Pickleball prides itself on being inclusive and welcoming to anyone, which is certainly true most of the time. As the sport continues to grow, however, battles over court space and incidents of outright bullying are increasing.
Such confrontations often occur during open play, when courts are first-come, first-serve. Whether it’s hogging court time unnecessarily or fighting over whether a venue is specific to one sport or another, open play horror stories are ruining the fun for some who just want to pick up a paddle and play.
In Buffalo Grove, Illinois, Ella Elzbietta typically plays with friends at Mike Rylko Community Park, a venue featuring eight dedicated pickleball courts. Recently, Elzbietta was playing with a foursome when several players from another group approached, demanding she and her friends move to another court.
According to a recent Facebook post by Elzbietta, three other courts were empty and available. But one of the other group members laid down on their court.
“Park District told me to call the police should this happen again. I definitely will but bullies like that ruin games for others. Every court has the same rule – Take any empty court when you arrive. Start rotating/sliding down after one game when the courts are FULL, and players are waiting.”
Elzbietta and her companions decided to move to another court. Reactions from her followers ranged from anger to disbelief. In response to a question on why she gave in so quickly, Elzbietta replied, “My 3 female players were scared. What was I supposed to do?”
In a Reddit post, another player described an incident involving an older gentleman firing tennis balls at top speed on designated pickleball courts. The balls struck the nets with such force they buckled under the strain.
Despite repeated pleas to stop, the man refused. On one occasion, a woman accompanying him accused the pickleball players of “owning the courts.”
In December 2022, New York City officials banned pickleball players from a West Village playground after parents complained adult players were interfering with kids trying to play. According to a New York Post story, two courts were designated specifically for pickleball. However, players began putting up their own nets in kids’ play areas.
Some frustrated parents went so far as to instruct their kids to run through the pickleball games to reclaim their space. The park eventually posted a sign banning pickleball from the playground and directing players to other parks in the area.
These incidents are unfortunate but preventable in most cases. Here are some tips on what players can do to keep the game fun for everyone while feeling safe.
Check Out the Venue Ahead of Time
Many parks, clubs, and other venues have designated areas exclusively geared to pickleball. Some are first-come, first-serve, and others require reservations in advance. Some only offer pickleball on certain days/nights of the week.
It’s always a good idea to check on these details in advance rather than just showing up unannounced, particularly with a group.
Be Conscious of Time
This is especially important in a particularly busy venue with long lines. Pickleball Kitchen recommends getting in your games in a timely fashion without dawdling. You don’t have to rush, but be considerate of other people’s time, especially if lines are long.
For example, if you’re trying to teach a beginner how to serve, it might be better to wait until after the game when there are a lot of people waiting.
When confronted by others rudely demanding you give up your court, stand your ground but try to diffuse the conflict if you can. For some, this is easier said than done. In a group, have everyone agree on a plan of action if confronted.
According to Elzbietta, she gave up her space because her partners were intimidated by the other group and wanted to leave.
Don’t Lose Your Cool
Again, easier said than done, but escalating an already heated situation only makes the confrontation worse and could even put you in danger. New York-based psychiatrist Zlatin Ivanov, MD, suggests stating your case calmly while maintaining your boundaries. Bullies need to feel power over another, believing it will make them feel better or in control.
Report the Offending Party
If possible, find a venue manager, park official, or someone in authority and ask for their help. If the situation spirals out of control and you feel in danger, it may be necessary to call local authorities.
There will always be a bad apple or two in every sport. However, it’s crucial that everyone feel safe and have the freedom to enjoy pickleball in a relaxed, inclusive environment. Yes, court space is hard to find in some areas, and waiting lines can be long. The majority of players are courteous and flexible. Don’t let a bad apple or two spoil the fun.
For more tips on how to navigate playing pickleball with strangers, be sure to check out our comprehensive guide on open play!
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