December 8, 2022
Finding the Perfect Pickleball Partner
By Rick Cipes
Personally, I feel like finding a partner to compete with in pickleball is like prom all over again: Do they like me? Should I ask them to go? Will I be rejected? Will they be as committed as I am? Would I have to meet their parents? All these old feelings are dredged up. How you navigate those feelings is up to you. But here are a few thoughts.
1. Don’t choose too soon. I asked someone to team up after playing with them once, as in one game. That didn’t work out too well! Neither of us trusted one another from the start, and he ended up quitting the second week of our league.
Instead of a rash decision, put your scouting cap on, and do your homework. When you’re ready to take the initiative, invite your prospective partner out to play, graduate to some drilling, and see how you do. Actually, it’s just like dating: Take it one date at a time and see if there is a spark, before proceeding to date number two.
2. Once you commit, try to be 100-percent supportive. No eyerolls, no shrugging, etc. There will be rough times, but that’ll be your opportunity to build team character, grit and determination. “If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up,” says Michael Jordan. “Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”
3. Be a good listener. All of us are great at voicing our opinions, but how many of us are truly skilled at listening? Listening, and being aware of someone else’s needs, will go a long way in helping any kind of successful partnership. My suggestion is to consciously practice listening. You can try it with anyone.
4. If your partnership isn’t successful, instead of the blame game, figure out what you learned from the experience, and bring it with you the next time you play. That partner of mine who quit? I yelled at him once during the game, maybe twice. But I’m pretty sure I haven’t yelled at anyone since. Be willing to say you’re sorry. It’s amazing how effective it can be, yet so many of us find the word so hard to utter. Remember, chances are, you’ll probably have to see this person around the courts, and it’s not fun if you have to become Vince Vaughn dodging an ex in a high school hallway.
5. Be willing to sacrifice your ego. Sometimes, you won’t be the stronger player. That often causes a player to subconsciously compete with their partner, rather than focus their energy on the opponents. A good analogy here is to be a good bass player when your partner is rocking out and fill in accordingly. In basketball, it’s known as “going to the hot hand.” Do you want to win? Or do you want to cry because you’re not getting the touches you think you deserve? A positive example is anyone who ever plays with Ben Johns.
Lastly, be patient in developing your partnership, and strive to focus on the process over the results, and the results might surprise you. And seriously, if they forget your corsage? Let it be! Just play that funky bass! •
Rick Cipes has written for ESPN Magazine and the L.A. Times and hosts the popular Facebook group Inner Game of Pickleball. Check out Rick’s brand of pickleball fashion at innergameofpickleball.com. Use discount code “vipcustomer10” for the best holiday gifts.