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CJ Johnson
Tony Roig
Tony Roig

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!

Deborah Williams

Deborah Williams is recently retired IT Professional, who spent the majority of her career as a Contractor.  She quickly went from a shy person to a very outgoing person as a direct result of working with variety of clients across several different industries.

Retirement has offered her the opportunity to embrace activities that allow her to meet new people and to socialize. She has a special infinity for games including word games and bridge. One of her new favorite games pickleball checks all the boxes for her.


  1. Avatar photo Walid on February 12, 2023 at 7:20 am

    Terrific information, thank you very much

    • Avatar photo CJ Johnson on February 12, 2023 at 10:51 am

      We are glad to help

  2. Avatar photo Goulet on February 14, 2023 at 7:49 am

    Fantastic recap of your experience into the multi-universe of pickle ball. Going forward I’ll be looking at the courts differently and seeing the racks of paddles lined up thinking of your jump into that world.

  3. Avatar photo Jo on March 11, 2023 at 3:31 pm

    This is so encouraging! As a beginner, I’ve been a bit nervous about the open play and always attend
    the beginner play sessions. I’m going to do it! Happy pickling🙂

  4. Avatar photo Teresa Withers on July 11, 2023 at 3:51 pm

    Thanks for the input. I too am a beginner and very nervous about going to an open play. But I do love playing pickleball.

    • Avatar photo Deborah Williams on July 11, 2023 at 6:26 pm

      Just do it!!! Each time out will get better.

  5. Avatar photo Cindy on August 1, 2023 at 9:09 pm

    I was at courts which were divided into divisions, 2.0-2.5 (Beginner/ Novice), 3.0-3.5 (Confident Beginner), 3.5-3.85 (Intermediate) & 4.0+ (Advance). You could move to different courts as you gained confidence or found your level of play. They had racks to put your paddle in which were color coded in groups of four. When a court was available it was announced then you picked up your paddle if it was in the next group & played.
    Great system & people! Everyone so nice & friendly! This experience was in AZ in February where most players were from different states & Canada. We all mingled in with the local players & club members! So fun!

    • Avatar photo DEBORAH J. WILLIAMS on August 3, 2023 at 5:04 pm

      Glad it was and hopefully continues to be a great experience for you.

  6. Avatar photo A on August 3, 2023 at 11:58 am

    I’ve been discouraged at “beginner” open play. I understand the game and the rules, but I’m not very skilled. I’ve had someone get frustrated as my partner, placing their paddle strategically so they avoid playing with me again. I’ve also played against people who are at a far higher level than I would consider beginner.

    Advice for finding partners who are same level of beginner as you during these open plays? Or partners who don’t take it so seriously?

    • Avatar photo CJ Johnson on August 5, 2023 at 7:50 am

      I’m sorry to hear that. Sadly some players forget they were once beginners. Have you tried to reach out to the Ambassador in your area to see if they might be able to suggest different groups? If you aren’t sure how to reach out to them it’s in our free beginner guide. If you didn’t get the guide and video course you can sign up at betterpickleball.com/beginners

  7. Avatar photo Elaine St. John-Lagenaur on August 3, 2023 at 2:48 pm

    It’s better if “drop-in” arranges players by levels.

    They don’t do that where I play, and (some!) advanced players feel entitled to regale the less experienced players with unsolicited coaching, confusing criticisms, condescending attitudes. Makes it not very fun if you get stuck in one of these foursomes.

    • Avatar photo DEBORAH J. WILLIAMS on August 3, 2023 at 5:06 pm

      Maybe you can get a foursome of beginners and play outside or suggest a beginner court for open play. Where I play at my community center, we have a court for beginners.

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