Everybody handles this differently but we believe we should, at that point, give no more than ONE piece of advice at a time. Let them work on that. Then, some other day, go on to the next thing.