For the purpose of this article, please substitute the word open with social.
One million players. That is how many new people picked up a pickleball paddle for the first time during the last 24 months.
Wow how times have changed. It doesn’t seem that long ago that the majority of people were still asking the question, what in the world is pickleball? Now today the big question is, what are we going to do with all these new players? How are we going to handle all these new players with the limited amount of courts that we have in our community.
The answer is social play pickleball. But wait! There are some serious misconceptions about what social pickleball play really is. The term open/social play was created to be a designated, advertised time where players could reasonably depend on people being at the courts to play. If you see that open play is advertised to be on Wednesdays from 10 AM until noon, people know that they will have a reasonable chance of finding people playing at those courts at that time. The challenge is that many people do not understand what social play means. And how it is to be used to manage the court time. Open/social play is a very simple concept. It is a designated time where any player of any ability level can show up with the expectation that they will get the same amount of playing time and court time that everyone else will get during that designated time.
Many people misunderstand what designated open/social play time is for. And because they come to open play with wrong expectations, they become a much discussed topic.
Open play is the actual catalyst that caused the explosion of pickleball. And open social play will still be a big part of growing our wonderful sport. Why? Because open play is a time where everyone should feel welcome. Everyone should get equal court time. And everyone should be playing with everyone else. High level players should play with lower rated players, and while playing with them you can work on your shot placement, your blocking ability, your serve and returns and more. All players should willingly mix with other players. Making players feel welcome and helping everyone have fun should be the only two goals of having open play times at your courts. If you are not doing that, then you are defeating the purpose of having open play times.
However, if open play time creates disgruntled players who complain because they don’t get to play with higher level players, or make players with lesser ability feel bad, then you are not using open/social playtime properly.
If open playtime creates disgruntled players because they feel targeted and picked on by higher level players, you are not using open playtime properly.
Open playtime is your opportunity to build a community of players who invite and welcome other players to come play. If everyone feels welcome, your numbers will grow, and when your numbers are so overwhelming that people are not getting enough play time, management will notice.
But on the other side, if you create an adversarial environment during your open play times, that works just the polar opposite. Management will hear the complaints, hear the troubles and see the disgruntled players and begin to have negative thoughts about helping the sport to grow.
So if you want to play with higher-level players and that is your only goal, grab some high-level players and grab a court outside of the social play times. Open/social play time is not the time or place. Same thing for lower level players. If you want to play with players of your level only, grab some players and go to a court outside of the open play times.
Keep your open play times as they were intended to be, and you will have a happy growing pickleball community. And a happy, growing player community inevitably leads to more courts.
Additional Note from Linda: Our social play tends to be separated by level ... but that should not prevent the inclusion of people at different levels ... and level groups should mix it up so that waitlines are always proportional. For example, if social players have 5 courts, intermediate 1 court, advanced 3 courts, reasonable waitlines would be 2 per court ... so 10 social, 2 intermediate, 6 advanced waiting. If the social waitline is 20, intermediate and advanced might give up a court alternately, or players shift where they are playing to even out the wait.