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Tennis vs. Pickleball: The Real Difference

Updated: Nov 16, 2021




When you Google, “What is the difference between tennis vs. pickleball,” you get results about the different equipment, court size, and serve. All true. But these basic answers don’t prepare a new-comer for the social complexities of this sport.


Tennis Versus Pickleball


It is not like tennis. In tennis, you choose which friends to call. You go play, and when you finish your match the group leaves. It is modular.


Not so in pickleball, where most venues are run on an “open court” system. A game typically lasts only 20 minutes. After that, partners and opponents will split up, switch, and change courts. This “social beehive” is the real difference. It provides great opportunities to meet new people and experience a variety of shot styles. But occasionally, it can leave some players feeling unwelcome.


What is the best way to help everyone have a great time?


Ask yourself, “What do I want?”


Why are you playing? Is it to have fun, perhaps unwind after work? Or are you trying to improve your ranking, or prepare for a tournament?


Let’s look deeper into tennis vs. pickleball. In tennis, social players select like-minded people to play with, and they may not choose to play in league competition. Leagues, however, account for the greatest volume of play. Everyone is ranked. They are sorted into teams with players of similar skills, thus setting the stage for a challenging match.


With open court pickleball play, however, everyone is in the mix. Since the Holy Grail is the long rally, some facilities have established protocols to enable those long points everybody wants.


Here Are A Few Examples of Pickleball Protocols


Tustin Pickleball, in Tustin, California for example, promotes itself as a “10-court facility designated by skill levels 2.0 – 5.0.”

Levels are posted on courts telling players where to go. Don’t have a rating? There is a club member to give you one (for the purpose of playing at Tustin). Off you go to your skill level.

Over in Ruidoso, NM, you will find the very energetic Rita Borunda. She manages White Mountain Sports Complex, and serves as a USA Pickleball Ambassador. This is how she handles the summer traffic.


“We have a lot of advanced players (4.0 and above) who come in the summer. I designate two courts as 4.0 and above, and the intermediate and beginning players share four courts. Each group switches and rotates within their courts.”

She says that it is everyone’s responsibility to move around to lower courts, and help players improve, if that is their goal. And if you are more of a “dink and drink” player, by all means have a good time!


“No matter who you are playing with have fun, meet people, and grow the sport of Pickleball." Rita Borunda

Author- Jamie Fisher

President, Pickleball El Paso


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