Forbidden in pickleball: earbuds and hearing aids!

Careful on the courts

It is estimated that about a third of pickleball players are 65 years old or older. That’s a ton of players.

There are many health benefits in pickleball for these folks but there are also injury risks that most people are aware of.

But what about lesser known issues affecting older pickleball players?

Wait till you hear this one:

There was a new pickleball rule in 2022 (Rule 11.P). The name of the rule is “No headphones or earbuds” and the rule states that players cannot wear any form of headphones or earbuds during competition play.

It is/was brand new as nothing similar existed previously.

earbuds banned in pickleball

[There was a proposed pickleball rule change also in 2022 that banned smart watches – but that was rejected. It would be very difficult to determine if the player was receiving coaching advice or simply checking their heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen level or any of the other hundred things that a watch can tell us.]

Back to the hearing aids:

Specifically, the rule states: “Players shall not wear or use any form of headphones or earbuds during competition play. Exception: Prescribed or necessary hearing aids are permitted.”

rule 11p hearing aids and earbuds

First, what’s the definition of pickleball “competition” play?

Does competition play mean the same as tournament play? A search of the USA Pickleball 2022 Rulebook finds only 4 hits for the word “competitive” and no definition; there are 108 hits for the word “tournament” – and no definition.

The answer to this may be elsewhere as the Rulebook also states that:

“Since it is possible that a player could receive coaching via earbuds, earbuds will not be permitted on the court during tournaments except for hearing aids.”

OK, looks like competition play means playing in a pickleball tournament.

Now, this is important…the second point.

The rule has the exception that prescribed or necessary hearing aids are permitted.

The gray area is that hearing aids can be bought over the counter (OTC) without a prescription as of October 2022.

The non-prescription hearing aids are a brand-new category of hearing aids you can get without visiting a hearing health professional. And they are regulated as medical devices by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The kicker?

Some of these OTC hearing aids don’t look the ones from years ago – they look just like earbuds that you would wear listening to music and / or on the phone, and they are wireless, of course. And they sell for a fraction of the prescribed ones!

It would be tough to tell a new-fangled OTC hearing aid from regular headphones or earbuds. In other words, hearing aids can be in the identical form as earbuds.

Besides, who’s to define what is “necessary” in the pickleball ruling?

One person’s hearing may be diminished very little, but he/she still wants to use a hearing aid while another player is deaf as a pickleball and wears nothing (hearing aids, that is).

Pickleball Rule 11.P needs to be cleaned up a bit and the opportunity did not arise in 2022.

Conclusion – Your Takeaways

  • Hear this: the pickleball rule of no headphones/earbuds needs clarification.
  • Competition play in pickleball is simply playing in a tournament.
  • Hearing aids do not need a prescription as of 2022.
  • For most pickleball players this rule means nothing.
  • see the complete pickleball FAQ to answer more questions

Hearing Aid Earbuds Rule – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

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