CJ Johnson Headshot
CJ Johnson
Tony Roig
Tony Roig

Play Pickleball? No…Thank…You

It took me almost 52 years to figure out how to properly use this simple three-word phrase, no thank you, to exercise my agency.

I had been playing in a group. There were a few other players drilling and some playing on courts near us. We were done for the day and were getting ready to go.

A male player approached and challenged me and a specific player in my foursome to play against him and his friend. A playground sort of challenge that lacked any introduction or even consideration of what the other two players in our group, with whom we were chatting, would do while we dueled things out. To be clear, the player who approached us had already inquired as to who I was before issuing the challenge.

I politely refused the request to play – the reality was that one of the players in our foursome had given me a ride to the courts and needed to leave to make an appointment.

This was, in fact, the reason we were wrapping up our games. I explained that we had to leave to make an appointment.

As if on cue, the player indicated that they would “make it quick.” I generally prefer to sidestep these sort of verbal tussles, so I simply agreed with the man and told him that it was why I was not playing, that I would like to save myself the embarrassment of a quick defeat. And we thereafter departed the courts (the appointment was made on time).

I regretted one aspect of my communication with the challenger that day. I regretted the need to explain my decision to him, to tell him that we had to leave for an appointment. This is where the phrase “No thank you” would have been the perfect response.

The phrase communicates “no” in response to the request to play. And it concludes with a “thank you” because that is what we say in polite society. And that is all that is needed.

Anticipating a follow-up of “why not?” the appropriate response would be “no reason.” This should conclude the conversation and tie up any loose ends (though even suggesting that there are loose ends to tie up is itself problematic).

The point of this is that you have the right to exercise agency in all aspects of your life, including when on the pickleball court.

Players will approach you for various reasons and perhaps with an agenda that is inconsistent with your purpose for being there that day. If – for whatever reason – you opt not to engage (play pickleball in this case), a simple “No thank you” will do.

To be perfectly clear, I am not suggesting that you say “No thank you” to any player who asks to play. What I am recommending is that you learn to say “No thank you” in any situation where playing would be unproductive for you. Playing with players who are not yet at your level but are working on their games would not be, in my definition, unproductive (the same way it was not when the better players played with you as you grew in the sport). But when a player has an agenda or playing with that player engenders strong negative feelings, reserve your right to simply say “No, thank you.”

Has another player made you feel uncomfortable on the pickleball court? What did you do? Did you say no thank you or did you handle it another way? Leave it in the comments below.

Tony Roig

Hola. Hello. Konichiwa. After 40 years playing tennis, I am now a full-time pickleball player and professional. As a 5.0 rated Senior Pro Pickleball Player and an IPTPA-certified Master Teaching Professional, my focus is on helping players like you learn to play their best pickleball. In 2016, shortly after starting to play pickleball, my friend Tom and I jumped into the highest division at the first US Open in Naples, Florida. That morning it became clear just how much there is to learn in this seemingly simple sport – a lifetime of learning if you so choose. Since 2018, I have been on a mission to share my knowledge of pickleball so other players can enjoy the game at a higher level and attain their pickleball objectives. When not studying or playing pickleball, I like to travel with my other half, Jill.


  1. Avatar photo Peter H Sylvain on October 3, 2021 at 3:01 pm

    In an open, social play, players rotate on and off the court with players who are waiting. Some players refuse to rotate, forcing one of the waiting players to wait through two games for the chance to get on the court. Don’t know how to handle this–hints to this player are generally rejected. Any thoughts?

    • Avatar photo CJ Johnson on October 6, 2021 at 2:29 am

      It depends on why they are skipping. If it’s because they don’t want to play with someone who they think isn’t at their level that’s not acceptable it’s open play. If they are skipping because a player is rude, threatening, gives unsolicited advice, or in general disrespects the other players on the court that’s when it’s best to stay no thank you.

