I arrived at the Big Chill Beach Club about 20 minutes early, or what we used to call “Vince Lombardi time.” It was busy, as always, and I sat at a shared table.
Excuse my eavesdropping, but a young fellow sat at the other end of the table, on his obvious first date with a gal, and he decided to make small talk by explaining to her the difference between the automatic and manual transmission in an automobile. Somewhere around “Pop the clutch,” I franticly tried to get his attention, while she looked away at the ocean, and wave him off like the LSO might wave off a fighter jet just before it crashes into the aircraft carrier. But then Mr. Noble arrived.
Darryl Noble rates pretty high in my book. He sits on the board of, and has been long involved with, the USA Pickleball Association, and has recently moved to the Ocean Pines, Md., area. The USAPA is the national governing body of the high-flying rocketship called pickleball. Darryl was born in Pennsylvania and played his tennis in Middle States tennis sectional. Like tons of other tennis players, he made periodical trips to our own tennis diamond-in-the-rough, Sea Colony.
Back in 2010, Darryl and his tennis friends were playing the National Senior Games in tennis, where pickleball was only a demonstration sport. Even though he had more than 30 years in USTA league tennis, he fell in love with pickleball. Since then, he has played all around this wonderful country, and played and medaled in all the major championships, including the very popular Huntsman World Senior Games, the U.S. Open and the USAPA National Championships.
Five years ago, Uncle Pickle asked him to serve his country, and he joined the USAPA Board of Directors as treasurer. While he served, the national paid memberships advanced from 8,000 to 36,000. The USAPA organized the pickleball segments on the “Today” show in Rockefeller Center last week.
Darryl has been involved in one of my favorite subjects: player ratings. For the novice, a player rating is a bouncy number. For example, some players tell everyone they are rated one number, like 4.5, but when they register for a tournament, they put 3.0 on their registration. It seems to bounce up and down.
All pickleballers fall into a scale of one to five, and five is the apex, the top, the best, the ultimate. Under the old system, Darryl Noble was a perfect 5, but his mission has been a noble one. He has been helping to create a better, more definitive, rating system for the USAPA.
Under the new system, a player receives a private computer-generated rating based on all prior matches. Let’s say it is 4.754. That is their baseline number, and from that they can watch if they are trending up or down.
The system also renders two other numbers: the rating you should use to enter Men’s or Women’s Doubles, like a 4.5, and also the rating to use for Mixed Doubles.
And what does my story about the bored first date have to do with pickleball ratings? Well, when players get mismatched, like a 3.0 playing a 4.5, they are both as bored as the young lady on her first date at the Big Chill listening to a lecture on the merits of the manual automobile transmission.
There are only a few people who need to know your rating. The player is the most important recipient, especially if they are a player who is serious about practice and improvement. When you play in a public drop-in pickleball venue, knowing your rating skill helps keep players of similar skills joined together for more enjoyable play.
Another person who needs to know your rating is the tournament director, when they make the brackets for an upcoming tournament. The whole idea is to seed a tournament so the top players don’t knock each other out in the first round, and also give lower-ranked players experience against better players.
The school teacher new to the game playing drop-in pickleball doesn’t need to know your rating. Your 20-something restaurant waitress doesn’t need to know your ranking. The lifeguard on the beach at the Big Chill doesn’t need to know your rating. The fellow in the convertible driving down Route 1 doesn’t need to know your rating. The helmsman in the Coast Guard cutter going through the Indian River Inlet on a windy day doesn’t need to know your rating.
Do you see where I am going with this?
As a veteran of the tennis boom, I can tell you the work Darryl Noble is doing in pickleball ratings is incredibly important to the game. All the local venues struggle with fair evaluations so beginners won’t be intimidated when playing top players, and four players of fairly equal skill can play one another.
Like a good neighbor, Darryl has volunteered to do a ratings clinic at Northside Park in Ocean City, Md. The date is Thursday, Sept. 5, and again on Sept. 10, and I will report more as it approaches. Please welcome Darryl and give him a thumbs-up for the work he is doing. We are very fortunate to have a person of his experience join us in our coastal pickleball family.
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.
By Vaughn Baker
Special to the Coastal Point