Riley Newman recently announced he would no longer tap paddles at the end of each game, but only at the conclusion of each match. He cited how congratulating your opponent mid-match is foreign to other professional sports and how he would like to pioneer a new tradition akin to how other athletes line up and shake hands at the end of the contest.
I defend his right to do whatever he feels right for Riley. However, I disagree with his underlying fundamental premise, “Pickleball SHOULD be like other professional sports.”
Pickleball is still in its infancy. Pickleball ultimately will become whatever we make of it; a combined reflection of whatever we professional and recreational players collectively value.
Personally, I love the paddle tap. Allow me a moment to explain why.
I picked up tennis in my 20’s. At the height of my game, I was a 4.0 singles player. While I didn’t have powerful put away shots, I had speed, consistency, and stamina. In my 40’s, I lost a step and started squash-shotting balls I used to run down and drive. In my 50’s I lost stamina and started letting balls go by me to conserve energy. At 58 my skills degraded to the 3.5 level and tennis was no longer fun. I gave my racquets to charity and my ball machine to neighborhood kids. I thought I was done with competitive sports.
Then I found pickleball.
Although pushing 60-years old, I am as comparatively good at pickleball as I ever was in tennis. I am a big believer in second chances and pickleball gave me a second chance to complete. I’m not the lone beneficiary of pickleball second chances.
It’s my understanding Riley Newman drove an Uber before he went pro.
AJ Koehler built tiny houses in the sweltering heat in Vegas.
Matt Wright and Andrea Koop are attorneys.
Zane Navratil was an accountant at Deloitte, and so on.
All at one time must have given up on any dream they had of becoming professional athletes. Then came the second chance we call pickleball, and now they get to live (pardon the pun) “the life of Riley.”
There is an old saying (I can’t find the source) that goes something like this,”My competitor is not my enemy. He is my friend because he makes me strive to be better.” If indeed “my competitor is my friend” is a higher way of thinking than “My competitor is my foe,” then while pickleball is still in its infancy, why can’t we design the traditions of the game from there?
Why not honor those who make us better by a sincere tap of the paddle as a gesture of “Thank you for making me strive to be better,” and “thank you for this second chance,” instead of reverting to wagging fingers, smack-talking, or other demonstrations which diminishing competition.
2000 years ago a lonely man altered the world with a simple instruction to “Love your enemies.” He challenged humanity with a simple question. “If you only respect those who respect you, won’t the worst of humanity do the same?” He introduced the idea of becoming something radically different.
As a result, in only three years of teaching, he split time in half as has done more than anyone if modern civilization to alter the course of human events.
Napoleon once said that he, Alexander the Great, Caesar, and Charlemagne all built great empires through use of force. Napoleon marveled at how Jesus built his empire based on love and respect, and how two thousand years later, millions of people are ready to die for him. He could see the other empires, built upon a foundation of other forces, had no staying power.
Professional players and pickleball stakeholders are early in the process of building an empire. On what foundation will this empire be built? Will we collectively use the same tactics and thus look and act the same as other sports?. But what if Pickleball, a game of second chances, decides to take another direction? What might be possible if pickleball builds its brand on a noble foundation of honoring those on the other side of the court who make us strive to be better and allow us to compete at our highest levels and enrich our lives with play and competition?
While pickleball is still in its infancy and we are still able to decide which road this marvelous sport will take, don’t we owe it to ourselves and the next generation of players at least explore the road less traveled?
Let’s invent traditions and behaviors that model sportsmanship at the highest level so professional pickleball players and pickleball stakeholders no longer think, “I want to be like the NBA or NFL.”
What if we work together to invent a sport where the NFL and NBA say, “I wish we were more like the PPA.”
Steve Kuhn, owner of the PPA and Major League Pickleball, and no doubt other future pickleball assets, is probably the most influential person in pickleball. Mr. Kuhn, perhaps your next executive hire can be “Vice President of Sportsmanship, Philosophy, and Future Traditions.”