My brother Wayne and I are on a pickleball journey together, but separately. He’s in Arizona part of the year, and British Columbia the rest of the year. I’m in Yucatan, Mexico. Wayne is in a hotbed of pickleball, with dozens of courts and 800 active players from beginner to professional levels of play. I’m a forty-five-minute drive from three courts where a small but enthusiastic group of Canadians and Americans play for a couple of hours in the morning, before the sun is unbearable, and the school basketball courts they use are occupied.
Wayne is a world-class tennis player, and I got to be mediocre at one time, many years ago.
So, while Wayne doesn’t have that many months’ head start on me, he’s light years ahead in his development, because he inherently knows how to hit a heavy top-spin, an undercut drop shot, and just the paddle positioning, footwork, and strategic mind-set are all there already. I’m starting to get a feel for the way the plastic ball feels on the paddle and hit fewer into the lower half of the net than I did a couple of weeks ago. I play two to three hours a week, Wayne plays four to five hours a day.
But I have a secret weapon that Wayne doesn’t have. Wayne doesn’t have Wayne giving him advice and pointers of things to work on.
This morning was a good example for me. Wayne has been reminding me there is more time than a person thinks to get to an errant ball, and I got half a dozen back into play that I might not have gone after two weeks ago. I got my paddle on many more that I couldn’t quite control, but I surprised my opponents by even getting my paddle on what they thought were clear winners.
Wayne told me to dink much more than I drive hard, and it has paid off in a big way. Everyone knows it feels good to hit the ball as hard as you can – but when you play someone with experience, the ball usually comes back just as hard or harder, and the statistic that the team that initiates the hard drive is more often on the losing side of the rally proves itself day in and day out. And when I say that, I mean when the ball wasn’t really in a position to drive downward. Most of us beginners are too anxious to hit the ball hard, and often need to hit it upward to get over the net, and any opponent with reasonably quick reflexes can punish that shot with a well-placed block.
I watch professional matches on YouTube as much as my schedule allows, and my wife is thankful that I have a good set of head-phones, because she doesn’t share my obsession, YET.
Pickleball is a terrific sport, because it gives mediocre athletes a chance to be more than mediocre pickleball players. Quick hands can be more of a weapon than flight of foot, and the court is small enough that only a few steps one way or another can get you into position. It’s also a sport where people are taught from the start to take it lightly, and not to get over-excited about wins and losses. We all want to improve. We all like to get a come-from-behind win against a better team. But mostly pickleball is about enjoying a great day with like-minded people.
Today was my fifth or sixth time playing pickleball, and I had a fun thing happen. One of the members of the local group asked me to show him some strategy pointers. He’s been playing for more than five years, but recognized that I was playing differently than the others in the group, and he could see it was getting good results. He said to me, “I can see you have the most experience out here, so can you explain to me when to get to the NVZ line?” I chuckled inside, but at the same time it was satisfying to be able to help someone who wants to get better.
Wayne is in Arizona, playing with 5.0 players who are pulling him up to the level they know he’ll be soon. I’m maybe a 3.0 player, still, but I’m a student of the game, and would prefer to lose playing correctly than win playing incorrectly. I overheard someone today talking about having a clinic next year.
Wayne is planning a visit in February.
Get ready to learn from a first-class coach and teacher. I can foresee some stiff competition in the group after February.