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