If you come from tennis or any other racket sport that uses a squishy ball, this may take some time to get used to. The reason I say this is that the pickleball doesn’t compress! Unlike a tennis ball, when the pickleball lands on the ground, only a small portion of it actually strikes the surface.
This is what makes line calls in pickleball especially tricky. When you’re making a line call in pickleball, you’re only calling the shot based on that tiny area the ball strikes.
There’s a lot of confusion in pickleball about the “hover” issue. What this refers to is how the ball touches outside the line, but a part of the ball is still hovering over the line. Here’s an image to illustrate what I’m talking about:
See how the ball is hovering over the line? You may not be able to see it very clearly, but no part of the ball is physically touching the line. And like I said above, since it’s not touching the line, the ball is out. It doesn’t matter if it’s hovering over the line or not.
As you know, if you hit the kitchen or kitchen line on the serve, it’s a fault. It doesn’t matter if the ball hit the net or not.
But one question that pops up (pun absolutely intended) a lot is about where the line begins and ends. It’s simple. The kitchen line extends all the way to the sideline, then up towards the net. Your kitchen sideline ends just below the net.
If you’re standing at the kitchen line waiting for the opponent to serve to your partner, make sure you watch the kitchen line on the serve! You will have the best view of it.
It’s your responsibility to make line calls on your side of the court. This means that you’re basically calling the balls in or out for your opponent’s shots. However, if there’s any doubt about whether the ball was in or out, then the ball must be declared in. This is why line calls in pickleball (and any other racket sport) must be made instantly! There can’t be any doubt that the ball was in. If there is doubt of any kind, the point goes to your opponent. So, when in doubt, be careful!
When a ball lands out of bounds, you must call it out. Once the ball is called out, a dead ball is declared and whatever happens after that no longer matters. The key here is the out call. If a ball lands out, and you don’t call it out and then your opponent strikes the ball, you can no longer call it out. The out call has to be made promptly, or before your opponent strikes the ball.
More importantly, this counts even if the “out” call happened after you hit the ball since the assumption was that indeed the ball was out.
Having said that, if you hit a ball that hasn’t bounced, but it was clearly going out, the ball is still in play because you have to let it bounce first.
Having said all this, it’s important to have integrity and be honest. Considering that calling lines can be difficult in pickleball, the rulebook has a code of ethics that you can read through. It describes a code that encourages players to be honest about their calls.
Also, remember that pickleball is very social and has a strong sense of community and culture. Everyone knows each other in most pickleball communities.
Don’t let your reputation as a player be tarnished because you’re known for making bad line calls.
Again, if there’s any doubt that a ball was in or out, call it in!
If your partner calls a shot in and you call it out at the same time, the ball is in! We’ll talk more about this below, but I wanted to mention it now because it’s an important rule to know.
If you get a bad line call in open play, then there’s nothing you can do about it unless your opponent agrees.
However, in a tournament, you can appeal to the referee to ask if they saw it or not. In a match, the referee is primarily responsible for foot faults a the kitchen. So it’s common for the referee to not be watching the lines.
But if they do see it, then they can overrule your opponent’s call. But again, don’t expect them to be watching the lines all the time. Their main responsibility is watching for foot faults.