The main rules for paddle malfunctions in pickleball are:
- Contacting the ball with anything other than the paddle or hand in contact with the paddle below the wrist is a fault.
- Intentionally carrying or catching the ball on the paddle after the serve is a fault.
- Breaking a paddle during a rally allows the rally to continue.
- Accidentally dropping the paddle during the serve, if it lands on the server’s side, allows play to continue.
Understanding Pickleball Paddle Rules and Faults
Pickleball, like any sport, has an official rulebook that covers common situations, including paddle malfunctions during play. Knowing the pickleball paddle rules helps ensure fair play and avoid disputes.
Some paddle actions are considered faults, which award the point to the opponent. Other paddle mishaps are allowed to continue play. Let’s explore the nuances around pickleball paddle regulations.
What is a Fault in Pickleball?
A fault is a rules violation in pickleball that loses the current point. Examples include:
- Hitting the ball out-of-bounds
- Volleying the return of serve (before it bounces)
- Committing a foot fault in the no-volley zone
- Violating any no-volley zone or “kitchen” rules
- Any violation of serve rules
So a paddle malfunction during play could potentially cause a fault, depending on the circumstances.
When is Contacting the Ball with Something Besides the Paddle a Fault?
According to the 2022 USA Pickleball Association (USA Pickleball) rulebook, it is a fault if a player contacts the ball with anything other than their paddle or hand in contact with the paddle below the wrist.
This means if the ball accidentally hits your arm, leg, clothing, or any other body part besides a paddled hand, it is a fault.
Intentionally contacting the ball with your hand or arm would also be a fault. The key is the contact must involve the paddle below the wrist to avoid a fault call.
Why is Catching or Carrying the Ball on the Paddle a Fault?
After the serve, intentionally catching or carrying the pickleball on the paddle is considered a fault.
This prevents a player from unfairly gaining control of the ball outside the normal volleys during a rally. It maintains the intent of keeping the ball bouncing back and forth between opponents.
During the serve itself, briefly holding the ball on the paddle to set up the serve motion is allowed. But intentionally carrying or catching it once the ball is in play results in a fault.
Does Breaking a Paddle Mid-Rally Stop Play?
According to USA Pickleball rules, if a player breaks their paddle during a rally, play continues until the end of the rally.
There is no provision for stopping the rally to replace a broken paddle. The player must finish the point using the fragmented paddle, or their hand in contact with the fragmented paddle below the wrist.
After the rally ends, they are allowed to replace the broken paddle with a new, intact one before the next point begins. This avoids unnecessarily disrupting the flow of the game.
What Happens If a Paddle Is Dropped During the Serve?
Mishaps can occur when tossing up the ball to serve, including dropping the paddle.
If the server drops their paddle during the service motion, the rally can continue as normal, as long as the paddle lands on the server’s side when dropped.
However, if a dropped paddle lands on the receiver’s side or lands out of bounds, it is a fault against the server.
This rule prevents the paddle dropping from unfairly impacting the receiver’s ability to return the serve.
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Common Paddle Mishaps and How to Handle Them
Beyond the official rules, let’s cover some frequent paddle mishaps and best practices for dealing with them.
What If the Paddle Flies Out of Your Hand?
Paddle grips occasionally slip, causing you to lose your grip and send the paddle flying.
If this happens, simply call “paddle” loudly to alert your opponents you’ve lost possession, pick up your paddle, and resume play at the appropriate time. Don’t call a fault on yourself – launching a paddle by accident is not a fault.
Is Switching Hands with the Paddle Allowed?
Players are permitted to switch their paddle between hands at any time during play in pickleball.
There is no restriction against moving the paddle back and forth based on positioning or which side the ball is on.
Switching hands can help increase reach and flexibility on shots. Just avoid contacting the ball with the body in the process, leading to a fault.
How Can You Avoid Paddle Drops and Launches?
- Use a wrist strap or paddle tether to keep a loop around your wrist. This prevents launching a paddle on an exuberant swing.
- Keep your grip loose but firm on the handle. Gripping too tight or softly increases the risk of paddle drops.
- Consider a textured paddle handle and/or overgrip tape to enhance friction and reduce slippage.
- Avoid touching your grip hand to moisture sources during play like sweat, water bottles, etc. Damp hands compromise traction.
What If Your Paddle Breaks Between Games?
If your paddle cracks, chips, or breaks apart between games rather than mid-rally, you are allowed to switch to a replacement paddle between games. Notify your opponents beforehand.
Mid-game paddle replacements should match the size, shape and weight of your original paddle as closely as possible. Drastically altering these attributes mid-match could be considered poor sportsmanship.
Unusual Paddle Situations and Rulings
Pickleball offers opportunities for creative shots you won’t find in other paddle sports like tennis. Let’s explore some unconventional paddle techniques and whether they are legal or not.
Can You Use Two Paddles at Once?
Wielding two paddles simultaneously is not permitted during pickleball games. The rules limit players to one paddle in their hand during rallies and serves.
Using a second paddle could enable unconventional shots like scooping the ball with two paddles at once. This violates the intent of the one-paddle rule.
However, players can optionally use one larger paddle for protection while switching to a playing paddle between shots. But contacting the ball with both at once is not allowed.
Is It Legal to Hit the Ball with the Paddle Edge?
Striking the pickleball with the edge or side of the paddle during play is entirely legal.
Shots off the paddle edge can enable unpredictable slices or older players to generate pace with reduced swing speed.
Can You “Volley” a Serve After Letting It Bounce?
Volleying refers to hitting a shot before it bounces. Volleying the serve return is a fault under pickleball rules.
However, if the serve receiver allows the serve to bounce once before striking it, this is not considered volleying.
After the serve bounce, the returner can legally strike the ball in the air or on the bounce. There is no “volley” restriction after the first bounce.
This highlights the importance of waiting until after the first bounce to gain full shot options as the returning player.
What If the Ball Gets Caught in Paddle Holes?
Some pickleball paddle designs feature large circular holes. If the ball gets fully lodged in the hole after a shot, play stops and the point is replayed.
Any ball that gets stuck in the face of the paddle during a rally can be called dead, and the referee will direct a replay of the point.
Holes that cause ball entrapment and stop play give an unfair advantage to the player wielding that paddle design. Hence the replay ruling.
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Pickleball Paddle Rules Help Make the Sport Fair and Fun
The official paddle rules in pickleball help reinforce fair play and maintain enjoyment of the game for all players. While paddle mishaps are common, knowing whether they warrant a fault, replay, or play-on simplifies resolving disputes.
Above all, embrace the friendly and welcoming spirit of pickleball by giving opponents the benefit of the doubt. And be ready with a replacement paddle or two in case of breakage! With smart paddle handling, you can confidently take your pickleball skills to the next level.