Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Schedule of Court Availability at Rincon Country West Pickleball Club

Here is the latest schedule for pickleball play at Rincon West for winter 2014-2015, as of January 8, 2015.

As this is our first year as a club, we have made major adjustments as we get experience.  We think there will be more little tweaks, and not major changes.

Please note that we have tried to explain the elements of the schedule, but if you wish more detail, we will be providing it as we move forward.

We call play for everybody (everyone in the pool) Drop In.  The first 2 hours on all courts and from 10:30 -12:30 on 4 of the courts will be used for that if necessary.

For those wishing to participate in Rated Play (play against players of your own skill level), we have assigned 4 courts from 10:30-12:30,, for that purpose.  Rated play will consist of  Round Robins, Shootout, and Challenge Play.  Details will be forthcoming.

The schedule is also being posted at the courts and within the Rincon West Complex.  As well, it will be sent as a printable PDF file to all those on our various email lists.

You may not be able to read the schedule below.  It is a picture file and if you click on it it will appear in larger form on your computer or other device.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Shootout at the Rincon Corral

Well, this year we step towards the big leagues, as we run our first tournament for pickleballers around the state of Arizona (and beyond if they choose to come).

Now that we have 8 courts available, and can provide 4 temporary courts, we will be able to run a 12 court tournament.

If you are interested in signing up with a partner for the tournament come join in the fun.  Here is the link to the tournament web page and registration.

This is an opportunity for our pickleballers to join in the tournament fun near home.  Having experienced several tournaments the fun is not in winning, though that it nice.  The fun is in meeting other players, testing your skills against them, and enjoying a few days in the sunshine watching and participating with other like minded individuals.

We hope that you will participate, and that you will also volunteer to help out with this endeavor.

But, here is most of the information located on the tournament web page for your review as well.

This is the first year for the Rincon Country West (RCW) Pickleball Club “Shootout at the Rincon Corral”. 
The timing of this tournament is intentional as it immediately precedes the Green Valley, Palm Creek and Robson Ranch tournaments in March.  Think of it as a tune up tournament. 
Events will be for skill levels 3.0 - 4.0 ONLY  in Men's Doubles, Women's Doubles and Mixed Doubles. 
Also note that those who sign up to be members of the RCW Pickleball Club either temporarily or for the season will be able to participate in skill level Round Robins throughout the month of February, 2015.  See the Other Registration Information tab under Pre-tournament Round Robins for details. 
We are commencing the tournament with coaching clinics the day before the tournament begins.  See the Other Registration Information tab under Pickleball Clinics for details. 
For those RVers wishing to come to Rincon earlier or stay later, see the notes in Accommodation re the special RCW is holding for tournament participants, including free membership to the RCW Pickleball Club. 
All events are doubles, and each doubles partner must complete their own on line registration, sign the online waiver and pay their fees through PayPal.  Entry order and placement on event limit list will be determined by the online registration date of the LATTER partner of the team to register. 
Registration is not complete until online waiver signature is completed and fee payment is received. 
If you want to add or change an event or your partner after you have submitted your initial registration, update your registration online, including any increase in payment.  If you are due a refund, we will process it and return it to your PayPal account or the credit card that was originally charged. 
Events begin at 8:00am, check-in opens at 7:00am.  Check-in at least 30 minutes prior to start time each day. If you are playing on two days, you must check in each day.
Staggered start times, if used, will be sent out, via email only, the week of the tournament. 
Rain delay makeup date – Saturday, February 28. 
Competition Events 
Mens Doubles Skill (3.0 or greater skill levels only): Wed 02/25/15 (by skill level)
Mixed Doubles Skill Groups (3.0 or greater skill levels only): Thu 02/26/15 (by skill level)
Womens Doubles Skill Groups (3.0 or greater skill levels only): Fri 02/27/15 (by skill level)

Registration Information 
Player's age as of: 12/31/15
Minimum Age of Player: 50
Registration Starts: 12/01/14
Final Registration Deadline (Received by): 02/10/15 
Other Registration Information 
Membership - 1 Month Pickleball Club Membership($10), 1 Week Pickleball Club Membership($5), Full Season Pickleball Club Membership($20) 
Pre Tournament Clinic (Advanced Clinic 2 pm Feb 24($10), Both Clinics($20), Novice Clinic 10 am Feb. 24($10)) 
Club Membership
Rincon Country West Pickleball Club is a membership club. Registrants for the tournament are not required to be members to play in the tournament. 
However, you may wish to practice at our facility prior to the tournament and so may wish to avail yourself of the 1 week membership for $5.00 or a 1 month membership for $10.00. The 1 week membership entitles you to play at any time club facilities are available for a 1 week period prior to the tournament or with the 1 month membership for a 1 month period that may include time prior to and after the tournament. 
You may also join the club for the remainder of the club fiscal year ending on April 30, 2015 for $20.00. 
You may select membership events when registering for the tournament or may update your registration at a later date. You do not need to select the membership event here if you will be staying at Rincon Country West RV Resort (RCW).  
See the Lodging and Accommodation section for details of the special pricing at RCW, inclusive of Club Membership. 
Pre-Tournament Round Robins 
All teams that have chosen to be members of the Rincon Country West Pickleball Club in the month leading up to the tournament will be able to participate in Round Robin mini tournaments at RCW weekly prior to the tournament. Schedules will be announced for weekly Round Robins in all skill groups and pairings.  
This will allow players who wish to get competition in the run up to the tournament and in preparation for the March tournaments at their skill level to play with and against those they will meet in the tournament. 
Pickleball Clinics
We will be holding two clinics on February 24, 2015 the day before the commencement of the tournament. 
Gigi LeMaster and Dee Davison, two accomplished pickleball players from Surprise, Arizona will be conducting a clinic for Novice and Beginner Players at 10 am, and a clinic for Intermediate/Advance players at 2 pm. Gigi is a multiple USAPA National & Tournament of Champion medalist and pickleball coach. Dee has medaled in many tournaments, coached and developed a strong player development program at Sun City Festival.  
Together they will provide a dynamic clinic. 
The Novice Clinic, which will be a demonstration clinic, will focus on the following areas of play: Importance of good footwork, proper mechanics for a dink, drop shot, serve & return of serve and discussion on player court responsibility. 
The Intermediate/Advanced Clinic will focus on: Review proper mechanics and purpose of basic shots, provide two-person drills for player development and discuss intermediate strategy. 
Gigi and Dee will be providing private lessons for individuals and pairs as time permits, and you will be advised of the opportunity and invited to sign up for private lessons as details are firmed up. 
Rules/Format of Play 
Please note that we will be playing Round Robin format, rather than double elimination. Each team will be guaranteed at least 3 matches, though most will be guaranteed more.
See notes in Other Registration Information re Pre-tournament Round Robins. 
Matches in the first Round Robin play will be 1 game to 15, win by 2. All elimination Round Robins after that or other elimination games will be played 1 to 15, win by 2. Medal matches will be 2 of 3 to 11, win by 2. 
Each skill bracket will be broken into pools and teams will play each other team in their pool. It is our intention to have pools of 4 teams, though we may have to accommodate different numbers depending on registrations. 
We hope not to have to limit registration, and will attempt to include all who sign up. 
We intend that all teams will advance after the first pool rounds to either an elimination second pool round based on placement in the first pool for brackets. After completion of the second round, some will advance to medals based on size of bracket and number of pools. The rules for advancement differ slightly depending on how many pools there are in each bracket. 
For example, where we have 16 teams, they will play in 4 pools in the first set of Round Robins, (Pools 1-4). The winners of each pool will then play in a new pool (Pool 5), and the 2nd through 4thplace teams will be split into 3 additional pools (Pools 6-8). After the second set of Round Robins the 1st and 2nd place teams in Pool 5 will advance to medals. The winners of Pools 6-8 will play to get a winner that will play against the 2nd place finisher in Pool 5 for Bronze with the winner playing the 1st place finisher in Pool 5 for Gold and Silver. 
There is no quiz to see if you got it right. That will be our job. 
Suffice to say that in this example, each team is guaranteed 6 matches during the day.
Final details on format will be released after Registration is closed, so you can know the rules for your particular bracket. 
Additional Note – If we have enough 70+ teams registered (where both members of the team are 70 or older) we may be able to separate the 50-70 age group from the 70+ and consider them separate events. This will be done based on registrations and all registrants will be advised of such changes. 
Please see Other Registration Information for Club Membership and for the Beginner/Novice and Intermediate/Advanced Clinic and private lessons offered.

