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Lessons from the Pickleball Court: Integrity Is Everything

Strategy & Technique Stacie Townsend 04-09-2021

Life lessons come from all places – even unexpected places, like the pickleball court.

If you’re anything like me, you have probably learned a lot about yourself and about life on the pickleball court (plus, you have had a ton of fun!). In this new Pickler pickleball blog series, I will share some of the most important lessons that I have learned through playing pickleball. I hope that you share your most important lessons with me, too, so that we can all learn from and enjoy memorable moments on the pickleball court. After all, that is what the sport of pickleball is all about and what makes the sport truly special—the social aspect and the community of “Picklers,” like you and me.

I hope you enjoy reading this new pickleball blog series, as much as I have enjoyed writing and reminiscing over these lessons. And, again, I hope you share your lessons with us, too. Feel free to reach out to me personally via email at

Now, in honor of the US Open Pickleball Championships right around the corner, the first pickleball lesson will take us back to the last US Open Pickleball Championships in 2019. Let’s dive right in to pickleball lesson #1…

Pickleball Lesson #1: Integrity Is Everything

Have you ever attended the US Open Pickleball Championships in Naples, Florida? If so, you can likely easily recall championship court, with its iconic canopy, in your mind. If not, imagine a beautiful red and blue pickleball court that is covered with a marquee blue canopy that shades the entire arena (*to note, the original canopy used to be white). On either side of the pickleball court, which has large excess space on all sides, are dozens of folding chairs in private boxes marked with the recognizable brand, and US Open sponsor, “Margaritaville.” Behind the folding chairs are large bleachers lining the entire arena. All-in-all, spectator seating can accommodate more than 700 pickleball fans, which means that the arena erupts with cheers after great points in popular matches. 

Pickleball Lesson | Integrity | EngagePickleball | Pickler Pickleball

I have had the opportunity to play on championship court at East Naples Community Park three times to date:

  1. Once in an early-morning, first-round match-up at the 2018 US Open Pickleball Championships with my partner, Anna Leigh Waters, in our Women’s Doubles 4.0 19+ bracket. At this time of day, and given our skill level at the time, our crowd was very sparse, but, of course, it included our most important fans—our friends and family.
  2. Another time for the Johnny Pickleball Show, which was featuring a “Ladies Night.” Slightly more fans, especially if you consider the livestream on social media.
  3. And, the most recent time, during the semi-final match of the Women’s Doubles 5.0 19+ division at the 2019 US Open Pickleball Championships, where my partner, Anna Leigh Waters, and I—wearing self-proclaimed “Banger” and “Dinker” matching team shirts (there is no mistaking who is who)—played a match against Beth Merchant and Julie Manuel (to note, you can see the full match on the video below!). This time, the arena was packed. Line judges lined the pickleball court, every folding Margaritaville chair was filled, and not a spec of aluminum bleacher was visible, as fans filled the stadium—mostly, to watch my partner, Anna Leigh, who was then 12 years old and—still is—one of the most exciting pickleball players to watch. This pickleball match is the setting for pickleball lesson #1.

Dinker Banger Pickleball | Anna Leigh Waters | Stacie Townsend | Pickler

In game one of the three-game pickleball match, with a score of 5-7-2 (which means that Anna Leigh and I had a narrow lead), the opposing team hit a third shot drop in my direction, which I, unfortunately, popped up for an easy putaway volley. On the next shot, however, the volley was a bit high and clearly going out of bounds—as the saying goes, “chest high let it fly” (in other words, let the out balls go). But, this is easier said than done, I took a swing at the high, fast-moving volley, and I missed the pickleball—or so the referee thought. As I walked back to the baseline with Anna Leigh, strategizing for the next point, the opposing team questioned the call to the referee, who then proceeded to ask the six line judges. The line judges also decided that the pickleball did not touch my pickleball paddle.

As I turned to face the court with my feet behind the baseline, my opponents then asked me directly (which was the first time I was given an opportunity to weigh in), “Stacie, did it touch your paddle.” Despite what the referee and every line judge determined as I walked back to the baseline, I could not look my opponents in the eye and tell a lie, especially standing next to my then 12-year-old friend, Anna Leigh. I had to be honest (ever since I was a little girl I could never lie anyway—my freckled face would turn beat red!). The pickleball did glance ever so slightly off of my pickleball paddle, such that I did not even feel it, but I heard a faint “chh” as the pickleball passed by. I came clean and spoke up that the pickleball did in fact touch my pickleball paddle, which resulted in a point for my opponents.

*Fast forward the video below to minute 11:30 to see the key pickleball point play out!

As much as we all want to win, integrity and sportsmanship must come first on the pickleball court—certainly before our competitive spirit. It could take you a lifetime to build your integrity and your reputation and just a single moment to lose it all. Your integrity and your reputation are worth infinitely more than a single fleeting moment, like a pickleball hitting your paddle or not during a key match. Without your integrity, it may (1) become harder to live with yourself and sleep at night, and (2) say something about your core nature as a person, such that other people likely will not want to be around you or will not trust you (which you certainly do not want to happen on the pickleball court, as pickleball is such a social sport and requires others to participate).

Anna Leigh Waters | Stacie Townsend | Pickler Pickleball

So, pickleball lesson #1 is integrity is everything!

Plus, karma is real! As my good friend, Leigh Waters, always says, the pickleball never lies. So, play honest, or the pickleball may come back to bite you! In fact, Anna Leigh and I went on to win this semi-final pickleball match in three games (11-6, 9-11, 11-6 – we dropped game two after having an 8-4 lead, too!) and, ultimately, went on to win the gold medal! But, I truly believe that if I was not honest in that moment, karma would have had a different outcome for us in game three of the tight three-game match.

US Open Pickleball Championships Gold Medal | Pickler Pickleball

 Photo Cred: Brittany Hubschman

Good luck to all of the pickleball players playing in the 2021 US Open Pickleball Championships!


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