Every sport has its own culture – its unique set of customs and “rules” that endear the sport to those who play it. If you’re not entrenched in the sport, you might miss it. But for those who are, you can’t avoid it and it’s likely a part of your DNA.
Regardless of where you play – whether it be Texas or Florida, East Coast or West Coast – tapping paddles is woven into the very fabric of the sport of pickleball. Some like it. Others not so much. Nevertheless, there is a high probability that you will witness the paddle-tap in some form or fashion at every venue you visit. I can almost promise you.
What is a Paddle Tap?
The paddle tap is simply a [hopefully] light tap or bump of the paddle with that of your partner or opponent when playing pickleball. The tap or bump is typically done with the paddle face – or edge of the paddle – or better yet, with the handle of the paddle.
Why do Players Tap Paddles?
Players tap paddles for a host of different reasons.
When do Players Tap Paddles?
There is really no rhyme or reason as to when players may tap paddles. Each player or team is different. However, here are three popular instances in which you might witness a paddle tap:
1. At the End of the Game and Match
Similar to the tennis handshake after a match, the customary etiquette in pickleball is to tap paddles with your opponent(s) after each game/match as a demonstration of sportsmanship and respect.
Some will argue, however, that tapping paddles at the end of each game (in a tournament when competing in a multi-game match) is overdoing it. After all, they reason that one doesn’t see tennis players shaking hands after each set or basketball players in the handshake line at half-time. And, I have to say, I kind of agree with that sentiment.
Having said that, it’s important to make a distinction between rec games (when you definitely should paddle tap) and multi-game tournament matches (when doing it between games seems – at least to me – a bit overdone).
2. When your Partner Hits a Great Shot
It’s become customary in pickleball culture to give your partner a paddle-tap after a great shot or a well-constructed point. It’s an acknowledgment that they contributed to the team at or above expectation. It’s like giving your partner a high-five! Or saying “great job,” or “great shot.”
3. To Encourage your Partner Between Rallies
While most will agree and adhere to a paddle tap at the end of a game/match – and most will acknowledge their partner’s great shot with a tap of the paddle – this last one is a bit “trickier.” It’s essentially a gesture of encouragement for your partner – often between each-and-every rally. It’s a way of communicating with each other without actually saying “Let’s go,” or “We got this.”
So, you constant paddle-tappers out there (and you know who you are), please be aware that there are paddle-tap contrarians lurking out there on the pickleball courts.
The Argument Against Tapping Paddles
While some simply fatigue of playing with high-maintenance paddle-tap partners, a Reddit user stated it best when he/she wrote, “I’m all for words of encouragement even fist bumps. I just don’t understand the upside of showing that encouragement by smacking my $150 paddle.”
Alternatives to the Paddle Tap
Because of the risk of damage to the paddle when using the paddle face to tap paddles – some players tap paddles way too hard – there are several alternatives:
- Flip the paddle and tap with the handle of the paddle instead.
- If your partner “offers” their paddle to tap, tap their paddle with your open hand.
- “Clap” with your paddle and non-paddle hand when acknowledging a good shot by your partner [or opponent].
- TALK to your partner. Encourage them with words.
It’s certainly an interesting discussion with varying viewpoints. One thing’s for certain, though. The sport of pickleball is friendly, encouraging, and fun – paddle taps or not.
See you on the courts!
Todd is the talent behind PickleballMAX. He knows pickleball and demonstrates it on the court as a 4.5 – 5.0 player. In addition to creating content and running the PickleballMAX business, Todd is IPTPA Level II certified. As an instructor at the Ohio Pickleball Academy, he instructs students and runs adult and youth clinics. He also manages tournament desks throughout the tri state for tournaments ranging from 100-500 participants.