If you have been playing pickleball for more than a few months, you may have decided to create or join a group of 4-5 players on your own. On your own meaning, outside of organized play, at a local club, community gym, or on outdoor courts. The benefits of playing in a small group, you can play when you like and with whom you like. You can play any format you like, play with one partner over and over, and play as long as you like.
It can get complicated when you are invited to play with a group. You are flattered that someone has invited you to play. You are then chatting with other pickleball friends and do you mention that you are playing in a group? Will you hurt their feelings as they have not been invited? Will they ask to play with you? It can get awkward- and if you are not the organizer, it is not appropriate to invite players unless the organizer has asked you to do so.
Many players don't talk about small group organized play with other players as it is just easier. If you are upset about the way your club or community runs pickleball, consider organizing a small pickleball group of players. Are you annoyed you have not been invited to play in a small group? Organize a group yourself. Find some players around your level or a bit better. Small group play is an amazing way to get better. You can measure your results. Keep track of scores, there are sheets available to do this.
If you do not have a portable pickleball net or pickleballs, we sell them, www.pickleballauthority.ca. Do not criticize a group organizer unless you are willing to organize it yourself. You may not realize how much work goes into running pickleball groups.
I have run groups of 12-25 players for many years. Players will cancel or not show up at the last minute. Life happens. Think about the organizer contacting the gym, paying in advance, paying for insurance, buying nets, balls etc. Then managing how many players come each session etc. The organizer gets there early to bring in equipment, turn on the lights, and be welcoming. Thank an organizer and offer to help with a net set up etc.
I recommend that your smallest group be 5 players, never less. Say you want to play from 4pm-6pm. If you only have 4 players and one is in traffic or delayed, 3 is not a game. What if one player gets injured slightly or worse. Of course you will help them, but the game may be done. What if a player neglected to tell you they need to leave early. This has happened and it is no fun. 5 players is a good number, you play 4 games and sit for one. Hydrate, check your phone, enjoy the game, your surroundings, a bathroom break, snack...
If you have 2 courts, 10 players is a good number, and for 3 courts I would not go with less than 14 players as you never know if someone needs to cancel. One point, the more players you have the more time consuming it is to organize. As well, sometimes, a couple want to play in the group, but one of them is not strong enough skill wise. As an organizer you have to be the decider on this, and it is a challenge. I try to be direct and let the person know we are trying to keep a group at a certain level. It also may not be much fun for a newer or less skilled player to have to play with higher level players.
Last thoughts, some players are not included in small group "invitation only play" for various reasons. A few examples.
1. Last Minute Canceller. This person keeps cancelling at the last minute. Once is understandable, anything can happen. More than a few times in a short period and this person has no concept of other players and their feelings and time management.
2. Poor Sport. This player is nice off the court but on the court, they are calling bad line calls, and or criticizing their partners calls, and the opposing teams calls lol. Seriously, this player will not be invited to group play. They may organize group play themselves and find that they have to continue to find new players to join them. Wonder why!
3. The Complainer. This player complains about other players, the format, the ball, pretty much anything. They may even argue with other players. An organizer dreads playing with a group that has a complainer. The organizer loves pickleball and just wants everyone to have fun.
4. Last Minute Club. This player always shows up late and has never set up a net. They don't bring balls, don't own a portable net, and never offer to pay even a few $ towards balls. When everyone else is taking down the net, they are taking off their court shoes or chatting.
Are you one of the above? Be a positive encouraging force in the game. Be known as a fun generous player and a great sport. It is the way to be, and that is what pickleball is all about. Making life long friends and having a nice time.
Bonus: When a ball rolls to you, do you just kick it or do you take a few extra seconds to pick it up with your paddle or hand and throw or hit it to the player? This is a small gesture but it is proper etiquette.
David Bussiere is a player, an instructor, owner of a pickleball business, a marketing manager for the largest pickleball equipment provider in the the world, formerly a morning radio host, a high level manager in finance, he now lives and breathes pickleball.