Pickleball Etiquette – 9 Crucial Things To Remember

Barrett Kincheloe article, Basics, beginner, Social 30 Comments

Over the past few months, I’ve written tons of articles on pickleball equipment, tips and guides on how to get started in this wonderful sport. As pickleball grows and becomes more popular, more and more people are going to be curious about the sport and want to join in. I’ve produced plenty of content on how to get started, but not anything about pickleball etiquette, or how you should act as a player on the court.

If you’re new to the game, you may be a bit lost on the court both in terms of how to play and how to act. I know from experience that it can be embarrassing to do something that is considered rude or disrespectful. This is especially the case if you didn’t know beforehand! Imagine sneezing while someone is putting in golf or something similar. For advanced players, you may find a gem or two, or at least a reminder about some important etiquette tips.

Also, I promise these aren’t personal pet peeves of mine. These are objective etiquette principles that are shared throughout most of the sporting world.

Enough chatting, let’s do this!

Don’t lob behind restricted players

I’m starting with the most serious infraction first and for good reason. Believe me, this has to do with proper etiquette, but it’s more about safety than being courteous.

We all know that you have to do whatever it takes to win in a tournament setting. If that means lobbing behind immobile players or people who can hardly run for the ball, then so be it. But in recreational play, this is considered to be extremely disrespectful, cheap and annoying.

Most movement restricted players aren’t going to bother even looking at a lobbed ball. But they may scowl at you instead as the ball is sailing over their head. You’ve won a free point, but at what cost? It’s no fun for the restricted player in question, and not for anyone else as well.

But it’s just not the etiquette part of this that is bad. It’s that some of these players may try to run for the ball, which can be a serious safety risk. Some older or restricted players still have that competitive flair. So while a lot of them know that they shouldn’t attempt to run backwards, some do. Although it is their choice on whether or not they run for the ball, there’s no need to tempt them with a lob.

I’ve witnessed a few seniors falling at the locations I play at. It’s scary. It’s something that I never want to see again. Please reconsider lobbing behind movement-restricted players. It’s not only disrespectful, but can get someone hurt in the process.

Call out the score loudly before you serve

Ok, I promise the others in this list won’t be as serious as the previous one!

I’m sure you’ve experienced that feeling of “being in the groove”, or in flow. This happens with pickleball as well. Oftentimes we can get so possessed by a winning streak that we forget to call out the serve. For some though, this is very annoying and people can easily lose track of the score.

There are 3 different numbers to keep track of and everyone from beginners to advanced players can get confused. In fact, whenever I teach beginners, it’s the score that trips them up the most. This is why having a constant update at the beginning of each serve is so helpful. So do everyone a favor and call out the score loudly so that things don’t get off track.

Meet at the net after a game

If you’re an advanced player you obviously know about this. But for beginners, this is how you typically conclude every game. And by every game, I mean every single game. It’s considered to be extremely rude if you don’t meet at the net. Believe me, no one is going to want to play with you again if you storm off after a game.

When people meet at the net they typically stick their paddles out to sort of “high five” in our own pickleball way. You don’t have to smack the paddle, but just making contact is fine. Some people will also stick the handle of their paddle out instead of the face. This is because some players don’t want to risk damaging the paddle face or the edge guard. Most people just use the paddle face, but do whatever is comfortable for you.

Wait until everyone is ready before you serve

This point is actually mentioned in the official tournament rulebook, but I’m going to be talking about this in terms of recreational play. In tournament play, if the return server is not giving a “not ready” signal, then the server can start as long as the score has been called by the official.

As you know, this isn’t how it works in recreational play. But sometimes you will see people serve when someone on the court clearly isn’t ready. It’s common for random balls to roll onto the court, or for someone to hop over to a ball and kick it out of the court. If you see someone doing this, don’t serve! It’s not against the rules to serve at this point, but it’s considered good etiquette to wait.

