what is open play?
We use the term "open play" a lot in pickleball communities. I think that term is used much too loosely, so I wanted to post a little note which I hope can clarify how we should use the term to help avoid confusion, especially among newer players.
So what is it?
"Open play" is an organized event in which players share time on courts which are designated for this specific use. Most often the courts are reserved by the facility operator. That could be a park, a church, whatever. Occasionally an individual or club may also reserve courts with the intention of open play.
In all cases, "open play" is an organized event. Sometimes there is an organizer who helps to herd the cats a bit. But most of the time club norms are in place to govern play. Different groups can do things differently, but for a given group (that plays during a cetain open play slot), there tend to be standards.
My main point here is that unreserved time on the courts is not “open play”. Unreserved time, at most facilities, is handled as first come, first served, usually with about 1-1.5 hour limit. It’s true that as part of our general pickleball culture, when people don’t have a reservation, they generally allow other players of similar skills to rotate in with them. This is an important part of our culture, and one that I support wholeheartedly, but this is not “open play”.
I don’t think there is even a name for our typical use of the courts, where people just show up to the park and play with whatever other random people happen to be there, with no reservation in place. Maybe we have an opportunity to coin a phrase here. :D But when someone posts something like “Is there open play on Wednesday night?”, we should be answering something like “No, but there are almost always people at the courts willing to let others of similar skill rotate in with them.”
As a community, let's try to be more clear in our communication, to better set player expectations about the state of play at our courts.
so how do you know?
If you walk up to the courts and aren't sure if open play is happening, what should you do? This is a personal decision, but let me tell you what I do...I simply say:
"Hi. Would you mind if I rotate in with you?"
Sometimes they say "sure, just stack your paddle over there". Sometimes they say "Sorry, we have a small group that's practicing for a tournament." But there's no harm in asking. Go have fun!