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Pickleball Hierarchies

Pickleball Hierarchies

Playing with others with differing abilities always gets reactions.  Navigating court hierarchies of who plays with who can be a challenge. People's feelings get hurt, egos are bruised, and friendships can be challenged.  No wonder this topic consistently generates fiery discussions.

It may seem easy to resolve.  For example, Ben Johns has no interest or obligation to play with me. Ever.  Nor should he ever be forced to do so. Similarly,  some feel the controversy can be eliminated by dividing players based on those who play tournaments vs. social/rec players.  But there's a gray area. 

After five years of thinking about this, I feel the problem "gray area" is when a person is newly ready to advance to a next level.  Perhaps he has taken lessons,  and after training and drilling, finds a new confidence to play at a higher level. The problem arises, when venturing into this group of "better players,"  he is still excluded as if he is still not ready.  That is when feelings and egos and a bruised heart come into play which only exacerbates the situation.

I surely am not an expert and have no sure-fire solutions, and can only share my experience.  Learning where and how I fit in has been a process.   It stung to be told "you need to go to the lower court" or "they'll just keep hitting it to your backhand....we all know you don't have a backhand."  But I hung in there.  I kept playing. I kept drilling. I kept practicing.   I developed my own network of great players and people who I enjoyed being with on and off the court. This has resulted in better skills, and better confidence, and a few months ago, I was easily hitting it past the owner of comment #2.  :)  And, of course, I am attending nationals in December after winning gold in both mixed and women's doubles.  Granted this is at level 3.5 so I happily have a long way to go on my pickleball journey.

Playing with better players is important to improve.  Sometimes people just need a chance and some patience.  I was given an opportunity in Surprise, AZ.  The courts are filled with great players and I met an affable man named Jeff Doyle who is also an incredible pickleball player.  He played with me and invited me into his higher level groups.  At first I was nervous, but through time, I relaxed and eventually was able to hold my own.  His invitation and generosity meant so much and definitely helped me find competitive games which boosted my skills and  confidence.

Some may balk at being generous or inviting to developing players, but doing so can also be self-serving.  More great players means more competitive games, and more actualized talent.   Also, that emerging player is just going to continue to develop and improve with or without you, and maybe, just maybe, you might want to see their friendly face across the net from you, and not the face of a person you slighted or demeaned who now wants to settle a score. 

In this spirit, I make it a point to encourage and applaud the growth in others.  When I see someone who is athletically talented but who is nervous, I'll do or say things to try and boost their confidence.  As is my prerogative, I focus on arranging games with competitive players. I know this is the path to winning tournaments. But I also choose to remain a human being, and will keep my value of honoring others and will do what I can when someone needs a boost. 


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  • Lauren Shake N Baker

    Whenever I meet a new player, it’s always a helpful reminder that I have now been playing longer than Ben Johns’ has…and surpassed me a long time ago! Be nice to the newbies, ya never know!

  • Mary Helen Irvine

    Excellent article and well-written. Thanks for sharing something we all need to be aware of!

  • Matthew Cross

    I’m so glad to read your thoughts. Powerful topic. Many nuances. As pickleball communities grow, we find mature ways to balance social and competitive goals. I advocate for the use of teaching and rating professionals to advise clubs, and to help players transition skill levels.

  • Helen Belanger

    That was such a good read….I agree 100% and also have enjoyed small groups of equal players…and always encourage people to join when we need an extra and the ones above me have been soooooooooo gracious and so helpful, calling on me to join them when they have an opening……I find pballers very free with their help and am offered to play with many levels….its a great game and really great people enjoying it….KEEP ON… We need more 70+ players in tournaments….check them out… fun..

  • Janice Mundee

    Hi Ching! I love your point “we ned not take things so personally.” That is key. Sometimes I am incredulous at what another person says. My reaction only magnifies things. My husband, on the other hand, is always happily above the fray. This observation speaks volumes and is something for which to strive.

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