We can’t play pickleball alone.
Great players don’t just bring out the best in their partner, they have the ability to bring out the best from their opponents. The very best have the capacity to subtly tease out something great from those on the courts around them too.
Some ideas worth considering:
1. Develop a reliable third shot drop.
2. A generous spirit and pleasant disposition go a long way. But work on the drop.
3. Consider the space you occupy both on and off the court. The moment you enter a community centre, the courts at Jericho Beach or Queen Elizabeth, the pickleball lines surrounded by basketball players and tennis players and roller skaters at Pandora Park—wherever you might play on any given day—you turn from civilian into pickleball player.
4. The difference between a pickleball player and that schmuck whacking whiffle balls with an oversized ping pong paddle is reverence.
5. When you drop into an organized slot with a group of other pickleball players, you become part of the session. A good session is a like an episode of Ted Lasso; we all want to leave feeling a little bit ecstatic. We create the session together.
6. Be aware of others. The rhythm of your game effects the games beside you. Patience, thought and precision are the best strategies for winning a point. They’re the best way to create a meaningful session together too.
7. Remember, the staff at each community centre are juggling multiple tasks at the same time. Have patience and empathy. While every community centre has its own MO, we can bring our shared sense of respect for the game. Arrives a few minutes early, but no earlier than that.
8. Wear court shoes with clean soles. Try not to walk across the courts in wet or dirty shoes. Bring only what you need. Gym are tight. Keep your gear as far away as possible from where people are playing. If you don’t like certain brands or colours of ball, bring one you like and keep it in your pocket. (Don’t sell a pocket short, when considering your pickleball attire.)
9. Respect the games you’re not playing in. Wait until their rallies are complete before you pass behind a court. Never chase your ball onto another court.
10. Stretch at home before you arrive. Make sure your shoes are tied. Introduce yourself to those you don’t know. (Although, this not the time to exchange life stories.)
11. Take the warm up seriously. Warm up is a gift. If nobody’s waiting, take at least ten minutes. In the future, we’ll address a proper warm up. But guess what? Among other skills, it involves hitting some soft shots from the back of the court.
12. The gumption to drop a ball into the kitchen from anywhere on the court is testament to your reverence for the game. It shows a commitment to patience. The three other players, who have taken time out of their busy lives to share a court with you, have come to the session looking to play long, crazy, interesting points. It’s impossible to overstate the fact that nobody in any session anywhere in the world wants to watch you selfishly whack the ball into the net, or bang it ten feet out—or into someone’s face two courts over.
13. If you don’t know what a third shot drop is, there are YouTube videos. The pickleball experience becomes more fulfilling as you come to know what your’e doing. Higher level players will welcome you to their games—when you know what you’re doing. You’re not entitled to play with everybody.
14. Ask questions. Watch videos. Take lessons. The good pickleball—the stuff that’s better than anything you’ve ever dreamt about—exists for those who respect the game.
15. Even when we play under control, we can’t always keep the ball on our court. The moment it rolls onto a court beside you, yell “ball” or “ball on”—whatever you can spit out quickest. You might need to shout it a few times. Make sure those in the middle of a point know there is a ball on their feet.
16. Yell the score loudly before each point. It’s noisy in a small gym. Before serving, hold up your arm to make sure your opponent knows the serve is coming.
17. The moment a ball rolls from another court onto yours, the point is over. Even if one of you only happens to see it out of the corner of your eyes….even if you’re smashing….even if your team is on the edge of championship point—it’s a re-serve. (Remember, the arc of ”ball on court karma” is long, but it does bend towards justice.)
18. If you and your partner don’t agree on a call, it’s in. If you didn’t see where the ball landed on your side, it’s in. If there is any shred of doubt, we graciously give the benefit to our opponents. If you disagree with your opponent’s call, tough luck. It’s their call to make. Don’t waste your precious time on the court arguing about calls or trying to figure out what the score is.
19. Everybody on the court is dealing with the same set of variables. Try not to be that one person who makes excuses.
20. When the game is over, make sure one of you grabs the ball. Make sure it’s not rolling through three other courts. Yell, “open court.” Jog to the net, tap your partner’s paddle, tap the paddles of your opponents, thank them for the game. If you were all evenly skilled and similarly dispositioned, emphasize how much you appreciated their skill and disposition. Tell them you would sincerely love to get another game later.
21. When you’re next in the queue, be prepared to move efficiently to the open court. Figure out the teams before taking the court. If you’ve all already warmed up, take no more than two minutes to hit some controlled dinks at the kitchen before beginning your game.
22. You don’t have to play with EVERYBODY. If someone is abusive, if they are out of control, you can wait for another foursome. But be generous with developing players—especially if you are trying to get into games higher level games yourself. The pickleball gods are always watching. They favour the generous.
23. It’s a paddle, not a racket; it’s pickleball, not pickle ball. But we’ll be polite in correcting others.
24. If you have unsolicited advice for anybody on the court, wait until the game is over to share it. Before sharing advice, humbly ask if you might share something you noticed. Don’t mansplain pickleball. A single piece of advice, sandwiched between two compliments, is more than enough. If someone shares unsolicited advice with you, accept it graciously, and with a grain of salt.