5 Tweaks That Would Make Pickleball a Better Sport

As pickleball emerges from adolescence among lawn games into legitimate sporthood, a few changes would make the sport more practical. Some of you might disagree with my five suggestions, but that’s the beauty of blogging!

1. We need a scoring approach that doesn’t confuse or penalize mental lapses. Rally scoring would generate more predictable match time allowances (think volleyball). I hate rally scoring, but this sport needs it.

2. Rules defining a legitimate serve, though clear, are nearly impossible to apply by even the keenest refs. Was the entire paddle below the wrist when the ball was hit? Was that ball below the navel? Must we demand exposed midriffs?

Pickleball serve

Is this serve going to be below the wrist? (Credit: You Belong in Longmont)

3. Third, double hits and intentional carries are frequently overlooked. Should they be? Carries are only disallowed if intentional, but how can a ref assess a player’s “intentions”? Does any other sports measure intentions?

4. Line calls are almost impossible, partly because different balls compress differently depending on the angle and speed at impact. The popular notion of point contact is invalid. Even Dura balls compress on contact. Close calls are a fuzzy mess and players have different criteria for making calls.

I recognize that the technology involved to address this is expensive, but it will come. There is no simple solution here, but some education on ball compression might help.

Line call

Who knows if that ball will be in or out without Hawk-Eye technology? (Credit: Chad Ryan)

5. Bracket tournaments often dissatisfy all but the very top players. Players come to participate, not spectate. Traveling to tournaments takes time and money. Losing two matches and spending the rest of the day in a chair discourages many. In some cases, great players are not adequately vetted because matches are too short and it takes time to adjust to the competitive pressure.

While there is definitely a place for bracket tournaments, we need creative organizers developing new approaches for similar level players to gather and celebrate pickleball. Pickleball jamborees might appeal. Laughter during play satisfies me more than winning.


 

Doubtless, many of you have other suggestions. Let’s hear them!

– Glen Peterson

6 thoughts on “5 Tweaks That Would Make Pickleball a Better Sport

  1. Also, perhaps the wording could be changed or clarified for double hits. Tennis also has a double hit rule.  Rules at one time did not allow double hits under any circumstance, but that was changed.  Rule now says:  Player loses the point if:  In playing the ball he deliberately carries or catches it on his racket or deliberately touches it with his racket more than once.  USTA Comment on the rule:  Only when there is a definite “second push” by the player does his shot become illegal, with consequent loss of point.  The word “deliberately” is the key word in this rule.  Two hits occurring in the course of a single continuous swing are not deemed a double hit.   The only question for the referee to address is did the player make two separate motions (pushes) and that should be apparent most of the time.  They don’t have to judge intent. 

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  2. I am more and more interested in playing round robin tournaments. If there are too many for one pool, you could have groups of 5 or 6 in each pool, with the winner of each pool entering a single or double elimination bracket. That way everyone gets more games, and gets to play against some great competition.

    I am very open to Steve’s bounce serve idea. I don’t think the USAPA is advocating bouncier balls, if anything, bounce height has been reduced, so I think this is a very workable idea. It was always the intent to take away a serving advantage and get the point started (when compared to tennis).

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  3. I think the biggest issues are scoring and format. Table tennis is my first love. I like having a winning shot that always translates into a point. Each partner serves once, then switch sides. Matches will be quicker and everyone will get equal chances to serve.

    Bracketing is terrible. My regular partners can’t travel when i can. Strangers are always a strategic mystery. How can you form a game plan? The strong players with regular partners will always have an edge. The first game is really only good for warmup and getting to know your partner. But if you and your partner don’t gel instantly, you will have spent money on hotel rooms, drinks, food, and gas all to simply spectate. I have started many table tennis tournaments poorly but finished very strong winning 5 straight matches after losing 2 at the start. Round robin format is best and wouldn’t be an issue if scoring was changed to where a winning shot got you a point not matter who is serving.

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  4. Rally Scoring: Being a lefty, my partner and I stack during most tournaments. The score is the main way we track our correct position. With rally scoring, it’s too confusing.

    Serve Rules: I agree with you that the current rules are unenforceable. The Steve Paranto suggestion for bouncing the ball first would probably accomplish the same purpose as the current “under-hand and below the waist” rules. But, if the balls change to livelier balls that bounce higher, I think we’d see racquetball type serves, which would give an advantage to power servers.

    Bracket Tournaments: My favorite format is round-robin, but if there are too many participants this becomes unfeasible. It’s disappointing to travel and be out after two matches, but that’s the nature of competition.

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