The green elephant in the room is where we each fall on the USAPA pickleball scale, from 1 to 5. First, let’s talk real-world. We might exaggerate our rating in social conversation, but if we tell folks we are a 9.9, then the cat is out of the bag.
Why are ratings important? They help tournament committees establish players in a draw. In social play, ratings help organizers schedule equal skill groups. When groups are unequal, less-experienced players feel overwhelmed and more experienced players cannot push themselves.
A frequently-heard complaint around the pickleball courts is that there is no local system to determine pickleball ratings. That is always a healthy question, because it means folks want to know where they are rated so they can begin to improve.
We can each go to USAPA, where they offer a self-analysis form to see where we stand on their 1-5 scale. A 2.0 has to be able to hit a backhand, or a volley. A 2.5 can easily make routine volleys and sometimes uses backhands in games. This does not mean we successfully hit a backhand once five months ago, nor does it mean all those volleys hit into the net satisfy the 2.5 volley requirement. But if we truthfully tick off the requirements, beginning with a 1.0, we can create our own roadmap to improvement.
For example, a 1.5 is:
• Limited to some rallies.
• Learning how to serve.
• Developing a forehand.
• Fails to return easy balls frequently and occasionally misses the ball entirely.
• Played a few games and is learning the court lines, scoring and some basic rules of the game.
Meanwhile, a 3.5:
• Demonstrates improved stroke dependability, with directional control on most medium-paced balls and some faster-paced balls.
• Demonstrates improved control when trying for direction, depth and power on their shots.
• Needs to develop variety with their shots.
• Exhibits some aggressive net play.
• Beginning to anticipate opponent’s shots.
• Learning about the importance of strategy and teamwork in doubles.
Yet there are fewer 4.0s around the area than pickles on a vine, because there is a quantum leap from 3.5 to 4.0. A 4.0 is, among other things, consistent with all their shots, plays aggressively at net, uses the 3rd Shot strategy, and incorporates the dink and drop shot to slow down or change pace.
Going from 4.0, to 4.5, and then to 5.0, is like going up the Richter Scale in tenfold increases, and, truth be told, when you tangle with one of these folks, you probably will feel like you have been in an earthquake.
Wes Gabrielsen, one of the best male players in the universe while holding a full-time job as a teacher, and designated “ringer” on the Ocean View Crew, is a 5.0. So, you see, a 5.0 includes folks who are counting prize money, not their skill level. They have achieved that level by hundreds of hours of practice, thousands of hours of play and active participation in their local clinics and tournaments.
But the truth is we can all wish to become a 3.0, but until we understand our weaknesses and are willing to practice and develop all the pickleball shots, we are only going to be a 9.9 at social events.
When I submitted my column last week, only half of the National Senior Games were completed. Delaware still had quite a few teams in the mixed doubles.
Georgia Billger teamed up with a Tennessee mountain man to end in eighth place. Pearl Morris and Bob O’Malley beat a very strong Florida team in three long games in the third round, and then lost in another three-game marathon to a Midwest couple.
The beauty of the double elimination tournament is that a team gets a second chance, and they fought their way all the way back until they met a Southern team from Louisiana/Arkansas. The team with the Southern twang was composed of gold medal winners in doubles a day earlier, and they beat Morris and O’Malley.
That team played 11 matches over a 13-hour day to win the silver medal in mixed doubles at the National Senior Games. Thirteen hours! Pickleball is not a game for sissies, and like Rick Bell said last week, Delaware always leaves their mark at the national events.
To add an exclamation point for Delaware, Georgia Billger and Delia Wan placed fifth in Women’s Doubles 65-69, and Georgia, again with a Tennessee mountain man, took No. 8 in Mixed Doubles 75-79. If that wasn’t enough, Georgia Billger struck once again in Women’s Singles 75-79, taking gold.
Marion “The God Mother” Lisehora found a Texan with a quick-draw paddle in his holster, and they won gold in the Mixed Doubles 85-89, in a long three-game final. Marion also took gold in Women’s 75+ Volleyball. I guess she was just trying to warm up for pickleball. Well done, Georgia, Marion and First State Pickleball Club!
Results are posted on pickleballcoast.com.
Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.