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CJ Johnson
Tony Roig
Tony Roig

Play Pickleball? No…Thank…You

It took me almost 52 years to figure out how to properly use this simple three-word phrase, no thank you, to exercise my agency.

I had been playing in a group. There were a few other players drilling and some playing on courts near us. We were done for the day and were getting ready to go.

A male player approached and challenged me and a specific player in my foursome to play against him and his friend. A playground sort of challenge that lacked any introduction or even consideration of what the other two players in our group, with whom we were chatting, would do while we dueled things out. To be clear, the player who approached us had already inquired as to who I was before issuing the challenge.

I politely refused the request to play – the reality was that one of the players in our foursome had given me a ride to the courts and needed to leave to make an appointment.

This was, in fact, the reason we were wrapping up our games. I explained that we had to leave to make an appointment.

As if on cue, the player indicated that they would “make it quick.” I generally prefer to sidestep these sort of verbal tussles, so I simply agreed with the man and told him that it was why I was not playing, that I would like to save myself the embarrassment of a quick defeat. And we thereafter departed the courts (the appointment was made on time).

I regretted one aspect of my communication with the challenger that day. I regretted the need to explain my decision to him, to tell him that we had to leave for an appointment. This is where the phrase “No thank you” would have been the perfect response.

The phrase communicates “no” in response to the request to play. And it concludes with a “thank you” because that is what we say in polite society. And that is all that is needed.

Anticipating a follow-up of “why not?” the appropriate response would be “no reason.” This should conclude the conversation and tie up any loose ends (though even suggesting that there are loose ends to tie up is itself problematic).

The point of this is that you have the right to exercise agency in all aspects of your life, including when on the pickleball court.

Players will approach you for various reasons and perhaps with an agenda that is inconsistent with your purpose for being there that day. If – for whatever reason – you opt not to engage (play pickleball in this case), a simple “No thank you” will do.

To be perfectly clear, I am not suggesting that you say “No thank you” to any player who asks to play. What I am recommending is that you learn to say “No thank you” in any situation where playing would be unproductive for you. Playing with players who are not yet at your level but are working on their games would not be, in my definition, unproductive (the same way it was not when the better players played with you as you grew in the sport). But when a player has an agenda or playing with that player engenders strong negative feelings, reserve your right to simply say “No, thank you.”

Has another player made you feel uncomfortable on the pickleball court? What did you do? Did you say no thank you or did you handle it another way? Leave it in the comments below.

34 Comments

  1. Peter H Sylvain on October 3, 2021 at 3:01 pm

    In an open, social play, players rotate on and off the court with players who are waiting. Some players refuse to rotate, forcing one of the waiting players to wait through two games for the chance to get on the court. Don’t know how to handle this–hints to this player are generally rejected. Any thoughts?

    • CJ Johnson on October 6, 2021 at 2:29 am

      It depends on why they are skipping. If it’s because they don’t want to play with someone who they think isn’t at their level that’s not acceptable it’s open play. If they are skipping because a player is rude, threatening, gives unsolicited advice, or in general disrespects the other players on the court that’s when it’s best to stay no thank you.

      • Jay Readinger on May 1, 2022 at 12:44 pm

        In programs that we have organized or managed, someone who removes themselves from the ‘next up’ opportunity to play goes to the back of the paddle line. So they give up their ‘turn’ for the refusal. This system prevents someone(s) from just waiting at the head of the line until they get the foursome they want to play with; the open play no-no.

        • CJ Johnson on May 1, 2022 at 5:45 pm

          Hi Jay, if there is someone that I don’t want to play with for a reason other than skill level going to the end of the line is an acceptable trade-off for me. What we were referring to in the article were players who were uncomfortable playing with players for reasons other than skill set or familiarity. There are many players that write to us and tell us about other players whose behavior is robbing their enjoyment of the game, it may be excessive coaching, negative comments, headhunting etc, any variety of behaviors including refusing to play with people because of their skill set or waiting to get a preferred foursome. We hope that programs take steps to deal with all types of bad behavior.

    • Tony Roig on April 10, 2022 at 8:07 pm

      Hi Peter. If I am reading this correctly, you mean the player on the court will not rotate off the court. If that is the case, then the other players should not fill in the spots on the court until the player leaves the court (rotates off). The players filling in the spots are enabling the player to remain on even though the player is supposed to come off. A collective approach generally works best. Hope this helps.

  2. Jay Cohen on October 3, 2021 at 5:03 pm

    Happens, my go to is, I’m whooped or I’m done, toast, too tired. end of story.

    • JOE on April 10, 2022 at 3:51 pm

      Kind of prevents you from playing any more games doesn’t it? “Hey, I thought you were whooped/toast/done???” We have a guy who plays at least 3 “last games” but we all know it.

  3. Janice on October 4, 2021 at 4:23 am

    The same goes for all areas of life. Simply say no thank you.

