The USA Pickleball Rules Committee updates pickleball rules on January 1 of each year. Rule changes can be proposed through June 30, and the updated USA Pickleball rulebook is released by December 1. These annual rule changes are intended to preserve the overall quality and core ruleset for the game of pickleball.
USA Pickleball’s Annual Rule Updates
In January of each year, new rules are added and changed in the USA Pickleball Official Rulebook. New rules are typically proposed during the first half of each year and confirmed by December before being enforced starting in January of the following year.
Keeping pickleball’s rules fair and healthy to the pickleball community is vital for the ongoing growth of the sport. Rule changes can be submitted by anyone and are open to public comments before they are set in stone by the USAP Board of Directors.
The Process for Changing Pickleball Rules
Each year sees many new pickleball rules changes. Some are small and barely noticed, and some are big and controversial. Proposals for rules changes are submitted to the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA). Proposals are open to public viewing and comments before they are officially presented to the USA Pickleball Rules Committee, the International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) Rules Committee, and the USA Pickleball Board of Directors.
The Board of Directors has the final say in determining whether or not a new rule will be accepted:
- In 2022, the USA Pickleball Rules Committee received 71 suggested changes from the public.
- 33 of those submissions were then recommended for consideration by the IFP
- 19 were finally brought to the USA Pickleball Board of Directors.
- Of those 19, 18 pickleball rule changes went into effect.
There have been many instances of rules changing on a year-to-year basis, demonstrating the ever-evolving nature of pickleball and how instrumental its players are for the how the game is played.
History of Pickleball Rule Updates
Over the past few years, pickleball has seen some significant changes to its rulebook. Let’s take a look at how each year’s rules updates have impacted the game.
2023 Rule Updates
- Spin Serve Is Now Illegal (4.A.5) – Servers may not impart any sort of spin or manipulation to how the ball falls before it is hit with a pickleball paddle. In prior years the committee attempted to regulate the controversial spin serve, but in 2023 it was removed altogether. The idea is that adding additional spin to a topspin-focused serve became too aggressive and prevented rallies from starting.
- Player Hit by Ball (7.H) – This rule confirms that the player who is hit by the ball is at fault.
- Clothing Color (The Players Section, p.1) – Players cannot wear clothing that matches the color of the ball. This is intended to prevent players from attempting to camouflage the ball’s position when it is in play. Sanctioned pickleball games and tournaments are now required to provide the ball color to participants.
- Questioning an opponent’s call (6.D.5) – A player shouldn’t question nor comment on an opponent’s call, but rather ask the referee for an appeal. This is a simple rule to encourage mutual respect between players.
2022 Rule Updates
- Spinning the ball during a Volley Serve (4.A.5) – This rule clarifies that you can still spin the ball with your non-paddle hand before hitting it. However, you cannot perform what is known as a chainsaw serve, where the ball is spun between the non-paddle hand and the paddle before the serve. (All forms of spin serves were later banned in 2023).
- The Drop Serve (4.A.6) – The drop serve rule is no longer provisional and becomes an official ruling.
- No More Headphones (11.P) – Pickleball players can no longer wear any type of headphones or earphones during competitive games of pickleball. This excludes the use of necessary hearing aids.
- Wrong Score Called (4.K) – If the server calls the wrong score and the serve is made, play can’t be stopped to correct the score. This was put in place as players could previously stop play before the rally was complete, thus disrupting the flow of gameplay.
2021 Rule Updates
- Service Lets Removed (3.A.18) – The removal of a rule regarding service lets. This means that play cannot be stopped due to service lets anymore.
- Drop Serves (4.A.8) – Drop serves are now legal. This was the biggest and most important change to come out of 2021. Servers may now drop the ball and allow it to hit the playing surface before striking the ball during a serve. The ball cannot be thrown downward during this type of serve and must be hit with either a forehand or backhand motion.
2020 Rule Updates
- Readiness (Rule 4.c) – Any player, not just the server, can declare that they are not ready before a serve.
- Returning on a bounce back (11.1.1) – If a ball bounces with enough backspin after a serve to return back over the net to the serving team’s side, the receiving player can reach over the net to hit the ball as a return.
- Calling Non-Volley Zone and Foot Faults (13.D.1.b) – All players can call non-volley zone and foot faults on the opposing team. If there’s a disagreement about the fault, then a replay may occur.
- Prompt Line Calls (6.D.8) – All “out” and “let” calls must be made promptly. Otherwise, the ball is still considered to be in play.
- Hydration (10.C) – Players are permitted to hydrate between points as long as the flow of the game is not interrupted.
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