Pickleball 411: Is The Ball In or Out? – Line Call Rule Clarified

In this episode of Pickleball 411, we focus on line calls and determining if a ball is in or out.  Using some clear motion graphics, our host, Rusty Howes, will walk us through the elements of the rule itself: Court Lines, Compression and Point of Contact.

We hope this short video will help clarify some of the discussion points of this part of the game and make line calling a little easier.

For a look at the line rules in the IFP Rulebook click HERE and go to page 24.

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28 Comments

  1. Ken Christensen says:

    Great video on an item with which not too many pickleball players seem to be aware (line calls). The video might have been a little more informative if it had compared tennis line calls with those of pickleball. It seems that many pickleball players are, or were, tennis players and don’t realize the difference in the line call rules between the two games.

  2. Dennis Hart says:

    A dime sized impact print seems impossibly small for a ball that can be driven at high speed and then must scoot along the surface that the ball impacts. The impact surface can be as smooth as varnished wood. That is a consideration for the ball’s impact footprint that is in addition to compression, and there is more compression than you might think at high speeds. But, let’s assume a theoretical dime sized impact footprint for now. In tennis, if the ball’s impact footprint touches the line at any point, the ball is considered in. In pickleball, if the ball’s impact footprint touches outside the line at any point, the ball is considered out. The rule for line calls in pickleball needs to be changed to conform to the tennis rule and state that if any part of the pickleball footprint impacts the line the ball should be considered in, regardless of whether or not the impact footprint extends outside of the line. This rule change would also be more aligned with the courtesy rule. Your video is informative, but it would have been interesting to show the case where the dime sized impact footprint straddles the outside of the line and what that call would have been under the current pickleball line call rule.

    • Rusty Rusty says:

      Hi Dennis. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I agree with you that certain angles would be almost impossible to tell.

      The goal of this video is to clarify the rule itself. Some have disagreed on what the actual rule was. Some, however, understand the rule but don’t like it. Currently there has been some discussion about if it’s ANY part of the ball, and unlike tennis it’s not. It’s only the point of contact. Some players argue that it should literally be ANY part, even a sliver, but specifically it is only the point of contact. There have been other people commenting that they think the rules should be changed to be more like tennis. And your clarification that this rule change would be more aligned with the courtesy rule makes sense.

      I encourage you to email the rules chair at the USAPA with your thoughts and suggestions. They take into consideration the entire pickleball community. http://www.usapa.org/about-the-usapa/

      In the future, we are considering doing some videos on refereeing which could get into all these scenarios more.

      Thanks again for your sharing. And if you have stuff you would like us to see or share, please let us know.

      Thanks,
      Rusty

      • Arun s says:

        Listen Rusty. I’ve played the other three supposedly related racket (racquet) sports competitively for four decades now. Line calls have been around forever and already presents a challenge to begin with. I’m squarely in favor of, “let’s not complicate things further” and just use tennis line calls for a model. Otherwise you run the risk of getting people arguing back and forth on every line call. So much so that it takes away from the sport itself, and they wind up spending more time on contentious line calls than on the play itself. That screams NOVICE any way you look at it .
        I say this because I’ve seen this first hand from people who are hopelessly clueless, and there are hordes of them.
        Some insist on making line calls from across the net, calling ins outs, and outs ins in the process. These are the same ones who don’t say the score and when they do, say it wrong, backwards and so on. They don’t remember the score most of the time or if it’s first or second serve and on and on.
        In order to keep the peace and the game progressing as it should, I take it upon myself to say it all the time out loud, and guess what, they still can’t remember it. Then they argue with me when I’m volunteering to keep the score.
        The whole mentality is out of whack. They don’t know what sportsmanship is and don’t even try being courteous by passing the ball from out of bounds without having you chase it. And, oh be sure you don’t beat them consistently because then they shun you. I mean what’s the matter with these adults? This takes away from the fun sport of Pickleball, period. But, I won’t let it, it deserves better because it makes us happy to play it.

  3. King Mackeral says:

    Wait..what was the answer to the question: If the dime sized area is both in and out (straddling the line) is it in or out?