  4. Joanne on October 5, 2021 at 4:10 pm

    I am tired of encountering these types of situations on the Pb court. Rude and demanding individuals with no social skills expecting they join a group or determine the rotation during drop in sessions. I don’t recall this happening with any other sport. I have learnt to say no thank you and be more selective to when I attend the local games centre in order to keep my Pb play enjoyable.

  5. Elaine on April 10, 2022 at 2:25 am

    OMG! This nailed it. Our club director cautioned me…don’t let anyone “like that” mess up your game — “los agresivos” (the aggressive ones). ¡Gracias Carlos!

    • CJ Johnson on April 10, 2022 at 3:07 pm

      Like we like to say Elaine exercise your agency!

  6. David Mott on April 10, 2022 at 8:52 am

    I remember a time when I showed up to a venue (lucky, we have several in our location) and there were three similarly rated players who were happy to see me. I’m a big galoot of a guy ready to play with the other guy and two women. We hadn’t played but a few points when the guy started telling me, in a loud voice, that my choice of shots and strategies were “unsportsmanlike.” If I remember correctly I was guilty of using an offensive lob and a speed up at the net while dinking. At the time, all four of us were in the 3.0-3.5 range in skill, and these were shots that each of us should have been working on.

    I finished the game and started packing up my stuff when the guy and one of the women got a bit cross with me for leaving and demanded to know why. Though I’m sure that a simple no thank you would have sufficed, I pointed and said “he’s too bossy.” Whenever I ran into these folks in future open play situations and we happened to rotate onto a court at the same time, I usually said that I was going to pass my spot and wait for the next rotation. There were often lots of folks waiting and most were curious about my decision. It wasn’t long before someone told me, with a smile, eyebrows raised, “good decision!”

    • CJ Johnson on April 10, 2022 at 3:08 pm

      Hi David, if enough players use the same tactic on the bad apples they will either need to modify their behavior or find another place to play.

  7. Ann on April 10, 2022 at 10:51 am

    I have had the misfortune of playing 4.0 doubles with men (twice my size) who are so desperate to win a point that they will intentionally hit a ball as hard as they can from the kitchen line at a woman’s face. I find this behavior unsportsmanlike and dangerous. I’ve seen men & women get black eyes, torn retinas and split eyebrows from this practice. Their excuse, “it’s just a whiffle ball. It’s part of the game.” IMO, at this level of play, “if you can aim for someone’s face, you can aim for their feet.” And this is what I tell them.

    • CJ Johnson on April 10, 2022 at 3:12 pm

      Congratulations on sharing your thoughts with them. A group of women refused to play with someone who continued to target them in an inappropriate way and eventually he got the message. One other thing that you may want to share with the other ladies in your area that aren’t sure how to deal with this is that if a ball is hit hard from the kitchen line to a players face it is most likely out. When playing with these players be prepared to duck. My guess is that once a player loses a few rallies their behavior will change.

  8. Cathy Clemens on April 10, 2022 at 12:01 pm

    Every once in a while a visiting player shows up who can’t seem to keep his mouth shut…he brags on himself or directs the players where to go and what to do. We have a very small group of rec players so there’s no escaping playing with him if we want to play.
    When I play with him, he directs me till I tell him that I’ve had lessons and have been coached, I don’t always do what I’m taught but I’m working on it. After several times of telling him this, he finally stopped directing me. Next time I’ll simply say “No Thank you.”
    Thanks…this is a good reminder.

  9. Sue Lunow on April 10, 2022 at 2:36 pm

    Appreciate your comments above very much. I have played with people who are difficult – either take over the game verbally or physically try to play the whole court (in other words take your balls and theirs). This is upsetting and I have stopped playing that day because of it. Now I avoid playing with particular people who are “bullies” or know-it-alls. I will wait longer for my turn if I know that person is in the loop.
    I appreciate the reminder that we do not have to explain our reasons for playing or not playing.

    • CJ Johnson on April 10, 2022 at 3:14 pm

      You hit the nail on the head Sue. No need to explain your decision. I like to think that No Thank You is killing them with kindness.

  10. Kate on April 10, 2022 at 3:12 pm

    I sometimes change my paddle in the paddle rack when I see a player I’ve already played with and don’t wish to engage in a second round of play; to me, this is an easy solution of not playing with someone I choose not to play with.

    • Tony Roig on April 10, 2022 at 8:04 pm

      Great suggestion Kate. Thanks for sharing the idea.

  11. JOE on April 10, 2022 at 3:56 pm

    Has anyone ever walked off the court – in the middle of a game – due to these kinds of folks?? btw: “if I want advice, I’ll ask for it” is an aggressive – but effective – way to quiet most of the bossy types.