      • Avatar photo Jay Readinger on May 1, 2022 at 12:44 pm

        In programs that we have organized or managed, someone who removes themselves from the ‘next up’ opportunity to play goes to the back of the paddle line. So they give up their ‘turn’ for the refusal. This system prevents someone(s) from just waiting at the head of the line until they get the foursome they want to play with; the open play no-no.

        • Avatar photo CJ Johnson on May 1, 2022 at 5:45 pm

          Hi Jay, if there is someone that I don’t want to play with for a reason other than skill level going to the end of the line is an acceptable trade-off for me. What we were referring to in the article were players who were uncomfortable playing with players for reasons other than skill set or familiarity. There are many players that write to us and tell us about other players whose behavior is robbing their enjoyment of the game, it may be excessive coaching, negative comments, headhunting etc, any variety of behaviors including refusing to play with people because of their skill set or waiting to get a preferred foursome. We hope that programs take steps to deal with all types of bad behavior.

        • Avatar photo R P on June 16, 2023 at 2:29 pm

          If I just don’t want to play in the next opening it’s because I am avoiding that group. I’m not choosing what group to play with .Letting a person behind me in line to play next is letting a person play . Open play means the court is not reserved not who has to play with whom.

    • Avatar photo Tony Roig on April 10, 2022 at 8:07 pm

      Hi Peter. If I am reading this correctly, you mean the player on the court will not rotate off the court. If that is the case, then the other players should not fill in the spots on the court until the player leaves the court (rotates off). The players filling in the spots are enabling the player to remain on even though the player is supposed to come off. A collective approach generally works best. Hope this helps.

  2. Avatar photo Jay Cohen on October 3, 2021 at 5:03 pm

    Happens, my go to is, I’m whooped or I’m done, toast, too tired. end of story.

    • Avatar photo JOE on April 10, 2022 at 3:51 pm

      Kind of prevents you from playing any more games doesn’t it? “Hey, I thought you were whooped/toast/done???” We have a guy who plays at least 3 “last games” but we all know it.

  3. Avatar photo Janice on October 4, 2021 at 4:23 am

    The same goes for all areas of life. Simply say no thank you.

  4. Avatar photo Joanne on October 5, 2021 at 4:10 pm

    I am tired of encountering these types of situations on the Pb court. Rude and demanding individuals with no social skills expecting they join a group or determine the rotation during drop in sessions. I don’t recall this happening with any other sport. I have learnt to say no thank you and be more selective to when I attend the local games centre in order to keep my Pb play enjoyable.

  5. Avatar photo Elaine on April 10, 2022 at 2:25 am

    OMG! This nailed it. Our club director cautioned me…don’t let anyone “like that” mess up your game — “los agresivos” (the aggressive ones). ¡Gracias Carlos!

    • Avatar photo CJ Johnson on April 10, 2022 at 3:07 pm

      Like we like to say Elaine exercise your agency!

  6. Avatar photo David Mott on April 10, 2022 at 8:52 am

    I remember a time when I showed up to a venue (lucky, we have several in our location) and there were three similarly rated players who were happy to see me. I’m a big galoot of a guy ready to play with the other guy and two women. We hadn’t played but a few points when the guy started telling me, in a loud voice, that my choice of shots and strategies were “unsportsmanlike.” If I remember correctly I was guilty of using an offensive lob and a speed up at the net while dinking. At the time, all four of us were in the 3.0-3.5 range in skill, and these were shots that each of us should have been working on.

    I finished the game and started packing up my stuff when the guy and one of the women got a bit cross with me for leaving and demanded to know why. Though I’m sure that a simple no thank you would have sufficed, I pointed and said “he’s too bossy.” Whenever I ran into these folks in future open play situations and we happened to rotate onto a court at the same time, I usually said that I was going to pass my spot and wait for the next rotation. There were often lots of folks waiting and most were curious about my decision. It wasn’t long before someone told me, with a smile, eyebrows raised, “good decision!”

