Lessons Learned on the Pickleball Court – Opponent’s Outburst

lessons learned

During my play in a recent USAPA sanctioned tournament, I was reminded of my past lessons learned and wanted to share with you, so IF YOU happen to run into the same scenarios then you will be prepared and better educated to keep the game on track.

During a heated doubles rally the opponent was hitting a backhand volley and the point of contact of the ball was either her paddle/hand OR her arm/shoulder… This player was five feet away from the ref and immediately the ref called Fault (a fault is any action that stops play because of a rule violation) causing Alex and me to stop play.  The ref stated the ball hit her upper arm / shoulder. Immediately the opponent voiced strong opposition and had a 10+ minute heated debate with the ref on how she thought the ref saw it wrong.

  • I saw the play and point of contact and believe yes the ball hit her arm and the ref was correct – yet I did not say anything (my mistake), assuming it would quickly get figured out on it’s own.

Lesson learned: Speak up and add your opinion to the discussion. Don’t assume that it will end correctly and/or quickly.


During the heated debate the opponent claimed numerous times that the play was captured on a video camera and it will show that the ref is wrong.

  • Rule # 14.F. Referee’s Officiating Duties. [_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][_builder_row][_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Referee is responsible for all decisions related to procedural and judgment calls during the match… The referee’s call will stand… Spectators are not part of the game and, therefore, cannot be consulted on calls.]

Lesson learned: that players looking for evidence of a particular shot or motion from a video camera have no basis to ask for that review – no need to keep discussing this issue wasting more time.


All momentum of the game had been lost and it is decided that the point will be played over. A new ref takes over (My opponent asked for a new ref) and play continues to the end of the match.

  • Rule # 14.L. Removal of a Referee or Line Judge. [A referee or line judge may be removed when both teams agree to the removal or at the discretion of the Tournament Director…]

Lesson learned: all players need to mutually agree on replacing the ref – and Alex and me were not asked. If all players do not agree, the current ref stays.


As tournament players we tacitly agree to abide by the ref’s calls, who are doing the best they can do.

The interesting thing is these lessons learned are all scenarios I have experienced before and I know these rules, yet in the heat of competition, fatigue, annoyance, crowd participation, etc, things happen… I just want to play pickleball, not witness a player’s personality.

Guess what? The score at the time of the outburst was 13 -13… And yes play was to 15.


I want to keep your lessons learned short, so you can remember the main points that may help YOU in time of heated competition.

For those of you that think this scenario through further, yes there could have been a:

 Technical Foul (14.M) – The referee is empowered to add one point to a player’s score or a team’s score when the opponent violates one of the rules calling for a technical foul or, in the referee’s judgment, the opponent is being overly and deliberately abusive. 

Match Forfeiture (14.H.1) – A referee may impose a forfeit when a player refuses to abide by the referee’s decision or engages in unsportsmanlike conduct.

Rules numbers come from the International Federation of Pickleball – The official tournament rulebook that the USAPA uses.

lessons learned

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The featured photo at the top of this post with four players at net is for ILLUSTRATION ONLY. Photo credits: Patrick Kelley and Barb Rix, thank you for the great pickleball photos.

28 comments on “Lessons Learned on the Pickleball Court – Opponent’s Outburst”

  1. That’s crazy that the beef was over 20 minutes long. Refs are usually armed with a stopwatch or timer. The arguing player should get no more than 60 seconds to plead his or her case. Then be accessed warning, point, game, match and tournament disqualification for each subsequent 60 seconds.
    I would have stepped in as the opponent that enough was enough and ask for a tournament director. No way would I have let that go on that long. It’s my time too.

  2. Jen – hopefully as officials become more experienced and are trained and certified then this kind of player manipulation should go away. In a tough match one team should never be put in this position – if a player argues a call which is not accepted by the ref they have some clear options – stop arguing and play, withdraw from the match, or keep arguing and get defaulted by the referee. The first is the preferred option. But this is a problem that transcends pickleball. It is very difficult for a volunteer referee to default a top player in any sport. However it is the duty of an official to do it in the face of disruptive behavior which this clearly was. And the referee is there to guard against this. It should never fall to the other team to make a decision on a personal level to solve this problem. That being said we all make mistakes and so some self forgiveness is a good thing.

  3. Thank you for the timely reminder. Same thing happened at our tournament. Ranting, and request to remove the referee. I was so proud of our Tourney Director, who immediately dismissed the request and empowered the ref to notify the unruly player and impose whatever discipline necessary. Love this sport.

  4. Great article! I wish the same rules would apply every time. I was in a tournament and the opposing player made a call that my partner stepped into the kitchen on a winning shot. The ref didn’t see it…but because some other player not our match said he also saw my partner step into the kitchen,we lost the point. The worst part was that it was on video and another ref saw that my partner in fact did not step into the kitchen but didn’t say anything till after.?