Michael Brandon
Rincon Country West Pickleball Club

Tournament Director
2015 Shootout at the Rincon Corral

Friday, November 21, 2014

Pickleball Paddles Available at Rincon

The store here at Rincon Country West RV Resort has a limited selection of pickleball paddles for sale, from Peter Singleton Paddles, now that it has opened for business for the winter season.  There are 4 different models available and pictured below are three of them.

The Singleton paddles are made in London, Ontario by Peter Singleton, who with his wife Susan has stayed here at Rincon, and all models have been approved for use in tournaments by the USAPA.  

A feature of all Singleton paddles is that they are edgeless, as the moulded edge is built into the paddle, and does not overlap the face of the paddle as many of the competitive paddles do.  This means that the face size of the paddle is all usable, giving more hitting area.  As well, all are made of carbon/graphite and have proven to be durable under regular use.

There is the T-Bolt that I personally use which is designed to be fast and maneuverable, due to its smaller size but has a large sweet spot in the center.

There is also a Big Boy which is the classic paddle shape and maximum size for competition.

Another model is the Lightning, which is longer than most paddles to get at those shots that are just out of reach.  The leverage point of this paddle also adds power to shots.

The newest model, not pictured above is the Spitfire, which Peter named in honor of my father who flew Spitfires in WWII.  It is a great paddle with characteristics of the T-Bolt in a new, clean shape.

All are for sale in the store here for $79.95.  This compares to paddles on sale at Sports Authority on Irvington, where prices range from $89.99 to $109.99.  

These paddles are the same models as we have available for demonstration purposes, and for new players at the courts.  If you are in the market for a new or a first paddle, and wish to try before buying see one of us at the courts and borrow one for a morning.

Shootout At the Rincon Corral - Results

On Wednesday November 19 we had an invitational shootout for 3.5 level players here at Rincon Country West Pickleball Club.  There were in our midst a couple of 4.0s and 3.0s as well.

My wife Tina and I hosted the event, with Tina cooking brats on the grille, assisted ably by Mike Wood, the club Treasurer.

Players here at Rincon who were not involved in the play were invited to come and watch and also to come for brats and beer afterwards.  A few made it.

Last year I invited a few players to come over to Rincon for play, and those who participated enjoyed it.  So, this year I wanted to try something different to see what it took, and if it was repeatable.  The net result is that it is repeatable, and therefor I am hoping that with the board we will find ways to make these events happen with some regularity during the 2015 winter season at various levels of play, primarily 3.0 and 3.5.

Personally, Tina and I liked the opportunity to have some food and beer with the group.  The challenge with that is that it is hard to estimate when the play will end, and it is a bit costly.  In future, it might be easier to manage if we just provide water at the courts, and have a few suds or other beverages after.

Anyway, on this day we ended up with 20 players divided into 4 pools of 5 each.  For players that I knew, I tried to seed them according to their skills as I remembered them from tournament play last year.  I also tried to make it so that each pool was comprised of people from different locations to let players play with folks they did not play against every day.

We played with each other player in our pool as our partner, requiring 5 games in total with a bye for 1 player in each game.  All games in the first pool round and the subsequent round were played first to 11 points.

Players got credit for the points that their team scored in each game, and we then totaled each player's scores to determine pool winners.

We then had a second round where the #1 players in each pool played together, the #2's, #3's and #4"s as well.  Again, each player played with each other player as his/her partner, and this required 3 games to complete.

Here are the pools of players:

Name Club Pool
Gale Evans SPC 1
Bert Coates RCW 1
Bob Crawford TRFC 1
Priscilla Scott Voyager 1
Lee Elmore Tucson 1
Michael Brandon RCW 2
Michael Botwin TRFC 2
Bob Lutz Tucson 2
Paul Barksdale Voyager 2
Ken Beutel TRFC 2
Mike Clemens Green Valley 3
Gerry Eubanks RCW 3
Cindy Lutz Tucson 3
Bill Scott Voyager 3
Ken Zacharias RCW 3
Penny Cobb RCW 4
Jerry King TRFC 4
Bill Stickney SPC 4
Eitan Weisner TRFC 4
Dave Bobanick Voyager 4

Those players who ended up playing in the #1's pool were Bob Crawford from Pool 1, Bob Lutz from Pool 2, Mike Clemens from Pool 3, and Eitan Weisner from Pool 4.

Mike Clemens prevailed by one point over Eitan Weisner to be our overall winner.

We had our beer and brats by poolside under the lanai there, with Tina and Mike Wood on the grille. The brats were perfect, the beer was cold and the potato chips were crunchy.  I had had a request for sauerkraut and discovered that sauerkraut on brats is a tasty treat.  We have enough brats and sauerkraut left over for me to get sick of it.

Dale Haven Cox, the Activities Director here at Rincon joined us after play and shared a few minutes about the 137 activities that we have here at Rincon.

One of my hopes was to introduce out of park players to our new facilities, and invite them to become winter non resident members of our club.  For us to grow our club we need to do two things and do them well.  We must continue to address the needs of our purely recreational players, while providing opportunity for those who wish to become more competitive to grow their games.

We will recognize the rec players with dedicated court times for Open fun play, and the opportunity to attend coaching sessions regularly through the winter.  Bert Coates is gathering the coaching aids that he will be using for those sessions beginning in January.

We will recognize the needs of those who wish to play a more competitive style with events like this, and by adding competitive non resident members, while we also build our internal membership.

We will also be holding regular skills workshops beginning in January for practice times with particular drills and games meant to improve the skill set of those who wish it.  These sessions will be open to recreation and competitive players.

So, for my money our Shootout the other say was a success, and I hope that all who attended enjoyed it as much as I did.

If you have any thoughts or questions, please feel free to contact me directly.

Michael Brandon
Rincon Country West Pickleball Club

Monday, November 17, 2014

New Start Time for Rest of November and December

With winter setting in here in Arizona, which is not like winter in any other place in North America, we will be moving the start time for Open Play from 8 am to 9 am for the rest of November and for the month of December.

