Pickleball Rule Changes in 2023

Like every year, USAPA revises the pickleball rulebook with a few changes. Last year, the chainsaw serve stormed up pickleball forums and communities. Now, the pickleball rule changes for 2023 call for a complete ban of the spin serve—Duh! It’s not even 2023, and players have already gone crazy.

Pickleball rule changes 2023

And not just that, it also puts rules on dressing now. Well, the committee is on some serious missions. The forums and discussion groups are being pickled with both negative and positive comments about the new rule changes. Whether the game’s going to get boring or may turn out more exciting than before, this is what you have to decide after reading all the rule changes, their impact, and the new image they brought to the game. So, let’s jump into what is actually gonna be different in 2023!

Pickleball Rule changes in 2023:

In 2023, the spin serve will no longer be legal, plus the drop serve will be basic with no topspin. There are restrictions on the clothes that match the pickleball ball color, faults are clarified, the 3/5 format has been added, and 6 editorial changes will take place in the 2023 Official Pickleball Rulebook.

Let’s dig deeper into what 2023 will unfold for pickleball.

How many changes were suggested?

For 2023, the committee reported 78 suggestions for rule changes in the “Public Input Opportunity.” This year, the committee had 4 more changes than the previous year. Last year, they have entertained 72 changes. The IFB and USAP Rules Committee approved and passed 22 rules prior to October 1st.

How many rule change suggestions get approved?

Among the 78 suggested and 22 passed rules, the board only approved 20 rules. The actually approved suggestions were 21, but entry 521 and 526 has the same intent and rule change suggestion. For the rest of the rules, the board gave its reasons and cited previous rules in which it resolved the issue. These 21 suggestions include…

20 rule changes to learn before January 2023

20 rule changes to learn before January

On October 31, 2022, the USAPA board of directors finalized 20 changes.

  1. Ban on spin serve.
  2. No spin on Drop Serve.
  3. Can’t wear clothes matching colors with pickleball.
  4. The player hit by the ball has committed a fault.
  5. Players have the all-control over the Questions About Service Sequence and Player Positions.
  6. Fault if you called the score after the return of the serve.
  7. Clarification of wording in the rules for foot and service faults in non-officiated play.
  8. Time-outs for apparel changes.
  9. Extra allowance for Equipment Time-Outs.
  10. Round-robin tie-breaking rule clarification.
  11. Degraded balls should also be replaced.
  12. Replay Instead of Fault for Service Motion Violation.
  13. No Questioning and Commenting on Opponents’ call.
  14.  Adding scoring guidelines for 3/5 match remaining matches.
  15. Adding forfeit game scores for 3/5 matches.
  16. Service foot fault wording.
  17. Particulazing the Serve Definition.
  18. Change of wording in 11.H. rule.
  19. Line call editorial change from “promptly” to “prior to”.
  20. Ambiguous wording change for 7.D rule.

Major changes in Pickleball Rule 2023:

The following 12 rules are the major pickleball rule changes that we’ll see in 2023.

1. Ban on spin serve.

The only reason the Pickleball rule changes, 2023, trending even before the effective date, is the ban on spin serve. According to the rule, the serving player can’t impart spin or any manipulation while releasing the spin. If the ball is invisible to the referee/opponent, the opponent/referee can call for a “replay.”

The change has both positive and negative reactions, which we explained below.

Positive reactionsNegative reactions
It retrieves back the original purpose of serve: to initiate the game. The serve should be simple and straightforward, and the players should focus on carrying along the rally with strategic shots rather than making the game complex at the very start.
Spin serve makes the return weak and thus affect the entire rally for the non-serving team. The Pickleball court area is small, which makes it hard to return the spin serve. Usually, you need an enormous space to read the spin and make your return accordingly. Whereas remodifying the pickleball court is a long process, let alone altering the legacy and essence of the game. 
What put this change on the charts is the wording, “Most players cannot master a truly effective spin serve, or return a good spin serve.” Because some players can’t play a certain shot, why should everyone have to come down to their level?
We know your feelings, and we felt the same at first. The committee should develop tutorials, simplify the spin serve, or maybe enlarge the court area. The argument of “limited numbers of players have mastered this shot” and “devastating amateur players” again highlights the inability of a few players who couldn’t play the shot and put everyone at stake.

Morgan Evans, what you introduced was a treat in pickleball, but now we’ve to say goodbye to the little time we enjoyed serving the spin. For us spinners, it quite is a turn-off. Some of our members even hated this change. But of course, the changes are for the betterment, and the organization has to serve a vast community. Good or bad, you just have a few days to live your moment and make the best of your spin serve.