  5. Lynn & Linda Laymon

    We agree with everything you say, except your advice to others that as the other players on the court they should have gotten involved and supported the ref. While that sounds like a good idea, it just adds confusion and furthers the idea that the ref is not in charge. The ref does not need, nor should he or she want, an outside opinion. The ref’s ruling stands. The mistake made in this instance (other than the unsportsmanlike conduct of the player causing the scene) was the ref’s. He/she never should have let the argument start, much less go on for that long. The ref should have just stated, “That is my ruling. If you don’t go back and play I will give you a technical warning.” If the player continued arguing, the ref should have immediately issued a technical warning, followed by a technical foul for any further discussion on the point.[IFP rule 14.M.2]
    While the ref knew enough to stick to the ruling, he/she evidently was not familiar with the USAPA Referee Handbook, which states the correct procedure in a number of places. Specifically, under the section heading: Uncommon On-court Scenarios:

    “Dealing with Unruly Players: There will be rare occasions when a player becomes angry during a match. It may be triggered by an action of the opponent or the referee. Regardless of the cause, such situations must be dealt with in a professional manner.
    • Most importantly, remain calm and maintain a benign demeanor and open mind.
    • Meet the player(s) mid-court, away from spectators, and calmly discuss the source of irritation.
    • Take time to understand the complaint; it may be a simple misunderstanding.
    • Avoid argument. If the player becomes verbally abusive issue a technical warning; if it continues or intensifies issue a technical foul. Advise the player(s) that a second technical foul results in automatic forfeiture of the match; this usually restores calm.
    • If it’s a rule or rule interpretation issue, don’t hesitate to summon the head referee or tournament director for clarification.
    • Players have the right to request a ruling from the tournament director; honor such a request.
    • If the player makes threats to you or a player issue a technical foul, without warning.
    • When play is resumed after an altercation, if the player continues to create problems, issue a technical.

    Remember, it is your job to control the match and keep peace on the court. You are not a dictator, but you do have the authority and a responsibility to apply the rules in a fair and professional manner.”

    Note that the unruly player does have the right to ask for a ruling by the tournament director, however, in this case, not having seen the point in question, the tournament director could only support the referee’s call, since it was not a case of a rule interpretation. Replaying the point is not an valid option in this situation. Also, it is absolutely correct that the agreement of all 4 players is necessary to replace a ref.
    We urge every tournament player, and especially those who referee, study the USAPA Referee Handbook. It has been available on the website to all members since Dec. 1, 2015 and contains the official standards and procedures for officiating at sanctioned tournaments. There is also an accompanying Trainer Guide for those charged with offering training to potential referees. Regarding the comment about the “powers that be” recognizing the need for professional level officiating, USAPA has a Referee Certification program that involves online tests, referee training according to the standards and procedures in the Handbook and Trainer Guide, followed by 30 matches refereed to master the S&Ps, and on-court evaluation by a national referee evaluator. Please look on the USAPA website for more information about this program or e-mail tr******@us***.org
    Linda & Lynn Laymon USAPA Training Chairs

  6. Jennifer, you and Alex are a class act and I think that you acted correctly by staying out of it. However the referee is a whole other problem by not nipping this in the beginning.

  7. Maybe Alex and Jen are way too patient and nice. Imagine a similar scenario in the finals of Wimbledon, let’s say between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. Do you believe for one nano second any professional referee would tolerate such behavior from either Murray or Djokovic? Or that either player would dare to suggest a replay of an adjudicated point for the single most important tennis title in the world?

    No way, Jose.

    If any tennis professional acts out for more than a minute or two, that player is warned and then penalized a point and then a game and then the match.

    Pickleball authorities need to get tough and fast or else soon the inmates will be running the asylum.

    1. Keith, you obviously never saw McEnroe or Connors disrupt many many tennis matches. The sport finally instituted strict rules concerning conduct. The same will have to happen in PB. Just wait till players start grunting loudly, drives me crazy.

      1. Al, I remember McEnroe and Connors and Ilie Nastase, too. And for all their brilliance, all three remain an embarrassment to tennis and to themselves, as well. McEnroe himself believes he would have won several more majors if he had not lost his emotional control or his mental focus. During that era, I spent a year in England on a Fulbright Fellowship, during which time several English colleagues told me how much they admired McEnroe’s talent but detested his behavior. One of them even praised me for being such an atypical American because I was nothing like Mac the brat! We must make sure pickleball enforces strictly and consistently severe penalties for tantrums, no matter how stellar the star misbehaving.

