Pickleball Problems by Third Shot Sports is one of the very first pickleball podcasts that I found. There aren’t any new episodes lately so there hasn’t been anything for me to listen to, but I did want to share this one from last year because, having hundreds of new pickleball friends, it’s a problem that I was running into quite a bit.
Last year, when we first began pushing players to use Playtime Scheduler (not many people knew about it or were registered at the time and now we have about 1,000 players actively using it in the Wichita area), I was scheduling a lot of open plays. Open play is basically where you say I’m going to be at this park/location, on this date, at this time, and everyone is welcome to join. We will rotate in if we have extra people. That’s basically open play in a nutshell.
Well, I was scheduling so many of these that, any time anyone saw me at the park, they assumed it was open play — even if I was actually playing in one of my friend’s private play groups. So that posed a challenge because then people are like, “Hey, can I rotate in with you?” But it’s not my place to say if they can or not because it’s not my group and secondly, private play groups usually have a set number of players and a set format so people can’t just be jumping in at random times.
To try and avoid these situations, I quit scheduling open plays on Playtime Scheduler. Now that we have a lot of players on there, there are several others who are creating these open plays now so I don’t feel like I am always having to make them. I will still set up open plays for special occasions, such as if I have a friend from out of town visiting and it’s important that they meet as many players in the community, but I generally try not to set these up so people don’t get confused that the group I’m playing in is an open play group.
I also try to avoid scheduling private group play at the public parks specially during “prime time” hours — 7 AM to 10 AM and 5 PM to 8 PM, daily. Actually, I try to avoid scheduling private group play at the public parks whenever possible because, even when the courts are empty, there’s no guarantee that a random person won’t come up and ask to rotate and it’s always really awkward to have to say no specially if they know you. Riverside Tennis Center, Nahola, and Chicken N Pickle have courts available by reservation that are great for private play groups. There’s information here on how to reserve those courts. That said, there are times when you want to play but RTC, Nahola, and CNP are not open so you do have to play at a public park, then you might encounter someone asking to join your private group and you’ll have to navigate this sometimes awkward situation.
If this situation happens during “prime time” (that was your first mistake – never schedule private play at a public park during “prime time” because the “park police” will get you – even if there are empty courts, they will get you), forget it. You have to let them in because that is what the posted rules state. During prime time, paddle rotation is strictly enforced regardless of how many players are there. There might only be enough players for three courts and there are empty courts. It doesn’t matter. Everyone is expected to mix in during the “prime time” hours.
Outside “prime time” hours, you have several options. You could let them join and take turns sitting out. This is generally fine when I’m just hanging out and not on a strict schedule. I have chosen this option before to avoid social repercussions. However, if I’ve only got a couple of hours to play, then this isn’t an option. I’m sure I’m not the only one who does this, but I purposely schedule an even number of players so no one has to sit out and we can play nonstop for a couple of hours and then when we are finished, we are finished. Yes, we are having fun, but it is less “social time” and more pickleball playing time. When it’s this kind of setting, I can’t just have random people coming and going because it messes up the rotation and flow of the games.
I used to not be able to say no at all but, over time, I’ve found I’ve gotten better at it. There are ways to say no without being a jerk. I usually explain that it’s not an open play but a private ladder group and we have to have a set number of players for the format to work and so you have to RSVP. If they are interested in being part of it, I tell them that I can add them to the invite list for the next one.
In summary, it’s okay to say no but always remember that all of our actions have consequences. Weigh your options and do what feels right to you. Lastly, don’t be a jerk.