Pickleball open play
By: CJ Johnson | February 10, 2023 |

Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone: How to Navigate Your First Pickleball Open Play

Open Play is one of the many incredible things about pickleball. You don’t need to find other players, coordinate schedules and locate an open pickleball court. You show up at a pre-appointed time, and a game awaits.

If you are a Beginner Pickleball Player and want to play more or have been reluctant to attend a pickleball open play, I’ve got some tips for you!!!

Starting to play pickleball

When I retired two and a half years ago (sooner than I had planned), there were so many things I was going to do. Unfortunately, it was at the beginning of the COVID Pandemic, and my plans were put on hold.

I began walking a lot more during that time, and the park I frequented had pickleball courts. In 2022, it got my attention when I noticed they built 9 additional courts – but I had no idea what the game of pickleball was. Then the Town Parks & Recreation Department began offering Pickleball Instructional classes. I immediately signed up for one of the programs with some of my friends.

After completing the pickleball lessons, I bought my new pickleball paddle, laced up my tennis shoes, watched some pickleball videos on YouTube, and packed my bag with indoor and outdoor balls – now, how do I get to play?

I was immediately faced with a dilemma – who to play with and where to play.

Finding people to play with

At the completion of my first pickleball class, all the participants (there were 8 of us) exchanged phone numbers. We actually stayed in touch. Four of us got together once a week and played on the outdoor pickleball courts during the warmer months.

Since we were all beginners at a similar level and had established a camaraderie, we felt comfortable.

It was a great start, and I was loving pickleball.

As everyone’s life got busy and the holiday period fell upon us, it was difficult to get a foursome consistently. Not to mention the colder weather was lurching in on us, and I was now faced with the latter part of my dilemma – where to play.

Finding Places to Play

Luckily, I remembered the pickleball instructor mentioning that there were Indoor Pickleball Courts with Open Play (free) times to play pickleball at the local community centers.

Pickleball open play is when anyone, regardless of skill level, can drop in to play pickleball without actually having to set up a game, reserve a court time in advance, or having to know anyone!

I contacted each of my local community centers – obtaining their schedules and…

Woo hoo!!!

There are times to play Mondays through Fridays, including some evening sessions.

Not sure who to call? Do a simple Google Search (“Where to play pickleball near me”) to find locations.

Going to Pickleball Open Play

So now that I had found places to play and didn’t need to have a partner, I had to actually go to one of the open play sessions – yikes!!!

As a beginner pickleball player, will I be accepted? Will the players be nice?

Like anything else new, the feelings I had going into an open play session (even for me as an outgoing person) were a bit daunting. Regardless, I had committed to myself that I would do it.

I grabbed my paddle and balls and hollered Charge! Even though I must admit, I was pretty nervous.

When I got there, I said, ” Hi, my name is Deborah, ” and that was it. Nothing else needed to be said. I was there to play – let’s go! I was paired with the next person to play.

Even as a beginner, I was welcomed with open arms.  No one made me feel like a beginner at all. Of course, a few more experienced players offered me some pointers – but in an encouraging way.

A bit to my surprise, it was a wonderful experience.

Who’s Turn Is It Next?

As more people came to play, I quickly learned how the next players were assigned to a court – the paddle rotation.

The Paddle Rotation is a line of pickleball paddles (often on the floor, table, or a rack).

There is a front and back to the line of paddles. As new players come, they put their paddles at the back of the line. As players finish playing a game, they also put their paddles at the back of the line. When a game is finished, the next group of paddles (2 or 4) from the front of the line are next up to play. Easy enough, right?

I played with three different people that day and left feeling pretty good.

Was I nervous playing? – Yes.

Did I make mistakes during play? – Yes, but no one beat me up about it.

Would I go back to open play? – Absolutely, Yes.

These days, I try to attend Pickleball Open Play once a week.

I come in, greet the pickleball players, find a line of paddles and add mine to the end of the line. Next, I chat with the waiting players until my paddle is next up to play. You got to love the social element that pickleball provides on and off the court. Bottom line, if you want to play, don’t let not having a partner or not knowing anyone, or even being shy stop you. Get to an open play. You won’t regret it.

Here is a link to find indoor and outdoor locations in your area (using your zip code) that have pickleball courts and offer pickleball play times: www.places2play.org.

Better yet, get a copy of CJ and Tony’s free beginner guide, which has more information (and a free video course) to help you get started on the right foot.

You will quickly be meeting new people, having fun, and playing more pickleball.

And if you see me during an open play session, please say hello!

CJ Johnson

Hey there — I’m a professional three-sport athlete and coach who has spent my entire adult life earning a living from playing and coaching sports. Since I started coaching more than three decades ago, one thing has remained the same: My commitment to see students not as they are but as what they can become and to move heaven and earth to help them realize their untapped potential. You should know that when it comes to helping pickleball players over 50 live their best lives on and off the courts, I'm an expert. Good pickleball is not just technique; it's the mind and body working holistically. That's why I'm also a personal trainer and weight management specialist. When I’m chillin', you'll find me watching Star Trek with my husband John and our two fur babies, Shirley and Ralph. (Yes, Happy Days)