Even though pickleball borrows elements from other racket sports, there are rules that are entirely unique to pickleball. The rules of calling a ball out in pickleball are distinctly different from most other racket sports.
Calling an out in pickleball is easy. If you can see space between the line and the point of contact, you should call the ball "out." If the ball bounces on any court line, it should be called "in." The one exception is with the non-volley line on the serve.
This article explains how to call an out in pickleball, when to call an out and the basic rules behind doing so. I’ll examine other circumstances around line calls in pickleball, including some odd scenarios you may not have considered. Along the way, I’ll also explain proper pickleball etiquette around making a good line call.
Knowing the rules is essential to learning pickleball and knowing line calls is perhaps the most important part.
The Definition Of Calling An Out In Pickleball
A ball is called out in pickleball when it bounces outside the court lines. If you can see a space between the line and the ball, it’s out. With any doubt about the call, you should give the benefit of the doubt to your opponent. If there’s a question, the ball should be called "in."
The point of contact determines whether a pickleball is out or in. You should call the ball "out" when you can see space between the ball and the court line. At times, it may seem that a pickleball is in because the curved surface of the ball appears to overlap the line, but only the point of contact determines the call.
An "out" call made after the ball hits the court outside of the boundaries but near a line, is what we call a “line call.” The play stops, and the ball is dead.
Audibly calling the word "out" is the preferred method of indicating a line call. According to Rule 3.A.18 in the USA Pickleball 2021 Rulebook, players can also use hand signals along with a line call. You can also use words such as "wide," "deep," "long," and "no" to indicate that the ball is out.
Pro Tip: Sanctioned tournament play has an extra rule tied to it that is important to know. If, on appeal, a referee overturns an out call, the team that made the call is penalized with a fault.
Who Calls The Ball In Or Out In Pickleball?
You’re in charge of all line calls on your side of the court. Meaning you make the call of whether or not your opponent's shots were in or out. Conversely you don’t get to call your own shots in or out. That is your opponent’s responsibility.
Pickleball is a social sport that brings people together. Part of that friendly atmosphere can get tested when it comes to line calls.
Just know that in pickleball, a friendly inclusive attitude is what allowed the game to take off and grow so quickly. Arguing line calls just isn’t a part of the friendly, social, inclusive culture that was built into the sport’s DNA.
It’s that simple. Pickleball is a happy sport. Keep it that way and don’t get overly competitie about line calls; especially in recreational play.
Line Call Disputes In Pickleball
If you call the ball "out" and your terammate calls it "in" at the same time, the benefit of the doubt should be given to your opponent, and you should call the ball "in." With any doubt about the call, it should be called "in."
According to Rule 6.D.3 in the Rulebook, a player cannot claim a replay when there’s a doubt about the call, although they may ask a referee to make the call for them. The rule also says that any player may ask the referee to make the call. If the referee cannot make the call, the ball is considered "in."
In pickleball you trust that your opponent will make the correct and honest call. If it’s unclear, you give the shot maker credit, tell them “good shot” and call it “in”.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played outside with a friendly but competitive group of 3.5 and above level players that take their game very seriously. But no matter what, when a great shot is hit and it is unclear if it touched the line, the ball is always called on and the player is congratulated on a great shot.
The one exception is on the serve where the ball must clear the non-volley zone line for a serve to be long enough. This is one spot where if it looks like it hit the kitchen line, the serve is called “no good.”
Keep in mind that the seve can touch the center line. For more serving rules you may not have known about, click here.
The 3 Rules For Calling An Out In Pickleball
3 common rules for calling an out in pickleball are:
1. Make your line calls decisive and as early and audible to everyone as possible.
2. Ask for input if you're unsure. Consult with anyone who had a better look at the ball.
3. If no one is able to make a clear line call, the shot should be called “in”.
And remember, the benefit of the doubt should always go to the team that hit the shot.
Is It Harder To Call An Out In Pickleball?
It can be harder to call a ball in or out in pickleball vs tennis because the plastic ball is harder than a tennis ball, and doesn’t compress nearly as much. This makes the surface that hits the court smaller than in tennis. The point of contact determines the call in pickleball. Pickleballs are harder and don’t compress like tennis balls do when they bounce on the court.
There’s not much "give" with a pickleball like there is with a tennis ball. Therefore, the point of contact is much smaller for a pickleball because the compression is minimized.
This give or compression allows the tennis ball to stay on the court a fraction longer. With pickleball, there is very little give, especially with outdoor balls.
Because of this, the point of contact is smaller and quicker in pickleball. This can make it harder to spot a gap from a boundary line and call an out.
It’s also harder to hit a line in pickleball because the plastic ball is less forgiving and doesn’t typically compress enough to catch the edge of the line and remain in.
This is just one of many ways pickleball is so unique.
Pickleball Etiquette - Use Courtesy On The Court
Because it can be hard to see the actual point of contact of the ball, it can be difficult to tell if a ball is in or out. If you have any doubt about an "out" call, you should give the opposing team the benefit of the doubt. The ball should be called "in."
As instructed in the USAPA Code of Conduct, players should pledge to model good behavior, fair play, and good sportsmanship, and they should be honest in their line calls.
Adhering to these fundamental code of conduct ethics will ensure calling an out in pickleball, even in the middle of a close match, still remains fun and good natured.
Calling An Out In Pickleball Before The Ball Hits The Ground
In the situation where a player calls a ball out before it bounces, but it ends up being "in," the ball is still in play since this is considered “partner communication” and not a legitimate line call.
Rule 6.D.11 in the IFP 2021 Official Rulebook states that any call made before the ball bounces is considered partner communication and not a line call, and therefore, the ball is still in play. On the other hand, calling a ball "out" after the ball bounces is a line call, and the point is then over.
So, it’s best to wait until the ball has bounced on the court before making your final call.
Other examples of legal “partner communication” are yelling “long!”, “let it go!” or “no!” or “wide!” Yelling these phrases during play before the ball has bounced is legal and is simple understood as player or partner communication.
For example if we’re playing together and a ball is hit hard and high at you, I am allowed to yell “no!” or “long!” as an indicator for you to not hit it and let it go.
4 Tips For Making Good Line Calls
1. You can hit the ball and then make the call. Just be sure to call it "in" or "out" before your opponent hits it back.
2. You cannot call the ball before it bounces. You can't call it "out" until it hits the ground outside the lines. However, like I outline above, you can engage in partner communication before the ball bounces.
3. If there’s any disagreement, concede to your opponent, show good sportsmanship and call the ball good.
4. There are no replays when there’s disagreement on a call. Either it’s clearly out, or it’s considered good.
Are There Alternatives to Making Line Calls?
Have referees: In some matches and tournaments, referees can make line calls easier. Having an objective person to call the match can take the pressure off of the players when there’s a question about a line call.
Purchasing a line call device: You can also opt to buy a line-calling mechanism such as In/Out Portable Line Call Device. This alternative can provide accurate line calls; however, it can be expensive. For recreational play, this is not needed.
Related: Ever wonder how to add legal but also temporary pickleball lines down on a tennis court? Click here for my helpful walkthrough!
To sum it up, the rules about line calls in pickleball are reasonably simple:
- A ball that hits the line in pickleball is considered in.
- When you can see space between the ball and the line, the ball is out.
- You must be sure that your opponent's ball is out before you call it out. If there’s any doubt about the validity of the call, the ball is considered "in."
I hope you’ve found this article about proper line calls in pickleball helpful and have learned a thing or two about pickleball etiquette along the way. Remember, line calls should never interfere with the game and keep you from enjoying it!
Now get out there and have fun!