Apparently tomorrow morning is supposed to be quite chilly.

So, due to our diminished numbers we are officially playing at 9 am on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

I confess that it has been a bit nippy at 8 am lately.

But, for those of you reading this who are snowed in, it's not that bad here.

Shootout at the Rincon Corral

On Wednesday November 19, at 12:30 Tina and I will be hosting a shootout involving about 20 3.5-4.0 rated players here on the new courts at Rincon Country West.  We will also have about 8 referees from Tucson Racquet and Fitness Club (TRFC) who were trained recently, and need to get some game experience prior to the upcoming Tucson Senior Games in January being held at TRFC.

This will be a shootout style of mini tournament.  A shootout involves all players assigned to a court playing with each other player on that court as their partner in one game.  So, if there are 5 to a court, there will be 4 games necessary so that each player plays with each other player, and in this case also gets to sit out one game.  After the first round of shootout, the winners of each court will have a court and have their own shootout, to see who is the king/queen of the hill, at least for Wednesday.

Depending on who is up for it, we might have additional shootout rounds for the second place finishers and third and fourth from each court.

After the games, we will be moving up by the pool to have barbecued brats with chips, and beer, and wine to drink.

Tina and I are hosting this and it will be at our cost, with no expenses absorbed by the Club.

I hope that nobody is offended by who I have invited, so I am writing to explain my purpose, and to invite those who are here to come and watch, and have some beer and brats afterwards.

I have chosen to do this event because I am hoping that what we learn from it will allow us to provide similar opportunities for the different levels of play here at our club to have similar interactions with members of other clubs over the winter.  Trying to get players from different clubs to see if it fits their schedule was a bit more work than I anticipated, and I am hoping that it will get easier.  As I have contacts in various clubs I plan to use these to arrange other events.

Most of the players I have invited are signed up to play at the 3.5 to 4.0 levels at the Tucson Senior Games.  It was the group I was most familiar with personally, and so the one I have had the most contact with in the last year.  I have also invited other 3.5 players I know and some of the best players that are currently here at Rincon.  I added the Rincon players after I knew how many from the outside would be coming, and so had to keep the numbers low, so we could play it out in a 2 hour span.

If we do this in future, which I hope we can, then we will give more and better opportunities for participation of all club members by having various calibers of play on different occasions.

Please let me know either at the courts on Tuesday or by email if you wish to come for BBQ, and maybe to watch some of the games.


Monday, November 10, 2014

The Most Important Shot in Pickleball

The most important shot in pickleball is the serve.  If your serve does not go in you lose it, and an opportunity to score a point.  It does not matter how good your third shot drop is if you don't get to play it, and it doesn't matter how well you perform at the non volley line if you don't get to go there.

Recently, I was working with one of our players on his serve.  The problems he was having were really pretty straight forward, and easily corrected.  It is so easy to get into habits that don't work, and often we do not see them ourselves so it may be good to have someone else helping you to figure out why things don't work for you.

In the video below Deb Harrison from The Villages in Florida goes through the steps to having a good serve.  What she says is so simple and logical that you, like me might wonder why we have not made it as easy as she describes and demonstrates it.

I have worked hard over the last year to make every serve land in the proper court.  When I miss one, there is almost always a simple reason why, and that is a loss of concentration.  She covers that, though the second video below from Bob Youngren gives a similar idea.

Here are her rules:
1) Get the ball in.
2) Bowl your serve.  She calls it a simple bowling motion, and she is right. the paddle face should be facing in the direction that the ball is going to go.  Some people turn their paddle to where they want the ball to go just before they hit it.  She says correctly to avoid doing that.
3) Develop a Pre-Serve routine.  She describes hers.  Bob Youngren in the second video describes his.  Get one of your own if you need to, or use one of theirs.
4) Choose your target.  You have to be pointing yourself towards the target to hit it basically.
5) Put your hand over the top of the ball.  This was news to me, and good news.  I have always had my hand to the side of the ball.  So, every now and again, I hit my hand and knock the ball out, which is a very classy move that makes me look like an idiot, as if I need help.
6) Take your paddle hand back smoothly and then strike the ball following through towards the target.  If your arm moves like a pendulum and your body is reasonably stable, then the motion is smooth and you follow through towards the target.  As she points out your legs are involved to provide momentum to the ball, and she invites you to observe how your body moves smoothly through the serve, unless of course, it doesn't and then you need to look at the video again, or get some help.

Deb Harrison is one of the best coaches in the country, and certainly produces excellent coaching videos that explain her points very well.

Notice how she demonstrated her serve, how compact it is, how smooth it is, and how consistent it is. Yours does not have to look exactly like hers, but it should have the same characteristics.

The most important point she makes in the video is in the last minute and 1/2.  It is about where you are when you serve the ball, and provides a very DUH moment.  The server should serve from a position in the serving area that gives the opponent returning the serve the least opportunity to return a serve to the server's backhand.  If the server serves with his/her backhand side a short distance from either the center line or the outside line, then the return person has almost only the server's forehand to return to.

Anyway, watch her video and Bob Youngren's below as well, then go our and practice your serves.

Here is Deb's video 

Here is Bob Youngren's video about the 2 Second Rule.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Short Game - Playing Against Heavy Hitters

Recently, Deb Harrison, an accomplished 5.0 Pickleball Player and medalist from The Villages in Florida started producing short instructional videos on various aspects of the game.  In a few minutes she is able to present and dissect fundamental pieces of the game of pickleball.

Though I referenced the first two of this series of 4 videos about dealing with Heavy Hitters, I have reprized those two and added the other two that are relevant to the topic of how to play against bangers.

If in your browser on your device you can see the picture and video link, then click on it.  If, like me you use an iPad as your primary web browser, then click on the title of each video below which provides a link to the video.

Ready Position at the Non Volley Line

Deb Harrison takes us through a progression that starts with being ready at the Non Volley Line. Here is what I said about this instruction video:
In "Ready Position at the Non Volley Zone", Deb shows you how to position your body to play against bangers.  She invites you to form a wall against bangers, not a fox hole.  She advises players to be square to and at the non volley line, and stay put.  She describes paddle position, body positioning, and paddle grip.  The emphasis is on meeting the ball straight on, not twisted away from it.  In this video her focus is on squaring up the paddle to the line as well.
A very important point she makes is that since 80% of all hard hit balls will come towards your body, that the paddle should be above the wrist and elbow for better control.  When she demonstrates the return against bangers, you will notice that she hits most of the shots with the paddle face slightly open, but blocking not pushing the shot. (The push comes later in the next video). 
You will probably also notice that there is no forward movement of the paddle during her return. Her hands are soft in holding the paddle, so a hard shot coming against her paddle meets only enough resistance to redirect it to where she wants it to go, but with the zip taken off it. 
Unsaid, but easily understood is that the person banging the ball at you is using a lot more energy to attack you than you are using to defend, which becomes more important in a tournament as the day wears on.  When the bangers flag towards the end of the tournament, Deb and those who use her approach are more likely to remain fresh as daisies, at least relatively.
When executing this shot, you have a measure of control over where it will end up, and this comes with practice.

Your paddle angle determines the direction the ball will take, and the softness of your hands will determine how much of the velocity of the ball coming to you remains on your return. A ball coming to your paddle at 30 miles per hour will not leave your paddle at that speed if you just meet the ball with no velocity behind your stroke, and grip.  The paddle absorbs the velocity of the original shot, and the softness of your hands determines how much velocity remains. 

