Rec play is a defining characteristic of pickleball. Most us were introduced to the sport at a local recreation center. You do not find this sort of social play gathering in many other sports, tennis included.
For pickleball as a sport, rec play is awesome. It provides a low barrier of entry, thereby increasing the accessibility of pickleball to players in all walks of life.
Rec play provides all us with a venue to participate in the sport that does not require any planning or scheduling. It also provides us with a generally positive social outlet where we can interact with fellow pickleball enthusiasts. All in all, rec play is a positive for our sport.
But rec play can also have unintended negative consequences for pickleball players who wish to improve. And these consequences are worth understanding if you are looking for serious improvement in your game.
The principal downside to rec play for players looking to improve stems from the very essence of that defines rec play: the free-form nature of the games. One minute you may be on a court with three other 3.5 players in a competitive match and the next minute you’re on a court with one 4.0 player, one 3.0 player, and one beginner who has never played the game. While this can be personally and socially rewarding, it is not going to help you improve as a player.
Another downside of rec play, is that players often slide back into bad habits as soon as they get on the court at the rec center. Because rec center play can vary so widely, it is understandable that players who are learning new concepts easily revert to the same old habits picked up at that same rec center.
Last downside of rec play is the influence of well-meaning, but often wrong, advice given by some of the players at the rec center (the informal rec center “coach”). Examples are: forehand in the middle, rush forward no matter what, do not give up the line no matter what, wait until the ball bounces before stepping into the no volley zone (kitchen). It is this very “advice” that professional instruction tries to correct. Yet if a player who has not yet absorbed the correct instruction returns to his/her rec center, it is easy to fall back into incorrect rec play habits.
If you’re looking to improve as a pickleball player, you should understand the pros and cons of rec play and not count rec play towards your pickleball improvement game plan.
While you can continue to play at your local rec center:
- Do so as a social outlet and to get some exercise.
- Do NOT count it towards your improvement training regimen.
- Understand that some of what you are working on will be challenged by the players at the rec center. Prepare yourself and go into the rec center with a cloak around you that you will stick with what you are working on. You will need to ignore their pleas, even if persistent. Once you have selected a training professional, you should follow that professional’s advice over the advice of the local “coach” (as well-meaning as he/she may be).
- Work on your game and do not get pulled into the bad habits at the rec center. If the other players are blasting away in wild exchanges, look for opportunities to reset the ball into the kitchen and otherwise play sound pickleball.
- If you are partnered with a player who will not move up to the NVZ (happens), then stay with your partner wherever he or she may be. Work on shots from there. Understand that this is not sound pickleball but it is better to work with your partner than to just run up and put yourself on an island. You are probably going to pegged up there anyways.
- Maintain perspective on what you are doing there and do not stress about losing. You are there to enjoy some social interaction and perhaps sweat a little. Any work you get to do on your game is a bonus. As your game improves, the other players at the rec center will take note. Trust me on this.