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Introducing University of Michigan Pickleball Writer-Editor Elliot Rothstein

Competitive College Pickleball: Joining The Scene From A Player’s Perspective

TUNDRA Contributor: Elliot Rothstein
March 21 2024

Custom UMich-tape pickleball paddle – the approved vehicle, of sorts.

My experience as a pickleballer coming into college was minimal, but relative to the rest of those around me back in high school, it had been plenty. My high school had a pickleball club that I’d showed up for a couple times, but I hadn’t found much competition there, and instead played at pickup courts in the area, signed up for some smaller tournaments, and hit around with friends. I was a tennis player with close connections to some of the top high school tennis players in my hometown, and it was playing pickleball against them where I found my best competition. My pickleball singles game was fast and clearly tennis-grounded, though fairly practiced and refined, while I’d seldom played doubles and was naive to the major differences pickleball doubles would present when migrating over from tennis doubles.

Arriving at the University of Michigan, I sought out groups to play with and opportunities to get involved, pretty quickly running into the UMich Pickleball Club. Apparently tons of incoming students were interested, and I was thrown into Snapchat group chats with over a hundred prospective players in them. Information about tryout times, club requirements, and skill expectations were released, and before I knew it I was carpooling with the three other freshmen students over to the nearby park for a 20-minute tryout (tryout intervals had to be quick to satisfy the amount of kids who wanted to try out). On the way over I learned that two of them had also been high school tennis players, and one had been playing pickleball consistently for six to eight months, so while I largely had no idea what to expect from the tryout, I at least was confident the competition would be close and exciting.

Indoor pickleball warehouse of Wolverine Pickleball (who have since upgraded to a much nicer facility)

A Freshman’s Unfilted Opinion – So Refreshing!

The tryout was boring and very unexciting. The two tennis players struggled to deal with the transition to pickleball, and the other pickleballer simply wasn’t all that good. I was quickly added to the “competitive team” of the club, which I only realized after the fact that that had been what I’d been trying out for–those who got cut still were allowed on the “open play” sector of the club. Over the two full days of tryouts, myself and only two others landed spots on the competitive team.       

I showed up to my first practice about a week after tryouts and quickly caught on to the state of the club. I’d only had a previous notion of what a more solidly established sport’s club team looked like, so some things appeared unconventional, but these unique attributes weren’t necessarily unwelcome. For one, graduate students were accepted to the competitive team and were eligible for inter-collegiate competition–since pickleball isn’t regulated under the NCAA, anyone at the school was fair game. Practices were held at a facility a 20-minute drive off-campus, and we’d play from 9pm to 11pm, after the facility had closed to members, thus allowing us free roam over the courts without obstructing the pickleball facility’s business. While these elements may seem the marks of a collegiate sport still in development, other parts resembled a fully fleshed out collegiate sport. There was a coach, talk of selecting a sponsor from a couple brands who had reached out, and four hours weekly of scheduled, unilateral court access.        

To me, a freshman and newcomer to the campus and the club, these elements all came as exciting but meaningless. I didn't care how old my teammates were, when or where practices would be held, or whether or not I’d receive personalized, professional feedback on my play. I signed up looking to have fun playing competitive pickleball and make some friends along the way, and by those measures, the club is definitely NOT in its development stages.



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