Do This When Your Opponents Won’t Hit You the Ball

As much as we all love this crazy sport, occasionally the interpersonal dynamics can make you wish you’d stayed home and not bothered to come to the courts. This topic came up with my recent Bootcamp Breakthrough participants and I wanted to give you some practical solutions to this common problem.

Your Opponents Won’t Hit the Ball to You

I can’t say how many times I have a group of people practically begging to get on the court with me, and then, as soon as the game starts, they hit every single ball to my partner. It happens all the time with players of all levels. At the very least, it’s moderately annoying and makes for a pretty boring game. Some people (are you one of them?) can get really worked up when they are in this situation. So what can you do other than fume?

#1) Recognize the Honor.

They don’t feel as confident playing to you as to your partner…
Congratulations. You’re not the weakest player on the court.

#2) Recognize the Short-Sightedness.

People who do this are clearly more committed to winning than they are to improving their game. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have much patience for that type of person. I am so passionate about helping the people who DO want to get better, that I try not to spend an ounce of energy on the people who are dead-set on winning at all costs.

#3) Get Clear On Your Goals.

Why did you come out to play today? Was it to have fun? Was it to get exercise? Improve your game? Socialize? The vast majority of those things you can accomplish whether they hit the ball to you or not.

#4) Start Out Subtle.

If you haven’t already, share my ultra-popular etiquette article with your club. Post it to facebook, send it by email, or print a copy to post at the courts. If it’s already been shared you might add a polite note saying “Hey everyone, I thought we could all use a little reminder about the points in this email to keep things fun and enjoyable for all.”

#5) Then Be Blunt.

If you just can’t seem to get the message across through indirect routes, at the end of a game where you never saw the ball except to serve, you might try saying something like this:
“Hey guys/ladies, thanks for the game. You know, I would have loved to see the ball more. Were you purposely avoiding hitting to me?” (Of course, you already know they were, but it always helps to give them the benefit of the doubt.)
You’ll most likely receive a huge compliment here, probably some version of “Heck yes we were! Every time we give you the ball we never see it again!” or “You bet we were. When you hit the ball, you slow it down and it always makes me miss my shot.”
Occasionally, maybe it’ll be more of a critique of your partner than a compliment to you, but no worries either way.

#6) Offer a Solution

This is a good time to say, “You know, I read this article online by The Pickleball Guru, and what he pointed out is that in situations like this, you can either focus on winning the game or on improving your skills. What do you say if next time we play we don’t focus so much on winning and we focus on improving our skills?” You might even add, “I’m happy to give you a few pointers if you’d like…”

Now of course, this all depends on the delivery.

If you’ve already got a reputation as being overly critical or “a pickleball snob” you might have some trust to gain first.
If you’re already pissed off and fuming at the end of the game, it’s probably not a good day to bring it up. Find a way to cool down and then approach it with the player/s during some downtime.

#7) Don’t Be as Bad As They Were – Play Smart Pickleball™

Now, if you’re going to go so far as to have this conversation with them, YOU have to make sure that you’re not just using it as an excuse to get them to hit the ball to you so you can kick THEIR butt. If they are going to respect your request and start hitting you the ball, the least you can do it is make it a good match.
Don't go for the put-away shots, even if you are drooling. Find another shot to play to keep the ball in play. Any time you are playing against weaker players, make your goal to win all your points on their mistakes, not on your “amazing” shots. (Because, no offense, but your “amazing” shots probably wouldn’t be so amazing if you were playing against players better than yourself.)
Recall your goals for the day. Exercise? Improve Your Game? Socialize? Have fun?
Figure out how you can do more of that even if they keep hitting every single shot to your partner.
You are responsible for your experience on the court, not anybody else, so make it happen.
(End of rah-rah self-empowerment speech. Carry on playing.)?

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