The backbone of our great game lies not in the cat-like reflexes of the Lucores and Hamners, forever basking at the east end of the winners bracket. No, the meat of this game is the RV-driving, tote bag-wielding journeyman, armed with nothing but a dodgy paddle and a $9 folding chair. The weekend warrior turned daily battler, once tied to a day job but now free to violate kitchens all across the land.
The pickleball population explosion is a runaway freight train of addiction, and with the majority of players entering the game between the 2.5 and 3.5 level, it does pose a slight dilemma to those believing they can only improve by competing against better players. This mindset can both limit the growth of the player, and dishearten all those snubbed in favor of better competition.
While it is true to a certain degree that a player of lesser ability may not be able to teach you as much as a stronger one, this certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t keep developing your skills within a game with one. Here are some things to consider at zero-zero — get me outta here!
First, understand that pickleball is about movement well before it’s about hitting the ball. During this type of game, you are likely to be excluded. It’s OK, don’t feel bad. The will to win inspires him/ her to avoid hitting the ball to you like avoiding the plague. Does this stop you from practicing your split steps? No, it does not! Does it stop you from staying low and side-stepping across the kitchen line like an NFL running back to protect the middle? No, it does not!
Consistency should be your priority in this game, which means two things: good footwork and good shot selection. Yes, you could probably win the game moving at half pace but you would be doing yourself a disservice and you’d risk insulting your opponent with your clear lack of motivation. Be nice and keep moving!
Explore new ways to win — you never know when they will come in handy. Are you a notorious banger? Great, use these types of games to practice your dinking. Decide that you are not going to crush the third ball the entire game; instead you are going to work your way up that kitchen line inch by inch, leaving nothing but a hot trail of well-timed split steps along the way. By doing this you will not only be developing a vital skill but you will also be cultivating the idea in the minds of the other players. A less aggressive you will also likely see more balls, as you won’t be perceived as such a danger on the court. Dinkaholic? Great, time to test your power game. Every third ball is a green light to pillage and plunder. Grip it and rip it with a full understanding that it is NOT the best strategy in many situations. However, every attempt you make will provide you with valuable feedback as to how, when, and where to use powerful shots.
Help your opponents play their best pickleball by feeding into their strengths. Recognize that while the overall game may not be challenging for you, that doesn’t mean that individual points can’t be. If you know they are strong dinkers, then play that game, resist the urge to win quickly and see if you can outdink them. If they possess a lot of power then you can test your reactions by floating the ball a little high once in a while. In every game you are both coach and student, so help them help you.
This isn’t about making the best of a bad situation, it’s about still seeing the opportunities to learn while giving back to the game. Remember this is pickleball. We don’t cull the herd; we lift up the bootstraps and march toward vindication. Yes, pickleball is still a black sheep in the tennis family. Yes, it is embarrassing when spell-check places a red squiggly line under our sport’s title. Let not your heart be troubled, our day is coming.
Morgan Evans was born and raised in Australia and currently resides in Palm Desert, California. He is a pickleball and tennis instructor for the Desert Pickleball Academy at Shadow Mountain Resort & Club as well as the tournament director for the Coachella Valley Grand Prix Pickleball. He has been playing pickleball for two years and has won numerous medals in USAPA sanctioned tournaments, including bronze in 2015 National Championships Open Singles.