How to Start Playing Pickleball and Pickleball Etiquette

You’ve read the hype and are ready to start playing pickleball. The problem? You’re not 100% certain about what you need to do next. So relax. Pickleball Rookie has you covered with everything you need to step onto the pickleball court this week. There are no silly questions, and we’ll keep it super basic with this Pickleball 101 lesson.

What equipment do I need to start playing pickleball?

Part of the beauty of pickleball is that it requires very little equipment to get started. When you show up at the court for the first time, you’ll need:

  • A paddle. It is not a racket! Many facilities will happily lend/rent a paddle, simply inquire before you show up. Also, websites like Pickleball Central, have a generous return/trial policy on pickleball paddles.
  • A pickleball ball. There is a difference between indoor and outdoor pickleballs. The Wiffle-like ball is constructed to take a beating and should last many games. And since there’s only one serve per point and the ball does not travel very far, you only need to bring a single ball.
  • Pickleball sneakers. Currently, in tennis, there is very little, if any difference between tennis sneakers and pickleball sneakers. You might be able to get away without specialty sneakers, but when I first started playing, I was called out for wearing running sneakers at my local facility. Plus, pickleball can cause as many injuries as any other sport. You’ll want to ensure that your ankle support is solid, your sole is rubber, and the sneaker is constructed from durable materials.
  • Know the basic rules of the game.

You can also consider a pickleball bag to protect your equipment and carry your beverage of choice. Now that you have the equipment…

Where can I start playing pickleball?

When it comes to playing pickleball, you have many options, as courts are being added everywhere you look. As a first-timer, once you have a basic understanding of pickleball scoring and rules, we recommend showing up at an open play. There are play times when all levels of players are invited to come and play. This is a great way to meet other people who play and get a feel for the game without worrying about being too competitive. Once you’ve gotten your feet wet, there are plenty of leagues and tournaments if that’s your jam.

pickleball courts

Local tennis/pickleball centers often charge between $10 – $20 for a one to two-hour open play. Better facilities will have staff on hand to ensure the play is fair and everyone gets an opportunity to play. Over the past few months, I have found pickleball players welcoming. Like everywhere in life, there are cliques–and it will sometimes take some time to get into the groove with a new group. But rest assured, if you play fairly and are a decent human being, getting on a court should not be an issue.

Several valuable resources to find places and people to play with:

Facebook groups

Tournament websites

Pickleball Partner Network

Many people shy away from new activities because they are worried about embarrassing themselves. So….

Is there pickleball etiquette I need to be aware of?

Like any sport, there are dos and don’t, but common sense should prevail. If you’re looking to make pickleball friends and get invited back to play, here are a few unwritten rules you should follow. Actually, some of them are written rules:

Speak loudly and clearly. You must call out the score each time before you serve. And if a ball is out of bounds, you should call it for all to hear. An out call is always made by your opponent. If you disagree, suck it up. Similarly, if an errant ball from another match lands on your court, alert other players as the point is dead. And if the ball you are playing with visits another court, let the players know to help them avoid rolling an ankle or worse.

Meet at the net. When a game is complete, all players should meet at the net to celebrate that we are alive and fortunate to be playing pickleball. Congratulate your partner and your opponents on a game well played, regardless of the final score. In pickleball, it is customary to tap paddle handles as a “high five” of sorts. But many players lightly tap paddles.

Ready position for all. If it is your turn to serve, ensure that your partner and opponents are ready. While pickleball involves a chess-like strategy, trickery, such as rushing a service is not part of the game.

Look both ways before crossing. Don’t cross the court behind a match until play has stopped. This is just basic common courtesy. You wouldn’t want someone running behind you while trying to play, so don’t do it to others.

Keep the ball in play. This seems obvious, but if you can, when in doubt, keep the ball in play, everyone will have more fun.

Know your level. When joining an open play or league, ensure you are playing with people of a similar skill level. If you play with better players all the time, you’ll get frustrated and won’t improve as quickly. On the other hand, if you play with people who are much worse than you, it won’t be any fun for them either. But whatever you do, don’t bully weaker players or constantly exploit their weakness during an open play…at least not when you’re new.

What is proper pickleball court-sharing etiquette?

There are a few key things to remember when sharing a pickleball court with others. First, be respectful of other players. With the popularity of pickleball skyrocketing, getting court time is becoming more difficult. However, just because you and your friends arrive first doesn’t mean you should dominate the court for 3 hours. Be human and find an equitable way for everyone to get time on the court. Some facilities or organizers will stack paddles or have you line them up along a fence to determine who is next up. Rotation systems vary: I’ve seen whiteboards, paddle saddles, and old-school paper and pen. Irrespective of the process, just be fair–that way everyone gets an opportunity to play.

pickleball etiquette court sharing

There is no perfect plan on how to start playing pickleball; you should just get out there and play! And don’t get lost worrying about pickleball etiquette. I can almost promise you that 95% of the pickleball community is fantastic. Plus, you are not alone! New people are picking up the sport every day, and those who are “experts,” in reality, haven’t played all that long. So stop reading and go play!

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