  8. Jen,
    I have observed your play for 5 years since I started this game. Its not how you win, Jen (no pun intended) its how you have always acted on the court and trust me, I am not political or socially correct so I just say what comes out, and you have ALWAYS been a class act and an inspiration to all players including beginners to the 5.0 players. A lot of younger players are coming into this sport and if only 1 sees and emulates you, you did something great for the sport. I watched a guy beat his horse one day at a pro rodeo and they fined him and his sponsors dropped him. There should be consequences for this behavior and until the powers that be recognize this, I am afraid it will continue. Please continue to show the graciousness that you always have on the court, because that screams more than your bad opponents behavior!!!

  9. Glad to see others learning from my lessons learned. Again, the purpose of me taking the time to share is to hopefully help you remember a few rules in case you are in the same situation. I am disappointed in myself for not speaking up, and I think a few women are the same – just keep quiet and all will turn out fairly. So my share is that I give you permission to speak up to the ref – just like I tell some women players – hey go for it, HIT THE BALL HARD, go for the winning hard shot!! – you don’t always have to dink it back.

  10. Beverly Youngren

    Thank you for taking time to share a very unfortunate experience in an articulate manner. It’s unfortunate to see any top player behave in this way, and I truly hope this will open the eyes of some of these players who have been on the “edge” with their behavior during tournaments. It is not acceptable and damages the integrity of the sport we all love so much.

  11. So glad you took the time to give the details of that unsportsmanlike incident, and especially the rule book citations.
    Your team handled it with class. You are amazing role models!

  12. Candice Traeger

    I saw this outburst in this match. As a lower level player I look up to open/pro players. What a disappointment to see such unsportsmanlike conduct. I’m pretty sure after she called time-out (to yell at the ref – throwing her paddle down) it was 15-20 minutes! I didn’t even know that much time could be taken to argue a call. You and Alex were very impressive though as you started hitting the ball to keep warm. Kudos to you and shame on the other player. That kind of behavior really takes away from ones talent.

    1. Jennifer,

      Among the many things I so admire about Jen and Alex are their calm focus and impeccable sportsmanship
      Do not question for one second their concentration, mental toughness, and passionate competitiveness. Nonetheless,, Alex Hamner and Jennifer are unwavering ambassadors of the sport–professionals to the core.

  13. Tery Long, Santa Cruz

    I like the lessons on the “Rules and Refs” Refs need to be trained as if they are umpires in major league baseball. If you argue with a Ref you are most likely thrown out! That will come with time.

  14. Roy Wilson, Ontario, Canada

    Hi Jennifer

    The way you explain that the ‘ref’ was asked to be replaced or remove him/herself sounded like that ‘ref’ who called the fault was likely glad to get outa there.

    I think this was a great article because all ‘refs’ can potentially get into the middle of that situation; I had to ask myself, “what would I have done?”.

  15. Jennifer,
    I was there that day and witnessed the incident. I am so glad you brought up this incident in your Blog, because this incident has been talked about for several weeks following the tournament.
    You are absolutely correct in the rules you mentioned. Watching it occur as a spectator, the incident was ridiculous and just plain bad for the Tournament and Pickleball in general. The refs decision should have been final and the next point played immediately, instead of the huge time delay and indecision that occurred. We all felt bad for your team and the Referee.

  16. Jen, this is an incredibly instructive anecdote. I am reminded of my favorite referee story. A well known ref was running the gold medal match in open mixed. The two male players were trash talking each other’s play, including progressively more ugly and coarse cursing. After one particularly offensive exchange during a protracted rally, the referee called the two out of control men to one side. Here is what he said: “You two are embarrassing yourselves and reflecting badly on the sport. One more word out of either one of you, and I will disqualify both of your teams and give the gold medal to the third place team.”

    The match concluded with no further outbursts from either man.

    Now that is a referee!

  17. Jenn, Been playing some 3 years and I’ve competed in quite a few tourneys. Here’s a problem that I have that I’m hoping someone can share some light on. In better than 75% of my games I start slow and find myself down several points before I get things rolling. I believe my warmup is adequate and as I play with many partners I can’t use that as an excuse. It just seems that I’m constantly digging myself and teammate out of a hole….Any thoughts???

    1. Jennifer Lucore

      Hello Ed, that is a great question, and one I can completely relate to. I myself, seem to do better when I am behind and pressured – I have had numerous double dips and came back to win – the long road! So why do we do that to ourselves? Ha…. I think this will be another lessons learned blog post to write… stay tunned!

  18. The request to view the video was consistently denied by the ref. Also, the featured photo at the top of this post with four players at net is for illustration only. It does not include the player who argued, insisted the ref look at her video, and disrupted play for 15 minutes to consult the tournament director.

    1. Jennifer Lucore

      Thanks for your observation and BIG THANKS for catching a disclaimer I forgot – The featured photo of four players is for ILLUSTRATION ONLY – not pictured is my opponent in this Lessons Learned. I am adding that into the end of my blog post now – good catch!

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