Having recently returned from California where outdoor pickleball reigns, now as our snows melt, Hannah and I play regularly at the indoor XL Sports World in Saco, Maine. A few days ago, our friend Janet asks if we would like to play in a social mixed doubles pickleball tournament. The word social intrigues me. That it’s round robin means lots of play. It’s the tournament part that is the sticking point.
We exchange phone numbers, but I’m still not sure. Usually, my go-to response is, Tournaments are not my thing. That often is enough to end the conversation. But this time I hesitate rather than flat out decline.
My reasons not to play tournaments are six.
Numero uno! Players sandbag (i.e. players who are rated higher play at a lower level). For example, a 4.0 rated team plays at 3.5 level and crushes everyone. Since this is a social tournament so that is not an issue as this will be an informal gathering of friends. That’s one vote for playing.
Numero dos! My goodness, there is so much down time between matches at a weekend tournament. Who wants to blow a whole Saturday sitting around? Since this Friday night will be round robin of nearly constant play, downtime will not be of concern. That’s two votes for giving it a shot.
Tres! It’s a tournament. The point is to win. I get that. What I don’t like is the usual strategy in tournaments, which is to direct all the shots at the weaker player. Many is the time when Hannah and I play together in recreation games, 80-90% of the shots are aimed at her; again and again, she is their punching bag. It puts a ton of pressure on her and I play the role of the potted plant.
Quatro! The reverse is true. I hate, in an effort to win, playing entirely at the weaker player. I like rec play when I can hit most of my shots at the better player to work on my game and be challenged by their superior play to mine. My partner and I probably lose more than we should, but how else am I going to get better? And what fun is it picking on the weaker player? It’s not exactly a tactic to build community.
Cinco de Mayo! Then there are the bangers. Unable or unwilling to play the soft game of drop shots and dinking that top players use all the time, bangers smash the pickleball time and time again from the baseline. It’s boring. Boom, bam, thank you ma’am; the point is over in a flash. I get that banging can be a successful strategy; for me, it lacks the nuances of the soft game which is why I love to play pickleball.
Seis! Players become too serious. Every point matters. Winning uber alles. The fun and comradery vibe of pickleball is lost.
But this tournament seems different. It’s billed as social; there’s lots of play (round robin means we’ll be playing eight games). We are to bring hors d-oeuvres to share. Janet’s cool, and Hannah and I are sufficiently intrigued to see how we like a mixed pickleball tournament.
Part II describes how we deal with tournament play, which will be posted on Wednesday.