In the second video Deb moves forward with the progression of defending against hard hitters.  
... Deb demonstrates the punch block defense against bangers. In the first half of the video, she builds on the previous video which focused on balls at the body to show how to take high and low balls in a similar manner with important variation.  Low balls cannot be met with a square paddle face, nor can high balls.  Low balls need to come up and high balls need to come down, so paddle position becomes important once again.  For low balls, the paddle face needs to be more open, and for high ones the paddle face needs to be more closed. 
One of the most important things she demonstrated, which is particularly obvious in the slow-mo part of the video is that her eyes are on the ball as it meets the paddle.  This is very important, and if you remember nothing else from the video, this point alone is gold to improving your pickleball skill set, if it is not already part of your game. 
She then progresses to the main focus of the video, the Punch Block defence.  To the previous shots, she adds a slight punch of a maximum of 3-4".  She stresses that it is important for now to not take a swing at the ball, but to punch it only.  Punching it adds some velocity to your return, but not by sacrificing probability of success.  
The punch block is a selective shot.  Like any shot in your arsenal, it should be used strategically. If someone is banging hard at you from the back line, then the soft hand square paddle block takes velocity off the ball, forcing the banger to come to the net hard where you are already positioned. But, if someone is banging at you from mid court, then a punch block makes more sense.  The punch block takes the heat off the ball, but puts it back at your opponents feet.  The idea in both cases is to make it harder for a banger to keep banging and to force them to come to you on your terms.
One of the most important aspects of the Punch Block (push the paddle 3-4") or the Freeze Block (hold the paddle in place and let the ball come to it) comes from her description of the wall.

When playing against heavy hitters the tendency is to get out of the way, and take a half hearted swing at the ball.  Deb has shown us to make a wall of our body and paddle to defend, not cower. The first sense we have of a wall is a straight structure from top to bottom, but she adds a very important wrinkle to our wall.  Her wall is actually concave, if not in initial presentation, then at least in excecution.

A real problem that many of us have is getting the ball down at our opponent's feet, and up over rather than into the net.

So, think of your wall as concave.  It angles down at the top, and up at the bottom.  So, if in fact it were an actual wall, and not a moving wall of your body and paddle, a ball hitting near the top of your concave wall would be directed down and a ball hitting at the bottom of your concave wall would be directed up.

How many times have you had your paddle extended up to block a shot and had your return go long. With this happening to me lately I have taken to looking at my paddle position immediately after the shot, and to no surprise every time my paddle face is flat and not turned down a few degrees.   Mystery of the long shot solved.  Now, if I can only put that into practice.

So, use your paddle to form the bottom or top of your wall. Angle it up at the bottom, and down at the top.

OK. So, being able to receive the shot of heavy hitters at the non volley line is one thing, and adding a little velocity to it with a punch block is another, but returning velocity with velocity is another matter all together.

But, essentially the rules for a volley return are largely similar to the block shots above.  You still want your feet positioned properly and want to meet the ball in front of you (against your wall).

But, what changes is the follow through.  Unspoken but obvious if you watch Deb's video is that your eye must be on the ball at the point of contact.  In fact, it should be tracking the ball to your paddle, and then should remain focused on the point of contact beyond the actual contact with the ball.

Part of being able to impart velocity to a shot and have it go where you want it to go is keeping your upper body quiet.  In that you are positioned at the non volley zone and prepared for a shot to come your way, your lower body is already in a state of preparedness.  But, quiet in the upper body means that your head is locked on the point of contact, so that all body motion is rotation at the shoulders. One objective is consistency.  If you keep your stroke consistent, including your body motions then the outcomes are more predictable and controllable.

Pickleball: Smackdown Your Opponents Mistakes

The 4th video in the series of playing against heavy hitters is actually about dealing with opponents mistakes.  I have left it in with the playing heavy hitters videos because heavy hitters are often enamored of their power shots and do not notice their mistakes.  But you should be noticing them and taking advantage of them.

Though the Smackdown deals largely with balls that come at you that are higher than they should be, which are obvious.  But, also balls that come over the net even a few inches too high are candidates for a good old fashioned smack down. or sort of up before smacking down.

Anyway, the key remains where your paddle is facing at point of contact.  Remembering the wall that you have created, high shots come to the top of the wall, and should be met with a paddle face slightly turned down.

You will notice that Deb is meeting these shots out in front as usual, and that the action she puts on the ball comes from her wrists.  Her shoulders remain steady, and her wrists do the work.  At contact she snaps her wrists.  This brings the ball down as it crosses the net and if played properly should put it at your opponents feet giving you an advantage on the play.

Though she does not demonstrated it beyond a brief explanation a shot that comes to you that is low, but still high enough to do something with is handled much the same.  The paddle angle is consistent with where on the slightly concave wall you receive the ball, and again the wrist is snapped.  The wrist snap is intended to impart top spin on this ball so that it comes over the net and then makes its way to the ground at the feet of your opponent.

The overhead Smackdown is easier to grasp and execute, but the ball that comes at you lower and then is returned to a tough place for your opponent is worth the effort and practice it takes to get it working for you.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

November 2014 Schedule and First Official Play Date on the New Courts

14 people showed up for play on November 1 at 8 am or so.  It was a flexible 8 am.

We had three out of park guests, Paul and Amelia Guesthouse, who winter in Green Valley (at least until their rent expires there, and they can come stay with us), and our good friend Penny Cobb who left the park last Spring.

We also had at least one player new to the game.

We had some good games.  Everybody got to play.  We had some fun, some laughs, no injuries, and used up many of those white balls that have been hanging around for the last few years.  Since Penny Cobb came over, I told her we were using them just to honor her.  I suspect that they are getting near their expiry date, so we can move on to the good orange balls that we still have, with more on order.

Of course, the courts are open at any time, but we will be having Open play for all skill levels on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday this coming week at 8 am.

We are welcoming guests at this time, at no charge.  If you or anyone reading this is in the Tucson area and wants to come over to Rincon Country West and play some games, we can arrange for times other than those above.

If you wish to come to Rincon to play, please contact me at the email or phone number below and I will explain to you how to get into the park.

I have left a number of my business cards in the Activity Office, which is open from Monday to Friday in the morning and the afternoon.

Please feel free to contact me here at Rincon Country West.

Michael A Brandon

Rincon Country West Pickleball Club

Phone 520-741-2187


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

New Co_rts are Ready For Play

This morning, 3 of us showed up to play the first games on our new co_rts.  They are excellent.  The nets are the top quality ones, and as we found out are not as forgiving as the ones we were used to here.  We were even able to do some skills practice.

But, something was missing. "U".

If any of "U" are at Rincon, we will play again on Saturday morning, November 1 at 8 am, and then set up a temporary schedule of play for November.

Once we have an idea of when we will be playing I will publish it here and have the office link to it on the Rincon Country West Facebook page.

Those who are here, welcome back.  Those who aren't; we miss you.

C'mon Back!!

Michael Brandon
Rincon Country West Pickleball Club

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

How to Slow Down Bangers

I started writing articles for the Rincon Country West Pickleball Club in Tucson AZ, to try and improve the quality of play here, and to encourage players at the London Pickleball Club in London Ontario where we spend much of our year, to improve their game as well.