In addition, the spin is banned on the serve only. It’s not eliminated from the game entirely. It means the spin paddles are still legal, and you can naturally spin the ball using your paddle. But refrain from using another hand and fingers while doing so. Simply put, the 2023 rule change banned the pre-spun serve but the natural spin coming out of the paddle is still legal.

The Volley serve change - Rule # 524
The Volley serve change – Rule # 524.

2. No spin on Drop Serve.

With the drop serve, you can’t propel or toss up the ball. So, the players used to put the spin. Remember, the effective drop serve has the maximum spin. But sadly, it’s gone too. The ban on the pre-spun serve also took drop serve in and made this tough shot very basic. 

3. Can’t wear clothes matching colors with pickleball.

Besides the spin serve, the apparel rule was the most heated as the committee has now banned clothes that match the ball’s color. Since the rules aren’t official, the NRD currently has two changes with the same intent. One is recorded with the 521 ID, and the other carries 526. 

Both the changes state that the Tournament Director has the authority to proclaim a forfeit on the match if his enforcement on the change of apparel isn’t considered by the player wearing clothes that match the ball color. 

While this new change got the limelight, it was previously stated in the rulebook:

Previous 2.G rule in the official rulebook of pickleball
Previous 2.G rule in the official rulebook of pickleball.

Ring the bells? USAPA already had these rules previously. Now, the committee has specified the rules by replacing “garments” with “apparel” and identifying “inappropriate” by writing similarity with the ball color. 

That’s where politics dragged into sports. Suppose you’re wearing your lucky yellow hoodie in the tournament, and you’re stated “ineligible” because it matches the colors of the ball. In the first five minutes, you’d hate the referee, management, court, pickleball, weather, sun—everything. 

However, this is a meaningful change, and only those who played against the team wearing neon or yellow relate to the joy. Put yourself against someone in yellow and play without having difficulty reading the ball. Now you know why this change was necessary. 

4. The player hit by the ball has committed a fault.

The rules “7.H” and “7.I” explain so much about the ball hitting the body as a fault. But to whom? This year, the entire quarrel on this fault will be ended because the new rule clarifies the player who was hit by the ball has committed a fault. The simple editorial change has made the victim a culprit. Now the player who hit the shot has no charge. Rather, the receiver has to be careful. 

5. Players have the all-control over the Questions About Service Sequence and Player Positions.

Players can ask questions about the sequence, positioning, and whether they’re initiating the right way. This is the rule change applied to 4.B.8 and 4.B.9 and was partially approved. The 4.B.8 says that a player can ask about his stance, sequence, and the opponent’s stance before the serve. The new change specified the rule with a generic question, “Am I good?” avoiding all the irrelevant questions. The referee will tell you the correct position and sequence if anything is wrong. In a match without a referee, you can ask the opponent, and they’ll tell you.  

The changes requested for the 4.B.9 were declined because it was unnecessary, as the game already went smoothly. The player may stop the game if he thinks the incorrect player has served or the fault has been committed on the other side. The referee will only stop the game if the same has occurred. Isn’t both the same things already mentioned in the rule? That’s why it was rejected. 

6. Fault if you called the score after the return of the serve.

In 2021, the 4.K rule was updated with the change that the fault will occur if the player stops the play after the serve. This gives the serving team an advantage over the receiving team that they can make the serve instantly after it has been made. Now, the returners have no time to call the score. This year has been so much of a mess, so this change reverts back to the previous score-calling rules. 

7. Clarification of wording in the rules for foot and service faults in non-officiated play.

Previously, there was a lot of confusion about the Player Line and Fault Call Responsibilities because the non-officiated rule to call out a fault on an opponent was merged with the rule that explains the fault on players themselves. The new change separates the wording from rule 13.D.1.c. and makes it rule 13.D.1.a. The rule change also clarifies the fault type in rule  13.D.1.b changing the wording from service foot faults to foot faults and service faults, so the player won’t confuse about which one to make a call. 

8. Round-robin tie-breaking rule clarification.

The Rule Change ID 527 focuses on the unclear and incomplete 12.C.3 explaining the round-robin tie-breaking format. According to the previous rule, all the teams have to go through a tie-breaker, and they’ll be finalized based on the points they’ve won. Now, the listing had some serious issues because all the teams had to play each other, and if one lost to another, it didn’t matter because, in the next, they might beat any other team and come up. 

To eliminate this confusion, a “withdraw” option for the winner was suggested. The suggestion was legit but unclear, so the committee made the required changes and passed the rule change in the following words.

New changes in rule 12.C.3
New changes in rule 12.C.3.

9. Degraded balls should also be replaced.

Like a play gets stopped if the ball is broken or cracked. A similar will happen if the pickleball ball is degraded. Degraded means a ball is relatively dull, has a low bounce rate, or extra soft. Before the serve, the referee will determine whether the ball is good to initiate the ball. If not, the ball will be replaced. 

