PAPA / IFPA Rules on Coaching

Hi All,

In the San Francisco Bay Area, we’ve been having some discussions about coaching. We’re a little confused by the PAPA/IFPA rules. Section 9 “Player Errors” reads…

Because the tournament divisions consist solely of singles play, coaching of any player during a game, in any round, is not allowed. An exception is provided for Juniors play; Juniors players may have no more than one coach during their qualifying and final rounds of play. If a non-Junior player specifically requests advice on a game feature during play, his or her question may be addressed only by a tournament official, and answered only in terms of whether or not the machine is functioning correctly. Non-Junior players are not to seek assistance from other players or spectators. Informing player 1 too many or too few games have been entered into the machine will not be penalized as coaching.

No player may use a camera or visual aid of any kind, other than the instructions provided by the machine, while standing at the machine. A player may review electronic or written notes in between turns of a multiplayer game or between games, but not during their own turn or between balls of a single-player game. While not actively playing, players are of course free to discuss features and strategies as much as they like, including between balls during a game, but no spectator or other player is compelled to answer, nor are they responsible for incorrect advice or answers to questions.

The first paragraph seems pretty clear that coaching is not allowed during a game. But the second paragraph seems to say the opposite – players are free to discuss features and strategies as much as they like.

Is the distinction just that coaching is not allowed while the player is on the machine, but is allowed between balls? (Heyrocker suggested as much in the “Tournament Etiquette” thread.) If so, could the ruleset be amended to clarify that?

Or is there some distinction between who is doing the coaching (an opponent, an official, a friend)?

Or maybe the distinction is in coaching one player instead of all players? Of course, best practice is to coach all players on a machine at once, so everyone can learn. But is private coaching (while not playing a ball) expressly disallowed?

Or maybe I am missing something else altogether?

To put this into context, in the San Francisco Bay Area, we place a heavy emphasis on players teaching one another how to play a game they are unfamiliar with (though not while a ball is in play). However, we acknowledge that other areas have different approaches, so want to make sure we don’t drift too far out of line with other viewpoints in the pinball community.

A second point of confusion is the camera / visual aid reference. I think it means you can’t read a rulesheet while you’re playing. But it’s not completely clear. Specific questions,…

  • Is it permissible to use a camera to take a photo of a game’s instruction card or playfield to read later (or to read between balls in the same game while your opponent is playing)?
  • Is it permissible to use a smartphone’s light to read a dimly lit instruction card or playfield, as long as the light doesn’t distract players on nearby machines?
    (I know that the use of headlamps during play was addressed in a separate discussion some months ago. I’m not attempting to reopen that discussion.)

Advice appreciated.



I’ve always taken this rule to mean “you can’t coach a player while he has a ball in play, and a player can’t consult notes or receive coaching in between balls of a single-player game.”

I don’t see how any other interpretation would make sense. If players were not allowed to coach in between balls, you’d have to fit every player with a gag and run the entire tournament in complete silence to be sure that the rule wasn’t violated…

If the tournament venue is so dark that people can’t read instruction cards, I’d try and do something about the lighting to begin with. If that’s not possible, I wouldn’t object to someone using a smartphone light to read an instruction card. After all, if the venue had better lighting, the card could be read anyway, and no-one would penalise a player for looking at the machine in between balls, even during a single-player game.

Taking a photo of an instruction card while a game is in progress, so a player can review it in between balls of a multi-player game, would seem to be a rule violation: “No player may use a camera or visual aid of any kind, other than the instructions provided by the machine, while standing at the machine.” That’s pretty unambiguous, I’d say.


First paragraph is referencing a single player game and the second paragraph is referencing a multiplayer game.

My understanding of this rule is that, for non juniors, the only people who can tell a player how to play the game in progress are his or her opponents. They have a vested interest in not giving a person so much coaching that the person beats them on the game, which balances out the fact that they technically can coach.

Perhaps the wording could be clarified. The short answer is: no coaching the player who is on the machine. Anyone else, go ahead. If a player in a multiplayer game wants to go get private advice between their turns, go ahead.

Cameras cannot be used while playing a turn. Before the game begins, it would be acceptable to use a camera to take a photo or use a smartphone light, but not during.


For clarification, does this include between balls of a single player game (whether in qualifying, or a multi-player game played on a single-player EM)?

In a single-player game, the same player is on the machine the entire time. So no coaching of a player from the point they begin a single-player game until it ends and no aid of any kind.


Just amend “during play” to “while actively playing a ball”. If it’s not OK to ask/receive advice when it’s your turn but not plunged yet, change to “during his/her turn” instead.

Yes. The Neil Shatz rule.

Don’t think the visual aid verbiage was added until after that video came out.

The rules are completely unclear about this and I’ve always seen them to be that coaching between balls, of any type of game, single or multi, is OK.

This should be clarified by IFPA/PAPA.


afaik, it was added after live streaming became common. and we talked about the possibility of obtaining strategy from commentators while actively playing.

Interesting. I guess that means Robert Gagno will have to give up his headphones because there is no way to be sure that he isn’t listening to live commentary? (Just kidding…)

But the reality of situation is that, either headphones are allowed, in which case there is absolutely no way of being sure that a player isn’t listening to a coach who is watching the big screen and giving advice, or headphones aren’t allowed, in which case Robert will possibly play worse than he would with headphones.

Take your pick :worried:


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Welcome to the world of the grey area unenforceable rules that are in pinball today.

I honestly think coaching should be allowed, because the rules are unenforceable unless players are sequestered to a sound/visual proof box.


I also interpret the current rule as no coaching once the player steps up to the game. The one exception is single player games in which case it’s treated as one long turn.

Also I’m glad that the visual aids rule is there. That NES video was ridiculous. Haha


This has been my understanding. I always thought of the rule as one intended to prevent delay of game, as opposed to one intended to prevent sharing of information, though I could be way off base.

Me too. I don’t care about anyone getting any information during a match as long as they aren’t doing it while it’s their turn to play. Solely for the fact that it would take forever to play a match when everyone is reading their phones, talking strategy during every trapped ball, and pulling papers out.

Not to mention it would be an abysmal experience to watch in person or online.

IMO . . .

If a player is at the machine . . . NO COACHING.

If a player isn’t at the machine . . . COACHING IS FINE.

If a player is at the machine . . . NO AIDS.

If a player isn’t at the machine . . . AIDS ARE FINE.

THE END :slight_smile:


Thanks Josh.
One more clarification, please:

Bowen felt that a player playing a single-player game is at the machine from the start of the game to the end of the game, therefore no coaching or aids are allowed, even between balls.

Cayle’s view was that the player isn’t actively playing the machine between balls on a single-player game, so coaching and aids are still ok (between balls).

What is your opinion?

I side with Cayle on this. You are either PLAYING, or you AREN’T PLAYING. In between balls, even on a single player game, IMO you AREN’T playing at that point in time.

“Was the ball in play” would be the question I would ask.

Let’s please not follow this up with, “What if I lock a ball on Scared Stiff, and there’s a new ball in the plunger lane that’s during your current ball in play. Am I still actively playing before I plunge that ball?” :wink:


Ok, thanks. And, yes, let’s put the topic to bed now.

THE END (v2.0).