My biggest single objective was to help myself and others to transition from a more tactical hard hitting (banging) style of play to a more strategic, measured approach depending more on a touch game at the net.

It appears that what I have written has been supportive of the mental move that many players I know wanted to make away from squirrel in traffic pickleball to slow and steady wins the race.

But, the problem has always been the tennis players, particularly the good ones who have practical power on their side, and won't move away from a power game until they have to.  Why should they? In truth, the hard hitting game for them is far more measured and intentional than it is for those of us who came from other racquet sport disciplines, so we play squirrel in traffic to their measured play.

Since returning to Canada, I have had very little interaction with the local club, except electronically, and for a small group that have joined me for practice sessions regularly, with some games thrown in. I was not trying to avoid playing with others, but amazingly life here in Canada for my wife and I is far busier than in our winter home in Tucson, and so I have far less time for pickleball here than down south. Cataract surgeries for me, and a knee replacement for her got in the way also.  So, I chose to use my pickleball time to achieve an objective of improving my game, rather than just playing games.

But, last Saturday I was at our local outdoor courts and had the opportunity to play with the club's best player, a former tennis player, John Blackwell, who has regularly beaten us mere mortals with smart positional play, court savvy, and power.  So, I was surprised to see that he had seriously adopted the short game, and that his use of power had been largely replaced with a clean, touch game. I was also shocked at how good his touch game was, though that should not have been a surprise since he is such a good athlete to begin with.  To me that makes him all the more dangerous as a competitor, but his adoption of a broader style of play augurs well for the club, since I think that most people take their lead from him.  If a short, strategic, touch game is good enough for John, it is likely going to be good enough for the rest of the club.

But, one thing I have written about in the past is the approach many take even in recreational games to target a perceived weaker player by drilling shots at them.  When I was involved in directing the Pickleball Association of Ontario tournament a couple of weeks ago, I was disappointed to see in medal matches that the better players in the province were still using this modus operandi, particularly the men in mixed doubles, and therefor disappointed that though players were more skillful than in previous years, there was still this banging, chauvinist approach to mixed play at least.

Recently, I was asked by one of the women in our club how to defend against bangers, and I pointed her to an article I wrote a while back using some video from Brian Staub at The Villages.

I certainly have no qualms about recommending Brian Staub and the videos he has crafted about key points in the game.  After all, he and his partner Phil Bagley are the reigning USAPA Nationals Champions from 2013.

But, some of you might appreciate the approach of a female multiple gold medal winner from The Villages, Deb Harrison.  Deb Harrison has played the game for a number of years and been coaching at The Villages for 10 of them.  She is in the throws of releasing a series of videos, that are worth watching, in which she explains in short segments various aspects of the game.

The first two videos are called Pickleball: Ready Position at the Non Volley Zone, and Pickleball Punch Block: Deb Harrison.  Both of these videos are simple steps to make bangers stop banging at you.  When you play against bangers, you have a couple of choices.  You can walk off the court, which is hard to do in a tournament, though in recreational play it might make a point.  You can put your big girl or big boy pants on and take it, which is not a lot of fun, particularly if you are certain of the result, if not the final score.  But, third, you can learn how to defend it, and make it work to your advantage.  That is where Deb Harrison comes in.

In "Ready Position at the Non Volley Zone", Deb shows you how to position your body to play against bangers.  She invites you to form a wall against bangers, not a fox hole.  She advises players to be square to and at the non volley line, and stay put.  She describes paddle position, body positioning, and paddle grip.  The emphasis is on meeting the ball straight on, not twisted away from it.  In this video her focus is on squaring up the paddle to the line as well,

A very important point she makes is that since 80% of all hard hit balls will come towards your body, that the paddle should be above the wrist and elbow for better control.  When she demonstrates the return against bangers, you will notice that she hits most of the shots with the paddle face slightly open, but blocking not pushing the shot. (The push comes later in the next video).

You will probably also notice that there is no forward movement of the paddle during her return.  Her hands are soft in holding the paddle, so a hard shot coming against her paddle meets only enough resistance to redirect it to where she wants it to go, but with the zip taken off it.

Unsaid, but easily understood is that the person banging the ball at you is using a lot more energy to attack you than you are using to defend, which becomes more important in a tournament as the day wears on.  When the bangers flag towards the end of the tournament, Deb and those who use her approach are more likely to remain fresh as daisies, at least relatively.

In the second video, with more to come, Deb demonstrates the punch block defense against bangers. In the first half of the video, she builds on the previous video which focused on balls at the body to show how to take high and low balls in a similar manner with important variation.  Low balls cannot be met with a square paddle face, nor can high balls.  Low balls need to come up and high balls need to come down, so paddle position becomes important once again.  For low balls, the paddle face needs to be more open, and for high ones the paddle face needs to be more closed.

One of the most important things she demonstrated, which is particularly obvious in the slow-mo part of the video is that her eyes are on the ball as it meets the paddle.  This is very important, and if you remember nothing else from the video, this point alone is gold to improving your pickleball skill set, if it is not already part of your game.

She then progresses to the main focus of the video, the Punch Block defence.  To the previous shots, she adds a slight punch of a maximum of 3-4".  She stresses that it is important for now to not take a swing at the ball, but to punch it only.  Punching it adds some velocity to your return, but not by sacrificing probability of success.

The punch block is a selective shot.  Like any shot in your arsenal, it should be used strategically. If someone is banging hard at you from the back line, then the soft hand square paddle block takes velocity off the ball, forcing the banger to come to the net hard where you are already positioned. But, if someone is banging at you from mid court, then a punch block makes more sense.  The punch block takes the heat off the ball, but puts it back at your opponents feet.  The idea in both cases is to make it harder for a banger to keep banging and to force them to come to you on your terms.

Though her next video is to be about swing volleys, it seems appropriate to me to build the skill of these first two videos before moving there, and that is how she has set it up.

I am looking forward to more from Deb Harrison.  You can subscribe to her videos on YouTube by looking for Deb Harrison and clicking the Subscribe button.

As she says in her subscription page: "Solid fundamentals are critical to your pickleball success."

Well, here are two examples of fundamentals that will improve your success against the heavy hitters.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Strategy then Tactics

In a recent email communication with one of our good over 65 male provincial players Bob Cook-Abbott, he told me about a method that some of the USAPA coaches have adopted which makes amazingly good sense.

When Bob and I and most of you readers started playing the game, we got into the thrill of hitting the ball first, and then hitting it harder after we got the hang of it.  We learned the basic service, kitchen line, point scoring rules, and then went off to hack and whack with each other.  I am assuming that Bob had as much fun as I did in those heady early days.  The games are fun, and the people who play pickleball are as much fun to be around as the games.

To play games with your friends and then go for lunch and a coffee afterwards is not a bad slice of life.  When I was younger, and playing football and rugby, we went for beer after and rehashed the game we had just played until we were no longer sober enough to recall it.  But now with pickleball, especially when most of the players are seniors, we don't need the beer to forget the games, so when we go for coffee we don't particularly talk about the games we just played, because we all have better long term memory than short term memory, so we talk about pickleball from a more broad perspective, and just enjoy each other's company..

