This is a question I had to think about last week after an agonizing and frustrating morning of pickleball. To be completely honest, the morning was going quite well until the end. I had played a few hours before I had to leave for a lesson, but on my way out, I was convinced to join a game in progress as one of my friends got hurt. "We" were down 2-7 in the game to 15 but I was feeling fresh!
I came out of the gate quickly - I was seeing a lot of action and immediately got us back even and I think we edged ahead. At that point, my partner was completely isolated by our two opponents. They would only dink to my partner until he left something up and then would only go at me when the point was almost impossible to win. My partner is a good player but is new to the game; dinking isn't his strong suit and my opponents certainly knew that. We battled but ended up losing the game. Being the competitor I am, I wanted to play another game to 11 to see if we could win.
The early part of the game was close until BANG - complete isolation again! I don't think I have ever been so frustrated in my life. Don't tell Wilson but I may have launched a paddle to the fence (they are constructed so well - it is still in one piece and playable). That being said, I left the courts in a bad mood and had to write this article.
So some may be asking themselves, "What does he mean by isolating?". Isolating is the strategy of identifying the weaker player and targeting that player on every possible shot. That seems straightforward and actually pretty smart. Why wouldn't you always attack the weaker player if you want to win? That's another valid question so let me dive into it.
In most sports and even most aspects of life, there is something called "etiquette". Etiquette can be defined as unwritten rules or guidelines that are in place to uphold respect and fairness.
Pickleball most certainly has these unwritten rules and many of them apply to dos and don'ts for recreational play. Isolating a player in order to win a game should be at the top of that list in my opinion!
Rec play is a time to get better and work on specific areas of your game. If winning is your only focus in rec play, then you are practicing all wrong. Of course, you should be working on how to win points against both players. Learning how to exploit a weakness is definitely a skill that needs to be practiced. That being said, completely isolating one player for the purpose of winning is considered poor taste. It makes it impossible for one player to get good reps in and it doesn't allow you, the attacking team, to test your skills against the strengths on the court.
So what should you do if your partner is so concerned with winning that they demand you hit to the weaker player? Tell them you want to work on your game and test your skills against the better of the two opponents. Explain that you want to win but it would mean a lot more if you can do it against the stronger player. Some people may not like this answer, especially if you end up losing the game. But who really cares, you're there to get better!