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Our Last Hurrah? – Tournament Pickleball Player!

The Summer of Our Discontent

There is a certain low-budget reverse-panache to telling people you are a “tournament pickleball player” – as if that’s the only time you deem the silly sport worthy to play. Truth of the matter, however, is that for any of us pickleball addicts, tournament play represents a very small percentage of our overall playing. In our case we can do the math easily enough and estimate that, playing in eight or nine tournaments a year (as we did for quite awhile), we were tournament-playing only about 10% of the overall time we put in on courts playing socially. And before you go off and say something you’ll regret later, yes, this includes a couple of good finishes every year and even a win once in awhile where we stuck around for the whole event.

Still, there’s something about the tournament vibe, isn’t there? Tournament play is certainly different than recreational play and gets to that “win at all costs” point about as much as pickleball, a naturally easy-going sport in some ways, ever can. It’s the most adrenaline-filled environment you can find in our little 20 X 44-foot world.

We’re gonna miss it, we think. We’re both, for different reasons, retiring from tournament play after this summer. Given the right circumstances maybe someday we’ll be back (use your deep Austrian rasp aka Arnold Alois Schwarzenagger as you read the underlined out loud), but more probably not. In breaking this particular addiction, we will probably find it easier to simply stay away from play altogether.

But, again, maybe we won’t really be stepping all that far afield. We still love pickleball and we both want to continue to contribute, best as we can, given (as Irene is wont to say) the hand we’ve been dealt. So what does that mean? Certainly refereeing, perhaps coaching, perhaps running the occasional referee desk, Irene’s forte. We enjoy those things almost as much as playing, sometimes (when the tournament didn’t go the way we might have wished) even more.

And we will not be alone in this. There are several friends of ours, good players, who have been making noises that sound remarkably similar. John, a strong 5.0, has already announced he is all-in, to continue the poker metaphor. Lee, a solid 4.5, is gone in a couple more outings. Vance has said “no mas” a couple of times already and is certainly cutting back. And tournament abstinance isn’t limited to the males, of course. As many women have told us similar things…Donna, Jeanne, Vera, Verna, others….all are, in their words, out.

Everyone has somewhat different reasons for making this decision, but looking even a little more closely at them, perhaps the variety of reasons can be boiled down this way. Tournaments used to be more fun when there were lots more age-groups, so we oldsters could compete with our peers. (A senior 4.5 is NOT the same skill-level as a sub-50 4.5, BTW, no matter how hard you wanna make the case that we are all the same. To use Animal Farm-speak, “All animals are equal but some are more equal than others.”)

And, past a certain point, physical ailments inevitably catch up with a playah….we have both been blessed with a long run of relatively good health but are hurting more all the time. In this regard, it’s worth noting that people rightfully get more concerned about their recovery time at they age. Nobody ever seriously says they want to spend six months rehabbing from an Achilles tendon surgery (as A.J. once did), but spending that same six months is somehow much more of an investment when you are over 70, as we both now are.

It’s a slightly sad state of affairs that we can ‘t just keep on keeping on at the same physical level. Of course we knew that someday we might not be as competitive, but we also (to mis-quote Bill Saroyan), thought that. in our cases, exceptions would be made. Not so much, we now guess, but equally we aren’t really all that upset about it. Other doors will open and there will still be lots of fun to come, it’ll just be a bit different