Pickleball Dynamics are Changing as the Sport Grows
As Pickleball has evolved with record numbers of players, the shift of the social nature of everyone playing with everyone has changed. Unfortunately, it hasn't been such a smooth change for everyone.
The following is a list of reasons this has been a difficult process:
The number of pickleball players has exceeded the capacity of the number of courts. Many facilities only have four courts and sometimes with limited hours.The simple math of pickleball demographics (65% of players are 3.0-3.5 players) means that most courts will have players on that level. For the advanced players, even if there is a challenge court on one of the four courts, they will have limited play, if they adhere to the standard challenge court rule: if you win 3X, you must sit out.
In order for everyone to get a game commensurate with their level, you need a lot of courts and the courts should be labeled by the skill level. Some clubs are having members prove their skill level by showing their USAPA card.
Another way to create this program with a limited number of courts is to set up a schedule by ability level. For example, MWF (8-9 AM) Beginners, MWF (9-10:30) 3.0 + 3.5 MWF 11-12:30 (4.0). T+TH (8-11) Drop-in T+ Th (12-2) Drill Clinics
Clubs that were formally tennis clubs, are used to managing players at different skill levels and have trained staff on hand to help set up games.
There are two distinctly different levels of players: Social & Competitive
Social players want to go out and play and enjoy the sport. They don't care about improving, not interested in the third shot, and will play with everyone. This is the nature of pickleball and is to be celebrated.
Competitive players want to go out and play and enjoy the sport.
HOWEVER ... and this is the great debate ...
For competitive players who are normally higher level players, they would prefer to play with players on their skill level. Not because they are snobs, but because they will get a workout or game that is fun for them because it matches their abilities. Additionally, they would like to drill so they can get improve their game and train for tournament play,
Most competitive players would be happy to play with other players and have volunteered to teach beginners. Where it gets uncomfortable is when they are made not to feel welcome on the courts because of the perception that they hog the courts and are elitist. In our community, the 3.5 players have dominated the courts and have been so successful in making others feel unwelcome, that's 5.0 players with the courts in their backyard have to travel to play somewhere else.
So, private games have emerged as the only way to secure a good, safe game.
Unfortunately, this can make the game exclusive vs inclusive but it's this step of the pickleball journey. As more courts are built, the dynamics will shift again.
It's a journey and we are all lucky to have discovered this wonderful game.