Congratulate opponents on amazing shots

Throughout your pickleball journey you will witness shots that correlate with the alignment of the planets. I’ve seen people do some crazy stuff. You name it: hitting the ball between the legs, around the post shots, or even serves that hit the top corner of the receivers Court. Sometimes you will see amazing shots and they almost always deserve congratulations.

Be sure you speak up and congratulate whoever made the shot, even if it’s your opponent and even if it means that you lost. Don’t be that guy that stays silent when an unbelievable shot is made.

Ball management

Pickleball is a crazy, fast-paced sport that you can easily lose track of.

Especially the pickleballs themselves

This one doesn’t have as much to do with etiquette as the others but I still think it’s important. Let me give you a bullet list of things to keep in mind when it comes to ball management.

  • If a ball gets caught in your side of the net, but it needs to go to your opponent, don’t weakly throw the ball back over. Make sure it reaches your opponent.
  • Try to have a few balls in your pocket. This keeps people from having to hunt down balls all the time.
  • Everyone has to hunt down balls sometimes, do your part and do it as well!
  • If someone goes out of their way to get a ball for you, say thanks for going through the trouble.

Don’t give people lessons on the court

Unless they want them that is.

One of the great things about pickleball is that everyone wants everyone else to get better.

That’s a good thing.

But there’s a line that you don’t want to cross with this. Most people who come to play recreational pickleball are just there for fun. They don’t care if they win or lose and they probably don’t even care if they improve or not. Trying to give them lessons on the court can make their experience and annoying and frustrating.

I always appreciate people who want to see people improve and who want to see the game spread. But make sure you ask players if they want tips while they play. It makes a huge difference and it makes them more likely to actually listen to you.

Watch the outbursts

I’ve talked about this subject before, but it bears repeating.

Very few people in the pickleball world like playing with a hothead. There’s nothing worse than being partnered with someone who curses loudly or constantly smacks their paddle on their leg. There’s nothing wrong with being competitive and passionate about pickleball. In fact, it’s encouraged. But there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed.

A lot of what goes into sports etiquette has to do with how your behavior affects people around you. One of the worst ways to affect everyone around you is to let your anger get out of control. It makes people feel uncomfortable and it can make your partner feel like it’s their fault. It’s just not good in general!

If you’re this kind of person, I totally understand. I used to be like this when I was younger. Every single green missed and bunker hit would be like the end of the world. Try to recognize that you’re not playing for the championship game. Your behavior has an effect on the people around you and you are responsible for that!

Be aware of time used on the court

This rule is especially pertinent if you’re playing at a location that is extremely busy. I’ve been at locations where there’s somewhere between 5-6 games waiting in line. If you’re on the court and you see an enormous wait line, don’t dawdle!

There’s nothing wrong with having a blast on the court while there’s a long wait line. Oftentimes long points will end in laughter and a few moments of banter.

This is perfectly fine.

But it’s a much different issue if you’re trying to teach someone how to serve or something similar. There’s nothing wrong with helping beginners out on the court, but when people are waiting it’s better to save that until after the game is over.

When it’s a busy night on the pickleball court certain venues will only play to 9 instead of 11. It’s important to respect these rules. Respecting these rules also respects other people’s time. You would never want to be held up on the court either, so be aware of your pace of play while on the court.

Wrapping it up

I hope that this article has been useful for you!

I think that pickleball etiquette is important to remember when you’re on the court. Do you have any pickleball etiquette ideas?

Comments 30

  1. I’ve found that many pickleball players do not have a background in playing sports competitively past 8th grade so they seem to be worried about strange things. While I might be focused on winning a point, I’ve found many players seem to be concerned with who poached a shot or some kind of nonsense like that. These players suffer tremendously from a weak mindset and they basically lose before they even start. I find it rather amusing to be honest. Here’s an idea for you: toughen up, stop worrying about small stuff and make every possible effort to get better. It gives pickleball a bad name when weak minded individuals are so soft that they can’t focus on the game at hand. These same players claim to be 4.0 players in some cases. It’s even more amusing when grown men or women in their 50’s and 60’s resort to acting like infants when they can’t win. Time to toughen up boys and girls.

