Authored by: Gritty
Goodness gracious. I forget how much people care about paddle tapping until paddle tapping becomes the topic du jour. Thanks to Riley Newman on Wednesday evening, paddle tapping was a hot topic on social media, especially on the infamous Pickleball Forum, following Newman’s announcement that he will no longer be tapping paddles in between games and only the end of a match. My initial reaction, as it usually is for these types of things, was who cares? However, I quickly remembered that a lot of people do care about things like this.
My response to the topic continues to be who cares, but it gets me thinking about why others care so much about the topic. On the one hand, you have people like Riley Newman and Lea Jansen, who was actually the first pro player earlier this year to pioneer (lol?) the idea that we shouldn’t be paddle tapping between games, who feel like paddle tapping between games is silly for a professional sport. Then there is the other side, who say that we should be embracing this unique aspect of pickleball as a sign of respect and admiration for your opponent.
For those that think it is silly, what difference does it make whether you paddle tap or not at the end of each game? For those that think it would be good for it to remain in pro pickleball, what difference does it make?
It doesn’t make a player any less of a competitor or change the way the sport is perceived from outside spectators. I have never heard or seen one person watching pro pickleball say “wow, this sport is really stupid because those people tapped paddles when the match wasn’t finished.” On the flip side, it shouldn’t make someone more or less of a sporting individual simply because they follow the established tradition of tapping paddles at the end of the game.
In society, we care too much about gestures and social norms. Of course, we need social norms to operate in a society or else there’s no understanding of what is right and what is wrong, but pleasantries carry too much weight one way or the other. We often read too much into how a person may shake our hand or when a person does or does not follow ‘X’ social norm in a certain situation.
My view on most of these things is that we should be concerned with a person’s actions on the whole rather than whether a person follows established norms. It has been seen as a sign of disrespect when a player does not tap paddles at the end of a game, but if a person makes 4 bad line calls on you and taps paddles after the game, is that good sportsmanship? Why should an individual tap paddles with a player who has not shown them the respect they deserve over the course of a match simply because that is what everyone does? In my view, if everyone is tapping paddles after each game because they have to, it does not signify anything, positive or negative.
While I ultimately fall into the camp that paddle tapping is a silly thing to do because it is meaningless, it’s also my take that we shouldn’t care so much either way. It’s a gesture. Nothing more, nothing less.
Something that bothers me almost as much as anything out there is fake social niceness. I’m sure there will be quite a bit of pushback to this, but paddle tapping is the embodiment of fake social pleasantries because it is inherently meaningless. Although we may respect our opponent, we are not tapping their paddle after the game because we respect them or to show this respect. We do it because we have to. Conversely, if I treat you like garbage on the court by making bad line calls or knowingly use an illegal paddle, my behavior should not be absolved simply because I tapped your paddle at the end of the game. That’s why we shouldn’t care about this topic. I expect paddle tapping will fall by the wayside as more players realize they don’t have to do it. They know it is meaningless, which is why there is a pushback to it.
Do it. Don’t do it. It doesn’t really matter to me. I’m judging the character of someone based on all of their actions, whether or not they partake in an established pickleball norm.
SLIM’S EDITOR NOTE: What Gritty fails to mention here is that he might be the original ‘no paddle tap guy’. Way back in 2018, when our pickleball journey was just starting, Gritty refused to tap an opponents paddle in a local mixed match after game one because of what Gritty perceived as some poor sportsmanship from one of the opponents. Unbelievably, his opponent then insisted to the tournament director that Gritty should be forfeited for refusing to tap paddles. Gritty, being as stubborn as he is, with his no paddle tap, caused a 15-20 minute delay with much drama, as the tournament director had to be called in to sort out the mess. In the end, Gritty won the match in two games. Gritty can’t recall if there was a paddle tap at the end of the match. Gritty had no idea at the time how important the paddle tap was to some people.
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