Good Behavior on the Pickleball Court
Opinion by Wayne Kerr
Pickleball can be unpredictable. Sometimes we make amazing gets and put-a-ways; sometimes we mess up the easiest shots. It is rare when each player on the court doesn’t make at least one great shot and conversely miss an easy one. That’s a big part of the beauty of this wacky sport. The laughter and smile quotient at every level is high.
The game of pickleball can be as simple as getting the ball back over the net or as complex as a chess match. It can be either recreational or competitive or both. In all cases there is a lot of enjoyment to be had.
The sport of pickleball has a lot of unusual rules. No volleying from inside the kitchen and the two bounce rule, to name just a couple. However, listed below are a few of the unwritten rules regarding behavior and etiquette on the pickleball court that can help make our playing experience even better.
- Line calls – It is easy to get caught up in a rousing game or rally. Occasionally, your opponent will call a ball out that you are pretty certain landed on or even inside the line. These things happen. Ninety-nine percent of the time it is an honest mistake. I have questioned calls and had calls I’ve made questioned. That is okay as long as once the call is confirmed, the subject is dropped. Don’t argue about a call, forget it as quickly as possible and get on with the game. *Remember if you are not certain the ball was out, then call it in.
- Serving – Wait until everyone is ready before you begin a point. Call out the score loudly before you serve the ball. If the score was called incorrectly the returner should stop play and have the server restart the point. It is proper etiquette to completely finish calling the score before serving.
- Lobbing – When playing a tournament or other highly competitive match lobbing is a strategic option. However, during recreational play consider that lobbing the ball may in fact be a dangerous play against players with decreased mobility. Every year there are many injuries across the nation by people who fall while backpedaling. During a friendly match intentionally lobbing into the sun is a cheap way to cause an error. Remember we’re out there to have fun.
- Free lessons – Avoid giving instruction during play, unless it has been asked for by the other player. Discussing strategy and court coverage with your partner is a good thing, but technique advice is better given after the game and only if solicited.
- Interruptions – Don’t walk across the back or along the side of a court while a point is being played. Even if the ball does not come anywhere near, you may distract the players. Do interrupt play if a ball from your court flies onto another, for safety sake. Loudly call “Ball” one or more times to prevent an ankle injury or a more serious accident.
- Fun and improvement – When playing in a tournament it can be a good strategy to keep the ball away from the stronger player on the other side of the net. In recreational play, however, the point is to have fun and improve. Winning each and every point of a recreational game is not of paramount importance. Those who constantly hit almost every ball at the weaker player are robbing themselves of the challenge and opportunity to practice against better competition. If you want better players to continue playing with you, keep them involved in the game.
- Be a good sport – Paddle throwing, swearing and angrily stomping around the court is unattractive and only serves to erode the enjoyment of everyone involved. Everyone misses easy shots. Congratulate others when they hit a great shot or win a game. We all hit the occasional amazing shot either through skill, luck or both. This is part of the magic of this fantastic sport. Celebrate all of them. We’re all a little disappointed when we lose a game or highly contested point. Shake it off and be happy for your friend(s). Your turn will come. Besides, losing makes winning even sweeter. When your partner makes an error, or is perhaps a weaker player, words of encouragement can go a long way toward making them more comfortable. No one tries to miss or intends to pop the ball up.
Enjoy our great and quirky sport. Even though it may only be a game, without a doubt pickleball is the most fun you can have on a court!
Party on, my pickleball friends!
Pickleball is Evolving
Opinion by Wayne Kerr
As stronger, faster athletes enter the sport of pickleball the game is evolving. Great footwork is becoming more and more important. The traditional idea of planting yourself at the Non-Volley-Zone (NVZ) line is being challenged at the upper levels of the game. In fact, some of today’s top players have backed a few feet (30-120 cm) off the NVZ line much of the time. Of course, when their opponents are back or have popped up a ball, these innovators are eagerly up at the NVZ line ready to hit a put-away shot. However, when all four are at the net many modern players take a step back giving themselves extra time to defend or counter an attacked ball.
Another benefit to being back a few feet is that this allows a player to strike the ball from below the top of the net and have a better chance of it rising above the tape. Using topspin, these balls can be hit with considerable force, clear the net, and stay in bounds. Teenager, Anna Leigh Waters of the USA and Catherine Parenteau of Canada are two of the best players in the world at employing this technique.
A good example of this style of court positioning can be seen in the Pro Women’s Doubles Gold Medal final at the 2019 US National Championships at Indian Wells featuring: Leigh Waters/Anna Leigh Waters vs. Jessie Irvine/Catherine Parenteau.
As evidenced in the above photo, all four of these amazing players utilize this strategy and these techniques. It is difficult to argue with their results and success.
If you watch the video (available on YouTube), you may notice that their feet are constantly moving as they adjust up and back, side to side in response to every ball.
Too often at the amateur level we get planted in place, especially if our partner is hitting the ball, and then end up reaching for a ball that comes toward us rather than taking one or two quick steps which will allow proper technique. Also, when settled onto our heals we are in a heavy or slower position verses being up on our toes allowing quick easy movement.
This modern court positioning strategy works as follows: the receiving team returns the serve and gets right up to the NVZ line, where they await either a drive or drop shot from the serving team. In either case they will try to keep their opponents back with a deeply hit ball, thus keeping control of the net. The serving team will attempt while hitting the third, fifth or seventh (etc.) shot to get a ball to drop at or in front of the feet of the receivers so that they can move forward to the net. If and when both teams are forward, the players will position themselves 2-4 feet (60-120cm) behind the NVZ, where they will dink with the purpose of forcing their opponent to hit a ball high enough to attack or to get the opposition to attack a questionable or marginally high ball, while prepared to counter-attack. All these players are ready to pounce forward and put-away any ball that floats too high. Both teams also move forward to the NVZ line whenever their opponents are pushed back.
Because all these players are prepared to move quickly, being back a few feet is not a detriment while dinking. In fact, it often makes it easier to handle a deep or aggressive dink shot and provides extra time to get into position to counter a well-placed cross-court dink. Also, it is much easier to control the ball while moving forward than when you are being forced backward.
I hope this article gives you a few ideas that may help improve your game. Play safely my friends.
Wayne Kerr, born in Biggar, Saskatchewan, now lives in the beautiful Okanagan and usually spends winters in Arizona. Wayne is a former tennis coach, a thirty-plus-year tournament veteran and a recent convert to the sport of pickleball. He is a contributor to Pickleball Canada and anxiously awaits the opportunity to compete in pickleball tournaments across our great nation.