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Murmurs from the Losers’ Bracket: Be Kind to Your Local “Paddle Sheriff”

Murmurs from the Losers' Bracket Frank Cerabino 06-01-2023

We here at Murmurs from the Losers’ Bracket would like to acknowledge the true unsung heroes of the recreational-level pickleball world.

I’m talking about the people I like to call “paddle sheriffs.”

You’re probably confused if your experience in playing pickleball doesn’t involve open play on public courts. Or maybe you do engage in open play on public courts, but have no idea what I’m talking about here.

If so, I feel sorry for you. For there are few things more glorious than showing up at open play on a crowded day and immediately sensing the all-knowing, all-seeing presence of a capable paddle sheriff standing guard in front of the paddle-lined rack.

Hail to you, paddle sheriffs. Long may you reign.

Every open-play court should have one – a take-charge arbiter of correct paddle-rack etiquette, an eagle-eye for the suddenly available court, and a matchmaker of sorts who can correctly suggest the right pairing for that unconnected player who shows up looking to play.

Without a type-A guardian of the rack, bad things happen on the fringes of pickleball courts:

  • Newcomers blithely walk up and, without taking the time to realize where the end of the line is, they place their paddle in the wrong spot.
  • After a new foursome takes to the courts, nobody slides up the marker to reflect which group is next.
  • Waiting players engrossed in conversation fail to realize when it’s their turn to play because nobody is yelling “Next four!” and shouting “Whose paddle is this?” for those who are slow to respond.
  • Waiting players are moving other players’ paddles, creating animosity and misgivings, and “Don’t touch my paddle, dude!” confrontations.
  • Players looking to avoid waiting are using two paddles: One to play with and the other to reserve a spot in another game. This would be a gambit that would be thwarted by an observant paddle sheriff.

Pickleballers don’t like to wait, especially when the wait is stopping them from playing a game they’ve become addicted to. It helps to have a structure in place to impose a reasonable order.

Murmurs from the Losers’ Bracket: Be Kind to Your Local “Paddle Sheriff” | Pickler Pickleball

It all works best when everybody acknowledges the presence of a single, benign dictator who will be fair and firm, and be the lone voice of authority among the huddled masses yearning to dink free (apologies to the poet Emma Lazarus).

Sometimes, a player who is waiting to play will just step up and try to fill the role of a paddle sheriff. But that person’s authority could be questioned. And his or her authority suddenly evaporates when it’s time to play.

Unless somebody steps in to handle the sheriffing duty at the rack, things quickly disintegrate with that vacuum of power.

It’s far better to have an actual paddle sheriff assigned by the facility where you play. I know. This is rare. But I’m lucky enough to play at a city-run facility that employs a paddle sheriff during the few times a week it allows open play.

I suspect the main motivation of this is to ensure that only paid-up players can participate (there’s a little ticket everybody gets at the pro shop). But a byproduct of this level of dedicated supervision is a smooth-running, stress-free system of cycling dozens of waiting players through the six available courts.

Pickleball players like to say they’re the friendliest people on Earth. But anybody who spends time on the courts knows that this friendliness can fray pretty quickly.

So, three cheers for the paddle sheriffs who rule the rack, and in the process, keep the fun fun. 


Read past editions of Murmurs from the Losers’ Bracket, including:

Frank Cerabino is a long-time columnist for the Palm Beach Post in Florida, a pickleball addict like the rest of us, and a newly published author. Check out Frank’s newly released book, I Dink, Therefore I Am: Coming to Grips with My Pickleball Addiction (available on Amazon and a great read (or gift!) for any pickleball player), for pickleball tips and laughs!

I Dink, Therefore I Am | Frank Cerabino


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