We continue to receive questions from readers about pickleball rules. Recently, we received two questions related to partner communication and when the ball is out.
One reader asked:
My partner called “out” after it hit the ground. I agreed, but was in mid-swing and hit the ball anyway. Our opponent said that since I hit the ball it was considered in. Is it?
Another reader wrote:
The opponents hit a ball to us, and my partner calls it “OUT” (after the bounce). I disagree, call the ball “IN” and return it. What is the status of the ball? In the game, the opponents did not hear my IN call and did not play the ball. How is this resolved? This was social play and there wasn’t a referee.
The key issue for both of these questions relates to when the player called the ball “out”. Prior to a ball bouncing the words said by one partner to another is considered partner communication. You have every right to talk to your partner during a point. “Yours”….”mine”…”got it”…”watch it”…”bounce it”…and even the word “out” is considered partner communication. Partner communication occurs after your opponent has struck the ball, and before it bounces on your side of the court. Rule 6.D.12 clearly states:
6.D.12 If, while the ball is in the air, a player yells “out,” “no,” “bounce it,” or any other word to communicate to his or her partner that the ball may be out, it shall be considered player communication. If the ball lands in, play will continue. If the out call is made after the ball has hit the playing surface, it shall be considered a line call and play shall stop.
There are many times during play when the receiving player is so intent on moving to and/or making contact with the ball that they may be in mid-swing when their partner calls out. The fact that contact was made, does not signify that the player believes the ball is in. It is out by virtue of their partner’s call AFTER the ball bounced.
Partner Communication vs. Distractions
Partner communication occurs after your opponent has struck the ball, and before it bounces on your side of the court. You can’t scream “miss it” as your opponent is about to strike an overhead. That, my friends, is a distraction as defined by Rule 12.H.
12.H. Distractions. Players may not yell, stamp their feet, or otherwise try to distract an opponent when the opponent is about to play the ball. A player, or anything the player is wearing or carrying, may not cross the plane of the net (or the extension of the net beyond the posts) except when striking the ball. Note: In Doubles, team communication shall not normally be considered a distraction. However, loud communication at the time the opponent is about to strike the ball may be considered a distraction. If, in the judgment of the referee, a distraction has occurred, it shall result in the loss of the rally.
There are of course times, when we may hit a ball and say “oh no” (or perhaps something a bit more colorful) knowing that you are about to be pounded by the high, floating return. As stated above, it is up to the referee to make a judgment as to whether this was just a painful utterance or an attempt to distract their opponent.
After the Ball Has Bounced
After the ball has bounced, things change. If you or your partner calls “out” after the ball bounces, then it is not player communication…it is a line call. Read again the last line of rule 6.D.12 above. This leads us to the situation offered by our second reader. Frankly, I needed to consult the rule book prior to writing this post and can certainly understand his confusion. In addition to 6.D.12 we have two other two additional rules:
6.D.10. In doubles play, if one player calls the ball “out” and the partner calls it “in,” then doubt exists, and the ball must be declared “in” (except that any player may appeal a call to the referee in an officiated match).
6.D.9. Players should not request a “let” (replay) because they were not sure the ball was “out” or “in.” In this case, benefit of the doubt goes to the opponent.
To my way of thinking, and particularly in social play, doubt exists and as such favor is given to the opponent. I have been in games, during rec play, when this situation occurs. Often times the “out” call is heard, while the “no, it’s in” muttered as the ball is struck, is not. Of course, if you are playing in a sanctioned tournament a referee is present and he or she will have to make the tough call. Was it partner communication or a line call?