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Making calls in recreational play, without a referee

Lets face it.  When there’s no referee, such as in rec play, rules are sometimes overlooked, ignored or simply unknown.  In the spirit of “fun play,” players sometimes feel that it’s not important to adhere to every single rule, to the letter.  The problem is, which rules do you choose to overlook?  And what happens when someone (like me) feels that all the rules are important, not just the convenient and obvious ones?

Lets consider two different scenarios that might occur.  In the first one, you clearly saw your opponent’s foot touch the non-volley zone line as he volleyed a shot.  You immediately call “kitchen fault!”  By the time he looks down, his foot is safely 3″ behind the line, therefore he disagrees with you.  What do you do?

I’ve seen this many times in recreational play, and MOST of the time, the offending player accepts the call and play moves on.  But, that doesn’t always happen, and you will find players who will sharply disagree with you!  Don’t fret any longer!  This exact situation has been addressed in the 2020 USAPA Rulebook.

13.D.1.b Players may call NVZ faults and service foot faults on the opponent’s side of the court. If there is any disagreement among players about the called fault, a replay shall occur.

Calling a replay is new for 2020. Prior to this update, the call went to the team who called the fault.  When you consider how this situation could play out, with unhappy players being faulted when they are sure they didn’t do anything wrong, a replay is conducive with keeping the game fair and fun.  It still makes the player who committed the fault aware that they might need to be a bit more careful with their foot position.  A win – win for all.

In a second scenario, how about the player who doesn’t call the score, calls it wrong, or you can’t hear them.  Calling the score is an important part of every rally.  It not only tells the opponent the obvious (the score), but it also signals the receiver that the ball is about to be served. The score (and I’ll add….the FULL THREE – NUMBER – SCORE) must be called prior to starting the service motion.

In recreational play, or un-officiated tournament play, this situation can be very critical.  In the 2020 USAPA Rulebook there is no rule that dictates how loud a player must call the score.  However, there is a rule that defines what happens if the score is called incorrectly.

4.K. Wrong Score Called. If the server or referee calls the wrong score, any player may stop play before the return of serve to ask for a correction.
4.K.1. If the score was incorrect, the player or referee will call the correct score and the ball will be re-served with no penalty.
4.K.2. After the score has been called, a player who stops play to challenge the score when there is no error will have committed a fault.
4.K.3. A player who stops play after the return of serve will
have committed a fault and shall lose the rally.

In most recreational play, calling a wrong score is simply corrected later, but remember, we’re talking about playing by the rules.  So, in that light, if you are unsure if the score was called correctly, my suggestion is to play it out and then correct the score. If you catch the serve or stop the rally after you have returned the serve and you are wrong, your opponent gets a point.

Regarding the player who doesn’t call the score loud enough for you to hear, since there is no rule regarding volume, I would suggest that at the end of the rally, you simply ask the player to call the score louder.  Going back to rules in 4.K, if you catch the ball because you didn’t hear the score, but the server says he called it and his partner agrees, you will have committed a foul.

When in doubt, play out the rally and correct the score or situation at the end of the rally to avoid having a fault called on your team. I also suggest insisting that everyone call the full, three number score.  Calling only two numbers is technically wrong.  It doesn’t take much to forget whether the server was the first or second.

Don’t forget that while we all want to have fun, rules are created to make the game fair for everyone and to help eliminate conflict.  I like to point out at every opportunity, that pickleball is NOT like other sports where if you don’t get caught breaking a rule, it didn’t happen.  It is your responsibility to make fault calls on yourself or your partner when they occur, and you see them.  Doing so upholds the integrity of the rules of pickleball and makes for a much more fun playing experience for all.

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14 thoughts on “Making calls in recreational play, without a referee”

  1. I questioned the servers serve as being illegal! His partner yelled at me saying that I should question his serve after the game? I was told by another that this is only rec play! Do we throw out other rules also??


    1. I think that you have every right to question a serve that is illegal. Unfortunately, that also will put you in the line of fire from those who don’t want to hear it or care.


      1. Thanks for your reply! I will leave it alone, some don’t like to be questioned on their play! This is Rec play, when league starts they will have to play by the RULES!


  2. Involved question – if you hit a return and are falling in kitchen, your partner can grab you and pull you back this no kitchen foul. But what if your partner (not playing ball) dives onto ground and player hitting ball steps on own partner and then jumps back clear of kitchen. The hitting player never touched kitchen and other player can be anywhere and did not play ball. Thoughts? (What if partner threw paddle on ground and player hitting stepped on paddle in kitchen and then jumped clear? Covered under equipment rules? Didn’t interfere with play, for one team…haha! Thoughts?)


  3. Hi Lynn!
    In tournaments it is absolutely against the rules to make a call from the sidelines. A player cannot even ask a bystander if they saw a play or to help with a call.

    However, irritation as it is, and I agree with you…… it’s difficult to control other people’s actions. The best advice I can offer is to nicely turn to someone who does this and kindly ask them not to make calls in your games.

    Thanks for reading!


  4. I have a question about people waiting on the side line to rotate in being allowed to make calls. I find it annoying and unfair to have even the most trusted player on sidelines calling a foot fault or any calls.


  5. Thanks for the opinion and the added advice for rec play. I was not a player in the incident, but players often describe an incident and ask me about the rules. I have always read the rules as a first step in learning a new sport, and I still have a pretty good memory (I think). My contribution regarding the rules surpasses my play on the court.


  6. Both partners on the side hitting the ball clearly see the ball bounce twice before being returned by an opponent. Both partners on the hitting side call the double bounce and the opponent claims there was only one bounce. I do not find in the rules who can/should call a double bounce. While a replay might seem to be appropriate, a player could always call a single bounce to get a replay. That presents a problem! What should the call be?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. John, Rule 13.D.1.b touches on calls made by opponents, but only talks about NVZ and service foot faults. It doesn’t cover double bounces or other similar faults that could occur. However, assuming this is recreational play, and not a tournament, I would suggest that either side can call a double bounce. If the opponents are unwilling to agree, and unwilling to accept a replay, continue on playing. Hopefully this situation will not reoccur. If it does, and these same players continue those types of calls that you are 100% sure are wrong, you might reconsider playing with them. In a tournament, if you don’t have a referee, you can ask for one going forward. Hope that helps!
      I just read an interesting blog that you might get some helpful tips from regarding rec play.


      1. Both partners on the side hitting the ball clearly see the ball bounce twice before being returned by an opponent. Both partners on the hitting side call the double bounce and the opponent claims there was only one bounce. I do not find in the rules who can/should call a double bounce. While a replay might seem to be appropriate, a player could always call a single bounce to get a replay. That presents a problem! What should the call be?


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