I was attending a meeting for the general good of pickleball in Sussex County when I heard a disturbing comment — disturbing because I have heard it from several directions. Sometimes, “The better players don't want to play with lesser players,” and other times, the comment was, “The lesser players won't let us play together.”
It is like the umbrella concessionaire claiming his section of the beach when a tsunami is bearing down on the entire resort. In effect, they both are saying, “I am better than you,” or “You think you are better than me.”
No one needs to say they are better than others; it becomes self-explanatory. If I brought some 20-year-old nationally-ranked players to a pickleball session to see our top players, their comments probably would be, “OK, where are the better players?”
I suppose I am in a unique position to say this because I used to go around the world negotiating equipment contracts with the best world-class tennis players in the world. Believe me — none of you need to stay awake at night worrying if you are going to get a million-dollar world-class contract.
Let's forget about all of this nonsense and reset the entire conversation. Show equal respect. But please recognize we all have different expectations from pickleball.
I met a couple who moved here recently, and they just want to meet like-minded people. Another person lost their spouse, and they want to spend time in the company of others. I just simply like to laugh. Many have doctor's orders to get more exercise, lose weight or reduce dependence on prescriptions, and pickleball provides an enjoyable method of doing that.
Then there are the tournament players, or let's call them “competitive” players, who want to compete. These players don't think they will become world champions; they simply want to see if they can get maximum performance out of their time-ravished bodies, and to do that they need to play against other like-minded characters who are trying to overcome stents in their hearts, or avoid another heart attack, etc.
While many players don't like practice, competitive players need to practice long hours to perfect their shots so they can compete in the rigors of tournaments.
I also need to comment on the famous ratings that started the entire controversy. Ratings in pickleball, like tennis, leave a great deal to interpretation. They used to go from 1 to 5 in half-unit increments, such as 3.5 or 4.0. Your personal opinion and your mother's opinion mostly made the determination.
By definition, the difference between a 3.5 and 4.0 is more sophistication in shot-making and more accuracy. A 3.5 is required to get 8 out of 10 serves in, likewise return of serves and volleys; while a 4.0 should be able to hit 9 out of 10 of each of those.
A ratings evaluator would also rate on a range of considerations, such as your ability to move with your partner, creating gaps between your opponents for your team to exploit, overheads, third shots, dinking, speed, mobility, quickness, hand-eye coordination...
To get to a point where you can hit with 90 percent performance, and beat others with 90 percent performance skills, one needs to practice and play against others with similar skills, and playing all the time with a lesser-skilled player will not allow this to happen.
Lesser-skilled players — let's call them “fun” players — tell me they need to play better players to improve. I get it. But they also need to literally hit hours of dinks against a wall, buckets of serves, drill with others of similar skill... Once they exhibit they are willing to do that to improve, “better” players will work with them and help them improve.
My opinion over my life in racket sports is that ratings don't count. You don't need to tell someone how good you are — just go out and beat everyone you can, and eventually your position in the mix will be determined.
But just last year, results of tournaments started to be fed into a computer and calculated to three positions, such as 3.994 or 2.752. If your rating is so important to you, start playing tournaments and let the computer automatically calculate your rating. The First State Pickleball Club Beach Blast, Ocean City (Md.) Spring Tournament and Sea Colony tournaments are fast approaching.
So, enough of this rating nonsense — just be glad that you can still take to the courts, push your body for exercise, reduce some of your meds and enjoy some good old belly-laughs when Mr. Pickleball decides to make a fool of you. And show proper respect to your fellow pickleballers, regardless of skill, because we are all on the same mission to health and happiness.
Update: For parents and grandparents: the Ocean City Junior Pickleball Camp for kids 6 to 16, will take place Monday, through Thursday, Aug. 19-22 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Northside Park Recreational Complex. The cost is $130 for Ocean City residents or $156 for non-residents, with a 25 percent non-refundable deposit required at registration and the remainder due at the door. Sign up at the Northside Park complex reception in Ocean City.
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