10. Time-outs for apparel changes.

Since pickleball already has limited time-outs. There’s an extension in the 2.G.4 rule that gives an additional time-out for the players who are not in appropriate clothes, i.e., wearing clothes with the same color as the ball. 

11. Extra allowance for Equipment Time-Outs.

The time-out wasn’t given to the apparel exchange only. The new year rule changes also allow an additional time-out for emergencies related to the equipment. Now the players won’t have to use the given time-out in case of mishaps, i.e., paddle broken, laces getting loose, replacing the hat, etc. they’ll use the equipment timeout, and also, it won’t be just for two minutes. You can take as much time as possible until your problem is resolved. 

In addition, the new rule change also adds that in non-official matches, if an equipment problem occurs, all the players will work out the accommodation. The opponents won’t charge the time-out on the players running into the malfunction. 

12. Replay Instead of Fault for Service Motion Violation.

Previously, if you make a service motion fault, i.e., served above the waists, you won’t be charged for a fault. This penalty was too strict, especially for beginners. Now, if there’s an error in the serving motion, the serve will be replayed. 

Editorial Rule changes in pickleball 2023 

As you you, many changes are just editorial, and they specify the existing rule more clearly. This year, there are 6  editorial changes. However, these changes don’t affect the playing formats and style. 

13. No Questioning and Commenting on Opponents’ Calls.

Along with restricting the players from questioning the opponent’s call, the committee has further put a stop to commenting. Players can no longer comment on the opponent’s calls too. Some players usually trick the opponent by passing comments or manipulating them. However, it’s just a suggestion. There is no fault or forfeit on you if you do so. But still, have some sportsmanship! 

14. Adding scoring guidelines for 3/5 remaining matches.

There was no rule about the 3 out of 5 match format, although they practically have always counted. The new edit will give a 3/5 format a place in the rulebook. 

15. Adding forfeit game scores for 3/5 matches.

As the 3/5 format was introduced, the forfeit for the withdrawal was also mentioned by adding 3/5 Format: 11-0, 11-0, 11-0″ under 12.F.6. rule to make the format complete and comprehensive in all manners. 

16. Service foot fault wording.

Adding the word “court” was suggested to add in the 4.A.4.c rule. The board passed the rule and the edited the “the court” the playing surface”, as you know pickleball is played on many surfaces other than the court. The grass is one of the impressive examples. 

17. Particulazing the Serve Definition.

The serve definition will be all-inclusive, adding the “with the paddle” before the “The initial strike of the ball” to give a serve a broad meaning that you’ve to make the serve by using the paddle only. 

18. Change of wording in 11.H. rule.

The stuff and essentials of the players should be kept on the player’s own court. In the previous rule, it was explained using the words “side of the court,” which was confusing because sides can be left or right. The new change will replace the word side with ends to make it comprehensive. 

19. Line call editorial change from “promptly” to “prior to”.

The line call rule 6.D.8 states, “All “out” calls must be made “promptly”; otherwise,

the ball is presumed to still be in play.” The next wording in the rule has 21 words explaining the definition of “promptly.” In the new changes, these 21 words will be eliminated and promptly will be replaced by “prior to” to clarify the rule with precise and clear wording. 

Extra words in the 6.D.8
Extra words in the 6.D.8.

20. Ambiguous wording change for 7.D rule

The rule change proposed the word “subsequent” instead of “first” to clarify the intent for the players. The committee passed the rule. However, it modified the wording from “subsequent” to “first” again. And guess what? This is a change. Perhaps we should treat it as a miscellaneous change having no real revision.

Technical error in the rule change “ambiguous wording”
Technical error in the rule change “ambiguous wording”.

Impact of rule changes in 2023:

Honestly, the USAP Rule Committee always has good intentions for passing/rejecting the suggested rule changes. However, each player has a different perspective towards the changes and thus, the controversies began. Speaking of controversy, we believe you’ll only disagree with a certain change if you’re not well-informed. Once you consider all the facts and figures and analyze practicality while you keep aside your personal playing style and liking, you’ll have a more clear view and perhaps a positive perspective. This is because the rule changes always have a good impact on the game.

Our Verdict:

We guess changing rules and updating the official rulebook every year is a bit exaggerated. The helpful and major changes are hardly 1-2, while the rests are minor modifications or often aimless changes with no value and alteration to the game. What if the changes occur every 5 years? Sounds good and less hectic, nay? We’re definitely going to pass it to the USAPA Ruling Committee. And in the meantime, let us know your opinions about pickleball rule changes in 2023. Are they gamechanger or changing the game? The floor for debates and comments is always open!

Robby Anderson

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