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Friday, April 13, 2018

My Hope for Pickleball's Future

Your mind is your greatest power...

Wednesday's post featured a Pickleball Central blog article The Future of Power Pickleball: Will the Bangers Win?  The article was written by a top player, Glen Peterson, about what he has seen and his prediction for the evolution of the game. His conclusion:
So I predict that, at the highest level of play, doubles rallies will get shorter rather than longer in the coming years.
Much shorter. More like singles.

My prediction is different, but I fully admit that it has a lot of hope behind it.

The speed of the game will naturally increase as it evolves and with more (and better) participants and improvements in equipment. We already see this happening. The third-shot drop has been evolving into a third-shot drive that allows for an easier drop on the fifth shot. The serve has evolved into a weapon with added power and spin. And those are just 2 examples.

But Glen's perspective seems to be that the evolution will continue until power becomes dominant and surpasses strategy and placement as the winning focus. That conclusion is very possible but I don't see it as inevitable for a couple of reasons.

First, Glen's experience is that these new entrants can be overwhelming...and that can be true if the skill levels of opponents are significantly different. But what is forgotten is that these players won't be competing against lower-level players. They will be competing against players with equal or better skills. Their power will be handled by their peers. Then, the power player who develops the best soft game will again become dominant. Power is always overwhelming against lesser players. But the soft game will always have its place among players of equal skills, whether at 3.5 or (relative to today's 5.0) a 9.0. A player who combines both power and strategy will win, just like today. The play will likely be at a higher level, but the mastery of both power and strategy will always be an advantage...unless the equipment improvements allow power to become an uncontrollable force.

The final phrase above leads to my second point. The importance of power will naturally grow, but will become dominant only if the USAPA allows it. That will happen if the USAPA finds TV dollars too enticing or if the youth movement fails and player numbers don't continue to grow. The USAPA needs to look at other sports and their evolution and make a conscious decision to allow it to happen or control it with equipment standards. As an ex-tennis player, I didn't like the way game evolved to all power. I hope that pickleball does not go that way. It needs to differentiate itself from tennis in more ways than court size and equipment. Pickleball should remain a game of strategy and placement and not a game of mini-tennis consisting of grunting power players.


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  2. Thank you for that ray of hope. Pickleball is a deja vu experience for me because I remember when racquetball was the fastest growing sport in America. The energy and enthusiasm around the sport was very much as it is for pickleball today. There were a few power players but it wasn't until the oversized racquets came along that power completely took over the game. Within a few years, the sport's popularity started to decline. Pickleball has some advantages over racquetball - it's a much better spectator sport, for example, and much more amenable to TV (which, as you point out, might be a disadvantage). The rules governing paddles are genius - allowing plenty of innovation but not (so far) allowing paddle design to dominate the sport. But the danger is there - if the USAPA allows pickleball to become just another variant of tennis, like paddle tennis and platform tennis, then its popularity will wane and it will follow a trajectory similar to that of racquetball.

  3. Once top tennis players enter the sport, it will become a fast power game.