    • Avatar photo CJ Johnson on April 10, 2022 at 3:08 pm

      Hi David, if enough players use the same tactic on the bad apples they will either need to modify their behavior or find another place to play.

  7. Avatar photo Ann on April 10, 2022 at 10:51 am

    I have had the misfortune of playing 4.0 doubles with men (twice my size) who are so desperate to win a point that they will intentionally hit a ball as hard as they can from the kitchen line at a woman’s face. I find this behavior unsportsmanlike and dangerous. I’ve seen men & women get black eyes, torn retinas and split eyebrows from this practice. Their excuse, “it’s just a whiffle ball. It’s part of the game.” IMO, at this level of play, “if you can aim for someone’s face, you can aim for their feet.” And this is what I tell them.

    • Avatar photo CJ Johnson on April 10, 2022 at 3:12 pm

      Congratulations on sharing your thoughts with them. A group of women refused to play with someone who continued to target them in an inappropriate way and eventually he got the message. One other thing that you may want to share with the other ladies in your area that aren’t sure how to deal with this is that if a ball is hit hard from the kitchen line to a players face it is most likely out. When playing with these players be prepared to duck. My guess is that once a player loses a few rallies their behavior will change.

  8. Avatar photo Cathy Clemens on April 10, 2022 at 12:01 pm

    Every once in a while a visiting player shows up who can’t seem to keep his mouth shut…he brags on himself or directs the players where to go and what to do. We have a very small group of rec players so there’s no escaping playing with him if we want to play.
    When I play with him, he directs me till I tell him that I’ve had lessons and have been coached, I don’t always do what I’m taught but I’m working on it. After several times of telling him this, he finally stopped directing me. Next time I’ll simply say “No Thank you.”
    Thanks…this is a good reminder.

  9. Avatar photo Sue Lunow on April 10, 2022 at 2:36 pm

    Appreciate your comments above very much. I have played with people who are difficult – either take over the game verbally or physically try to play the whole court (in other words take your balls and theirs). This is upsetting and I have stopped playing that day because of it. Now I avoid playing with particular people who are “bullies” or know-it-alls. I will wait longer for my turn if I know that person is in the loop.
    I appreciate the reminder that we do not have to explain our reasons for playing or not playing.

    • Avatar photo CJ Johnson on April 10, 2022 at 3:14 pm

      You hit the nail on the head Sue. No need to explain your decision. I like to think that No Thank You is killing them with kindness.

  10. Avatar photo Kate on April 10, 2022 at 3:12 pm

    I sometimes change my paddle in the paddle rack when I see a player I’ve already played with and don’t wish to engage in a second round of play; to me, this is an easy solution of not playing with someone I choose not to play with.

    • Avatar photo Tony Roig on April 10, 2022 at 8:04 pm

      Great suggestion Kate. Thanks for sharing the idea.

      • Avatar photo Joanne on July 28, 2022 at 10:01 am

        Eh, I don’t like this one. I call it “paddle shenanigans”. We all know people who do this, but it’s usually because they don’t want to play with someone they don’t deem worthy (at their level). Beginners get ‘ghettoized” on a side court while all the “in crowd” play together.

        • Avatar photo CJ Johnson on July 29, 2022 at 12:34 am

          Hi Joanne, we are not fans of “paddle shenanigans” either and we make sure to note in this blog that we are not talking about playing with people who are at a different level.

  11. Avatar photo JOE on April 10, 2022 at 3:56 pm

    Has anyone ever walked off the court – in the middle of a game – due to these kinds of folks?? btw: “if I want advice, I’ll ask for it” is an aggressive – but effective – way to quiet most of the bossy types.

