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The Lifecycle of a Pickleball Player: Defining Your Progression

by Guest Author on

There are currently 36 million Americans who have played pickleball at least once over the last 12 months. To put that into perspective, that’s about the current population of California, assuming people stop moving out.

These 36 million players often rate themselves according to a point scale, starting at 2.5 and elevating to 5.0. This scale is further supported by rating systems such as DUPR, creating the illusion of truth.

However, anyone who plays recreational pickleball knows numerical rating systems don’t tell the whole story because these systems do not take into account the psychological makeup of the people who play the game.

Most players more accurately evolve along a linear path of four pickleball lifecycle stages which have become known as the Joe Mathews Completely Subjective and Unscientific Lifecycle of a Pickleball Player, or simply the JMCSULPPⓒ, pronounced “Jimks-ulp.”

Those Lifecycle Stages are as follows:

  1. The Beginner
  2. The Banger
  3. The Snob
  4. “I’m training to be a professional pickleball player someday”

This evolution generally occurs as players demonstrate elevated levels of four integrated personality traits:

  1. Skills and understanding of the game
  2. Entitlement
  3. Arrogance
  4. Self-delusion of one’s own abilities

As a player evolves, he or she must pass through certain gates or inflection points to successfully graduate to the next stage.

The purpose of this article is to help players understand where they are along the curve and give them helpful tips on how to be less annoying to other players.

The average progression of a pickleball player
The average progression of a pickleball player

The Beginner

The Beginner starts with the idea, “I’ve been hearing so much about this pickleball-thing and I think I want to check it out.”

They go to Amazon or Pickleball Central (and they should consider going to Fromuth for 10% off using code 10DINK!) and investigate paddles like the Selkirk Vanguard Power Air for $239.

But initially, they won’t be taken in by the slick marketing of Selkirk, and instead opt for the Above Genius Pickleball Set with 4 premium wood paddles, a collapsible all- weather net with carry bag, and four regulation outside balls for a mere $79 plus tax.

They then venture over to the nearest club or park, paddle up on the challenge court, and stand in no-man's land while feeding hot lunches to players on the other side of the net, to the detriment of their more experienced partner.

As their partner heals from being drilled by a seventh body shot, The Beginner humbly admits to their partner with a measure of humility, “I just recently started playing.”

Their partner thinks, “No @#$&!,” but instead meekly says, behind a forced smile, “Stick with it. We were all beginners once.

Inflection point: They take a clinic and buy the Onix Graphite Z5 for $79.

The Banger

The clinics and the Z5 pay big dividends.

The player, still very much a beginner, dominates other beginners and as added assurance, they almost took that old lady’s eye out with a speed up.

Now, they are ready for the big time, being defined as snooty to other beginners and forcing their way into games with more advanced players.

“What is all this sissified dinking about?” says The Banger as they rip a speed up long or into the awaiting backhands of their counter-attacking opponent.

Through brilliant implementation of selective memory, they forget the 11 points they lost by hitting out balls, pop ups, and to easy-to-attack speed ups, and choose to remember the one pop up they put away with an overhead.

They walk off the court from an 11-2 shellacking, thinking, “If I am going to get to the next level, I need a better partner.”

Inflection point: They buy a “Don’t Dink and Drive” T-shirt, a washable “Just Dink It” baseball hat, and a Joola Ben Johns Hyperion paddle and commit to only playing on the Tuesday and Thursday advanced nights.

The Snob

Snobs travel in herds.

Club rules like, “Players can reserve courts for up to two hours,” don’t apply to them.

Paddle-up systems to determine who plays the next game are only for “the little people” who haven’t successfully navigated through the inflection point of Entitlement, Arrogance, and Self-Delusion to the elite Snob-level of play.

When it’s the weaker players’ turn to occupy a court, they pretend they have been stuck on 6-6 for the last two hours in a heated battle with other Snobs. If you complain to them, they have the uncanny ability to pretend that when you speak, you aren’t making sound waves.

Dignifying your existence is a direct attack on their self-importance. When a Banger asks to rotate in, they will be met with the same level of grace as a leper asking someone to slow dance.

Inflection point: They pay $200 to enter an APP Tournament at the pro or senior pro level and pay for a real pro, like Jay Devilliers, to coach them by the hour.

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I’m training to be a pro pickleball player

These nouveau-professional athletes even snob the Snobs.

These elite players have made it to the "pro" level, meaning they shell out more money for entry fees than recreational players, pay travel expenses, and earn enough in prize money to cover 2 hours at a parking meter.

But paying for the privilege of being a "pro" is worth the level of self-importance they attain by pretending they are better than other people in every area of pickleball and life.

As they walk by others at the club, they chalk up the murmurs like, “You see that guy over there? He’s a real #@$#-HEAD!!!” to mere jealousy.

When they descend from their high horse enough to play with what they believe to be the unwashed advanced-intermediate players, they are quick to remind them, “I hate to come here, but it’s convenient. Normally, I have to drive 2 hours to get a real game with players at my level.”

Joe Mathews is an avid pickleball fan and an author/co-author of five books on franchising.

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