By: CJ Johnson | August 22, 2018 |

Rule Review: Still The Most Misunderstood Rule In Pickleball

The most misunderstood rule in pickleballDuring a recent referee training, I asked Mark Peifer, to shoot a rules video. It didn’t take him long to pick a topic, rule 6.D.12.


As a certified referee who officiates at many tournaments, Mark believes 6.D.12 is the most misunderstood rule in pickleball. We briefly discussed what he wanted to say in the video, shot it and posted it. Then came the questions! Lol! 

As a golf pro, I’m familiar with rules. The pocket edition of the basic rules of golf is a mere 231 pages. If that doesn’t make your head swim, the Decisions On the Rules of Golf is another 752 pages.  One of the first skills I learned as a young pro was how to read a rulebook, and that’s helped me understand pickleball rules. However, the comments on this video reminded me that most people never needed or learned that skill so let me see if I can break this down a little further.

Here’s the rule straight from the 2018 Offical Tournament Rulebook:

Page 33- Rule 6.D.12. (the Misunderstood Rule)

If an “out” call is made after the ball bounces, it will be considered a line call. The ball will be considered dead and play shall stop. If a player on the receiving team or the referee upon appeal then indicates the ball was in, it is a fault against the receiving team. Exception: If the match has line judges, the baseline and sideline judges are responsible for the call. See 13.E.

The easiest way to look at a rule is in pieces. The definitions are also helpful in breaking it down.

The first sentences says-If an “out” call is made after the ball bounces, it will be considered a line call.

First, we need to understand line calls. I suggest you take a look at Section 6 (Line Calls) but here are a couple of basics. 6.D.1 says that you are responsible for calling the lines on your side of the court, (it doesn’t matter what your opponents think). 6.D.3 says your opponents get the benefit of the doubt with all line calls, meaning if you can’t clearly call it out, it’s in. Lastly, 6.D.9 says that if one partner calls it out and the other calls it in, doubt now exists and since rule 6.D.3 tells us the opponents get the benefit of the doubt, the ball is in.

The second sentence says-The ball will be considered dead and play shall stop.

This means if the receiving team says out, after the ball bounces, it’s a dead ball.

What is a dead ball?

Look at the definitions, 3.A.4. Dead Ball – A ball that is no longer in play.

For illustration purposes, here is the scenario Mark presented to us in training:  One partner on the receiving team calls the ball ‘out’ after it bounces, but almost immediately, the other partner yells, “No, it’s in. Play it!” while hitting it back across the net.

But now you know that no matter what anyone else on the court says or does the ball is dead and play stops if the ball is called out after the ball bounces.  At that time, it’s a fault against the opponents unless…….

The third sentence says-If a player on the receiving team or the referee upon appeal then indicates the ball was in, it is a fault against the receiving team.

Because it says the receiving team, we know that the rules are talking about the partner of the player who called it out. If that partner says “no that was in” the ball is now considered in. We know this because the line call rules state that when doubt exists between two players on the same team the opponents get the benefit of the doubt and the ball is in.

Once the ball was called in, the last part of the sentence tells us that now it’s a fault against the receiving team. One last time back to the definitions to understand what Fault means.  3.A.10. Fault – A loss of the rally resulting in a point for the opposing team, a loss of serve (from first serve to second serve), or a side out.

No Lets, No Replays, No Do-Overs.

Clear as mud? Have we made the most misunderstood rule in pickleball understandable?

Knowing the rules is part of any sport. If you are playing in tournaments having a good knowledge of the rules can keep you out of trouble and might even get you a point or two. If you want to learn more about the rules, a good place to begin is by downloading the rule book. Additionally, the USAPA has several free online tests. As Mark mentions in this video, every state in the country has a referee training coordinator and I highly recommend the referee training. If you’re interested in a referee training make sure to watch the video for details or leave a comment and pass the information along.


If you have any questions on this, or any other pickleball rule put it in the comments below.



CJ Johnson

Hey there — I’m a professional three-sport athlete and coach who has spent my entire adult life earning a living from playing and coaching sports. Since I started coaching more than three decades ago, one thing has remained the same: My commitment to see students not as they are but as what they can become and to move heaven and earth to help them realize their untapped potential. You should know that when it comes to helping pickleball players over 50 live their best lives on and off the courts, I'm an expert. Good pickleball is not just technique; it's the mind and body working holistically. That's why I'm also a personal trainer and weight management specialist. When I’m chillin', you'll find me watching Star Trek with my husband John and our two fur babies, Shirley and Ralph. (Yes, Happy Days)