Pickleball is a very social sport for most people, but things get more serious at the tournament level. It is a game in which co-operation and courtesy are emphasized, and there are rules of etiquette in this regard. Therefore, what you say when you talk and how you say it also matters.
Talking during social games is allowed as long as it doesn’t disrupt the flow of play, constitute a distraction, unsporting behavior, or verbal abuse. In official games, rules are stricter. Partners can talk to each other but may not distract an opponent, use profanity or other objectionable speech.
The rules and etiquette are slightly different between social games on the one hand and competitive play on the other. Social games are more relaxed and lighthearted, but that doesn’t mean you can say anything you like. In competitions, the rules are stricter because there is more focus on winning the game. We look at the rules on talking in social and competitive games in more depth below.
Talking In Social Games of Pickleball
Good sportsmanship is essential, so you shouldn’t criticize other weaker players or those who make mistakes. It’s regarded as polite to introduce yourself to other players you don’t know or acknowledge those you do at the start of a game. In Open Play especially, the players have mixed skill levels, so an experienced player may be playing with or against a less experienced one.
Winning the game is not the most important thing in social games. It’s about learning, having fun, and improving your skills.
In social games, shouting, swearing, sarcasm, hostility, and angry words towards other players or opponents are unacceptable. Even if you swear at yourself, you are supposed to apologize. Complaining during a game is also considered unsporting.
That said, trash-talk or lighthearted teasing is integral to a social game of pickleball. As long as you don’t make inappropriate remarks about someone’s mental or physical limitations or comment on other sensitive topics such as race, political beliefs or religious beliefs and affiliations, gender, etc., it is acceptable to joke with your fellow players.
The idea in a social game is to be polite, make it fun for other players and yourself, and have a good time. Complimenting other players on a good shot or point earned is also encouraged. Negative observations and criticism of another player at the end of the game are considered poor etiquette.
Your role is not to coach other players during gameplay unless it is a formal teaching session agreed to by all the players beforehand. Also, lighthearted comments and trash-talk should never dominate the game or distract other players, so too much talk is not advised. Even if a player asks you for your opinion after the game, you should be sparing with it, and if it may cause offense, rather avoid it.
Trying to distract your opponent when they are making or returning a shot is unsporting, but communicating with your partner in a doubles match on how you think the ball will be played is not.
For instance, if you want to alert your partner that an opponent will play a spin shot, you can tell him “spin” before the stroke. This is not typically penalized in social games but don’t try it in competitions.
In social play, the server usually calls the score, but the server’s partner can also call it if the server is unable to. The same person must continue to call the score for the rest of the game unless they have a problem with their voice.
In unofficial games, players are expected to call a fault on themselves as soon as the fault is committed or detected. This is considered good sportsmanship and must take place before the next serve.
Competitions and Tournament Play
A referee can issue a verbal warning for profanity in terms of the International Federation of Pickleball rules.
Actions that can result in a technical or verbal warning include –
- Objectionable language directed at another person
- Audible or visible profanity for any reason
- Arguing aggressively with the officials, other players, or spectators in a manner that disrupts the flow of play
- Repeatedly appealing line calls
- Actions considered minor unsportsmanlike behavior include repeated questionable “out” calls.
If a player believes a wrong score has been called, they may stop play to ask for a correction before the next serve. In official games, players call baseline, sideline, and center service line on their side of the court. However, if there are line judges, only a player’s center service line calls are valid.
Earbuds are not allowed because coaching is not permitted in active play, but players can wear hearing. So having someone else talk to you through earbuds while you are playing is a no-no. Coaching is also prohibited during a match, but partners can help each other by talking to them.
A partner in a doubles match can make calls such as line calls. However, the IFP says there is no excuse for one partner criticizing the other for making a call they think should have been theirs. There is a code of ethics for line calling when done by players.
A line call is defined in the rules as a loud word or words spoken by a player or line judge to indicate that a live ball has not touched in the required court space. The preferred term is “out,” but words such as “no”, “deep” or “long” are also accepted.
A player cannot consult spectators on a line call as they cannot participate. A player can only make a line call on their section of the pickleball court.
A distraction is defined in the rules as physical actions by a player that are ‘not common in the game’. Players can be penalized if the referee believes speech is designed to interfere with an opponent’s concentration or ability to hit the ball. This can include talking loudly or shouting, or making loud noises as a player is about to play the ball.
A player who causes a distraction incurs a fault.
In a doubles game, team communication is not usually considered a distraction but could be regarded as one if you loudly address your partner during an opponent’s stroke.
Player communication is different from a line call. A player can shout “No” or “bounce it” or other words to communicate with their partner, and this is not considered a line call.
A referee may also call a technical foul for the use of extremely objectionable language or profanity, or threats made towards or against anyone. A tournament director may eject a player from the tournament for using ethnic, religious, racial, sexist, or homophobic slurs.
Talking in pickleball is allowed in social games where the object is to have fun. Trash talking is recognized as part of the fun, provided it is not offensive or abusive. In officiated games, the rulers are much stricter, and players usually engage only in technical talk as they are concentrating hard and are careful not to distract their opponents or disrupt the flow of play.