Pickleball is still considered a “new” game” even though it’s been around since 1965. It has grown from a recreational game into a sport that now has several professional tours. The original rules, which were quite simple, have evolved into a much larger and more defined publication. Each year the USA Pickleball rules committee takes suggestions from players, discusses each of them, and puts out a list of suggested changes for review. The accepted changes are published at the beginning of each year. You can read about the process on the USA Pickleball website.
To see the full list of passed and failed rule change suggestions for 2023, click HERE.
For 2023, there are a few significant changes. There are also some less significant changes that involve re-wording to clarify a rule’s intent, but I won’t get into those here.
Let’s talk about the more important ones (IMO).
- Clothing as a distraction – this new rule, somewhat a clarification of an old rule, now bans a player from wearing clothing that approximates the color of the ball. Prior to this change, the rule only covered apparel that was “inappropriate.” The new rule could result in the referee or tournament director requesting a player to change their apparel to a color that does not match the ball.
NOTE: USA Pickleball requires sanctioned tournament directors to include the type and color of balls that will be used in registration information.
- Wrong score called – If a wrong score is called, you CAN stop play prior to returning the ball. This rule change is, in my opinion, the best decision they have made for 2023. Last year, the rule was changed to say that if you stopped play to claim a wrong score was called, it was an automatic fault on you. I considered this to be a very unfair rule, as I felt it created a mental weapon. Speaking for myself, hearing a wrong score immediately diverted my focus to the error rather than the ball. Plus, a previous year’s rule change allowed the server to start the service motion before the complete score was called, eliminating any time to consider a correction. Wrong scores are called all the time, even after being corrected! So, thank you USA Pickleball for this change. But remember, you must immediately call the error before returning the serve. If you play the ball, you must continue the rally until it’s completion, and then you can identify the error.
- Elimination of the spin serve – This is the most talked about and controversial rule change of 2023. If you have watched any pro pickleball games, you have seen players pinch the ball between their thumb and index finger, creating a heavy spin on the ball before they strike it for the serve. This causes extreme and unpredictable spin on the ball as it lands in the receiver’s court.
The USA Pickleball Rules Committee state several reasons for this change:
In pickleball, as in every game, there is a vast gap between the highest and lowest skilled players. I believe rules should be written for the very best of players. My thoughts on each of the committee’s reasons are as follows:
- Equipment time outs – this rule eliminates the need for a player to take a charged time out for equipment failure (broken paddle, defective shoes, etc.) It now states that an equipment time out for a “reasonable duration” will be granted. That’s pretty straight forward, and allows referees to determine a reasonable amount of time to repair or replace defective equipment. In non-refereed tournaments the players will “work out a reasonable accommodation among themselves.”
Having a few local rules in pickleball would give tournament directors and clubs leeway to choose whether to allow them, based on the level of play. A TD might decide that 2.0-3.5 levels are not allowed to use a spin serve, while 4.0+ can, if they so choose. Or there might be a local rule forbidding the spin serve altogether, based on limited space between courts that could result in an injury.
As amateurs, we all know “that player” who tries the newest shots they see from the pro’s in tournaments aired on TV and YouTube. The Ernie, the ATP, which usually ends up an HTP (Hit the Post), and the chainsaw serve which was outlawed last year. Sure, they get a few points once in a while from them, but they aren’t ruining the game for everyone. And, quite frankly those types of unique shots make watching pro pickleball on TV much more fun! Let’s keep pickleball exciting for the best players and not dummy down the game.