But, to put the problem that I have been trying to articulate on this site for some time (ad nauseum) in a different perspective, Bob gave me a clue to what is wrong with our instruction in the game, and leads to how slowly players develop.

As I spend winter in Tucson, Arizona, I regularly trek up to Palm Creek which is the Southern Arizona RV Resort mecca for pickleball.  Palm Creek built 24 beautiful courts a couple of years ago, and as Ray, the hero in Field of Dreams heard a voice say: "If you build it, they will come", come they have.

Palm Creek has the best club for building skills in pickleball south of Phoenix, and possibly in the whole state of Arizona.  They combine Open Play, with Skill level Play including Round Robins and Shootouts.  They also have instructions at all levels of the sport, and up their game each year.  They have all courts running at least 12 1/2 hours a day throughout the winter season, and players from Palm Creek regularly do very well in tournaments, including their own excellent tournament for non residents in March.  They are committed to helping the raw beginner build skills to compete against better players, and they also provide opportunities for the better players to play each other and hone those skills.

You can see from their blog web site that they take the game seriously but for fun.  They must be doing some things very right, since the 2015 USAPA Nationals will be moved there which is a big feather in their cap.

A look at their court schedules starting this December is a clue as to their attention to details, and addressing the needs of all who pick up this fun sport.  There is one luxury of the southern locations, and that is that they have dedicated pickleball courts that are available all day long and into the evening.  That allows them to cater to all levels and needs.

In places where court time is rationed, it is a challenge to build skills, but a part of that is attitudinal.

The point that Bob was trying to make was that some USAPA coaches are moving towards teaching Strategy first over Tactics.

If you think about it most of us learned tactics first, and a lot of our games had a squirrel in traffic quality to them, and many of them still do, particularly if we play against better players.  In fact, if you follow the USAPA progression from 1,0 to 5.0 levels of play you see that strategy only slowly starts to work its way into the mix as you progress up the levels, until strategy and skill merge totally at the 5.0 level of play.

As Bob said to me in email:
I have started to buy into a concept expounded by some USA coaches: learn strategy first (these are relatively easy concepts about control, 3rd shot short, net play, positioning, low risk shots). THEN practice technique to implement strategy (3rd shot short is not an easy learn so most casual players avoid as high risk!). I realise we need both.
Since the game is so relatively new in most locations in North America, we have done what we could do to learn with no real solid basis for our learning. Now, those of us who have played for some time have to relearn, and unlearn to get better.

But, for new players, we can adopt methods like at Palm Creek of teaching them well. One of the better techniques for teaching the game is to show video in a classroom setting. There are excellent videos of top level players in USAPA Nationals, and other major tournaments and all are available on YouTube.

I favor showing these videos to students of the game early on, to demonstrate what can be done, and how great the game is played at a 5.0 level. These videos show strategic, patient play leading into immediate tactics to win points.

For those who learn by seeing live better, take them to a tournament to watch the best players there and to see how it is done. If they have been playing for a few years, invite them to enter a tournament at an appropriate level, so that they can learn the difference between being king of an ant hill and fighting to climb the mountain of a tournament.

Next rather than just showing players how to hit the ball, we should be showing them where and when at an early stage.

So many players are enthralled with spin serves and returns that are probably fun except for the fact that they failure rate is very high.

So here are some strategies to get across very early on:

1) A serve that is not in play is a loss of an opportunity to score. Serve inside the boundaries and forget being cute, until getting it in is mastered, at least.

2) A short return invitees the opponents to the non volley zone so practice returning all serves long near the back line, but not out. An out of bounds return or one in the net gives the opponents a point. Hitting it short lets them get to the net first and first one to the net has an advantage.

3) Watch where the serve return team moves after returning your serve, and either drop your third shot over the net into the kitchen, or if they hang back put it at their feet. If they do not want to take control of the kitchen area, then don't let them. Take it for yourself, or if they are there get there as quickly and prudently as you can.

4) Work your way to the net and engage your opponents in a short dinking game to balance the skills and scales with power hitters and then look for the opportunity, with patience, to move them to a place where you get a chance at a kill shot that has higher percentages of success.

The main skills of the game are included in these strategic points. There are drills on this site under Skills for practicing each of the skills necessary to effect these strategic points.

So, if we are going to introduce people to this great game, let's introduce them properly to what this game is really all about.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Why Play in Pickleball Tournaments?

A number of years ago I took up the great and fun sport of pickleball.  As it turned out I quickly developed an affinity for it.  Most people who play one game of pickleball play two games of pickleball.  It takes two games to get you hooked, though some are hooked the first moment they step on to the court.  Then, of course there are some slow learners who take a bit more coaxing.

But, with my background in squash I also developed some skill in it, not nearly as much as I thought, mind you, but enough to make it interesting for me and for playing partners.

At the place I first played the game, Rincon Country West RV Resort in Tucson Arizona, I got in on the ground floor as it were.  We had new courts, and new paddles to use.  So, the possibility existed to become a big fish in a small pond.  Some of us did.  Others not so much.  But, we had fun, and to an extent got comfortable in our fun, not wanting to disturb it.

But, then I went home to London Ontario one Spring and lo and behold they were playing pickleball there. Suddenly, I went from being a largish fish in a small outdoor pond to a medium sized fish in a larger indoor pond.

That experience was not as comfortable in the short term, but was in fact rewarding and leads me to why I am inviting readers to sign up for a tournament.

First off if pickleball is not fun for you go do something else.  Secondly, if your idea of fun comes from how many games you win in any day, and the competition is what is most important to you, then you are much younger than me, since along with not remembering what I had for breakfast, remembering how well I did on any given pickleball day is gone after I step off the court.

But, humans have in them a survival instinct, which makes most of us competitive to one degree or another. With age it usually gets tempered by experience and humbling knowledge of our own mortality.

For many of us that competitiveness is more personal than directed outwardly.  By this I mean, that I, as a case in point, want to improve my game of pickleball for example, so I want to beat the me of yesterday by improving my skills and strategies.

Don't get me wrong.  I prefer to win games more than to lose them, but I do not lose one moment's sleep worrying over a point or game lost that day.

So, if you, like me, want to have fun, play pickleball and challenge yourself to get better, how best to do it?

One of our better players at Rincon had challenged a number of us to sign up for the Tucson Senior Games tournament at Voyager over the last few years.  We declined for at least two years, then last year one of  my favourite playing partners from Canada came to Rincon in his motorhome and we signed up for and played at the Senior Games.  We had so much fun, that we signed up for 3 more tournaments and then I played another one with another partner.

So, why play in pickleball tournaments?

Here are the best reasons I can think of.

1) Take the fun you have getting together with the same people day in and week out, and then surround yourself with maybe 150-300 people just like you, playing pickleball to have fun and meet new people, and then feel the electricity in the air, and see all the smiles, win or lose.

When 150-300 people with the same addiction as you are gathered in one place it is like a large AA meeting, except that rather than trying to overcome the addiction you are feeding it.  Consider it a large self help group.

2) Pickleball can get a bit stale, still fun though, when you play the same people with the same tendencies time and time again.  At a tournament you play somebody new, and win or lose, you meet someone new, and learn some new things.

