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CJ Johnson
Tony Roig
Tony Roig

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.





  1. Avatar photo Earl R' on August 23, 2018 at 6:16 am

    Thanks CJ, this is my pet peeve when it comes to PB rules, but I would like to have seen further clarification that there is NO provision in the rules for a player to over-rule his/her partner’s line call of “out” for the purpose of allowing play to continue. I have had players cite 6.D.9 as being written to allow them to do that but my understanding is that 6.D.9 is written only in the context of resolving line calls AFTER a ball has been declared dead. However, many experienced players seem to think, incorrectly, that they are obligated to ensure the proper call is made (6.D “…must strive for accuracy”) thus allowing play to continue.

    On a related topic, I would appreciate your views on this same situation but with the line call of “out” being made very close to the point in time when the ball actually bounces, I have had a situation where the partner says “No, it’s in” and plays the ball and hits a winner, arguing afterwards that he believed his partner’s line call was communication as he felt the call was made just BEFORE the bounce, yet the opponents believe it was made after the bounce. For non-officiated matches the rule book does not seem to resolve differences of opinion between partners on this matter (line call or communication?). Also, how would a referee rule if he could not determine whether the call was made before or after the bounce in the absence of line judges?

    • Avatar photo Cathy Jo Johnson on August 29, 2018 at 9:46 pm

      Hi Earl, as to the first observation, rule 6.D.9 is strictly about reversing the line call. Once the ball was called OUT the ball is dead and play stops.

      As to your second observation, rule 6.d.11 states; While the ball is in the air, if a player yells “out,” “no,” “bounce it,” or any other words to communicate to his or her partner that the ball may be out, it shall be considered player communication only and not considered a line call.
      If the ball was clearly in the air it was communication, if not it’s a line call. The rulebook doesn’t cover it directly but it clearly defines which team is responsible for the call, what happens if two partners disagree and a code of ethics. Hopefully, we can keep it friendly and fun!

      If there are no line judges, the referee is only responsible for calling NVZ line violations. Players may appeal the call to the referee but there is no guarantee that they saw it. One of the things that Mark and Bill teach is that when a team starts to approach the NVZ, which should be the returning team, a good ref keeps their eyes focused there. Once the other team gets to the NVZ you watch both sides of the line. You really aren’t watching the ball and unless it’s a dink to your side of the court it’s highly likely that you wouldn’t see the out ball.
      Thanks for sharing!

      As to

      • Avatar photo steven danville on December 29, 2021 at 2:46 pm

        this should change to the way tennis rules it. Once players hear “OUT” it is natural to put your guard down . In tennis..you yell Out and the point is over. Period.

        • Avatar photo CJ Johnson on December 31, 2021 at 4:30 am

          Great point.

  2. Avatar photo Rich Gresham on August 23, 2018 at 4:45 pm

    In regards to “out” called after the ball has bounced, I have been told to keep playing. From what is in the rules, as soon as the call is made after the ball has bounced, I should stop play even if I think the ball is in. Is this true, that once the call is made even if I know it is in there is no use playing it because our opponents have the point? Thanks.

    • Avatar photo Cathy Jo Johnson on August 29, 2018 at 9:22 pm

      Hi Rick, Yes once the ball is called out it is dead. If you know it’s in and contradict your playing partner the other team gets the point. No need to keep playing.

  3. Avatar photo Richard Davis on October 26, 2022 at 4:17 pm

    On some of the courts where we play the boundary fences are pretty close to the court. A well-angled serve will sometimes hit the boundary fence. If the fence were further back, the serve would be returnable. The rule “8. D. A ball in play that contacts a permanent object will result in a dead ball.” Does hitting the side fence mean a point for the server? Or in this case is a dead ball call played over? Btw., we have been calling the shot for the server, which stinks when a good server can angle the ball into the fence at will. Needless to say during point play, the ball will also hit a side fence. Thanks for your thoughts.

    • Avatar photo CJ Johnson on October 26, 2022 at 5:04 pm

      Hi Richard, we have a fence at our courts that is only 5 feet from the baseline. At times the receiver is pushed back into the fence. Mark Pfifer, who is the head of USA Pickleball Rules committee, suggested we create a local rule for tournament play. Perhaps you can get your group to agree to the same?

  4. Avatar photo GILDER PACHECO on July 16, 2023 at 10:11 pm



    • Avatar photo CJ Johnson on July 17, 2023 at 9:06 am

      Hello Gilder, Congratulations! Sounds like a great event. I’d recommend reaching out to Melissa McCurley at PickleballTournaments.com or to USAPickleball.org. they would have more knowledge of that then we do. Good luck!

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