    • Rusty Rusty says:

      Thanks for following up again. As per my talking with the rules chair of the USAPA, if in fact the “point of contact” whether dime sized, bigger or even smaller was such that part was in and part was out, then it would still be “IN” or “GOOD”. Basically if ANY part of the ball makes CONTACT with ANY part of the line, it would be called “IN”. Hope that helps clarify further.

  4. Robert Schnell says:

    I’m enjoying your P-ball channel and the content. One question I do have concerns your videos: what software program are you using? I just watched the “Line calling” video and I liked the pace and color of the transitions. Is it part of an editing program like Final Cut? Or is it a stand-alone software or a third party add-on to an editing program?

    Thanks

    • Rusty Rusty says:

      Hi Robert, glad you are liking the videos. I am happy to chat with you about the production and post of the videos themselves. We use a combination of Final Cut Pro and Adobe After Effects and Premiere, and other software. If you want, shoot us an email directly.

  5. Bill Robinson says:

    Hi, Rusty,

    The link to this video in the latest USAPA newsletter reminded me about it (I had looked over the video when you first released it, but didn’t have the time to organize my thoughts into an e-mail). So, I am chiming in rather late. I hope that you have a chance to review my comments, since I would be interested in hearing your opinion.

    First of all, thanks for the video. It does a good job of explaining (and focusing the spotlight upon) what is, in my opinion, a very bad rule. Oh, I understand the theory of “non-compression” of a pickleball quite well. And on paper, it all makes perfect sense. But trying to apply the rule as written in a real-world context, as the game is played by real people (as opposed to looking up at the underside of the ball from an ant’s-eye view or peering down through the middle of the ball with some sort of super-hero’s X-ray vision in order to see where the center of the ball contacted the court) just doesn’t work.

    Whatever you are doing, stop and snap your fingers. “Snap!” That’s about how fast a well-hit pickleball impacts the court and bounds away. Now, given the normal human perspective of looking down on the ball, was a ball that clearly appeared to overlap a line in or out? According to the rules as written, players must make a snap decision according to where the unseen underside of the ball struck the court, not according to whether, based upon the visual input provided by the player’s naked eye, the ball overlapped the line or not.

    I submit that if a ball overlaps a line, per my naked-eye line of sight, it should be ruled “good.” Only if I can see “green” (or whatever the base color of the court is) between the ball and the line should the ball be called out, with any doubt being decided in favor of my opponents. I further submit that that is the way that the game is really played.

    At one point, I actually took some time to explain the technicalities of the rule, as written, to some fellow-members of my pickleball group. Now, granted, we are mostly recreational players, although a few of us have a little tournament experience. To a man (and woman), the response to my explanation was a “That’s just silly!” Actually, that is the most polite reply that I received. Quite a few others were decidedly more energetically negative.

    Now, before you suggest that I contact the USAPA with my concerns, I can tell you that I have already done so. Dennis Dacey and I exchanged a series of e-mails on this subject approximately a year ago. Dennis quite politely went to great pains to explain the rule to me. Again, that’s not the problem. I understand perfectly well how the rule is intended to work. The problem is that nobody really plays that way out in the real world (well, granted, that is my opinion, based upon personal experience — but I would wager that *very* few pickleball players truly understand the “point of impact” rule, let alone trying to apply it during actual on-court play). As noted, Dennis was very polite, but of course nothing was done to address my concerns.

    Thanks for listening, Rusty. The USAPA is not doing so. So, the game will go on, and the rule will continue to be ignored. Again, the rule should be: “If you can see ‘green’ (insert underlying base color of the court here) between the ball and the line, the ball is out. Otherwise, it is in.” Simple, and it actually works in the real world.

    Kind regards,
    Bill

    • Rusty Rusty says:

      Hi Bill (and others) first of all… thank you so very much for watching http://www.pickleballchannel.com and then taking time to comment and share. The input from players around the country like yourselves is part of the community.

      In short, yes it can be very difficult , almost impossible from some angles to literally tell if the ball has made contact with a line. And yes, multiple players of all levels have shared some similar frustration about the rule. Interestingly some “LOVE” the rule the way it is, and others (like yourself) find it annoying and impractical.

