That Annoying Player

By Matthew Schwartz
January 30, 2024

You know that player. We all know at least one. He or she is critical, cranky, curmudgeonly. They make comments to you during doubles play that aren’t helpful.  “That was my ball.”  “That was your ball.” “Stop creeping up after serving.”  “You’re not getting up to the kitchen line fast enough.” They annoy opponents as well as their partners. On close calls they call virtually every opponent’s ball out. When you’re playing against them and it’s a close call on your side, they yell from across the net, “That ball was in,” even when it often was out. And that’s not their call anyway.

He or she is the pickleball player you try to avoid playing with.

He’s a know-it- all. Every point or rally your team loses is never his fault. "That’s my forehand." he’ll grumble after you miss a playable shot that sails between the two of you.  “Damn wind,” he’ll mumble after misplaying an easy put-away on a shot not really affected by any wind. “Damn sun,” he’ll grouse after whiffing on a shot that may or may not have been lost in the sun. He smacks his paddle against his leg after losing a point. He’s grouchy, never smiles, is uptight and has bad body language. You wonder why he even plays, he seems so miserable.

In the two and a half years I’ve been playing pickleball, 99 percent of those I’ve played with and against are wonderful. They understand why we are all there. Sure we prefer winning over losing. Of course we get frustrated when we make unforced errors. But they understand that you’re trying your best. None of us is going to be pro players. We’re there for the love of the sport, the exercise, the social aspects and just for the plain fun. Ninety-nine percent seem to have the attitude that when you make an unforced error, well, we all do.

But at some pickleball courts there’s that one person you just prefer not to play with. When you see that player’s name or paddle in your group, you skip down and write your name in the next group, or pull your paddle from the stack theirs is in, even though you’re not supposed to do either.

Sarah Ansboury is the former top-ranked woman’s pickleball player in the world. She’s the Director of Pickleball Instruction at Palmetto Dunes in Hilton Head, SC, and runs pickleball tournaments and camps. She teaches an online course called Be the Best Pickleball Partner You Can Be!

If anyone has the credibility to tell a playing partner what to do, it’s Ansboury. But she told me “I will not offer up advice unless asked. If I really feel like it would be helpful I will say ‘Do you want my opinion on that?’”

Ansboury says she often sees players who are the target of verbal abuse “Joke back and chirp a little.” While she acknowledges that many players don’t have the nerve to say anything to a critical partner, she said she wouldn’t have any difficulty telling telling someone offering unsolicited advice to “simply stop.”

Yira Pia Sanchez is a certified master instructor and runs the Asheville Pickleball Association. “The percentage [of annoying partners) is very relative and would vary depending on your level of tolerance. For some players, very little things could be called annoying during a game, and for others, something as simple as a player not approaching the non-volleying line can be unacceptable,” Pia Sanchez said. “An annoying player is most often oblivious of how he/she makes others feel. They have a very high opinion of themselves and their game. Many times delusional. Some are overly entitled and spend time looking at others faults but not their own. They show an overwhelming desire to win.”

If you find yourself on the receiving end of a doubles partner’s coaching or criticism, Pia Sanchez advises to tell that person, ‘Sorry, I appreciate you thinking that you are helping me here, but you are distracting me from our game. Please concentrate on being a good partner. Do your part, I am working on doing mine.’"

Pia Sanchez says when the game is over, “I will walk to that player and calmly say ‘I would appreciate it if you restrained from telling me what to do in a game.’ If it doesn't work, and his/her behavior continues, just let him/her know you are a team player who is there to enjoy and improve your game and unfortunately you two are not a good match. Don’t give advice unless you’re a certified instructor, and unless your partner asks you for advice.”

Cathy Hicks of Marshall, NC is a volunteer instructor who says, “I just try to help people get better in a positive and friendly atmosphere.” Hicks, 65, has a 4.105 DUPR (Dynamic Universal Pickleball Rating) and played in 30 tournaments last year. She says the percentage of annoying players is small. One trait some share that she dislikes: “Not wanting to play with others in open play because they think they are better, such as moving paddles in a rack to avoid playing with beginners in an open play setting.” If you’re on the receiving end of critical comments from your doubles partner, Hicks says, “Depending on the severity of the comment my response would be to either ignore them or if it’s really rude remind them they are not perfect and when they are perfect then they are welcome to comment on my game. Otherwise, that’s not appropriate.”

I reached out to those in two Facebook groups I’m in, Pickleball Forum and USA Pickleball Seniors, for their thoughts.

Jaime Tarne, 69, of Etna, CA: “I completely try and avoid that one person who annoys me. We only have two courts presently inside to play during the winter. I make sure I am on the other court. Pickleball is so much fun, win or lose, that I don’t want to color it with getting annoyed. I haven’t had too much experience with an annoying player criticizing me personally, but when it happens, I just smile and nod. And then notice I hit the ball extra hard next time.”

Sandy MacMillan, 68, Cornelius, NC: “I find male partners who feel they have to take every shot obnoxious. My personal quirk is that I can’t play if my partner is talking! Opponents who don’t seem to be having fun bother me!”

Karyl Carmignani, 61, Lancaster, PA: “Sometimes I’ll take a box farther back to mix things up and play with people I enjoy playing with.”

Dave Baker, 58, Allegan, MI, a self-described pickleball addict: “The trait that annoys me the most is dishonesty. An opponent who purposely calls balls out when they are in. I also dislike those who bully players who have physical handicaps. For example, when someone repeatedly lobs an 80 year-old. "Like, come on!"

Baker says he tries to avoid being on the court with the annoying player who never seems to change. Baker concluded with a comment that is typical of the overwhelmingly kind, welcoming and understanding pickleball community: “I like to give the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the last time we played, they were just having a bad day!”

Nice. If you were near me Dave and said that, I’d tap your paddle.


On another topic, I was incredulous about what I saw sportscaster Bryant Gumbel do and say recently on the series finale of the HBO show, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. During a panel discussion about various sports the show decided not to report on, Gumbel said sarcastically, “I mean, Mary’s bringing in pickleball.” He was referring to the colleague sitting next to him, former tennis pro Mary Carillo. Then another reporter on the panel, Soledad O’Brien, said, “Pickleball IS a sport.”

Upon hearing that, Gumbel rolled his eyes and opened his mouth wide, as if to say, “No way.”  Then Gumbel said wine tasting IS a sport. That’s right, wine tasting. “You have to identify the year, the grape and the land it came from,” Gumbel said.

In his retirement, while you, me and millions of others are having a blast running around pickleball courts, I hope Gumbel enjoys his Chardonnay.