Although I absolutely LOVE pickleball, nothing gets my blood boiling like being on the receiving end of “Keep-Away” during rec play. And it gets me very frustrated. Every time. You see, every once in a while, in a recreational game of pickleball, I’m deemed the stronger player on the team. And the opponents — you guessed it — hit seemingly every ball to my partner. All in the name of winning the game to 11. In rec. play!!! Not tournament play. Did I mention this is “recreational” play?
The Shot Chart Tells the Story
This particular blog post has been approximately 4 or 5 months in the making. Earlier in the summer, my partner and I had just finished playing a match against a very good doubles team. Unfortunately, I must have been considered the stronger player on this particular day — and, consequently, could count on one hand how many balls were hit my way in the course of a 15-minute game to 11. Of course, the exception would occur when my partner would inadvertently pop up the ball and the opponents would smash it at my feet — as if to say, “there, I hit you one!”
So, like the stubborn and sometimes immature partner I can be, I brooded — and I vowed to write a blog post about this situation. And shortly thereafter, with the “play-by-play” still fresh in my mind, I created a shot chart of where our opponents directed the balls when I played the odd court. As you can see from the shot chart, there was absolutely no reason for me to be on the court on this particular day. I could have just as easily put up a cardboard cut-out of myself and nobody would have known the difference!
It Happens Seemingly at Every Skill Level and at All Venues
We’ve all — at one time or another — likely been considered the stronger player when we play. Perhaps you’re a 3.5 rated player playing with three other 3.0 rated players — and you never see the ball. Perhaps you’re a 4.5 player, playing with three other 4.0 players — and you never see the ball. You could put that cardboard cut-out of yourself on the court and nobody would be the wiser. It’s not fun. You also came to play, exercise and work on your game.
And it happens everywhere. I’ve been “frozen out” of matches at my church where I first learned the game of pickleball, at my “home-town” pickleball club — and at various pickleball venues I visit. And my guess is, the exact thing happens to you from time-to-time.
Try the Opposite Approach
I like to take the opposite approach — but similarly, I have to be cognizant of not “freezing out” the weaker player — as it works both ways. You see, I prefer to hit to the stronger players to see how I stack up against a higher skill level. I want to see how these stronger players move, execute their shots and strategy — and perhaps, above all, I want to see if I can “hang” with them. It’s not so much about winning in the short-term as it is about improving and learning over the long run.
So, if the opportunity arises to play against a better player, make an effort to hit them the ball. It doesn’t have to be every ball — but don’t relegate them to being a cardboard cut-out. By doing so, you will get a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, which will only help to improve your own game — even if it means losing a recreational game here or there.
Todd is the talent behind PickleballMAX. He knows pickleball and demonstrates it on the court as a 4.5 – 5.0 player. In addition to creating content and running the PickleballMAX business, Todd is IPTPA Level II certified. As an instructor at the Ohio Pickleball Academy, he instructs students and runs adult and youth clinics. He also manages tournament desks throughout the tri state for tournaments ranging from 100-500 participants.