One of the biggest issues I hear about and see in the Community is the mental mindset and opinions of two different groups of people who have different viewpoints of playing or competing in this incredible sport. The Social Players and the Competitive Players – it is two different cultures – it is not the same. We can all be friends, let’s RESPECT our differences.
When someone picks up the sport of pickleball for the first time they are trying to learn the scoring, court position and rules. We are teaching so many people how to incorporate this amazing sport into their lives for family time, social time, work out, skills practice, the mental aspect of the game and so much more! I think the one thing that perhaps gets overlooked along the way is to teach etiquette and culture of the sport. This sport really has three identifiable facets, and most people fall into one of three categories when they play; Professional, Competitive, or Social Play.
Professionals are those that make money in the sport. People learning will watch and learn from these pros. Their culture is different from the other two groups who play the same game.
Competitive players are those that work on their skills and practice to improve their skills and these folks are usually looking to level up. This group will play regularly, watch videos, get coaching, drill, and practice their skills consistently.
Social players are those looking for a workout, or to get their body moving. They enjoy playing and making friends. Many times they don’t mind who they play with as long as they play – they usually do not take the game to the higher skill levels but they may play daily or just once in a while.
Generally speaking, if you ask people in each group – they do not think or feel they are better human beings than another group. There is, however, distinct differences in playtime or court time.
For the sake of this article we will leave the Professional group out of the discussion and focus on Competitive Players vs Social Players. Although the skills are higher in the Competitive Group, these people do not view themselves as better humans than another group. It’s important to restate that point, because they are often accused of just that. There is a rating or ranking system in Pickleball that is in place for people to easily find those within their skill radius to work on shots and court position to improve. It is for compatibility.
I hear time and time again that Social Players think they should play with the Competitive Players at the courts. In some cases, the higher level folks will take the time to play in either for relationships or for the love of the game, but generally speaking in regular scheduled time when Competitive players are practicing their skills and leveling up – they do not play with the Social group, nor should they ever be expected to. They have worked hard to reach their skill level and they should be able to play with the people they choose and not be forced to play with anyone they do not choose to. Sometimes I hear someone from the Social group or even someone desiring to be in the Competitive group say: “ I am only going to get better if I play with higher level people.” Yes, that is true in theory, but it is incomplete. You are only going to get better with practice, drills, watching videos and getting coached SO THAT you can play at a higher level…that is how the Competitive people have got where they are.
There is no room for entitlement on either side of this fence. I hear stories of Social players getting slammed on and totally beat when they try to take on the higher level folks but yet they get upset and think the Competitive group should play down when they are on the court with the Social group.
Can we please just understand these are two different groups with different goals, different skills, different attitudes towards the game? Please stop trying to force these two groups together.
At one park we have one guy who will sit outside the fence and say things like: “oh there are the special ones that no one gets to play with” or “ you are all too good to play with the little people.” I ask, how is this taunting and mud slinging ok? We have 8 players set up and we have a rotation all the while there are open courts for them to play on. It just makes no sense to me and it really has distracted my focus. To have these verbal attacks at the courts because people want to play in with our group uninvited is absolutely uncalled for.
My family started a group called Praise & Pickle in Texas, Florida and Minnesota. In Cape Coral FL, we invite community members to the courts every Saturday at non-peak times and we coach, teach, train drill and play with them. The purpose is to help others fall in love with Pickleball. That is our give-back time. Its 2 hours a week.
Honestly there are two things I look for when I put together a group to play. Skill level and attitude, they must have both. If your desire is to play higher and get invited to the Competitive groups, work hard and practice and have a great attitude. If you cannot find a group, start one.
Lastly, the sport needs structure or a fair system to follow when the courts are full. There should be a court system in place for rotation of courts in each city at the parks. No group should ever be able to push out another group. I have seen that go both ways. Competitive group will just stay in their foursome and play game after game and not rotate. This is not okay if the public courts are full. Some courts are reserved, that is different. I have also seen the Social group with coolers and chairs in the court all hanging out and taking over a court so if someone else shows up to play it is intimidating and doesn’t allow for other players.
Some courts have an outdated system or outdated rules. Before things got real busy, some courts established Winners and Losers baskets and others set a one hour limit when courts are full. Both of these systems are now outdated. The most efficient system and good for both groups is the next up paddle rotation. There are racks or boxes that establish who is next and has enough room for several groups of paddles waiting. As this sport grows at exponential rates, it would be smart for parks to understand the sport and how it works to best serve the community.
My suggestion is play if you can during non-peak hours so you can play with who you want and when you want as much as you want. During peak hours when the courts are full – games should be to 11 and when the game is over, quickly exit and allow the next four players to take the court to play. If everyone rotates in order after each game, you will have a fluid system. If you come alone or only have 3 in your group during peak times, you are open to playing with other people – if you come with a set foursome and want to stay together, that is perfectly acceptable as well. Just follow the rotation. We need to stop the pettiness on the courts. I call it playing nice in the sand box. The first time you get a bully hogging a court, or mouthy people being disrespectful to other players, you are stealing joy from others enjoying the sport from whatever group they are in. Mind your manners, be a good sport, and let’s help the attitudes change and be more positive in each group!