      Just to clarify, the goal of this video is to clarify the rule itself. You seem to have a very clear understanding of the rule, but some have disagreed on what the actual rule was. So understanding the rule and liking the rule have been 2 different things. It becomes more interesting in light of how the courtesy portion of the official rules instructs people to call the ball in or out very similar to the way you present. And as a result, most people play the way you suggest.

      So….. where to go from here is the question.

      As you say, Dennis Dacey is both polite and professional. We truly truly appreciate all he is doing as a volunteer rules chair. I imagine he has had some very interesting conversations. All that I can say is to continue talking with him, and perhaps treat this as a political campaign to get a bill passed in a professional respectful way.

      We here at Pickleball Channel are relatively new to the sport and appreciative of the folks that make up the pickleball community. We are continuing to learn as much as possible about where folks like yourself, and the community as a whole, are at so that we may serve them better.

      I know this may have sounded like a bunch of political blah blah, but we do sincerely appreciate you comments. And we want to encourage continued communication. Feel free to email us directly if you want to talk further.

      Thanks again for your sharing. And if you have other ideas you would like us to see or share, please let us know.

      Thanks,
      Rusty

  6. Pattie says:

    I totally agree with Bill. The rule should be changed!
    Pattie

  7. Mike says:

    I am new to this site and very grateful that I found it. I’ve enjoyed the videos and all the information found here and look forward to upcoming issues.

    I would like to add my 2 cents on this topic of whether the ball is called in or out. I’ve played the game going on three years now mostly for fun and recreation. I would have to agree with Bill 100% on his post regarding how to interpret whether to call a shot in or out.

    There is virtually no way a player can “see” if the compression of a ball hitting the court has actually made contact with the outside portion of a line or not. Whether dime-sized, nickle-sized or even quarter-sized, I would doubt there are few if any players that could make an in or out call based on that criteria especially at the speed the ball travels. As Bill stated unless you have an “ant’s eye’ view or the stop-action of a video camera to highlight whether the ball has actually come into contact with the line it is not possible to accurately or consistently make that determination.

    Everyone who I have played with, including some tournament players in Florida will use the outline of the ball to make the call. If any portion of the outline of the ball “covers” the line when it lands, then the call is in. If there is even the slightest gap and one can see colour (green, red, blue or black) showing even a sliver of court, the ball is out. If there is any doubt in my mind, I will always call the ball in giving the opposition the benefit of the doubt.

    In my opinion, and all those that I’ve played with so far, the consensus is that the rule should be changed. It may never happen so we will continue to make in or out calls using the outline of the ball rather than contact point. Using this method to call the shots appears to be the most consistent, most accurate and in the context of courtesy, the most fair. At least in our opinion.
    Mike

    • Rusty Rusty says:

      Hi Mike – thanks for watching and sharing your thoughts. Please see my reply to Bill above if you are interested.

  8. Dan Ellis says:

    As a long-term tennis player, and relatively new to pickelball, I was amazed at how bad some of the line calls were. I watched the above line call video, and disagree with most of everything that was presented. The argument about the lack of compression of a pickelball is obviously incorrect. You can easily compress the pickelball on your paddle, certainly more than “the size of a dime”. You can feel it compress when you hit it, you can see it deform when it comes off an opponent’s paddle, and you can see it deform when it hits the court with some pace. Without high-speed cameras, this point is debatable, as it was for decades for tennis players, even when they had the advantage of visible ball marks. The real point of argument SHOULD be “did you SEE the ball as out”. Even with a dime sized point of contact with the court, if that point is OUTSIDE the line but the projection of the ball overlaps the line, you are OBLIGATED to call the ball IN because the ball is in UNLESS YOU SEE IT OUT. Knowing that the ball is probably not touching the line is not sufficient to make the call – You MUST BE ABLE TO SEE THAT THE BALL IS OUT TO CALL IT OUT. I’ve never seen a player lying on the court trying to determine if the moving ball has compressed enough to touch the line. It’s not obvious to me that there is any place in the Rules that allows me to call a ball “Out” simply because it probably did not compress enough to touch a line. For me, any ball that does not have visible space between the ball and the line has hit the line.

