How to Get Into Pickleball Games at Public Courts when You're New

Or, at least increase your chances when there's no organized system...

waiting to play pickleball graphic - The Pickleball Broadcast

How to Play Pickleball at Public Courts When You're a Newcomer

In a perfect world, you would just show up with your paddle in hand and get asked to play every single time. In the real world, however, it depends on where you play, when you play and who is there...

If you're brand new to pickleball or to a certain venue, the first thing you could ask is if there's a USAP or Court Ambassador on-site. If there is, they will assist you in finding games. If there isn't an official or non-official ambassador on-site, many players tend to jump in and will introduce you to the typical protocols at that location. If no one approaches you, BE ASSERTIVE!

The "norms" do change from location to location. For instance, in the Palm Springs area, there are some courts that happily welcome new players and visitors. And, there are others courts that are difficult to play on during prime time if you don't arrive with a group of four or if you don't know the locals.

However, sometimes at all pickleball venues, you'll find an odd number of players like 3, 7, 11, 15, etc. and players are desperate for another body who will help them fill a court so three people aren't sitting out during each game. If you spot three people waiting on the sidelines, ask to be their fourth!

Organized Systems

Hopefully, there IS an organized system in place. If so, all you have to do is ask someone how it works. Typically the systems are pretty simple - when a game finishes at 11 points (win by 2), the four players leave the court and the next waiting group of 4 plays on that court. This is referred to as "Four On/Four Off."

One of two systems are frequently used to determine who the next four players are: The Paddle System or The Board System. To learn about popular pickleball rotation systems, click here.

A Bonus Using Either One of These Systems as a Single Player

As a single player, you might be able to play more frequently. The next group might need 1 player in their box or paddle stack and will ask people to complete complete their foursome - lucky you!

Here are some tips to get into games when there isn't an organized system in place:

First, observe the players closely

  • If they seem to be playing for fun (joking & smiling), they'll likely be more receptive to rotating you in.

  • If they seem to be of mixed abilities or similar in skill level (preferably around your skill level), they might be more receptive to rotate you in.

  • If they appear to be significantly better or super serious, you'll need to determine for yourself if that's a good fit for you and if you want to give it a try.

Second, be ready

  • Stand nearby with your paddle in hand and wait patiently for a game to end. As soon as it ends, try to catch eye contact with the more friendlier player and nicely ask if you can rotate in.

Be friendly, polite and assertive. They'll either say: yes, no or later. (Some players are more amenable to playing down in skill level before or after their competitive "play date.")

If your timing is poor on that particular day, here's what you can do to prepare for next time:

  • Ask when you should come back for open play or rec play. Many private/competitive groups play outside of open play so they'll tell you when it's scheduled. It could actually be later that day...

  • Ask the locals if there's a website with scheduling and if players use an app or site to organize games.

  • Ask for the contact information for the local ambassador or organizer (there's always one)

Finally, here are some points regarding equipment that you may not know...

Before you pull out your paddle and balls, take a few moments to observe what equipment other players are using.

1) Balls

In particular, pay attention to the balls. In pickleball, there are soft outdoor balls and hard outdoor balls. (When pickleball is played indoors on multi-use courts, the venue often provides indoor balls.)

Ball snobs definitely exist in pickleball and will only play with the hard outdoor balls (most commonly optic-colored Franklin x-40's or the green Onix DuraFasts) as they have faster playing properties.

So, if you show up with, as an example an orange soft outdoor ball, you will be labeled as a newbie and you might have a tough time finding games.

2) Paddles

Since there are so many types of paddles now, this isn't nearly as important as balls. However, you will announce yourself as a newbie who might not know the rules if you show up with a wooden paddle with a string on it, and worse, have the string around your wrist. You don't have to spend a lot on your first pickleball paddle, but you probably will want a fiberglass, graphite or carbon fiber faced-paddle.

Wishing you success!