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Serving Up Respect: How to Tackle Bullies on the Pickleball Court

Updated: May 2

Pickleball, a sport known for its inclusivity and fun, has rapidly grown in popularity. As more people flock to the courts, the community spirit of pickleball often shines through, emphasizing fun, fitness, and fellowship. However, like any sport, it's not without its challenges, one of which includes dealing with on-court bullies.


Bully on the Pickleball Court

Understanding On-Court Bullying in Pickleball

On-court bullying in pickleball can manifest in various ways, such as players who overly aggressively hit balls at opponents, dominate the rules discussions, frequently call balls out, or even refuse to play with certain individuals. These behaviors can detract from the sport's friendly and inclusive ethos.


1. Aggressive Play: Some players may hit the ball with excessive force, targeting opponents in a manner that goes beyond healthy competitive spirit. This can be both intimidating and dangerous, especially in a sport that is popular among older adults.


2. Rule Dominance: Pickleball has a specific set of rules that ensure fair play. However, some individuals may insist they know the rules better than others, often challenging or overturning calls. This can lead to disputes and disrupt the flow of the game.


3. Calling Balls Out: This involves disputing the in-bounds status of the ball to gain an advantage. Constantly calling balls out when they are clearly in can frustrate opponents and create a contentious environment.


4. Exclusionary Tactics: Refusing to play with certain players or deliberately excluding them from games can be a form of social bullying. This not only affects the excluded individual's ability to participate but can also fracture community ties.


The High School Never Ends Syndrome

Interestingly, the social dynamics observed in pickleball courts can often mirror those from our high school days. Like in high school, where cliques and social hierarchies can dictate interactions, pickleball sometimes sees similar social stratifications. This 'High School Never Ends' phenomenon means that the same social issues, including bullying, can emerge on the courts, underlining the need for vigilance and proactive community management.


mean high school girls

Recreational vs. Tournament Play

The dynamics can differ significantly between recreational play and tournament settings. Recreational games are typically more relaxed and focus on enjoyment and exercise. Here, the impact of bullying can disrupt the very purpose of playing pickleball — fun and community. In tournaments, while the competition is expected to be fiercer, maintaining respect and sportsmanship is no less important. The pressure of competition can sometimes exacerbate bullying behaviors, making it crucial for referees and organizers to enforce rules strictly and foster an environment where fair play is paramount.


How to Handle Bullies on the Pickleball Court

Addressing the Behavior:

  • Communicate Clearly: Often, a straightforward and polite conversation about the game's nature and the importance of sportsmanship can mitigate bullying behaviors.

  • Refer to Official Rules: Having a copy of the official pickleball rules handy can help resolve disputes objectively. This approach is helpful, especially in informal games where no referees are present.

Foster a Positive Environment:

  • Encourage Team Spirit: Remind all players that the goal is to have fun and improve skills, not just to win. Emphasizing enjoyment can reduce competitiveness which leads to bullying.

  • Lead by Example: Demonstrate good sportsmanship by complimenting good plays, encouraging fair play, and showing respect to all players.


People talking at pickleball

Choosing to Disengage:

  • Opt to Stop Playing: If interactions with a bully do not improve despite attempts at communication and mediation, players have the right to disengage and refuse to play with the bully. This personal boundary can protect one's enjoyment and safety in the sport.


Seeking Further Assistance:

  • Use Court Monitors: In organized settings, having court monitors can help manage players' behavior and ensure the rules are applied fairly.

  • Report Persistent Issues: If a player consistently behaves negatively, reporting these incidents to club or league officials can help address the issue more formally.


The Role of Community in Curbing Bullying

The pickleball community plays a crucial role in maintaining the sport's friendly atmosphere. Clubs and social groups should have clear guidelines on conduct and procedures for dealing with disputes and unsportsmanlike behavior. Workshops or regular meetings can also educate members about the rules and etiquette of pickleball, promoting a safer and more enjoyable environment for everyone.


While the vast majority of pickleball players enjoy the sport for its social and health benefits, addressing the minority who engage in bullying behaviors is crucial for maintaining the integrity and joy of the game. By taking proactive steps and fostering a community of respect and fairness, players can continue to enjoy the many benefits of pickleball in a positive and supportive environment.


happy people

Have you experienced bullying on the court? What did you do?

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