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Why Coaching Up Your Teammate During Pickleball Rec Play is Not Helpful

by Jason Flamm on

As a pickleball player, few things annoy me more than someone coaching me while I'm playing in rec games. Fortunately, I've learned to ignore these people and not let them ruin my day or my game.

As someone training to be a pickleball coach, when I see this happening to other players, it drives me absolutely nuts.

Whether you're an actual certified coach or just a regular joe-broni (yes, a term I just made up – regular joe + jabroni – get it?), coaching while on the rec court should never happen.

Stop it. Here's why.

Why coaching shouldn't happen on the court

I could probably come up with a hundred reasons why this shouldn't happen, but I'll spare you the 35-minute read time. Instead, here's my top three reasons:

  1. They aren't going to be receptive to your feedback - even if it's correct
  2. You risk ruining someone's fun
  3. Your information or technique could be absolutely wrong and hurt the player in the long run

Let's dig into each.

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Why players aren't receptive to feedback during rec play

Whether it's in a small group session or one-on-one training, most people are in a specific mindset when they are about to be coached. They are open and ready to be told what they're doing wrong and how to fix it.

When they are playing for fun, it's a different story.

Your mind is just in a different headspace and you're not there looking for someone to critique your every move.

Trying to teach someone when they aren't ready to receive it, is only going to get on their nerves or cause them to play worse.

You risk ruining someone's fun

Anyone who has played sports knows that when you overthink while playing, you're going to play very poorly.

It's called being stuck "in your head." Instead of letting your instincts and muscle memory do it's job, you start second-guessing everything, which often leads to more mistakes and frustration.

That frustration turns into anger when you have someone stare at you, droop their shoulders, or sigh heavily every time you make a mistake.

You showed up to play a game that you love and now you wish you'd just stayed home.

Coaching others while playing can zap the joy right out of the game and you don't have the right to take that from anyone just because you want to prove you know how to do something better than them.

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You might know what to do, but you don't know how to teach it

Teaching or coaching is a skill that takes hours of dedicated practice to learn.

Not only that, but being a good coach means knowing how to translate lessons in ways that your individual students with their own learning styles will understand.

If you are not an actual coach, you don't know how to do this.

Even if your feedback is right, it might not be right for that person at that time. And, if you're wrong, it's 10 times worse because now you've just "taught" that person something that they'll have to unlearn down the road – probably when they hire a real coach.

Now, you've made two peoples' lives harder.

The one time it's okay to coach

There is one caveat to coaching while on the rec courts. And that is if – and only if – the player has asked you for your advice.

And even then, you should keep it short and simple. Don't over-teach and don't take that as a green light to show them the 15 things they're doing wrong.

Offer them the advice they asked for, then keep your mouth shut and let them try it. They'll probably fail, but that's what practice is for.

Talking strategy is not coaching

There is a big difference between coaching someone on the court and talking strategy. Strategy might be something like, "That guy's backhand is weak, we should aim there."

This is totally fine to do during a game, but even that comes with a word of caution, because some people literally cannot control their shots. They might be aiming for someone's backhand and just can't hit that spot.

Don't dwell on it. Say it once and then let it go.

What to do if you're being coached

Chances are most rec play "coaches" aren't going to read this. That's unfortunate, because I do think it would make the pickleball community an even better place if they did.

Instead, the person reading this is likely someone who has been coached and wants to know what to do to stop it from happening again.

So, this next bit of advice is for you.

Ignore them

I know that's easier said than done. But, if you have the wherewithal to let it flow off of you like water on a duck, do it. Laugh at them if you have to.

I've gone so far as to even wave someone off like I'm swatting a fly.

If they don't get the hint after that, then do what you have to do to end the game early (a few serves into the net usually does the trick) and get out of their rotation. Let someone else deal with their nonsense.

Ask them to show you later

Another tactic you can use is to say, "Hey, can you show me that after we're done?" Even if you don't really want to spend any more time with this person, this should feed their ego enough to get them to stop.

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If you don't want their advice after, simply pretend your phone is ringing and walk off the court for a few minutes. Hopefully, they will have moved on and forgotten all about it.

I'm just trying to have fun

Not everyone is interested in getting better at pickleball and that's okay. There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying to someone, "I appreciate the advice, but I'm just here to have fun and get some exercise."

If they can't respect that, that's their problem. But, it should shut them up.

If you want to coach, become a coach

One of the best parts about this period in pickleball is that possibilities are endless and everything has a low barrier-to-entry. If you want to become a coach, you can.

Find certifications being offered near you or talk to your local coach about how you can make it happen.

Just do me a favor, keep the coaching out of rec play. We'll all have more fun if you do.

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Jason Flamm

Jason Flamm

Jason is a writer from St. Louis. He’s been a coach in several sports and is currently working on his pickleball coaching certification. He loves to teach and share his passions.

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