Playing with Stronger/Weaker Players

Playing when there are clear differences in level.

Everyone seems to think the best way to improve your game is to play with better players. CPC maintains that this is not the case unless the stronger player wants to play with you. We strongly believe that four equally matched opponents will improve their game faster, as everyone will typically bring a special shot/skill to the game that will force you to focus harder and result in a highly competitive game.

CPC offers formal lessons for those wishing to move to a higher skill level. Everyone will take away new skills from a lesson (typically different) which will again enhance the experience of level play.

As for playing with stronger players, this is only enjoyable for a stronger player that is interested in developing others, otherwise it is a great distraction to their game and they will start developing bad habits. They need a proper mindset to help you practice shots that are important to improving your game. Playing with you keeps them from having to play at the top of their ability, keeps them from paying for their mistakes and keeps them from improving their skill level.

The culture of pickleball has always been very welcoming and inclusive of new players but, as you become more intent on improving your game, you DON’T normally want to play with less-experienced players. Recognizing everyone has to start somewhere:

When you want to “Play Up” with players who are STRONGER than you are:

Ask Politely and Give Them an Out. For example, “Do you all mind if I get a game in with you, or would you rather play on your own?”

Ask at the Beginning or End of the Day. Approach when they are warming up or cooling down. DON’T go when they are in the midst of a streak of higher-level play.

Accommodate Their Flow. If you do approach them in the midst of higher-level play, accommodate their flow. Ask, “Hey, do you mind if I get a game in with you all before you quit today?” so that they can continue playing, but will hopefully commit to playing with you later.

Be Conscientious. If they do play a few games with you at the beginning of the day, make it easy for them to bow out and play with other higher-level players so that they will be more likely to want to play with you again in the future. You might say, “Hey, I see you can get a good game in against those guys, I’ll sit this one out and maybe we can play again later if you have a chance.”

Hit to Them! No one likes to watch their partner hit all the balls during recreational play. The higher-level player is doing you a favour by playing with you, so hit the ball to them at least half the time. It will make you a better player, make it more fun for them, and make it more likely that they will play with you again next time.

Don’t Be Obnoxious. Remember the stronger players may not be playing at the top of their game or they may be focusing on improving their own shots, rather than on winning. Don’t assume that because you did well that you are stronger than you thought!

Show Your Appreciation. If they give you feedback on your game, have an open mind and be appreciative of them taking the time to play and help you.

Don’t Take It Personally. Some people just aren’t going to be very friendly about it. Don’t let them get to you. Remember, it’s only pickleball!

When you agree to “Play Down” with players who are WEAKER than you are:

Remember Where You Came From. Who took you under their wing when you first started playing? Chances are you’ve improved your game since then by getting to play with better players, so pay it forward and make a point to regularly play with players who are weaker than you. You could regularly play a warm-up game with them, or once a week decide to dedicate the last 30-45 minutes of your play to playing with them, it’s up to you. Just find a way to pay it forward.

If Now’s Not Good, Say When. If someone asks to play with you and you opt to play a higher-level game instead, let them know when you WOULD be willing to play, perhaps later in the day, or later in the week.

Give Them a Head’s Up On How Long You’ll Stay. When you do play, let them know in advance how long you’re planning to play, you might say, I’d love to play with you all for a game or two, but then I’d like to get in with those other players.”

Don’t Be Patronizing — Or, Overly Aggressive. Instead of focusing on who wins or loses, find a way to make it challenging for yourself. Pick a shot you want to improve upon and focus on hitting that shot. Or, try to reduce your number of unforced errors. Focus on consistency and keeping the ball in play rather than slamming every put-away shot you get.

Limit Your Feedback. If you notice something they could be doing better, limit your feedback to one aspect of their game during play. Giving them too many pointers can overwhelm them. Plus, they’re probably already a little nervous about being on the court with you, so don’t be too critical. Afterwards, if you want to give them more background info on your pointer, or give them one additional pointer, go ahead, but start out by asking permission first, “Would you like to hear more about what I noticed about your game?”