Navigating Open Play in Pickleball: A Comprehensive Guide
Introduction to Open Play Pickleball

Introduction to Open Play

Open play pickleball is a dynamic, social format where players of all skill levels gather at designated times to enjoy the game. This format is perfect for those looking to meet new people, improve their skills, and have fun without the need for pre-arranged matches.

Common Paddle Management Systems

1. Paddles Down Method 

How it Works:

  • Players place their paddles in a line on the ground near the court.
  • Paddles are stacked horizontally, indicating the order of play.
  • As players finish their game, they place their paddles at the end of the line.


  • Scenario: You arrive at the court and see a line of paddles.
  • Action: Place your paddle at the end of the line.
  • Result: When the current game finishes, the first four paddles in line will enter the court next. You move up as games finish and eventually, it's your turn to play.

Extra Tips:

  • Visual Cues: Use chalk to draw lines or arrows on the ground indicating where to place paddles based on skill level.
  • Avoiding Confusion: Label your paddle with your name to prevent mix-ups.

Pros: Simple and easy to understand.

Cons: Can clutter the court area and cause confusion if paddles look similar.

2. Paddle Rack System

How it Works:

  • A rack with slots is placed near the court entrance.
  • Players insert their paddles into the next available slot.
  • Paddles are removed from the rack in sequence for the next game.


  • Scenario: You arrive and find an empty slot in the paddle rack.
  • Action: Insert your paddle into the slot.
  • Result: When a game ends, the paddles are taken from the rack in order, ensuring an organized flow onto the court.

Extra Tips:

  • Skill Segregation: Use color-coded sections of the rack for different skill levels.
  • DIY Option: Create a homemade rack using PVC pipes or wooden slots.

Pros: Organized and keeps paddles off the ground.

Cons: May not accommodate all paddle shapes and can be confusing without proper labeling.

3. Whiteboard System

How it Works:

  • A whiteboard is divided into sections, each representing a court.
  • Players write their names in the next available section.
  • As courts become available, names are erased, and those players proceed to play.


  • Scenario: You arrive and see an empty slot on the whiteboard.
  • Action: Write your name in the slot.
  • Result: When the current game finishes, the names in the next section move to the court, and the names are erased.

Extra Tips:

  • Role Assignment: Designate a person to manage the board and call out names.
  • Learning Names: This method helps players learn each other’s names, enhancing social interaction.

Pros: Helps learn players’ names and keeps track of turns easily.

Cons: Requires someone to monitor and update the board regularly.

4. Winners Stay and Split

How it Works:

  • The winning team stays on the court but splits up with new partners from the waiting line.
  • The losing team exits the court and joins the end of the waiting queue.


  • Scenario: You’re on a winning team.
  • Action: After winning, you split up with your partner and each of you teams up with a new player from the queue.
  • Result: This keeps games fresh and ensures that one team doesn’t dominate the court for too long.

Extra Tips:

  • Game Limit: Set a limit (e.g., three games) for how long winners can stay on the court to ensure rotation.
  • Fair Play: Encourage players to mix skill levels to maintain balanced games.

Pros: Keeps games dynamic and prevents one team from dominating.

Cons: May not be suitable for highly competitive players.

Tips for Smooth Open Play

Set Expectations

Communicate clearly with new players about the rules and rotation system in place.

Shorten Games

During busy sessions, consider playing games to 9 or 7 points to ensure quicker rotation.

Use Timers

Implementing a timer (10-12 minutes per game) can help manage court time effectively.

Rally Scoring

Consider rally scoring, where points can be scored by either team, to speed up games.

Etiquette and Sportsmanship

  • Respect the Rotation: Always follow the established system to ensure everyone gets a fair chance to play.
  • Be Inclusive: Pair up with players of different skill levels to foster a welcoming environment.
  • Communicate: Clear communication helps avoid misunderstandings and keeps the game enjoyable for all.


Open play pickleball is an excellent way to enjoy the sport, improve your skills, and build community connections. By understanding and following the common paddle management systems and etiquette, you can ensure a fun and fair experience for everyone involved.