My Very First Pickleball Tournament

Recently, I signed up for my very first pickleball tournament. Previous to that the last time I participated in a formal athletic competition of any kind, Richard Nixon was our nation’s Commander-in-Chief. In case you’re curious what that previous sporting event was, it was a high school swim meet. I did the backstroke. I came in fourth, barely missing establishing a new school record for fastest time in the 100-meter backstroke by a mere 57 seconds. That was fifty years ago.

I signed up for our local pickleball association’s Labor Day Pickleball Tournament. I decided to throw my hat into the ring in part because in the official promotion on the website I read that several winners would win a new CAR. It was only after I arrived at the tournament that on a closer re-read, I discovered that I had misread the part about “several players will win a new CAP.” I’m starting to think I might be slightly dyslexic, I’m not sure.

The entry fee was only $20 – an extremely reasonable price for the opportunity to spend three and a half hours being repeatedly reminded how much I suck at pickleball. The doubles tournament format was Round Robin, which means for each new game you’re paired with a different partner. This afforded me the chance to meet lots of new people, not to mention enjoy playing seven different matches against a wide variety of competitors who took turns demonstrating how far superior they were at this sport than I was. Thanks, everybody! You all taught me the greatest sports lesson of all – humility.

At first, I felt pretty good about my chances. I was returning almost every shot my opponents sent my way. But then I was informed that this was just the pre-game warm-up, when people were supposed to gently dink the ball over the net. Once the games officially got underway, I was caught off guard by how hard the other players routinely hit the ball at me. It was almost as if all my opponents deliberately wanted me to lose. That’s not very sportsmanlike, if you ask me.  

This may come as a shock to some of my regular readers, but as with most sports, I’m not that good at pickleball. Over time, I’ve concluded that my primary role in just about any match I play in any sport is to make my opponent feel much better about their own athletic prowess. I am very good at this. So, no, I didn’t win the tournament. My dreams of winning a cap, much less a car, vanished quickly.

In my defense, the only reason I did not don the King’s Crown – or Queen’s Crown (just trying to avoid accusations of coming across as sexist) – as the tournament champion at the conclusion of the event was my relative lack of speed, power, accuracy, endurance, or any semblance of a strategy. Personally, I feel I more than made up for my severe athletic deficiencies with my above-average penmanship, good posture, and noteworthy personal hygiene. But apparently the judges didn’t take any of these into consideration in awarding the crown. So unfair.

In retrospect, I’m confident I would have fared better in the final rankings had I only remembered to stop at the bank beforehand to take out cash to bribe the judges. I believe I could have swayed at least a couple of them to alter the results had I just slipped a couple of crisp Andrew Jackson’s into their pockets.

I’m pleased to report that in this tourney, everyone was a winner. Even me! Every participant was awarded a medal. In my case, I believe mine must have been for “perfect attendance.” That’s the only plausible explanation I can come up with for how I earned a medal. Of course, when I got home, and my wife saw the medal around my neck, I may have slightly exaggerated when I told her my medal was for First Place. For the first time in a long time, she was actually proud of me. Please don’t tell her I lied, okay? I’d hate to disappoint her.

Then does this mean you won the new car you told me about in the brochure?” she asked excitedly. I didn’t have the heart to deflate her enthusiasm by explaining that I had misread the word “cap” as “car.” So, I told her, “Yes, that’s right, honey. It should arrive in four to six weeks.” By then I’m sure she will have forgotten all about it. Problem avoided.

I learned several valuable lessons from my first official sport competition since I began shaving back in 1973. First, it’s not just about winning. It’s about showing up and participating. Second, if I ever enter another pickleball tournament, I probably should take a few lessons to improve my game. And third, I should know better than to insult the judges by trying to pay them off with $20 bills. I’ll need to step up my game and offer them a few Benjamin’s instead. Those judges aren’t cheap.

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