After the first tournament at Voyager, my partner and I started to practice because we saw things we had never seen before, and we wanted to adopt them.  We won a couple of matches and lost a couple, even met some folks who invited us to play at their club later on.  We also watched some matches of the best players around and had wow moments when we saw how the game could be played.

3) Tournaments tend to last 2-3 days or so.  Imagine the fun you have playing for a couple of hours at your local club and make it day long instead of just a few hours.

You don't get kicked off the court after a couple of hours.  You can play and watch pickleball all day long if you want.

My partner and I were deluded by the people we were beating at Rincon into thinking we only had to show up to win a medal at Voyager.  What they and we did not know was that the best players at several clubs were going to be there and that they had had their egos stoked just like us.  So, in that tournament we won a couple of matches and lost a couple, but we had a GREAT time.

When we got back to Rincon, someone said to us that we got humiliated, so maybe that would put us in our place.  We responded that we had the best time ever playing and that we learned a lot.

So, then we started to focus on getting better.  Yes, we wanted to win more games at tournaments we entered, but winning was secondary to seeing the improvement in our game and meeting new friends, who shared our love for the game.

We never did win a medal last winter, but we won big time.  If I had any more fun, I would have to be twins. I communicate regularly with some of the folks we beat or lost to (can't remember the results) and am eager to get back down south to see them again and to see how their game has progressed since we last played.

Playing pickleball at your local club gets a bit repetitive.  Playing with new people puts a spring in your step, win or lose, unless wining is the most important thing for you.  Then, you go back to your regular club with a new attitude, new skills, and new friends outside your regular group.

If you are enjoying something and a new wrinkle would magnify your enjoyment, wouldn't that sound like a good idea?

Find a partner and go play a tournament.  You will not regret it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The All Important Third Shot

Many of the best pickleball players on the tournament circuit seem to pay little attention to the serve and return of serve.  If your serve is in play that is often good enough, though some of the better players might juice the serve from time to time to keep their opponent honest.  As well, the return of serve is often nothing special, though there are a few placement strategies that can create some advantage.

But, the rally really begins with the third shot.  A properly played third shot sets the serving team up to meet their opponents at the net, to create balance in the rally.  Poor execution of the third shot gives the team defending the serve an advantage, because they are already at the net or should be.

The third shot allows the serving team to get into or to force a short game on their opponents.  The short game is the equalizer for pickleball enthusiasts.  If you are playing against heavy hitters, especially good ones, they can drive shots at you, through you or by you in the blink of an eye, but only if you give them the opportunity.

The short game sllloooowwwwssss everything down, and allows you to control the flow of a rally even if you are up against the blasters.

So, how do you get into that transition successfully?  Well, the answer is like it is for most shots in the game, Practice.  But, what are you trying to practice.

The video linked below and here if you cannot see the pic below has two of the better Florida Villages players father and son Brian and Matt Staub showing what it is, how you prepare for it, and how you execute it, even if it does not achieve its initial objective.

First is how to hold the paddle.  The Staubs recommend the Continental Grip and it is pictured below.  As they describe, it creates somewhat of an open paddle face, which helps with the arc that is required for the ball to do what you want it to.  The Continental grip is a very useful grip in almost all situations and should probably be the go to way of gripping a paddle for most players, at least until you have the facility to change grip on the fly for a particular purpose.

Typically, the third shot is being taken from further back on the court, and the objective of the shot is to land it in the kitchen area softly, eliminating hard shot returns by your opponents, thus allowing you to advance to the net and get into a short game looking for the advantage to put a shot away or seriously challenge your opponent.

Even if you practice this shot, and execute it pretty well, the kitchen area is small enough that a not bad shot is often not good enough against smarter and stronger players.  The Staubs show a split step transition method where if your shot is not good enough for you to advance all the way to the net, you can take a step or two, prepare for the return, dump into the kitchen again and advance a few steps closer.  The video shows this method well.

So, if you have watched the video, how do you practice this all important shot so that it is a key piece of your arsenal of shots.

Third Shot Drill

Well, lately we have modified a drill that we came across that seems to be very effective to build skill with the third shot.  You can do the drill with 2 players on opposite of the net or in pairs with 4 players.

One player stands near the kitchen line, say on the left hand side of the court and feeds soft balls towards the back of the same half of the court to the person actually doing the drill.  The objective is to give the player doing the drill balls that are a lot like the return of serve would be in speed and trajectory.  That person then tries to return the ball to the kitchen, where the first person continues to feed balls back for return after each shot.

How we do the drill is that each time the person doing the drill gets a shot in the kitchen we count it, with the objective of him/her getting 10 balls into the kitchen.  In a row might be nice, but 10 in period is the objective.

After the person doing the drill has gotten 10 balls in the kitchen, he/she then comes up and the other player retreats, and they start the drill over again with the other player hitting for the kitchen.

You can repeat this drill as often as you want, but trying to get 10 balls in the kitchen adds an objective and a little personal competition into it that seems to help the focus necessary to dial in this important shot.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Winning Isn't Everything

Most people familiar with the above 1/2 quotation from Vince Lombardi remember the second half of that quote as well: "It's the only thing."

I am here to tell you that as it relates to getting better at pickleball  Mr. Lombardi, God rest his soul, is wrong.

Yesterday, I traveled with 3 of my PB playing buddies to the Research in Motion (RIM) facility in Waterloo Ontario for some indoor play with their local group.  In part we went to play there because the Pickleball Association of Ontario (PAO) tournament is going to be there next month.  But, additionally, we wanted to go there and play with two of the best players in the province, Paul Leeder, and Looey Tremblay.

The 4 who went are very interested in getting better at the game, and so that was part of the conversation down and back.

Most pickleball players that I know fall into one of two categories, the purely recreational players who are more social than focused on victory, and the highly competitive players who want to win come hell or high water.  Though I understand the rationale of both groups, its like Liberals and Conservatives (or for American readers Republicans and Democrats) in that there is a divide between them with no apparent bridge between them.

However, I think that the purely recreational players are often not as purely recreational as they let on, and the highly competitive players are generally legends in their own minds, and so not really all that and a bag of chips.  It seems to me that the thing that keeps some players purely recreational is the win at all costs play of many of the highly competitive players.

It shows up in attitudes to practicing the skills of pickleball.  It takes two or more players to practice most skills, though with a wall and a ball there are things one person can do to improve in some areas.  But, the problem that occurs with practice is like it is in most things, and that is attitude.  There are many players who want to practice "on" their opposite numbers rather than "with".

I have watched players practice where at least one of them is trying to beat the others in practice, which somewhat defeats the purpose.  The objective of practice is to build skills into muscle memory by repetition.

Yesterday we met a player who exemplified what getting better is all about.  The lady I am referring to just started playing the game last December, and after 8 months of being a sponge for the game has a pretty good game already, and is eager to get better, and there is no doubt in my mind that she will.  It all started yesterday with a game she had with one of my friends against myself and another friend.  After a number of rallies she asked her partner what had happened to cause them to win or lose the point.  She then took what she had heard and applied it immediately.

So, for her, the game was a practice where points were kept.  During the morning she asked a few of us a number of things based on what she had observed.  She was there to learn, and winning was not important.

In a game a little later on, my US doubles partner and I played against her and another competent player. My partner noticed something in her partner and tested him early on with a shot to his backhand and then one to his forehand to see how he handled them.  It was obvious that he, unlike most players, was better on his backhand than on his forehand.  We called them both to the net, and told them our observation.  The objective was not to win games but to improve, and we wanted them to have the same opportunity as we did, so we shared.

