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How to Organize Open Play in Pickleball

Pickleball open play is a unique aspect of the sport that sets it apart from others. It provides an opportunity for players of all skill levels to come together, socialize, and enjoy the game. However, when courts are crowded, it becomes essential to have a system in place to organize and rotate players effectively. This article will explore various methods and ideas for organizing open play in pickleball to ensure equitable playing time for everyone involved.

How do you organize open play in pickleball?

1. Play "Musical Chairs" in FIFO Fashion


One straightforward approach is to adopt a First-In, First-Out (FIFO) system. Set up a row of folding chairs where players coming off the courts sit on one end, and those waiting to play sit on the other end. The concept is similar to musical chairs, where each person moves to the next chair as new players take their turn on the courts.

2. Implement Rally Scoring

Rally scoring can speed up the games and provide a more predictable and consistent time duration. Under this system, every rally awards a point, regardless of who served. While it may be seen as a significant change by some players, it can effectively accommodate more games and ensure fair rotation.

3. Use a Timer

Setting a timer for each game, typically around 10-12 minutes, guarantees that everyone gets equal playing time. Once the timer goes off, the current players leave the court, and a new set of players takes their place. By synchronizing the timer for all courts, the games will conclude simultaneously.

4. Play Games to a Smaller Score

To accommodate more players when the venue is crowded, consider playing games to a smaller final score. For example, playing to 9 points instead of the standard 11. This allows for quicker game completion and enables more participants to enjoy the game. Although it may not be the preferred option for everyone, it can help manage high-demand periods effectively.

5. Four On, Four Off

When courts are fully occupied, it's advisable to rotate four players on and off the courts after each game. While this reduces the waiting queue, it may result in the same four players repeatedly playing against each other in the next game. Nonetheless, it ensures that everyone has a chance to participate and enjoy the game.

6. Winners Stay and Split

In cases where the waiting queue is not excessively long, the "Winners-Stay-and-Split" method can be employed. Instead of all four players coming off the court after each game, the winning team continues playing while the two players from the losing team go back to the waiting queue. The previously partnered players become opponents in the subsequent game, ensuring variety and fairness.

7. Stack Paddles or Use a Paddle Rack

Organizing paddles or players in the waiting queue can be done using a paddle rack system or makeshift buckets or boxes. Players place their paddles at the end of the rack or in the next available bucket/box when they finish playing. They retrieve their paddles and head to the court when it's their turn. Implementing separate racks for winners and losers can create more competitive games and balanced skill levels.

8. Utilize a Whiteboard and Dry-Erase Marker

A whiteboard and dry-erase marker can serve as an effective tool for player rotation. Divide the whiteboard into squares and write four names in each square. As courts become available, call out the next square, and the players listed within it proceed to play. Erase the names once players are called onto the court. Having a designated person oversee the process helps maintain a smooth rotation.


organizing open play in pickleball requires careful planning and consideration to ensure fairness and enjoyment for all participants. The methods mentioned above offer practical solutions for managing crowded courts and facilitating a smooth rotation system. Every venue may have different preferences and limitations, so it's essential to find what works best for your specific playing environment. Share your experiences and suggestions in the comments below, and let's continue to make pickleball open play a fun and inclusive experience for everyone!

1 comment

1 comment

  • Anonymous
    July 25, 2023 at 2:13 AM
    For open play, we have winners stay on for first game only. Then, each pair coming on plays 2 games before leaving. Ensures even number of games and 2 consecutive games allows for some rhythm in play vs only one game at a time in several of the methods you list.