  12. Sally Asay on April 10, 2022 at 4:13 pm

    I’m in my 82nd year…obviously, visually ‘old’! I play 3.0-3.5 consistently. For some reason, when playing with men, even,sometimes, gentlemen, they cannot resist ‘coaching’ me. I win as many as I lose, love playing with anyone, but it is grating indeed when I am not allowed ‘freedom’ to just play the game. I find it stultifying to just swallow and respond. So…I just say, “Thanks” or, I say nothing at all…pretending not to hear. In all honesty, those guys are in the MINORITY, and 90% of the guys in our large crowd are very encouraging, kind and invite me in! Broken wrist, 5 falls, and stitches cannot keep me from this game!

    • Tony Roig on April 10, 2022 at 8:00 pm

      Hi Sally. Sounds like you are not easily knocked off course by these folks. Sounds like you are handling the unwanted advice fine. If we can ever be of help, say “gee, that is interesting. My coach, Tony (or CJ), are always open to new ideas about how to play pickleball. You mind sending them an email with that approach?” Bet you that’s the last of that. Our emails are our name @wearepickleball.com. Stay well out there.

  13. Marilyn Richardson on April 11, 2022 at 1:25 am

    I cringe now realizing that my verbal tips to my partners have probably been taken as unwanted advice. Thought I was “helping the team” but had noticed it wasn’t received that way.
    Opps, I hope I haven’t gotten too bad a reputation. Will really wait before saying anything now. Lesson learned, will just work on what I can do no matter the circumstances.

    • Deborah on April 12, 2022 at 12:14 am

      I wish some of the folks in my group were as reflective as you are! I know they mean well but their continuous “coaching” really saps the fun out of my game and causes my to lose my confidence. Kudos to you for reading this and deciding to be a change maker!

  14. Ken Lacey on April 11, 2022 at 2:08 pm

    As the sport matures, there seems to be this emergent realization that the vaunted “welcoming” aspect that pickleball is famous for must give way to the reality that not everyone is going to feel the obligation to play in unsatisfying matches just to keep the “welcoming” reputation alive. Does this mean we are becoming more and more like the tennis culture that so many of us have cited as a reason why pickleball is better? Maybe it’s time to stop drawing that comparison and admit that both sports have its diplomats, ambassadors, and elitists.

    • CJ Johnson on April 14, 2022 at 6:25 pm

      Hi Ken, we think the welcoming nature of pickleball is very important. It was our intent in this article to suggest some remedies for players who are uncomfortable playing with certain players for reasons unrelated to ability.

    • Sharon Sorensen on May 2, 2022 at 1:53 am

      I’m not sure you can actually compare tennis to drop in pickleball. I’ve never been an active tennis player, racquetball yes, but drop in pickleball is unique. It is a blessing, and on rare occasions can be frustrating for reasons discussed here. That’s why CJ and Tony’s advice, as well as other’s comments, are so valuable. Thanks everyone!

      • Tony Roig on May 2, 2022 at 1:24 pm

        Agreed. Tennis as currently played is vastly different than pickleball open play.

  15. S Dand on April 14, 2022 at 12:11 am

    I’ve had the life experience where I learned this technique from Dr. Ramani, a well known psychologist. She gives advice to not go DEEP when unsavory or negative people bait you. What’s DEEP?

    D-efend
    E-xplain, WAY too long I took the bait
    E-ngaged in their games because I
    P-ersonalised their attacks on me.

    ‘Don’t go DEEP’ was probably the best advice I ever received on how to deal with these types of people.

  16. gail riley on April 27, 2022 at 1:28 pm

    I signed up for a fund-raising PB tournament with the encouragement of my instructor with whom I had taken lessons. The eve before I had a feeling I was going to be in “over my head”. I called the instructor and expressed my feelings and she “reassured” me that the players were early intermediate/intermediate and not competitive had no partner for this tournament so one was assigned. The morning player had little to no experience with PB and wouldn’t stop running after every ball and missed. In the afternoon I met my second partner who when I shared my level of experience said, “Don’t worry. I’ll be the poacher”. Consequently, she took over the whole court. This experience was most embarrassing especially when I had friends in the audience who were very compassionate about my situation. Player number 2 had to leave early, and I was assigned to a real instructor. However, not only was my embarrassment level beyond tolerance but I had played 8 games at this point. So, I excused myself which I maybe should have done earlier.

    • CJ Johnson on April 27, 2022 at 4:20 pm

      Hi Gail, thanks for sharing your experience.

  17. Jul Lav on May 1, 2022 at 9:47 pm

    My partner criticized every mistake I made-“don’t hit it out of bounds!” (Thank you, Mr. Obvious.) He would then proceed to hit a ball into the net, but I didn’t say anything; not wanting to stoop to his level. I then asked him to not say anything if he couldn’t say anything nice. He agreed to that. So even when our opponents were praising great shots that I made, he kept silent. True to his word! 🙂 Luckily, he is the exception in our community. Most players are delightful and I feel so good after a few hours of being with my pickle pals.

    • Tony Roig on May 2, 2022 at 1:26 pm

      I always find it curious when players notice their partners mistakes but not their own :). Glad you got it sorted and that you get some other players who do not do it.

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