    1. I just started playing and trying to navigate what the hell is going on in the pickleball world! I’m athletic and when I’ve played I’ve won and lost during the play. The players think very highly of themselves and will put you down while they are making mistakes. I’m confused! Js

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      I would put your initials on the buttcap. Be careful about where you put your name on the face though. There are rules that govern that.

  2. How do you feel about a female player “hitting” on a married female player?
    Several of the other players in our social group were outraged. Not sure if there
    is an etiquette “rule”……

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      I think that’s just inappropriate in general. Pickleball etiquette doesn’t matter here. That’s just wrong!

  3. I frequently verbally berate myself when I make a bad shot or mistake. I have never really considered how off-putting that is to others. I have work to do.

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  4. going over to your partners side of the court when you have a good shot- should you take it ?

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      It depends on your partner. This is called poaching. If they’re OK with it, then it’s fine. In tournament play, you always poach if you can make it a winning shot. But sometimes in rec play, people don’t like it. It just depends on your context.

  5. What can be done about a pickle ball Ambassador that is a bully on the court? Example : If your a fairly new player, she will not play with you. She will literally tell you ” no you go play with Lisa or Mary, (the person on the opposite side. Also, she comes in late and will change the way the game is being managed to her avenged . Example: Winners stay on, 3 people waiting to play. She comes in, now there are 4 people waiting. Two courts. She say’s ” OH NO 4 off there are people waiting”, She goes in and played the next four (4) yes the next four games. When confronted about how she gets to stay in for four games when there are now more then 8 people waiting she say’s ” oh they change it, what do you want me to do? She was told ” Sit down and let someone else play” She continued to play her forth game sat out one and got back in. This is on going with this person. She has gotten in Numerous verbal arguments with players.

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    2. Thank you! Ambassador I dealt with was nasty, too! A round robin which won’t count against anyone’s rating is a perfect time to show a high level tennis player and very athletic player the critical soft touch parts of the sport. She was just nasty and rude!

  6. What can you do when your ball goes into the neighboring court and the players there just let it keep going into the farthest court?
    Yes, I’m yelling “ball”. After the third occurrence I lost it completely and TOLD the player that they should attempt to stop and return my ball for etiquette and safety. Then my partner got into it as well and there were a few minutes of “how rude”, etc.
    Half an hour later an apology was extended to my partner, now my opponent during our game, stopping play for a good minute.
    So, how does one get etiquette across in a drop in situation?

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      There’s not much you can do about these situations, unfortunately. If a ball is rolling into your neighboring court, all you can do is yell ball if you think it’s going to interfere with their play or for safety reasons. Should those players have tried to return the ball to you? Yes, and a friendly reminder of that is what’s important. If you get mad at them, it’s not going to go down well! Talk to them after the game about etiquette instead of trying to do it on the court.

  7. If you are playing a restricted player and return a serve deep followed by a well place dink would that be considered bad etiquette as well? It’s kind of the same just going forward. I’ve seen mobile players fall try to cover that.

    Also I slap my leg a good bit after a bad shot. Never really thought about that being bad etiquette. I guess I will make an effort not to do that anymore. I haven’t played in a tournament yet but I hope to someday.

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      I don’t think it’s bad etiquette because that’s how the game is supposed to be played. But if you’re doing it over and over again because you know he can’t get it, then he may just get annoyed with you. Know what I mean? But hey, the third shot drop is a huge part of the game and people have to get to that kitchen line quickly! It’s lobs that are the issue.

      I don’t think slapping your leg is bad etiquette at this point in the game’s development. However, it is bad for your paddle. I would try to stay away from it if you can!

  8. What r the rules about talking to your partner or opponents in a polite way or quietly saying bam after I hit the ball…

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      There’s a hindrance rule in Pickleball. If your opponent is in the process of swinging, and you yell at them, they can call hindrance on you. If it’s quiet, it’s not a big deal. Just use common sense and you’ll be fine.

