This post is not really about pickleball. It's about a mental pattern that people have, and I'll use pickleball merely as an example. Thanks for following along.

One of the things I see often online is tennis players trashing pickleball as “tennis lite” or “a way for old people to feel athletic” (hello ageism) or whatever. There's one Facebook group where every post attracts dozens of “your sport sucks” kinds of comments. The question is: why? Perhaps even more illuminating is the question of why these same tennis players don't say the same things about ping pong, which involves an even smaller playing area. Why does pickleball get “not athletic” comments but ping pong doesn't?

Part of the answer is that tennis and pickleball compete for public space. This battle is raging in cities and towns all across the country as we speak. Ping pong was already relegated to private facilities, like squash and raquetball and badminton, and that seems unlikely to change, so there's no such conflict. But I don't think that’s the whole answer. I think the real answer is that tennis players are afraid pickleball will displace the sport they’ve spent years mastering, while there’s no such threat from these other sports. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but it’s not a totally crazy belief. The kind of player who has spent years honing their tennis skills so they can beat up near-beginners is unlikely to be happy about a sport where they would be the newbie. They’d have to learn new skills, and they hate that idea. They’d rather try to hold back the tide, discourage people from starting with or converting to That Other Sport, than have to raise their own game.

OK, enough about pickleball. My point is that this same “rather hate than learn” attitude appears in other areas as well. I saw it over and over again in my tech career. New languages, new frameworks, new tools were routinely dismissed as wastes of time – not because they actually were, but because the critics had a lot invested in other languages and frameworks and tools. The grognards of the title – both the original soldiers and the modern gamers – are/were driven by the same impulse. Writ larger, this attitude is behind many people’s hatred of modern education (especially accurate history) or urban design. It might even explain part of their hatred of modern gender/sexual identities, though there are surely other factors at play there. New ideas, new terminology, new skills … “no thanks” say the grognards. They’d rather burn everything down than update themselves.

This is kind of like the sunk cost fallacy, except that it’s not a fallacy. The switching costs are very real. These people really would lose some of their status in whatever activity is involved. In a twist on the well known aphorism, those who are experts in one thing see learning another as an imposition. No matter how necessary or ultimately rewarding a change is, they’d rather stay in the swamp than venture out.