How to deal with a cranky player in pickleball
We've all been there. We've experienced a recreational player who has developed a chip on their shoulder for some reason. They might be playing with you as a partner or against you as an opponent. Both are equally challenging to deal with, and if you let their negativity get to you, your game will be affected.
They tend to get a little lazy and start making out calls from everywhere and anywhere on the court. They refuse to call the ball to their partner and often try to take shots that are not suited to their style of game. They are very unpredictable! It's so frustrating!
Shake it off! Regroup and remind yourself this is just a game, and we're here to have fun! If you're in a tournament and having aggressive opponent issues, call a time-out and talk to your partner about how to strategize on dealing with their aggression. Often, a great shot at their feet will shut them up pretty quickly. If their aggressive bully tactics are too much to take, call for the tournament convener to resolve the problem.
Deal me a Joker? That's my wild card!
However, if you're playing in a fun recreational league where they pull paddles from a rack and you find the "cranky" player on the other side of the net, let the cards play out. Mention to your partner about your concerns before the game starts. Expect some level of unruly play and try to make some great shots to bring that person back down to reality. If that person makes a good shot, compliment them on it. It helps in the long run. Just don't let their style of play affect yours. Play to your positives - nice low drives, well-placed drop shots, and a successful lob over that character's head will have them reeling! And keep a positive attitude, win or lose. Your game will be tough, but it helps you get through the more difficult games in the end!
Deal me a one-eyed Jack… now that's a challenge!
Now, I find the next four paddles in the rack suggest I'll be playing with the crankiest person on the courts today. I could just give in to their negativity and improper shot selection and let them make the errors to drop the game. However, I find that if you play your game with better effort and disregard your difficult partner's chirps and flaws, you tend to get a better game in the end. You can be the deciding factor.
Again, make sure you compliment your partner for their effort or a great shot. That will go a long way and give you some reprieve from their crankiness. Think about where your shots might go to minimize the chance of a difficult return to your cranky partner. If you can get the other team to pop up a ball for your cranky partner to put away, then their game improves, and so does yours.
Take the time to check to see if your partner is in position on serves and returns. A simple mention to "check where you are standing" or "try an easy-paced shot down the middle" goes a long way.
I also find that minimizing any major criticism or offer of tips to some players who know everything is often not necessary. Let them play their own game, and you play yours. Be nice, and you shall be rewarded!
Not every recreational game ends in a win on your side. However, if you learn to accept losses and your partner's faults, you can still enjoy the game and learn from your mistakes. Maybe your cranky partner will learn too!
Now let's hit the pickle courts and have some fun getting lots of great exercise and improving your game (and maybe Mr. Cranky Pants too!)
The author, Ken Wasiuta is an avid Pickleball player, instructor, referee and promoter of Selkirk Sports and Pickleball in North America.