  9. Is it bad etiquette to talk to your partner as an encouragement and is it bad etiquette to say like “bam” quietly while hitting the ball….my recent partner got peeved if I said anything on court…this is just club playing….no tournament….

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      It’s not bad etiquette at all, but sometimes people don’t like to be talked to while they’re swinging. For example, if a ball gets popped up to me, and my partner yells “SMASH IT!” Well, in the heat of the moment, I may think he’s saying something else. So it’s to keep the communication open to the most important things like who’s getting the ball.

  10. The people and sport are great. Just Like high school albeit 50 + years later. Fun says it all.

  11. Lobbing is something you do instinctively when opponents are both up at net/kitchen. Yet, I do suggest not to do it to older restricted players, if you can.
    Basic etiquette like passing the errant ball back to the other court like it’s a nuisance to you, even if it is, or to the opponent when their backs are turned.
    Look you need to understand the need to look them in the eye before passing it.
    No don’t throw that ball. Use the paddle in your hand instead, hello! The more you engage the paddle and ball the sooner you’ll get adept at it. Also, I recommend bouncing or dropping the ball in front of you. It’ll be more accurate that way and you can control it better. It means a lot if you get a thank you instead of a frown etc. lol! Make an attempt to repeat the score when you hear it and figure out who serves next I can’t tell you how absolutely tiresome it gets when people don’t make any attempt. Yes I realize the dimentia and Alzheimer’s etc. but some of them are just plain LAZY and pigheaded and don’t know the last thing about propriety and sportsmanship. Some of them have never ever played an active sport in their prior years. They engaged in dormant activities only for whatever reason. Now they get enjoyment from playing Pickleball, great! Selfish and lazy people who want to just ignore all rules and etiquette. How does one exist like that? That’s what makes me shake my head and go Brrrrrrr! Lol! Cheers!

  12. I play Pickleball both indoors and outdoors. They’re worlds apart, in both level of play and understanding. Indoors it is a multipurpose gym setting. People tell me they’re just there to have fun and still ask you questions for better clarity. I should just simply have told them I’m not going to give free lessons since it’s a community center setting and I can’t change there. Instead I gave them free advice. They turned out to be backstabbers over a period of time. Don’t know if it’s envy or some other problem but really couldn’t care less about petty minds.
    Outdoors they’re competitive and know the rules and it’s a lot more satisfying to get a good competitive workout with good sportsmanship. The only reason I play indoors is my health insurance that pays for it, knows I stay active and tracks that I’m there several times a week. If it weren’t for that I’d just play outdoors with better players all the time. It’s free to play there as well. Cheers!

  13. Thanks for your feedback.

    I play using Meetups and play with different people who have different skills. There is a premium placed on etiquette and thats great.

    Mine / Yours and other terms. How can I get the people I play with to be more verbal? I agree its really hard to do, talk and chew gum one might say.

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      Talk and chew gum is a great way to put it. How to get people to be more verbal is a great question. If it’s a completely random person, I don’t know if there’s a way.

      If it’s someone you know or a pickleball buddy I think there are a few things you can do. While you’re walking to the court at the beginning of a game, just mention that you’re working on team communication skills. Talk about what kind of language you like to use when on the court so that they have an understanding. Encourage them to join you. Mention to them that teams with better communication win more games. Perhaps that will persuade them. I think this could be a great article for me to write. I may do that next week! Thank you for your questions!

  14. The Mine / Yours, Out, In, Let it go Conundrum-
    When and how often should we use these terms ? I have found a lot of 3.0 – 4.0 players ( in non- tournament play) that seem to underutilize communication on the court as in real life. There seems to be a premium placed on mind reading verses true partnering.

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      Personally, I use those terms all the time. I think that sometimes using the verbal side of things combined with the performance side can be difficult. It’s kind of like bouncing a soccer ball up and down while explaining the literary significance of Shakespeare’s work. It’s really hard to do. Maybe that’s it? Does that answer your question?

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