  12. Avatar photo Sally Asay on April 10, 2022 at 4:13 pm

    I’m in my 82nd year…obviously, visually ‘old’! I play 3.0-3.5 consistently. For some reason, when playing with men, even,sometimes, gentlemen, they cannot resist ‘coaching’ me. I win as many as I lose, love playing with anyone, but it is grating indeed when I am not allowed ‘freedom’ to just play the game. I find it stultifying to just swallow and respond. So…I just say, “Thanks” or, I say nothing at all…pretending not to hear. In all honesty, those guys are in the MINORITY, and 90% of the guys in our large crowd are very encouraging, kind and invite me in! Broken wrist, 5 falls, and stitches cannot keep me from this game!

    • Avatar photo Tony Roig on April 10, 2022 at 8:00 pm

      Hi Sally. Sounds like you are not easily knocked off course by these folks. Sounds like you are handling the unwanted advice fine. If we can ever be of help, say “gee, that is interesting. My coach, Tony (or CJ), are always open to new ideas about how to play pickleball. You mind sending them an email with that approach?” Bet you that’s the last of that. Our emails are our name @Better Pickleball.com. Stay well out there.

  13. Avatar photo Marilyn Richardson on April 11, 2022 at 1:25 am

    I cringe now realizing that my verbal tips to my partners have probably been taken as unwanted advice. Thought I was “helping the team” but had noticed it wasn’t received that way.
    Opps, I hope I haven’t gotten too bad a reputation. Will really wait before saying anything now. Lesson learned, will just work on what I can do no matter the circumstances.

    • Avatar photo Deborah on April 12, 2022 at 12:14 am

      I wish some of the folks in my group were as reflective as you are! I know they mean well but their continuous “coaching” really saps the fun out of my game and causes my to lose my confidence. Kudos to you for reading this and deciding to be a change maker!

  14. Avatar photo Ken Lacey on April 11, 2022 at 2:08 pm

    As the sport matures, there seems to be this emergent realization that the vaunted “welcoming” aspect that pickleball is famous for must give way to the reality that not everyone is going to feel the obligation to play in unsatisfying matches just to keep the “welcoming” reputation alive. Does this mean we are becoming more and more like the tennis culture that so many of us have cited as a reason why pickleball is better? Maybe it’s time to stop drawing that comparison and admit that both sports have its diplomats, ambassadors, and elitists.

    • Avatar photo CJ Johnson on April 14, 2022 at 6:25 pm

      Hi Ken, we think the welcoming nature of pickleball is very important. It was our intent in this article to suggest some remedies for players who are uncomfortable playing with certain players for reasons unrelated to ability.

    • Avatar photo Sharon Sorensen on May 2, 2022 at 1:53 am

      I’m not sure you can actually compare tennis to drop in pickleball. I’ve never been an active tennis player, racquetball yes, but drop in pickleball is unique. It is a blessing, and on rare occasions can be frustrating for reasons discussed here. That’s why CJ and Tony’s advice, as well as other’s comments, are so valuable. Thanks everyone!

      • Avatar photo Tony Roig on May 2, 2022 at 1:24 pm

        Agreed. Tennis as currently played is vastly different than pickleball open play.

  15. Avatar photo S Dand on April 14, 2022 at 12:11 am

    I’ve had the life experience where I learned this technique from Dr. Ramani, a well known psychologist. She gives advice to not go DEEP when unsavory or negative people bait you. What’s DEEP?

    E-xplain, WAY too long I took the bait
    E-ngaged in their games because I
    P-ersonalised their attacks on me.

    ‘Don’t go DEEP’ was probably the best advice I ever received on how to deal with these types of people.

  16. Avatar photo gail riley on April 27, 2022 at 1:28 pm

    I signed up for a fund-raising PB tournament with the encouragement of my instructor with whom I had taken lessons. The eve before I had a feeling I was going to be in “over my head”. I called the instructor and expressed my feelings and she “reassured” me that the players were early intermediate/intermediate and not competitive had no partner for this tournament so one was assigned. The morning player had little to no experience with PB and wouldn’t stop running after every ball and missed. In the afternoon I met my second partner who when I shared my level of experience said, “Don’t worry. I’ll be the poacher”. Consequently, she took over the whole court. This experience was most embarrassing especially when I had friends in the audience who were very compassionate about my situation. Player number 2 had to leave early, and I was assigned to a real instructor. However, not only was my embarrassment level beyond tolerance but I had played 8 games at this point. So, I excused myself which I maybe should have done earlier.

