What's Your Pickleball Reputation?
By Mark Renneson
Back in 2014, I had zero relationship with pickleball. I had never heard of it before, much less played or worked with other people to play it better. There was nothing at all that connected me with the sport. Skip ahead 5 years and barely a social event goes by that someone doesn't say to me "Oh, you're the pickleball guy!".
And while those of us who are involved with the business of pickleball must consider the professional image we are creating, it can be helpful for all players to consider what their 'pickleball reputation' is. We would all do well to think about the kind of persona we are constructing when we step on the court with others. How do others see us?
I recently had dinner with some friends who told me about a person at their club that I'll call Frank. They shared a story about how Frank was a head-hunter; someone who deliberately tried to hit people with the ball. Frank, they assured me, behaved this way on purpose. When I asked them how they knew Frank was being deliberate they used as evidence the fact that he never apologized when he did hit someone. He seemed to enjoy frightening and possibly hurting his opponents.
I have no way to be certain what is inside Frank's head when this happens. For all I know, Frank may have a ton of power but very little control and would vehemently deny he was trying to hurt anyone. It is at least conceivable that he is guilty of bad judgement (and manners) more so than malice. But the fact that my friends sincerely -- and for justifiable reasons -- believe Frank's actions are deliberate, made me think about the importance of a person's reputation on the pickleball court.
Who are you as a pickleball player -- what's your reputation? Are you the person who shows up early to set up nets or clean off the courts, or do you linger just long enough so you can avoid those tasks? Are you the one who is eager to play with the less skilled players or the one who makes them feel unwelcome? Do you laugh when you make a silly mistake, or do you chastise yourself and make others uncomfortable?
Players of all abilities would do well to consider the image that they present on the pickleball courts. At the elite level, your reputation can influence your ability to attract sponsors or playing partners that can help you win prize money. If you are the person who throws temper tantrums, treats volunteers poorly or is 'too big for your britches' that can have a real impact on your pocketbook. At the recreational level, your reputation impacts who you get invited to play with and from which games you get excluded. It can mean being invited to fun pickleball and social events or people 'accidentally' forgetting to send you the invitation.
I am not suggesting that people be inauthentic or acquiesce to the expectations of others. But I do think that it is good for recreational and competitive players alike to take a moment to consider how the people around them might interpret your words and deeds. Are you someone who people like to play with? Do you make your pickleball community better? And while your actions may not influence your ability to win a match, if you are like Frank, it will have a very real impact on your social calendar.