NOTE: be sure to read the comments too.
Sports depend on rules. rules create an environment for fair play in competition. Every year, USA Pickleball publishes a list of rule changes, rule additions, cuts and revisions to the previous year’s rules. I suspect this will continue with more new rules and changes in 2022 and every year going forward. At the risk of sounding negative, I dread getting notification of the changes every year. This year’s change document is eighty one pages long. Granted, most of the changes have to do with tournament play, but several of the changes will affect every pickleball player, whether they are playing in tournaments or recreational only.
But, this post isn’t about those specific changes. It’s about the need for ever changing rules in any sport, many of which have rules books that have become overly extensive. Anyone familiar with the game of golf will tell you that the most recent USGA Rules of Golf book is some 240 pages long. In addition, the USGA publishes another book called Official Guide to the Rules of Golf, (Formerly called, Decisions of Golf) which at over 350 pages includes situational interpretations of the rules and modified rules for players with disabilities. I’d wager that very few golfers have taken, or even have the time to read these important publications. Luckily, there are shorter versions available as well.
This post is also about the reasons that those who oversee the rules of sport feel the need to constantly make changes and new rules. Any serious sport participant, regardless of skill, but particularly those at the tournament and professional levels, have one goal in mind; to succeed. In order to do that, they must maximize their advantages and seek to achieve their goals as quickly as they possibly can. Often, rules get in the way, so we find loopholes.
What is a loophole? Well, a quick Google search states that a loophole is an “ambiguity or inadequacy in the law or a set of rules.” In short, that means a loophole exists when an action can be taken that is not totally addressed, or not addressed at all in a set of rules.
An athlete, in searching for ways to succeed, might look for ways to play around the rules, while not breaking them. According to Norwegian researchers, Øyvind Kvalnes and Liv Hemmestad (2010) in their paper entitled, Loophole ethics in sports, a rule-based approach may encourage what they call loophole ethics, “an attitude where every action that is not explicitly defined as wrong, will be seen as a viable option.”
Some might consider these actions cheating, while the acting player would argue that there was no rule that said the action couldn’t be performed. So, how do we address these situations, and close those loopholes? We make new rules that specifically address the loophole action. And the rules book gets longer, and the cycle continues with new loopholes identified, and new rules to prohibit that particular action in the future.
Alternatively, sometimes an action taken as a result of an identified loophole which is not deemed as harmful to the integrity of the game or sportsmanship, becomes part of the game. Ernie Perry found a loophole, and his shot, appropriately named the “Ernie shot,” became part of the game. He realized that by jumping completely over the corner of the NVZ, without breaking any of the NVZ rules, he could volley the ball, making contact closer to the net, usually surprising the opponent, and often winning the rally with an un-returnable shot. He found a loophole, and in this case, it became a very popular and exciting shot to execute and to watch!
In the newest USA Pickleball change document, Rule 13.D.1. starts, “In the spirit of good sportsmanship, players are expected to call faults on themselves as soon as the fault is committed or detected…….”
Shouldn’t this statement be an overall guidance to the entire rules book, and not simply prefacing one rule? Shouldn’t there be a demand for honesty and sportsmanship to prevail in our sport? Some might think there is, but when new rules are introduced for the purpose of reducing cheating and closing loopholes, we are clearly overlooking honesty and sportsmanship. We want to believe everyone will play fair, but lets face it, they don’t. And with pickleball growing to professional levels where athletes make money based on success, the trend will continue even further, and more rules will be introduced.
The above sited Norwegian researchers suggest that sport could benefit from a more general, principle and value/ethics based set of rules, rather than the detailed rule standards that are most common in sport, and which create the opportunity to find loopholes and/or cheat.
Unfortunately, cheaters DO win, which is why we have a rules based culture. But, player reputations speak loud and clear. Everyone knows a player who is known for bad line calls or who uses an illegal serve to their advantage. In the spirit of good sportsmanship, should rules be further expanded for the purpose of stifling cheating? Personally, I don’t think you could write enough rules to keep a player who wants to win by whatever means necessary, including cheating, from doing so. And also, in my opinion, in their own minds a cheater doesn’t even believe they’re doing anything wrong.
So write those new rules. But keep your pencil sharpened, because as soon as they are published, you’ll be writing more.
- How could pickleball benefit from a principle/value/ethics based rules set?
- What would this type of rules set look like?
Think about it. I’m interested in your opinions. Leave a comment below.
To read the entire paper by Norwegian researchers, Øyvind Kvalnes and Liv Hemmestad (2010) entitled Loophole ethics in sports, click the following link. I found it to have some very interesting viewpoints.
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