    • Avatar photo CJ Johnson on April 27, 2022 at 4:20 pm

      Hi Gail, thanks for sharing your experience.

  17. Avatar photo Jul Lav on May 1, 2022 at 9:47 pm

    My partner criticized every mistake I made-“don’t hit it out of bounds!” (Thank you, Mr. Obvious.) He would then proceed to hit a ball into the net, but I didn’t say anything; not wanting to stoop to his level. I then asked him to not say anything if he couldn’t say anything nice. He agreed to that. So even when our opponents were praising great shots that I made, he kept silent. True to his word! 🙂 Luckily, he is the exception in our community. Most players are delightful and I feel so good after a few hours of being with my pickle pals.

    • Avatar photo Tony Roig on May 2, 2022 at 1:26 pm

      I always find it curious when players notice their partners mistakes but not their own :). Glad you got it sorted and that you get some other players who do not do it.

  18. Avatar photo Teresa "TJ" Barnes on July 27, 2022 at 8:41 pm

    I have said, no thank you to more advanced players out of respect for them to play a more challenging game and honoring myself for not putting myself in harms way. I have walked off the court when other women are gabbing about personal issues and then just returning the ball as if they could not be bothered and I have graciously allow beginner players both young as in middle school and older than my 71 years a repeat or poach for them. And, in my great memory bank remember the faces of men who have smashed me intently in places that hurt or badly bruised. When I am several levels up from 3.5 I will come back to smash them in places they will never forget and hopeful learn their lessons. A really great player does not need to prove their strength or agility over a beginner. Help them out. A man did smash a woman today, but said he aimed at her feet and that’s just part of the game for the level I am at. And, if women smash a man in the stomach intentionally then there is not reason to complain when he smashes it back at her.

  19. Avatar photo Liza H on December 5, 2022 at 4:51 pm

    My beginner PB neighbor (good tennis player) was literally yelled at for not standing behind the baseline to receive the elder’s short serve. The elder woman player loudly chastised her while playing doubles. My friend said she had never been bark coached like that in the 40 years playing tennis. Surprisingly, no one on the court called out the woman’s unsportsmanlike behavior. The doubles court got very quiet after that. My friend played through but left the court after that. It is the exception on that court, but it left a lasting and unpleasant ‘brain stain’ on my friend’s mind. If PB is so friendly, all the players should be reminded of basic ground manners. Can you also comment on receiving serves while standing inside the baseline?

    • Avatar photo CJ Johnson on December 6, 2022 at 10:52 pm

      Hi Liza, if someone consistently serves short, I would stand inside the baseline as well. The only rules that tell you where you must stand are when you are THE SERVER. Then you must be behind the baseline and inside an imaginary extension of the center and side lines at the moment the ball is struck.

  20. Avatar photo Derisa K on August 12, 2023 at 1:14 pm

    Wow, I was thinking about trying Pickleball. If this is whst goes on in the soort, No Thank You. Thanks, though, for saving me money before i wasted it on time and equipment!

    • Avatar photo CJ Johnson on August 12, 2023 at 3:39 pm

      Hi Derisa, anytime you have an event that attracts a large group of people there are some people that are not compatible with each other and pickleball is no exception. One of the accepted norms and usually welcome social aspects is during open play, players rotate between the groups. The point of this article was to make sure that if there was an instance where a player was uncomfortable playing with another player for a reasons other than ability was to remind them that they have options. I think most pickleball players, myself included would tell you that 99.9% of the people that they have have met as a result of this game have been a welcome addition to their lives. I’m glad I didn’t let a few potentially not nice players impact my positive experience with so many others. We hope you try the sport one day.

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