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Zane Explains

Zane Explains: How Do Players Choose Partners?

by Zane Navratil on

So, there’s been tons of talk about 2022’s new partnerships: Ben and Anna Leigh, Riley and Matt, Lucy and Callie, Jay and Tyson, Zane and…not every single tournament with Altaf (Yeah, you’ll miss us).

How do these partnerships come about? For some reason, the general public seems to think that sponsors have serious influence in partnership decisions. While this may be the case in certain circumstances, almost all players are free to make whatever partnership choices they desire.

So, here’s my process for determining partners: First, I decide which tournaments that I want to play. I make my own ideal schedule assuming that I get every partner I want. I mean, who could say no to me? Given that I will be directing the APP Academy, it makes sense for me to play mainly APP events, but I also will be playing some of the larger PPA events, the US Open, Nationals, etc.

Once I have my ideal schedule set, I start to reach out to other players. My objective is to lock in the best partner I can for the event, but when everybody is trying to do the exact same thing, sometimes players get left holding the bag. How do I determine the best partner? It’s a cocktail of skill, compatibility, likability, availability, and potential.

Skill – Obviously you want a player that’s good, but skill isn’t everything. Sometimes players simply don’t mesh.

Compatibility – The best teams complement each other. Each player has a well defined role determined by their skillset. Take Collin and Ben as the most obvious example. Collin is an even court specialist. He has a phenomenal forehand dink, and a great backhand when things get sped up. Ben is Ben. Their skills mesh well with one another, and they know their roles.

Likability – Most people gravitate towards people that they like, even if they’re not as skilled as others. However, I think this is going to change and change quickly. Players are going to start putting winning ahead of friendship, for better and for worse. If a friend isn’t delivering on the court, people are having those tough conversations, and if an enemy can deliver, equally tough conversations are being had. Most notably, Matt Wright and Riley Newman aren’t exactly besties, but they’re both competitive enough to try and figure it out in 2022.

Availability – As we probably know by now, if you do well enough in the PPA, the Tour will present you with a contract offering X dollars per event to participate in their tournaments. In the fine print, however, lies a clause that limits the number of non-PPA events that a player can play. Generally, APP players are going to gravitate towards other APP players and vice versa.


Potential – Pickleball moves quickly. Somebody might not be great now, but you think their game will take off. Maybe I play a couple with them now and they return the favor when they hit the big time.

Every player is looking for the best outcome for themselves, which causes rapid partner turnover. With serious money coming into the sport, I wouldn’t be surprised if players begin developing contracts for partnerships.

So there you have it. That’s how I determine my partnerships, and I believe that most other players follow something similar. Personally, I value the friendship aspect of things. The day I stop having fun with pickleball is the day I quit.


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