The Official Rulebook is reviewed and, to the extent necessary, revised and updated every year, as pickleball rules continue to evolve as the sport evolves. As a result, it is important to stay up-to-date on pickleball rules changes so that you know the right call on the pickleball court (especially if you plan to play a pickleball tournament).
For the 2023 calendar year, of the 78 proposed rule changes on the year, there are 6 important additions, deletions, and other revisions to the rules of pickleball that you should be aware of. These include the following:
Bye-Bye to the One-Handed Spin Serve – The 2021 calendar year sparked one of the hottest rules topic in years, which centered around the serve. In response, in the 2022 calendar year, USA Pickleball outlawed what was referred to as the “chainsaw serve” (which was where a player would use his or her non-paddle hand or the paddle to impart spin on the pickleball before hitting the serve). However, at that time, USA Pickleball decidedly left the door open for a “one-handed spin serve” (which is where a player would use his or her non-paddle hand (as long as it is only the non-paddle hand) to impart spin on the pickleball)… until now.
The one-handed spin serve is now prohibited under the 2023 pickleball rules. In particular, “[w]hile some natural rotation of the ball is expected during any release of the ball from the hand, the server shall not impart manipulation or spin on the release of the ball immediately prior to the serve.” This applies to both the volley and drop serves. The reasoning behind this further change (per the USA Pickleball Rules Committee) was as follows:
The original purpose of the serve was only to begin play (and not to gain an advantage);
“Most players cannot master a truly effective spin serve, or return a good spin serve”;
“Effective spin serves require more court space to allow a receiver to react”;
“Only a limited number of players have mastered this, giving them an unfair advantage; and
The spin serve is “particularly devastating for amateur players.”
So, say “goodbye” to the spin serve. It is now time to work on your power and placement instead… Or, work on spinning the pickleball only with your paddle upon contact with your serve (which is still permitted under the 2023 rules).
2. Replay for a Violation of the Service Motion or Ball Release Rules – Prior to 2023, a violation of the service motion or ball release rules (for instance, making contact with the pickleball above your waist) would result in a fault and loss of your serve. Starting in 2023, any such violation may now result in a replay. If the referee is not certain whether a serving violation occurred, then the referee may call a replay. The referee may also call an immediate fault if the referee is certain that a serving violation occurred.
To note, this new replay rule does not apply to service foot faults, but does apply to any imparted spin (see above regarding the prohibition of the spin serve). Further, to note, this new replay rule must be called by the referee, “except that the receiver may also call for a replay if the receiver cannot discern that an item on the hand contacted a visibly spun ball in a non-officiated match or if the release of the ball is not visible to the receiver. The replay must be called before the return of serve.”
This new rule change may seem to encourage some players to “push the envelope”—as both the server and the receiver—as the server can push the rules, while the receiver can call for a replay on strong serves. The USA Pickleball Rules Committee even notes that “[p]layers and referees may have to be watchful for players who attempt to ‘game the system’ by calling for repeated, inappropriate replays as a tactic to disrupt their opponent.” But, the USA Pickleball Rules Committee notes that, to counter this, “[t]he referee has the ability to assess verbal or technical warnings to address this type of inappropriate behavior when warranted.” This rule will certainly be one to watch to see if there is an “about-face” in later years.
3. Wrong Score Called? – Speaking of an “about-face,” there is a reversal on one change from the previous year. In 2022, the pickleball rules were changed to prevent a player from stopping play after the serve due to a wrong score being called. Now, starting in 2023, the pickleball rules will be changed back to the previous rule regarding wrong scores, which is that, if the server or referee calls the wrong score, then any player may stop play at any time before the return of serve to correct the score. However, if any player stops play after the return of serve (or if any player stops play and the score was actually correct), then that player would have committed a fault. So, if the wrong score is called, correct it fast, or wait until the end of the rally.
4, Beware of Your Clothing Color – The rules of pickleball now provide two rules around the color of your clothing on the pickleball court. First, as a sportsmanship guideline, pickleball players should “avoid wearing clothing that closely matches the ball color.” Further, if there are any close colors in a pickleball tournament, the tournament director may require a player “to change apparel that are inappropriate, including that which approximates the color of the ball.” So, watch those brightly yellow and neon colors on the pickleball court!
5. Equipment Time-Outs Are In – This rule change is more relevant for tournament players. In the past, if you had an equipment malfunction, then you needed to use a time-out or time between games to adjust or replace your equipment. Now, a referee can award an equipment time-out to accommodate any necessary equipment adjustment or replacement, so players are not forced to use their precious time-outs. In non-officiated play, players are encouraged to work together to provide a reasonable accommodation in these circumstances, too.
6. Other Revisions to Remove Conflict Between Players and Referees – The Official Rulebook is generally revised in order to preserve the integrity of the sport for years to come and in a manner that is best for the players. The Official Rulebook is also generally revised in an effort to reduce the potential for conflict between referees and players on the pickleball court. For instance, there are a handful of revisions to clarify when line calls are to be made, what happens when a player is hit by the pickleball, what happens when a pickleball is “degraded,” what questions players may ask of a referee (i.e., “Am I good?” is now sufficient when asking about correct server, receiver, and/or position), and more.
Now that you are updated with the latest and greatest rules for the sport of pickleball in 2023, it is time to continue to play and grow the fastest growing sport in the country and make pickleball and the pickleball community better than ever.