When Is Coaching Allowed, And Is Unsolicited Advice Helpful Coaching?


Pickleball Players weigh in on this common court controversy.


A: According to the USA Pickleball & IFP Official Rulebook, coaching during a pickleball match is permitted, albeit with some stringent guidelines: Though the communication—verbal, nonverbal, even electronic— can come from someone other than a player’s partner, it must occur only between games and during timeouts.

Timeouts now include switching ends of the court during games. (The previous version of the rules prohibited coaching when switching ends of the pickleball court in game three of best-two-outof- three to 11 points, or in a game to 15 or 21.) As a result, partners may communicate with each other or receive coaching from individuals who are not playing on the court.

But as all pickleball players know, there is coaching and then there is unsolicited advice masked as coaching.

The intention of coaching is straightforward: to guide a player or team to gain an advantage or help them avert a rules violation. While some players resist even this official form of coaching, particularly when it comes to electronic coaching, far more criticism is reserved for the other kind—uninvited, perhaps well-meaning, but potentially incorrect.

On this subject, players have a lot to say. Sonny Tannan, a USA Pickleball ambassador in Maryland who promotes the sport wherever he travels, takes issue with unsolicited coaching in both competitive and recreational play. Although Tannan appreciates that players are often willing to share their knowledge and assist others to improve their game, he says there’s a gray area and much of the advice offered “is not always the best information or even the right method of sharing information.”

Tannan believes in creating a positive environment on the court, and says the key is to find the best way to communicate and articulate any guidance—not advise out of turn.

Pacific Northwesterner JuLee Rudolf, who has played pickleball for three years, also finds unsolicited advice problematic. “Receiving feedback during play can feel a lot like criticism. Most of us know what we did wrong after hitting an unforced error,” she says, adding, “It’s no fun to have a partner say ‘You should take another step,’ ‘Hit to the middle, not down the line,’ or ‘Be more patient.’”

Coaching as outlined by the comprehensive pickleball handbook, however, is perfectly fine, great even, Tannan and Rudolf agree. “I’m completely in favor of a designated coach providing coaching to a player or team as allowed by the rules,” Rudolf says.

Tannan likes the logic behind the updated coaching rule—the specifications as to when it’s permitted—“because it allows a team to receive instruction at appropriate times in a match.”

Instructor Michelle Esquivel, of Naples, Florida, founder and co-director of the Ultimate Pickleball Academy and a certified International Pickleball Teaching Professional Association instructor, agrees: “I am fully supportive of players receiving coaching during timeouts and side changes during tournament play. This helps players develop and become stronger. And if there is a coach who can guide them through competition, I’m all for it.”