From time-to-time, as I peruse the posts from my local pickleball Facebook groups, someone makes a post that resonates with many in the group. The following was one such post.
Used [and very slightly edited] with his permission, I wanted to share with you the thoughts of one of the members of our local pickleball club. It not only applies to our pickleball club – but my guess is – may apply to your local club as well.
Author: Mark Haskamp
Every club, I’m sure, faces a similar challenge: more advanced players seek competitive games with peers while less advanced players look to move up. Here are some of my thoughts:
1. Some reasons for our local club’s success (There are more. These are relevant to this discussion.)
a. Members have a welcoming attitude to all players.
b. The large number of courts.
2. Find/build your own group of similarly skilled players. Schedule time over the summer to play together. (There are often open courts available and your group could take over a court or two.)
3. If a group of players are off by themselves, away from the crowd, they’ve done that for a reason and probably prefer to not mix in with other players. Don’t invite yourself into their game.
4. If most courts are busy, then you picked a bad time for your group. You should mix in with other players.
5. If you’re the more advanced player, harken back to the time when you wanted to test yourself against better players. Make some time for less skilled players.
6. Be self-aware.
a. Ask yourself the question, “Am I in over my head?” Be honest with yourself with your answer. E.g. as you rotate opponents, are you the one losing every game?
b. Be respectful of the time of the more advanced players. Play a few games, make mental notes on how to get better, then move back down.
c. #5 doesn’t work without #6.
7. Be patient. Moving up a level takes practice, but it also takes time.
8. Take lessons. You don’t have to take your chances in finding someone who will include you and expose your weaknesses. You can pay someone to do that!
9. If you’re in a less challenging set of games, move away from “tournament strategy” where you need to make no apologies for trying to win.
a. Make your opponent beat you.
i. Play a more patient game.
ii. Disallow kill shots from yourself.
iii. At the same time, never give up a point. I’ve been on the “beat-down” end of games (once) and I do not want your charity.
b. Count your unforced errors.
c. How’s your drop shot? How are your dinks? (Rhetorical questions. They need work.)
d. Practice your lob (Just kidding. I hate that.)
e. Depth and direction of serve.
i. Can you consistently place your serve in the back 5 feet of the court?
ii. Can you serve to forehand or backhand at will?
f. Because it’s not necessary for your focus to be “lasered-in” to win every point, this is the perfect time to practice exactly that.
g. If your opponents’ skill levels are unevenly matched, don’t isolate the lesser player. Challenge yourself and hit to the better player. Manfred Mann said it best: “but mama, that’s where the fun is!” (Editor’s Note: I added the link)
h. Enjoy the nice day and the opportunity to hang out with friends.
10. Seriously, it’s a nice day and you’re hanging out with friends! How cool is that?!? (Also rhetorical. It’s very cool.)
11. When in doubt, see 1.a (As more courts are built in the area, increasing the options for where we can play, our club’s openness and welcoming attitude is a differentiator.)
A final Thought
A friend of mine, who was a minor Cincinnati celebrity, died unexpectedly about 10 years ago. Anyway, there’s a group of us that still get together as friends and we all met because he reached out at one time or another and included us in his group.
As a result, I try to remember a lesson he taught us by example: “when in doubt, be inclusive.”