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March 16, 2023

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By Bob Unetich

Wait, Wait, Wait!

Each year, the rules of pickleball—published by USA Pickleball, the governing body of pickleball in the U.S.—evolve and change slightly. These changes, which were recommended by the Rules Committee and approved by the Board of Directors of USA Pickleball, are intended to improve the sport, while maintaining the original integrity of the game.

Over the last few years, there have been changes to the rules that relate to the timing of score calling and the serve. For instance, it was once a fault if the server began the service motion while the score was being called—a call that often caused friction between officials and players because the difference between a pre-serve routine and the actual service motion was difficult to discern. In 2021, that problem was eliminated by a change making many rules contingent upon the “moment the ball is contacted.”

This change, however, did leave open the question of what exactly a player can do while the score is being called. It is not uncommon for a player to call for a time-out after the score has been called, or while it is being called, but before the ball is struck. What if a receiver simply says, “Wait, wait, wait!” after the score has been called? Can a player ask about the score? Can players decide to change positions, or can they simply stop the serve from happening to speak with their partner about anything at all?

As soon as the 2023 rules were released in December of 2022, questions were raised about the proper procedures for referees to follow in these cases. The rules as published were not enough to resolve every question. For instance, Rule 4.C.2. says that “after the start of the score being called, ‘not ready’ signals will be ignored…” What about other receiver actions, like asking the ref to “wait”?

The Rules Committee dealt with these questions in the annual Official Referee Casebook, where it included scenarios of four variations on this topic. The Referee Casebook details the proper referee action when unusual and infrequent situations occur in a match. The question of what a player can do at any particular time in a match is important to know for all tournament players. The Official Referee Casebook is available to all USA Pickleball members on the organization’s web site.

The outcome, in this case, is that a receiver can use any words they like—“Wait,” “Oh no,” “Ref,” “Whoa,” or whatever—to get a ref’s attention before the ball is served. If the player is asking for the score to be called again, in case it wasn’t heard or a number called is surprising, the ref will stop play and recall the score. If the receivers need time to reposition themselves, the referee will allow the necessary time and then recall the score.

If a player simply wants some time to talk with a partner, but did not ask for a time-out, the referee will charge the team a time-out. If the team has no time-outs remaining, the referee will assign the team a Technical Warning for delay of game and then recall the score.

The Referee Casebook, released on Jan. 1, 2023, and revised Jan. 26, adds 10 new topics to the nine already there, along with comments on why a decision was made. My suggestion is to read all of the 2023 casebook topics before playing in a sanctioned tournament. 

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