  9. Arun s says:

    Yes Dan Ellis, I’m inclined to agree with most of what you’re saying. I’ve always maintained that, assuming good soortsmanship is practiced, each team calls the lines on their side. You call it as you see it and if the profile/silhouette of the ball covers the line from your perspective you don’t call it since it’s considered in/good. By the way I tell people all the time, you only call the ones that are out. If no call is made its safe to assume it’s good. Same thing applies if they were unsighted and since they have the obligation to make the call. They can not debate beyond concurring w/ the partner as to how they saw it.
    No call adds up to forfeiting the point or turn to serve. It’s that simple. Yes, I’ve never seen anyone lying down on the ground to see that contentious point of contact. How ridiculous is that? You’d have to be a bug at the level of the balls contact to be able to see it or a camera as you stated to see that point of contact. Thx!

  10. Shelley Green says:

    Hoping you will clarify….if standing out of bounds and ball hits said person, is this considered ball in or ball out?

    • Meredith Meredith says:

      If the ball hits a person during play, whether that person is in or out of bounds, the person who gets hit is at fault and loses the point. So the ball is in when it hits a person. The best move for a person who thinks they are going to get hit is to step out of the way if they think it’s going to go out. Then the call is made on the person who hit the ball.

      See Section 7F of Fault Rules: The ball in play strikes a player or anything the player is wearing or carrying. There is one exception to this rule: if the ball strikes the player’s paddle hand below the wrist, the ball is still in play. If the ball strikes a player standing out of bounds before a fault has occurred, that player loses the rally. In doubles, if the serve strikes the receiver’s partner, it is a point for the serving team, providing it is not a let serve or a fault serve. This rule also includes balls that appear to be hit out of bounds: during play, if you catch the ball or try to stop it from heading out of bounds, you lose the rally.

      rule 7.F

  11. karen says:

    Question: When a ball is hit out of bounds, not called, and returned, does play continue because that person hit the ball back? Lots of confusion about this!!!

  12. Abe Hegewald says:

    What is the protocol when the ball strikes a player on any part of their body while standing out of bounds?

  13. Dick Byrne says:

    A player returns the ball and then immediately makes the out call. My assumption is that play ends at that point as the ball was out. Is my assumption correct?

  14. David says:

    Great explanation video other than the compression. The ball will compress as will anything.
    Some may realise that the court size and service rules are based on badminton. That’s also the case for the in/out rule – First point of contact. No subsequent and incalculable compression needs to be considered. The rules could be simplified by saying ‘first point of contact’ and the drawings updates to include centre lines.
    Coming from badminton, there’s no confusion but I can see why tennis players are confused since the tennis rule is inherently confused.

  15. Kay says:

    I would love to have the eyesight of those who can emphatically call ” in” to a fast return ball saying they saw it hit the outside of the line .

  16. ren says:

    I was told by the older player that in the situation when the ball for defending team was called out but offensive team called line, that the offensive team closer to the ball has the only say. They determine in or out. Is that the rule?

    • Meredith Meredith says:

      Hi Ren, The way you’re describing is a little confusing, but are you saying that you’re team hit the ball and the other team did not hit it and called it out and since they were closer to the ball they get to call? In the rulebook, the ball is called by the players on the court where the ball lands. (6.D.1. Players will call the lines on their side of the court (excluding service foot faults and all nonvolley-zonelines, if being called by a referee).) So in your situation, yes, the team that is playing the side of the court where the ball lands gets to call it in or out. There are lot more line call rules, so please read through them all in the rule book starting on p.30. Here is a link to the rule book: https://www.usapa.org/docs/ifp/USAPA-Rulebook.pdf

  17. claire says:

    I understood the rules, and hate to argue with so many people, especially those played tennis before. But to follow the rules it’s much easier for everyone on the court. I also tried to find the line rules for serving but without a very clear answer, it’s bad if the ball hit NVZ,thus the line, but how about the center line, side line and base line, are they treated as the same with regular line rules?

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