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How Hard is it to Learn (and Get Good at) Pickleball?

Pickleball is exploding in popularity and people from all age demographics are looking to get into the sport.

Many players are coming from other racket sports, like tennis, and are curious how quickly they’ll be able to pick up the game.

Others are diving into the world of pickleball without any other past sports experience. How quickly can pick up the sport?

In this post, we’ll deep dive into pickleball’s learning curve and overall accessibility.

Is it hard to play pickleball?

Fortunately, pickleball is one of the easiest sports to learn. This is one of the primary reasons why the sport’s popularity is growing so rapidly.

You can organize a group of people who’ve never played with a paddle/racquet sport before and achieve sustained rallies, complete with serves and light dinking, all within the first twenty minutes of play. The rules take a bit of time to understand, but most players will have a grasp on them after 10-20 minutes.

Many pickleball enthusiasts believe that the sport’s accessibility is what makes it so great. It’s a game that people from all age groups can learn to play socially and competitively with limited effort.

Compared to tennis, pickleball is far easier for beginner-level players to pick up and have a coherent game on their first attempt. You can have a fun match with all four new pickleball players able to hit consistent rallies before you could teach a beginning tennis player how to serve properly.

While pickleball does require timing and coordination, you need less nuanced skill and talent to hang with better players compared to tennis. If you’re overmatched in a pickleball game, you’ll probably lose 11-2 or 11.3. You’ll likely get a few good rallies in and enjoy the game.

But if you’re overmatched in tennis, you’ll hardly touch the ball. You’ll get rocked by their serves, run around the court, and hardly be able to hit a ball squarely. Not quite as fun for the beginner.

Is it hard to get good at pickleball?

Yes, pickleball has a low barrier to entry. A new player can hold a rally on their first day with half-decent hand/eye coordination. But it’s a difficult sport to master.

Pickleball might appear simple to the outsider, but high-level pickleball requires competency, consistency, and complex decision-making. Once you get past the 4.0 level, pickleball is far more chess than checkers.

Fortunately, pickleball is accessible to all demographics in a way that allows people of every age to become highly skilled at the game. Athleticism of course plays a role, but experienced players in their 70s can run new players in their 20s around in circles.

You can expect to get good at pickleball within a few months of consistent play. At that point, you’ll have the mechanics of play down and can focus on developing more nuanced strategies and refining your shot selection.

How long should I play pickleball before competing in a tournament?

This is totally up to you. If you have previous sports experience, especially racquet sport, then you can enter at the 2.5 or 3.0 skill level in a tournament as soon as you feel like it.

It’s of course recommended that you spend a bit more time familiarizing yourself with the game before entering. A good rule of thumb is to play enough that you feel that you can hang with 3.5-level recreational-level players. You can then feel confident entering in the 3.0 bracket of a tournament.

Why enter at 3.0 in a tournament if you can hang with 3.5s in rec play? The reason is that tournament skill levels tend to be deflated (people tend to play down a half level than their true skill). This norm is mostly related to sandbagging, which is where players compete against lower-level competition to rack up wins.

If you want to learn more about competing in tournaments, read my post about preparing (and winning) a tournament here.

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