Sometimes it just defies logic. What you initially thought would be a great pickleball doubles partner — and would consequently make the two of you a formidable doubles team — turned out to be quite the opposite. In two straight matches you were methodically run off the pickleball court by — on paper, at least — inferior opponents. Your tournament day was cut short by an excessive number of unforced errors, consistent miscommunication with your partner and, quite simply, a lack of chemistry on the courts. What started out as a best laid plan ended as just that — a best laid plan. You never gelled. You never clicked. Even though you are both good players in your own right — what’s on paper just did not translate on the courts. Has this ever happened to you? It has to me. And it’s frustrating. Disappointing. You begin to question your game. You begin to second-guess your skills.
I have played in a handful of pickleball tournaments and, after each one, I do a little post-tournament analysis and introspection. What worked for us as a team? What didn’t work? And more importantly, why? While I have had successes in some — and disappointments in others — I think I have found the formula that works — at least for me. This formula will likely differ for you. It may even be the single-worst piece of advice for you as you seek to land that perfect doubles partner. But it’s worked for me. And I guess, that’s all that matters!
What to Look for in a Doubles Partnership — The “Generic” Characteristics of a Good Doubles Team
I think most would agree that the successful doubles teams generally have good rapport and chemistry on the courts. They typically genuinely like each other and consistently bring out the best in each other. They are able to encourage, refocus and pick each other up when things — and they will at some point — start going south. When playing together, a successful partnership is one in which the total, combined skill level is greater than the sum of its parts. For instance, two 3.5 USAPA rated players playing well together may actually play like a total combined skill rating of 8.0 — not 7.0. This is the holy grail of pickleball partnerships! It’s what we should all strive for as we evaluate the effectiveness of a doubles partnership.
Different, Yet Complementary Strengths — Crucial for Success
In addition to these “generic” attributes that comprise a good partnership, what really has worked for me is having a partner who brings a different, yet complementary strength (or playing style) to the partnership. I liken the complementary strength concept to a golf scramble where — as a foursome — each person plays from the spot of the best shot. The best foursome isn’t likely to be the team in which all the players are great putters — or all the players can blast the drives off the tee. No, the best foursome is going to be the team that is comprised of someone who’s a great driver, someone who’s a great putter and someone who can hit approach shots consistently within 10 feet of the pin. As a foursome you’re able to leverage the different strengths of each of your partners.
My Personal Need for a More Conservative, Risk-Averse Doubles Partner
In pickleball, my playing “style is, admittedly, typically a little more risky than that of my partners. I tend to grow impatient (don’t we all?) during longer rallies and may attempt higher-risk, high-rewards shots such as sharp-angle topspin dinks or misdirection, no-look volleys when positioned at the NVZ line. Consequently, I play best with someone who possesses a different playing style — specifically one that is a little more conservative and risk-averse. I need to have the freedom on the courts to attempt these high-risk, high-reward shots — all while knowing my partner will not succumb to similar temptation. Having both partners who play high-risk pickleball is recipe for disaster. Afterall, what if you’re both struggling with your shots on a given day? It could make for a very early tournament exit!
Similarly, my more risk-averse, conservative partner needs me — or else we’ll be on the courts forever dinking without anybody attempting to end the rallies. Okay — so maybe that’s an exaggeration. 🙂 I think you understand.
The Golf Scramble Analogy Revisited
The concept can be further clarified by revisiting the golf scramble analogy. On the golf course — similar to the pickleball courts — I tend to favor the high-risk/high-reward shots. My drives, for example, can go 300 yards. Unfortunately, however, they don’t always go down the middle of the fairway. In a golf scramble, the person that can drive consistently 225 yards down the middle of the fairway is my perfect complement (partner) as it allows me the freedom to grip-it-and-rip-it! If I hit the drive into the woods, no problem. I’m confident that my partner will hit their drive in the middle of the fairway, 225 yards from the tee box and it good position for our approach into the green. I play best when having that same freedom on the pickleball courts.
What about Overarching Pickleball Philosophy?
Now, don’t confuse different or complementary playing style with overarching pickleball philosophy. Our overarching pickleball philosophy — while not necessarily identical — needs to be very similar. Like always get to the NVZ line. Or when you’re at the NVZ line and your opponents are back at the baseline, keep them pinned to the baseline. Or never give up on a point — be gritty, scrappy and do whatever it takes to stay in the rally. If you and your partner don’t have similar overarching pickleball philosophies, it will also likely make for a quick tournament exit.
Found Your Perfect Doubles Partner? Excellent! Now, Enjoy the Ride!
Picking that perfect doubles partner isn’t rocket science. It may take some trial-and-error, however. Enter tournaments and play with different people. And it does require some honest self-reflection. Once you find that perfect partner, hang on tight and enjoy the ride! As a team, you will be better than the sum of your parts! See you on the courts!