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Why You Should Always Change Up Your Pickleball Opponents

by Eric Roddy on

Before you roll your eyes, this is a topic that I am extremely passionate and understanding about.

I absolutely love playing with #TeamCharlotte (Collin Shick, Brooke Buckner, Jack Sock and myself) on a daily basis. Their friendship and our insanely entertaining rec games are arguably my favorite part about playing pickleball.

Everyone has a group that they love to play with. I would never try to take that away from you. But there is a lot of growth opportunity in mixing up your pickleball opponents.

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Here are three reasons you should try to do so regularly.

You will get exposed to a lot of different playing styles, shots and strategies

The only downside to playing with #TeamCharlotte everyday is that we now know each other’s games and shots so well, we are starting to predict each other’s shots in real-time.

I know Shick is going to go crosscourt with his two-handed backhand roll before he does. I know Sock is going to try to hit me with an inside-out poke on a high ball instead of ripping it up the middle. Brooke drives her forehand cross almost every time.

What this means is that slowly, you will start to get into a rhythm and will not be ready for players with different game styles or playing styles. That’s why mixing up your pickleball playing and drilling partners is so crucial.

Why Coaching Up Your Teammate During Pickleball Rec Play is Not Helpful
Pickleball rec play is meant to be fun, social and relaxing. That can quickly change when some players decide to coach you up.

Playing with different players will expose you to new shots, new strategies and new patterns. It will keep you on your toes, and will make you learn how to think and play on the spot, instead of being comfortable and knowing your partner or opponent’s every move. 

I came across a great example of this when drilling with a new practice partner (who I will keep anonymous) a week ago. I was practicing resetting, and I fed my partner a high ball and proceeded to instinctively cover wide on the left side (my partner was crosscourt on the left side).

I realized that this muscle memory came from playing against Jack, who loves to poke high balls inside out instead of going through the middle (which is more conventional). My partner hit a super easy winner straight down the middle and said "what are you doing, cover the middle!" They were exactly right, and I realized how invaluable it was to play with someone new.

You learn more and grow faster when playing with different players and partners

I am lucky enough to get to teach fantastic amateur players in the Charlotte area. I am also blessed to receive feedback (of all flavors) after teaching, and I take into account what my students tell me.

One thing that my students consistently tell me is how much they learn from my clinics, and that is primarily because they are getting to practice new shots and are pushed outside of their comfort zones.

Playing rec with new people is also great practice for creating in-game strategies. If you are playing someone who’s game you aren’t familiar with, it will help you think on the fly and identify weaknesses to exploit. This will help you construct points and add strategies to your pickleball toolkit. 

On the other side of this, you will also pick up on new shots that your opponents or partners hit well. I learned how to hit a heavier, more accurate backhand drive from Brooke Buckner by getting beat by her doing it over and over. Learning and emulating your opponents can accelerate your game faster than trying to learn something on your own.

As an amateur player, you want to be a sponge, have zero ego, and learn as much as possible from everyone you play with.

Playing with new people keeps the game exciting, fun and is the essence of the sport

Time to get sentimental. Pickleball has opened so many doors for so many people, and arguably the greatest aspect of the sport is how quickly it unites a group of people. Since becoming a professional pickleball player a few years ago, I have met hundreds of people, many of whom have become some of my best friends. 

I will never turn down playing rec with new players as long as the skill levels are close enough to keep the games competitive and worthwhile. Here’s a good rule of thumb about how you should dedicate your time playing (with the understanding that everyone has different situations):

Spend 50 percent of your time playing with your core, main group (whether it’s the same foursome or two courts of players). This is your main group and probably the most fun, so keep it alive and enjoy your time together. 

Spend 25 percent of your time playing with new players that are the same level if not just a little bit lower in level. This will allow you to practice new shots, strategies and patterns while playing, and will give you a look at new playing styles. This will also help you practice maintaining your level, even against someone who might be rated slightly lower. So many people struggle to play up to their potential when playing against a team with a slightly lower rating.

Spend the final 25 percent of your time playing with new players that are the same level if not just a little bit better than you. You will be forced to raise your level against someone slightly better, and as a result you will develop as a player quickly. This is also a great opportunity to emulate your opponents and learn new shots, all while playing in a competitive, but fun setting.

How to Sharpen Your Pickleball Skills at Home
While we’d all like to be on the court seven days a week, life can sometimes make that challenging. Here is some advice for keeping your game sharp from the comforts of home.

One final anecdote to help sell you on how fun and important it can be to play with different players regularly ... As I wrapped up an early morning drill session, I watched another group of Charlotte pros playing butts-up (losing team has to turnaround as the winning team attempts to hit their rear ends with overheads).

An older lady who plays with the same group every morning at 8am sharp was watching and chuckling to herself. As I left the courts, I heard her call to the group and say "what on Earth are you all doing? I have never seen that before!"

I came back the next morning to drill, and the older lady and her crew were finishing a game. The losers turned around and they played butts up, laughing hysterically the entire time.

Enjoy the grind, and remember, you can’t dink all day if you don’t start in the morning.

Eric Roddy

Eric Roddy

Eric is a PPA tour pro living in Charlotte, NC, sponsored by PROXR. In addition to playing PPA events, he teaches pickleball 2-3 hours a week, enjoys golf, and listening to his favorite band Goose.

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