We’ve all been there – you’re in the middle of a game and the person across from you ignores you. You might as well not even be there. The other team stays away from you like they’re trying to social distance, treating a Tuesday morning rec game like it’s the semifinals of the U.S. Open.
It’s no fun. You don’t get to participate as your teammate gets picked on over and over. The result is generally somewhere in the neighborhood of an 11-3 loss.
We’ve also all been here – you’re in the middle of a game and your opponent picks on you. You’re nervous and think everyone will find out how bad a player you are and will never want to partner up with you again. You’re apologizing to your partner on every missed shot, popped-up dink, and crummy return. Your partner assures you with a pat on the back and a, “don’t worry about it, bud,” but you know it’s your fault. It has to be. You’ve missed every other shot and gave away the game. The result is somewhere in the neighborhood of an 11-3 loss.
In rec play, we’ve been on both sides of this situation. It can be uncomfortable. But it doesn’t have to be. What are you looking for when you show up to play with a group of strangers? Let’s go through the most popular options. Find the one that applies to you and proceed accordingly.
I’m looking to win every game
Go after it. Find the weaker player and make sure to target him or her. While you’re at it, make sure your partner knows exactly who the weaker player is, too, and be sure to verbalize it early and often in your game. Fist-pump when your opponent hits it into the net. Scream, “Let’s go,” when you overhead smash 2.0 Barb. Now, you probably won’t make any new friends and people won’t want to play with you anymore, but that’s OK. You won. That’s good enough, right?
I’m looking to have fun, and who cares if I win?
Do a quick once-over of the people there with you. See the guy wearing all Serkirk gear and has a tour bag with four paddles in it? You probably want to avoid that guy. He’s a bit more serious about the game than you are. Find people in your tribe. There are plenty just like you, and if you don’t know who they are, make sure to introduce yourself when you take the court. Let the people know you’re there for fun, or for some exercise, so they know what you expect. This definitely takes the temperature down a notch and relaxes things.
I’m just trying to get better out here
This is fairly tricky. Sure, everyone wants to win and have some success, unless you don’t care or you’re made out of car parts. We all have feelings, so losing every game isn’t great, but if you’re really there just to play to get better, you’re going to probably lose some games. And that shouldn’t matter to you.
Getting better means working on things you’re not comfortable with. Getting better means not picking on the weaker player, but instead hitting more shots to the better player on the other side of the net. More shots to a better player means you have to face tougher shots coming back at you. Trying to improve means breaking yourself of some bad habits and that can often be painful or uncomfortable.
I’m better than everyone here, what should I do?
This isn’t the time to let everyone know you’re better. By the first or second rally of the game, if you’re the best player on the court, everyone will know and the result will mean you probably won’t get a lot of balls hit in your direction. But there are options.
This isn’t the game to pick on the weaker player or to work on your overhead smash or third-shot drive. This is the game to concentrate on footwork, to reset shots from mid-court, to try a back-hand serve or to only hit third-shot drops. So what if you miss that serve or the drops aren’t great? You’ll still get something out of the game and chances are the other players on the court will get something out of it, too. Decide on something to work on that game and commit to it.
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I’m worse than everyone here, what do I do?
Ultimately, this is what you want. Now, of course you don’t want to get yourself embarrassed or feel out of place, but really what most everyone is trying to do is get better to some extent and the best way to do that is to play with better players. Take advantage of the situation. If you are comfortable, ask your partner, or even your opponent what you should be working on, if you’re out of position, or for a quick critique of your game. Use the time wisely, because chances are you’re going to see a lot of shots come your way. Good players usually don’t mind helping out others, so ask away. It’s a great way to get better in a hurry.
Enjoy rec play. No matter who you’re paired with and against, it’s a chance to have some fun and get better.
Andrew Gilman is the teaching pro at Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club
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