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Open Play: the Unusual Etiquette of Public Pickleball Courts

Paddle Rack on the old M&M Steam Bar Lot at Delaware Ave. and 34th Street LBI

If you've ever tried to play pickleball on a public court on a beautiful morning you have undoubtedly encountered a group of regulars who show up every morning for the same 2-4 hour window and monopolize the courts. This is called Open Play. 

Open Play is a predetermined time where local pickleball players show up at the courts to play. It allows players to come and go without ever setting up a game. You simply show up with paddle in hand and join in. At most pickleball courts, Open Play is understood to be for all levels so if you know enough to play a game, you're welcome to join in and stay as long as you'd like. It's a great way to meet other players, especially if you're new to the game or traveling but still want to play. See why pickleball is such a social sport?

So--how to jump in? Most venues have a player rotation system and play games to 11 so even if there are a lot of people waiting their turn it shouldn't take long. Here are some of the popular systems we've seen:

  • PADDLE RACK (OR BUCKETS): on LBI, most of the public courts use this system during Open Play to keep track of who plays next. When players come off the court they put their paddle at the end of the rack to wait their turn, or, in the case of buckets, winner paddles go in the Winner bucket and loser paddles go in the Loser bucket. The bottom four paddles are pulled from alternating buckets as courts free up.
  • DRY ERASE BOARD: Some courts use a Dry Erase Board to track who plays next. Players write their name on the board and wait until their turn comes up.

  • MUSICAL CHAIRS: a line of folding chairs is set up alongside the courts and the first seats rotate in as a court finishes, with the remaining players moving up and those coming off sitting at the opposite end of the line.

  • TIMED PLAY: at our local indoor club, we play for 10 minutes at a time, and then the winning team rotates clockwise and the losing team stays on the court and splits.


Pickleball Skort by Play-PKL


Here are some additional techniques we've seen to make game play go faster when others are waiting:
  • RALLY SCORING: instead of points only being awarded to the serving team, points are scored on every serve. This makes the games go faster.
  • PLAY to 9: instead of playing to the traditional 11 points, games are played to 9 points and then all four players rotate off.

Have you seen other ways to make Open Play run smoothly? Share your thoughts in a comment below.

Read more tips on pickleball etiquette here.

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2 Responses


May 20, 2023

I just returned from public courts that don’t have “Open Play”. It’s the first time I have experienced public courts that have no system of Open Play. I waited and waited and couldn’t figure out how to get into a game. Even though I asked, people were waiting and had their own groups – not welcoming at all! I have played in several places and have never experienced this! So I left. This post is very helpful as I plan to contact the local Rec. Center and ask them if they can possible post a sign like this.
Thank you!

Amy Fleck
Amy Fleck

January 24, 2023

Very helpful blog post – thank you!

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