To Up Your Game, Play with People Who are Better Than You

Cason Campbell PPA 2024
Cason Campbell PPA 2024 (Picture Kerry Pittenger)

Have you lost count of how many times you’ve heard that? I have.  It sounds simple, logical, vital—but in reality, in recreational pickleball, that idea is, well, misleading. Based on what I’ve seen firsthand, as soon as players have achieved intermediate level they lose patience with newcomers and slow learners.  If you don’t catch on fast and move up, you might stagnate.   Unless you find a group of experienced players with heaps of patience and understanding. And I mean heaps.

Ask around: how many advanced recreational players would be willing to spend their court time helping or guiding—or playing with or against—beginners?  Or how about someone who is not competitive, not eager to “up” their game and just plays for fun? I suppose there would be no room for them either. Or, room would be limited. Players have left groups because they don’t like sharing a court with amateurs; have walked off court, or told others to walk off court, for the same reason.  

Experienced players have said to others: 

“You don’t belong here.” 

“You’re not good enough.”

“Did you take lessons before coming here?”

“Nothing personal. I can’t play here anymore. Not at my level.”

Newbie Challenges

I once heard a player say “the newbies are crap” as she placed her paddle at the front of the long line-up, the seriousness and intensity of choosing where to place it like that of a chess player pondering the big move. I myself have seen the disappointment on my partners’ faces when they have thought of me as inferior. What they want is to control open play, control the court, control their teammates. Snobbery and pomposity have begun to erode recreational pickleball, a little here, a little there.  

New, enthusiastic recreational players mingle with better athletes, then one day see paddle-switching for themselves: keeping certain players together—skills, personalities, friendships the criteria—while isolating the rest. It happens often, manners, courtesy, camaraderie cast aside. Players once discreet when “fixing” their group are discreet no longer. Decency has evaporated; tribes are formed, unwanted members stiff-armed.

Balancing Skill Levels and Social Dynamics on the Court

Recreational pickleball is intense and competitive, with no shortage of cliques, the main difference being the quality of play: Top pros would outplay, overwhelm, and frustrate the rec. players, an opinion of mine shaped by observation alone. (Read “Differences I’ve Seen Between Recreational and Professional Pickleball Players” for my comparison.)

Advanced players scan the court, assess the group, wanting only to compete against or partner with the best and discard everybody else. True, you can’t blame anyone for wanting to play with their equals (imagine, though, how the advanced rec. players would feel if they had to share a court with the best pro players and the pros disrespected them), but one can see how hard it must be for beginners to find better players who are willing to compete with them until they reach the next level, if at all. “Play with people who are better than you”—a convenient suggestion, although somewhat tired and flimsy depending on how often you play and who you play with. 

Play recreational pickleball for the love of the sport, for the pleasures and benefits and fun it brings, for the all-around good people you will meet. In a short time your game will pick up. If it doesn’t, play anyway. And when looking for knowledge, form, strategy, and technique, watch MLP/PPA players compete in tournaments.  Free instruction from the best players on earth.

About David Boyle

A versatile and diversified writer, David Boyle has written three short story collections, published by independent presses. Though he earned his readership by writing reality-based fiction, Boyle has gained a reputation for literary stories, essays, articles, reviews, interviews, analyses, travel writing, reportage, and poems, a good number of which have appeared in both print and online magazines. Inspired by his wife's passion for the sport, David now loves pickleball and aims to illuminate current pickleball events and subjects with a fresh, creative perspective, offering readers something they can't find anywhere else. | My website | boyled411@gmail.com | My Pickleball Journal

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