If our sole objective was to win a game, we would have kept our mouths shut and just taken advantage of her partner.  As it was, we let him know how we would play him so he could adjust.

So, yesterday I got the opportunity to play with Paul Leeder and against Looey Tremblay.

I wanted to play with or against Paul, because he is always coaching on the court, either coaching his partner or coaching the opponents.  You cannot play a game with him and know less than you did when you walked on the court.  You can only get better if you listen and adapt what he says.  He usually makes his comments immediately after a rally so you can remember what went right or wrong, and adjust accordingly.  So a game with him is really also a practice where you keep score.

Getting to play against Looey, though I would have like to have been on his side of the court as well, was equally educational.  Looey has a very nice smooth stroke, and amazing accuracy.  He painted the line on my backside 3 times in two games with beautiful shots that I would like to think I cut off from happening the 4th and 5th times as I started to learn his tendencies, though that could be me being a legend in my own mind. He makes the game look effortless, and though he is quieter than Paul, there is much to learn by observing him, his court positioning, his preparedness for the shot, and his shot selection.

So, here is the lesson taken away from our trip.  To improve at pickleball, you must care less about winning today, and more about getting better.

The focus on winning leads to another challenge of life.  I used to tell people who worked for me that they could, after 10 years of working with me, have ten years of experience or one year of experience 10 times. Actually those who were going to repeat the 1 year of experience never lasted 10 years, but that is another matter.

So, here is my advice and it is worth every penny you pay for it, and hopefully more.  Play recreational pickleball to get better at the game.  Take time to get better and to make those around you better.  If the highly competitive players become more instructive then the purely recreational players will become less purely recreational because they will have a chance to improve their game, not get hammered any time they try a different shot.

As one of my fellow travelers said yesterday: "If when we play together, I get better, then you get better."  In his case it is true, because that is his objective.  He wants to get better, but it is not a secret.  Amazingly, I have noticed that as he shares information he has with others, and listens then to information coming back to him, he has gotten much better, and everyone he has shared with has had that same opportunity.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Pickleball Refereeing

Recently, in Dorchester Ontario, a suburb of London Ontario, Dave Hall and Ken Twilley two of our better area players, conducted a referee clinic for 10 of us, doing something that both of them do very well, giving back to the game.  Both are local area ambassadors for the sport and take that seriously, and in recent years area players have benefited from their enthusiasm and knowledge.

I was unsure why I signed up to take a referee clinic.   Dale Carnegie wrote a well known book in 1936 "How to Win Friends and Influence People."  I don't really imagine that refereeing pickleball games will win friends, and on the scale of things that are really important in life, it is not one of the main areas to influence people.  But, a referee does help tournaments get played, and I like to play tournaments, and so helping them to be played seems like a good thing.

But, Dave and Ken guided us in the different perspective of refereeing from playing, and among many things showed us how referees are to be unobtrusive in a game.  I failed that unobtrusive bit, but am encouraged to try again. Perhaps I will remember that I am not the entertainment section of the program and do what referees do best.

Of course, what is it that referees do best?

Well, there's the rub.  Referees do not watch the game per se.  Referees are like that kid you hated in school who could always find a dark cloud in every silver lining; you know, the negative kid.  Referees are the muck rakers of the game.  Aside from telling you the score, which you probably already knew, and who is to serve, which you probably already knew, they will only tell you when something that happens is your/a fault.
Think of it as being married.

Referees watch for specific things.  If a referee gets a stiff neck, it means that he or she is watching the ball, which as players we know is really important. But no, referees are to watch lines, the back line during serves, and the no volley zone lines during the rest of the rally.  They might see other things and when called on can render judgement, but they are primarily looking for and adjudicating faults during the serve, and at the net during the rally, and any other rules violations during the game.  Oh, and they have to keep the score.

I stated that referees may be called on to render judgement.  This usually occurs on a ball that one side calls out and the other side thought was in.  Often the referee, if focused on the non volley zone will miss line calls, which are primarily the purview of the players anyway, and so it is more likely for the referee to say he/she did not see it to change it from what was called.

But, what can happen, and happened in our practice games the other day is that often opponents do not go to the referee to challenge a line call by the opposition.  During one game, I was sure that a ball called by the team going for it was in, and that team called it out.  I felt like the kid in school, because I wanted to raise my hand and say: "Ask me.  Ask me." But, I didn't and they didn't and so the call stood.

A referee is issued 4 pieces of equipment, a clipboard, a pencil, a score sheet, and a clothes pin marked with a 1 on one side and a 2 on the other.  Pickleball referees do not wear zebra stripes like hockey or football referees, and no chest protectors or face masks like baseball umpires.

Uses for the score-sheet, clipboard and pencil are obvious.  The clothespin is not used, as one might conjecture to indicate the referee's view of a game played badly, by placing it over his/her nose, but is for keeping track of the first server and the second server as the game progresses.

Referees need only limited math skills.  They must be able to count to 21 sometimes, 15 with some regularity in tournaments where there is a losers bracket, and 11 most of the time, though games tied at 10, 14, or 20 that must be won by 2 points can increase the need for more advanced math.

Referees also have a limited vocabulary, at least during games.  They call out the score, and the server, like 5 3 2, where the serving team is leading with 5 points to their opposition's 3 points, and the second server of the team in the lead is up to serve.  So, they do have to remember three things all at once, but have their score-sheet and clothespin to help them keep it straight.  3 things at once for seniors can be a bit of a challenge, but since we know that aging is not for the faint of heart, focusing long enough to remember and speak three things is not that big a deal.

Aside from that referees have four phrases to remember at the beginning or conclusion of most rallies "side out", "first server", "second server", and "point".  The other word he/she can utter as required is "fault".

When a team has lost its serve, the referee calls out "side out".  This means that it is time for the other team to serve the ball.

"First server" or "second server" is the call to advise the serving team which of their two players is supposed to serve next.  It doesn't tell them which one of them is to serve.  It is up to them to figure out where they are supposed to be on the court, though the referee, by using his clipboard, score-sheet and clothespin knows, but he's not telling, unless the serving team makes a mistake; at which time he/she will call out "fault".

"Point" is what the referee says when a rally produces a point for the serving team.

Jeff Shank at The Villages in Florida has two videos on refereeing that are good examples of what it takes to referee a match, and I have linked them below.

The first video is an oral presentation by Jeff on the things to do as a referee to keep score and to do the job.

The second video was a partial sample game and then a section of some of the faults that are to be looked for and called.

Here is another video produced at Palm Creek in Casa Grande Arizona, that demonstrates the skills of a referee, including the use of the sophisticated equipment that one has available.  In this video you can see the clipboard and the notations and changes as they happen during play.

One of the things to remember in refereeing is that a referee is like the net post, only possibly better looking. That means that the referee is a Permanent Object for purposes of the game being played.  So, should a ball in play strike the referee, the referee can say "Ouch" if it hurts, stronger words are not appropriate, but must remember to call "fault", since the player who has hit the referee has either lost the point or serve for his/her team.

Where I was nervous about refereeing prior to our clinic, I realize that it is not that difficult, and might even be fun.