By Fred Ammann
No, not characters, although we have our share of them playing at Rymer. I am talking about character, as in the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual. Pickleball is both fun and competitive; the two, however, do not always sync together. It is a sport filled with good-natured camaraderie, but one where winning can often take precedence and upset that happy balance. This is where one’s character can come to the forefront.
Let us start with line calls. They are hard to make because the ball does not leave a mark on the court, and you are often not in the ideal position to see that tiny sliver of green between the ball and the line. In a friendly match, it is easy to play that ball “in” and give your opponents the benefit of the doubt. However, in a tight league or tournament match, playing for all the marbles, do you now make an “out” call? Your character might have something to do with that split-second decision.
A similar character-testing situation involves overruling a partner’s call that you were sure was incorrect, knowing that doing so might disrupt team chemistry. Another is calling your partner for a non-volley-line infraction when your opponents were unaware of the illegal entrance into the kitchen. Do you still have the conviction to do the right thing?
I must confess that my character temporarily hits the pause button on occasions when playing with my wife, Janice, who is NEVER WRONG when making a call. To overrule her would bring a severe blow to the domestic tranquility of our household and make for an uncomfortable ride home, not to mention me spending time in the Ammann doghouse for the foreseeable future, and we do not even have a dog.
I play in several weekly scheduled groups with players of like ability, give or take someone having a bad day. Anything goes in these games, from frequent compliments for good shots an opponent makes to some friendly trash-talking, “Yeah, you better call for back-up,” when the score reaches 9-1-1. At one point or another, we all have been on the giving and receiving end of the praise and barbs. And there is always the good sportsmanship paddle-slap at the end, win or lose.
Playing in open or white-board groups, however, is different. Here, there can be a wide gap in ability levels. How does the better player handle these mismatch-ups? Is it business as usual playing all out, or dialing it back a notch to not embarrass the lesser player? During our winters south, when we play in Naples, the pickleball capital of the nation, Janice and I have been on the receiving end of both.
I find it reassuring that most top players in St. James play the latter rather than the former, making it fun and a positive learning experience. Some, however, need that win and play full tilt. They are not good ambassadors for the game and something to consider regardless of which side of the ratings scale you find yourself on.
I have one final related thought that has nothing to do with pickleball. As an avid cyclist, Lance Armstrong was a hero to me and the whole bike-riding community, until he wasn’t. It all came down to character.