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Surviving My First Pickleball Tournament: The 7 Biggest Surprises No One Warned Me About.

Updated: May 2

If you know me, you know I'm obsessed with sunscreen and avoiding the sun as much as possible. Yes, everyone teases me, but my skin and I are quite content with our arrangement. That is until pickleball entered the scene. Suddenly, I'm faced with a conundrum: to play or not to play? It seems that many pickleball enthusiasts actually enjoy the sun and choose to play during those bizarre daytime hours when the sun is most merciless. And yes, while indoor courts exist, they just don't offer the same ambiance and camaraderie as their sun-drenched counterparts. So, here I am, contemplating my willingness to brave the sunlight for the love of the game.

Stepping into the world of pickleball tournaments, I was in for a few surprises along the way. Here are seven things no one tells you about your pickleball adventure, complete with all its quirky and unexpected challenges.

1. The Visor Conundrum

Sporting a visor (part of the "unofficial official" Pickleball uniform) seemed like the perfect solution to my sun dilemma, combining style with protection. However, the visor protected my face while leaving an unexpected victim vulnerable: my scalp. Who knew that a strip of fabric could result in a distinctly patterned sunburn right in the parting of my hair? Here I was, thinking I'd outsmarted the sun, only to discover that my scalp was now a checkerboard of sunburn. This peculiar badge of honor marked me as a pickleball player more clearly than any uniform could.

Woman wearing pink visor

2. BYOC: Bring Your Own Chair

The revelation that seating at tournaments is as rare as a cool day in July was a game-changer. The need to bring your own chair quickly became apparent, transforming my pickleball kit to include not just paddles and balls, but portable furniture as well.

3. The Wardrobe Change

Gone are the days of leaving the court as pristine as I entered. Pickleball tournament play demands a change of clothes (or two), a testament to the intensity and sweat equity invested in each match. My bag, once light and casually packed, now bulges with the battle gear of a seasoned player.

4. Porta-Potty Purgatory

Navigating the world of public restrooms was never my forte, and the porta-potties at outdoor tournaments present a whole new level of challenge. I kept saying that I had peed in worse places than this in my punk days so I could just hold my breath and not look down like a pro. Equipped with hand sanitizer and a stalwart spirit, I faced this necessary evil, all in the name of pickleball.

port a pottys in a row

5. The Mysterious Rules

Just when I felt confident I'd grasped the basics, I discovered that mastering pickleball wasn't just about the rules themselves, but how every player seemed to have their own twist on them. Every game was a fresh adventure in interpretation, with each player bringing their version of the rules to the court. This discrepancy added a layer of complexity to each match that was both frustrating and fascinating. The strategic depth of pickleball, which I had once found so engaging, now presented itself as a double-edged sword, challenging me to adapt and negotiate not just with the game, but with the players themselves. Navigating this maze of personal rulebooks became as much a part of the game as the physical play, testing my patience and flexibility alongside athletic skills. As always, is it in or out?

pickleball on the line

6. The Inner Competitor Unleashed & The Marathon Matches

Never would I have imagined that pickleball could awaken a fierce competitor within me. I normally enjoy rec play and use it to try new improve and try new things. The drive to win made me reach for balls I normally would avoid, endure hits to the head, face, and chest, and keep going. Volleying at the net relentlessly, each match revealed a part of myself that I hardly recognized, filled with a passion and a drive to win that I knew existed but had laid dormant for a while. This newfound aggression was surprising, not just to me, but to my opponents and teammates alike, as I dove for every ball and fought for every point with a determination that was both exhilarating and exhausting.

Adding to the intensity, the tournament structure meant either waiting for hours on end, muscles cooling and tension building, only to suddenly spring into action, or playing match after match with hardly a moment to breathe. This relentless pace was a true test of endurance, leaving us oscillating between restlessness and exhaustion, pushing our limits until we could barely move. Yet, this challenge also brought a sense of accomplishment and resilience I hadn't known before.

7. Forming New Friendships

Perhaps the most delightful peril of all is the community that comes with the sport. Amidst the challenges and peculiarities of pickleball, I've found a group of like-minded souls who share in the joy, frustration, and camaraderie that the game brings.

Against all odds, and after enduring six long matches and a nerve-wracking playoff, my friend Janie and I won the silver medal. It was an achievement that felt all the more special considering the journey we had embarked on together. The camaraderie and sportsmanship we experienced were unparalleled. Everyone was so supportive and encouraging, making the highs higher and the lows not so daunting. This pickleball tournament was more than just a series of games; it was a testament to the spirit of the sport and its community. From fierce competitors to fast friends, the connections formed throughout the tournament were genuine and lasting.

And so, my pickleball journey is marked by these unexpected perils, each bringing its own blend of humor and growth. Despite the sunburns, disgusting bathrooms, sweat, strategic mishaps, and the sheer physical toll, the journey is rich with laughter, learning, and newfound friendships.

Pickleball, it turns out, is more than just a sport; it's an adventure in sun management, socializing, self-discovery, and, as Janie and I discovered, unexpected triumph. Just make sure to keep reapplying your sunscreen!

Pickle On!



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