You might remember, a while back, I wrote a short post entitled “Does ‘friendly play’ mean bending the rules.” In that post, I asked a few questions to provoke some thought into the idea of whether or not friendly play means always playing by the rules. I got a little sidetracked with other posts, but promised to share my opinion, so here goes! Better late than never……maybe?
First, here were the questions from the first post:
- What constitutes a “friendly” game?
- Which rules should be allowed to be overlooked?
- Which rules should not be allowed to be overlooked?
- What circumstances would allow a rule to be broken…in other words, why would we play the game without following the rules?
- Who are we playing with/against that might necessitate easing of the rules?
I’ll come straight to the point. Here’s what I think.
You should play by the rules EVERY TIME you play pickleball.
Now lets look at some scenarios that will help explain my position and answer some of the above questions.
What is a friendly game? In pickleball, EVERY GAME should be friendly, however we know that some games are more intense and competitive than others. But, intensity and competitiveness shouldn’t take away the friendliness of the game. So by “friendly game” are you playing rallies for points, but not really paying attention to all the rules? In this crazy mind, that would be called drilling.
Which rules should and shouldn’t be overlooked? Illegal serves? Foot or kitchen faults? Catching a ball before it hits the ground? Hitting the non-receiver with your serve…or being the non receiver who is hit by the serve? Who determines these exceptions to the rules and where do they end?
Perhaps you are told that your serve is illegal, but you continue to serve that way because it’s just a friendly game. How illegal does your serve have to be for it to be ok for your opponent to call you on it? In my opinion, when you are playing against (or with) someone with an illegal serve, you should kindly address it with that player. If you don’t feel comfortable saying something during the game, say something after the game! It could very well be that because no one has said anything, they think it’s legal. Or, they might know it’s illegal but since no one has said anything they continue to serve that way. Don’t wait until they get really good, then blame their illegal serve for beating you!
There are likely a few circumstances where a rule might be overlooked in a friendly game, such as catching a ball that is obviously going out to avoid interrupting the game on the next court or having to chase it off of the court surface, or to the other side of the gym. You might see this occur on courts that are not separated with fencing. Recently I played in a tennis club where the tennis court net was the barrier behind/between the two courts. We all agreed that if we were standing behind the baseline, it would be alright to catch a ball to keep it from going over the barrier and onto the court behind us. But be careful when you make exceptions. There’s a fine line between acceptable and non-acceptable when making these judgements. And it’s those exceptions that create unfriendliness.
What about replays? The official 2018 USAPA Tournament Rulebook clearly states when replays should occur. A questionable line call is not a reason. Players must make their own calls in friendly play. Any difference of opinion results in favor of your opponent, not a replay.
That brings me to the final question, which is probably the most important one. Who are we playing with or against that might necessitate easing the rules?
As a USAPA Ambassador and someone who spends a lot of time teaching new players, I often find that when playing games with beginners, it’s impossible to call every fault that occurs, as there are usually many. It takes away the fun of the game for the new player. You can’t address every single problem at once without overwhelming them, but you can point out the obvious ones, hope they are fixed and then move on to the next one!
There is a difference between a player intentionally breaking a rule and one who is still learning the game and might not realize they broke one. If you allow a beginner to continue to break certain rules without addressing them, how do they learn what the rules are? Friendly play might overlook an infraction a time or two, but after that it needs to be pointed out so they can learn from it. Kitchen faults are very obvious and easy to point out. Others might be addressed in a friendly chat after the game, instead of stopping every play to correct an infraction. An example might be, “hey, be careful when you are serving. I noticed your toe was on the line a couple of times. You might want to start a few inches further back when you serve.” Those type of corrections are usually appreciated, especially from beginners.
In pickleball, foot faults are “self calls” meaning that you should call a fault on yourself or your partner when you see one. Pickleball is unlike most sports where if you don’t get caught, there’s no foul!
Don’t break the rules, or expect to be forgiven if you do and your games will always be friendly!
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