When asking pickleball players—especially younger pickleball players—about their first experience playing the sport of pickleball, a common theme emerges, which is how these pickleball newbies stepped onto the pickleball court with opponents twice their age and thought they would clean-up and easily beat the older opponents. These first-time Picklers would judge their opponents purely based on age and athleticism at first glance. However, at the end of the game, it actually is the older opponents who clean-up against the youngbloods who are new to pickleball.
This common experience as a first-time pickleball player reminds us of a classic pickleball lesson and life lesson—never judge a “pickleball book” by its cover.
My first experience on the pickleball court was actually playing with someone over three times my then-current age. Since I was playing with, rather than against, my older partner, my first-time experience with pickleball was a little different—read more about my first time on the pickleball court here. However, I learned this lesson in a big way at my first US Open Pickleball Championships in Naples, Florida in 2018.
At the 2018 US Open Pickleball Championships, I played in the 19+ 4.0 Women’s Doubles bracket with my partner, Anna Leigh Waters. We won two matches so far on the day and were about to step onto the pickleball court for our third match of the day, trying to remain in the winner’s bracket and in the hunt for the gold medal. I vividly remember stepping onto the court to warm up with Anna Leigh. As we looked across the pickleball net at our opponents, we noticed two opponents that were slightly older than me, and much older than my partner, who was only 11 years old at the time. We also noticed two large knee braces, so we thought we had a clear advantage on age and mobility.
It did not take long for our opponents to completely shut us down and school us at the game of pickleball. Our opponents’ unbelievably fast hands, ridiculous blocks, low dinks, and downward-moving volleys neutralized us in every way. Anna Leigh and I quickly went down in consecutive games, 5-11, 9-11. Our misplaced confidence evaporated and it was in that moment that I promised to never judge a pickleball player based on a passing glance ever again. Any brace, decreased mobility, or age difference did not matter on the pickleball court. Other skills could easily compensate for any perceived weaknesses and neutralize opposing teams.
When stepping onto the pickleball court, I hope you learn from my mistake—and the mistake of thousands of other newcomers to the sport. Never judge a pickleball book by its cover, which is also an important lesson in life itself.
Fun Fact: Anna Leigh and I partnered from our very first pickleball tournament (which was at the 3.0 level) all the way to the 5.0 level (before hitting the pro division), which was about 10 pickleball tournaments in total. In all of these pickleball tournaments, which included 2 US Open Pickleball Championships and 2 USA Pickleball National Championships, we only lost one match, which was the one discussed in this pickleball blog. Fortunately, we learned our lesson and did not make this same mistake twice.
Have you experienced this pickleball lesson? Have you ever judged a pickleball player based on first impressions or appearances? Share with us in the comments below!
Read past blogs from the "Lessons from the Pickleball Court" series:
What lesson have you learned from the sport of pickleball? Share with us in the comments below, or reach out to me personally via email at email@example.com.
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Since returning to professional pickleball this year, after taking a long COVID hiatus, Leigh and Anna Leigh Waters have been traveling the country for pickleball tournaments. But, one thing that that they have not done in a really long time is take a family vacation... until now. Learn about Team Waters' trip to Costa Rica from Leigh herself, which included as much, or more, pickleball than at home in Florida, monkey spectators, family bonding, surfing, and a lot of new friends made on the Costa Rican pickleball courts, which reminded them how much fun the great sport of pickleball really is.