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.

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