There’s nothing scarier than being forfeited due to a rule that you weren’t even aware of… Here are some important terms to learn prior to playing in your first USA Pickleball sanctioned tournament.
Code Violation – Behavior by a player that does not comply with the USA Pickleball Rulebook, or as outlined herein. Code violations take the form of verbal warnings, technical warnings, technical fouls, forfeits, ejections, or expulsions. To that end, code violations are progressive in nature. The referee is empowered to call verbal warnings, technical warnings and technical fouls and to forfeit a game or match based on a combination of technical warnings and/or technical fouls as defined in the USA Pickleball Rulebook. In most cases, the referee has sole discretion in awarding technical warnings, fouls, and game forfeits.
Verbal (VW) and Technical Warning (TW) – A minor behavior violation. Behaviors that could earn you a verbal or technical warning:
- Objectionable language directed at another person.
- Profanity (audible or visible) used for any reason.
- Arguing aggressively with the officiating team, other players, or spectators in a way that disrupts the flow of play.
- Ball abuse (aggressively or purposely breaking or stepping on the ball) or striking the ball between rallies.
- Taking time between rallies in a way that unnecessarily disrupts the flow of play.
- Repeatedly questioning the referee on the rules in a way that disrupts the flow of play.
- Repeatedly appealing line calls such that the flow of play is disrupted.
- Challenging the referee’s interpretation of a rule and losing the challenge (e.g., referee’s ruling was correct, and a timeout is assessed).
- Requesting a medical timeout without a valid medical condition (timeout will be assessed) as determined by medical personnel. The tournament director makes this determination if no medical staff is present.
- Any other actions that are considered minor unsportsmanlike behavior, including but not limited to making repeated questionable ‘out’ calls that, upon appeal, are reversed (overruled) by the referee.
- Except during timeouts and between games, receiving coaching from anyone other than a partner.
Technical Foul (TF) – A significant behavior violation that impacts the game and is more serious than a technical warning. Behaviors that result in a technical foul:
- Aggressively or recklessly throwing a paddle in frustration or anger, with negligent disregard of the consequences, and does not strike a person or damage property.
- A player using extremely objectionable language, or profanity, regardless of to whom or what it is directed.
- Making a threat or challenges of any nature toward or against any person.
- Challenging the referee’s interpretation of a rule and losing the challenge (e.g., referee’s ruling was correct, and no timeout is available.
- Any other actions that are considered extreme unsportsmanlike behavior.
- Requesting a medical timeout without a valid medical condition, and the team (or player in a singles match) has no timeouts remaining.
- Deliberately throwing or hitting a ball that is not in play with negligent disregard of the consequences which inadvertently hits a person.
Forfeit (F) – An egregious behavior violation or a combination of technical warnings and/or technical fouls that result in either a game or match being awarded to the opponent. Behavior that result in a game forfeit:
- After one technical warning has been assessed and the subsequent issuance of a technical foul.
- After one technical foul has been assessed and the subsequent issuance of another technical warning for any reason.
Behavior that shall result in a match forfeit:
- The combined issuance of two technical warnings and a technical foul.
- After one technical foul has been assessed and the subsequent issuance of a second technical foul for any reason.
- Making deliberately aggressive physical contact with an opponent, official or spectator.
- Aggressively or recklessly striking or throwing a ball or paddle out of frustration or anger that puts an individual or facility property at risk or in danger.
- The tournament director may impose a match forfeit for failure to comply with the tournament or host facility’s rules while on the premises, for improper conduct on the premises between matches, or for abuse of hospitality, locker room, or other rules and procedures.
- For match formats either 1 to 15 or 1 to 21, a game forfeit is equivalent to a match forfeit.
- If the match is a 1 to 15 or 1 to 21 format game, the match forfeit occurs when the player fails to report to play 10 minutes after the match has been called to play.
- If the match is a best 2 out of 3 (or 3 out of 5) game format, a referee may impose a game forfeit when a player fails to report to play 10 minutes after the match has been called to play. A match forfeit will be imposed when a player fails to report to play 15 minutes after the match has been called to play.
- Match forfeits may also be awarded by the referee but are subject to review and concurrence by the head referee and tournament director. The head referees will report all match forfeits to the tournament director.
Ejection (E) – A behavior violation so flagrant that it warrants ejection from the tournament by the tournament director. The player may stay at the venue but may no longer play in any matches. Prize money may be forfeited pending the outcome of a meeting between the head referees and the tournament director. Behavior that result in an ejection include behaviors that are flagrant and particularly injurious or singularly egregious behavior that, in the opinion of the tournament director, impacts the success of the tournament. An ejection can occur due to actions any time the player is at the tournament venue and may include, but is not limited to:
- Using ethnic, religious, racial, or homophobic slurs.
- Injury to a player, official, or spectator through an act of paddle or ball abuse.
- Spitting or coughing on a person.
- Not exhibiting ‘best effort.’ This includes but is not limited to, defaulting, forfeiting, or not giving best efforts in matches, whether for their own benefit or otherwise.
In addition to an ejection, the tournament director also has the option to expel the player from the tournament venue.
Expel (X) – A behavior so flagrant that the tournament director prohibits the player from playing in any current and any future brackets of the tournament. In addition, the player shall leave the venue immediately and not return for the remainder of the tournament.
Tournament ejections and expulsions are the sole authority of the tournament director but will only be taken after an immediate review between the head Referees and the tournament director.
USA Pickleball takes a firm stance on player code of conduct because negative behaviors can potentially damage the reputation of USA Pickleball and the sponsors of the tournament. Serious violations are subject to an immediate review between the head referees and the tournament director whereby a decision will be reached concerning the implementation of any consequences to the player in question. Fair and proper enforcement of these rules ensures a positive experience for everyone involved in the tournament — players, spectators, volunteers, etc.
It is vital that players become familiar with the proper code of conduct at tournaments to avoid having penalties imposed simply because they “didn’t know any better.” The USA Pickleball Rulebook is a great resource and one that I highly recommend reviewing prior to playing in your first tournament (or if it has been a while since you’ve competed). Occasionally, there are rule changes or updates that are introduced so it’s helpful to review the rules even for those who are already well versed in it. Leave a comment if you have questions and I will be happy track down the answers for us.