Meet The Pros – Ken Crocker
Ken Crocker is a class act – he loves the game, he loves the community and he is generous with his admiration and accolades. Enjoy!
Can you list for us your major wins so we can correctly introduce you to our readers?
2017 Int’l Indoor Championships, Men’s Doubles (MDB) 50+ with Paul Porch – Gold
2017 Oregon Sr. Games, MDB 50+ with Scot Edwards – Bronze
2016 WA State Sr. Games MDB 50+ with Glen Peterson – Silver
2016 Int’l Indoor Championships, MDB 55+ with Justin Smith – Silver
Mixed Doubles (MXD) Kathy Rambousek – Bronze
2015 Jim Ringler Memorial, Sr. MDB with Glen Peterson – Gold
2015 OR State Games, MDB 50+ with David Shieber – Silver
MXD 19+ with Sarah Ansboury, Silver
MDB with Ron Johnson – Gold
2015 Willamette Valley Spring Rally, MDB with Glen Peterson – Silver
What paddle do you play with and why?
I use the Selkirk Pro S1G Polymer Graphite paddle. For my game, the S1G paddle provides a great blend of power and touch and I’m expecting to switch to their new S2 AMPED Composite paddle for the same reasons. I love the larger paddle face and bigger sweet spot that the shorter handle allows. I also love Selkirk’s products and that the company was founded by two brothers in their early 20’s, Rob and Mike Barnes, who are truly nice young men.
I’ve enjoyed watching them as they marry, have kids and how their families are a part of the business. They represent exactly the kind of company I like supporting and are the reason I enjoy being sponsored by and representing them.
What’s your pickleball story? How were you introduced to pickleball?
I had given up tennis, among other sports, due to rotator cuff and knee pain. Marty Burns, who single-handedly got pickleball going throughout our Southern Oregon region, puts on free clinics for new players. About seven years ago I saw a sign for Marty’s clinic at our local Y and was instantly hooked. I had forgotten how much I enjoy fun competition and whacking a ball! I also appreciated the openness, connection, and community that form around pickleball.
What’s your preference – playing indoors or outdoors?
Given a choice, I prefer outdoors. I love both though, and hey, if there’s a court, fun people to play with, paddles and a ball, who cares?
Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?
I love the nuances, strategies, teamwork and sense of comradery that doubles provides, and I love the raw physicality, pure 1-on-1 competition and the feeling of a good workout that singles provides. Unfortunately singles is punishing on my body so I limit how much I play. I have to mention though, I really love skinny singles (where you play singles using one half of the court). The strategy is the same as doubles, it’s a good workout, a great way to drill and you get to hit every ball!
What’s your favorite place to play? Why?
I love the creek side feel of our Lithia Park home courts in Ashland, Oregon, and I also love the opportunity to travel, play with good players and meet new people. I don’t think I’ve ever played on a court where I wasn’t able to have fun!
What’s your secret sauce? Any tips for players?
I’m always working on what I call slowing time down even as the ball speeds up. Three or four years ago I realized there were times during a fast exchange where it felt like the ball was moving in slow motion and other times where I felt I was barely keeping up. I love figuring out the different things I can work on to allow playing in a relaxed state where it doesn’t feel rushed, even when hard shots are flying back and forth. I’ve come to realize that good mechanics, footwork, shot selection and the mental game can all be constantly improved to give myself the feeling of having more time.
Compact blocks and strokes are imperative and split steps before my opponent hits are also critically important. I also strive to quiet my body and sense a pause as my paddle waits for the ball. When I feel that, I know everything is falling in place. I’ve also found that has been important for developing a good and consistent soft game. I just wish I could slow down the passing of my birthdays too!
What’s your day job?
I’m retired, so I finally have time to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I also volunteer with various climate change related organizations and efforts, including serving as board chair for the Geos Institute (www.GeosInstitute.org). The more I learn (and worry) about the severity of climate change, the more I realize how important exercise, sense of play and the friendships that pickleball provides are to my well-being.
How many hours a week do you play? How do you make time to play?
I usually play about three times per week for 2-4 hours. I especially appreciate when I’m able to drill and work on my game.
Any lucky rituals before a big tournament?
Along with getting enough sleep and eating well, I just remind myself why I’m playing in the first place. Maintaining perspective works best for me – I also play my best when I’m having fun! One of my favorite memories was partnering with Glen Peterson before we got bumped to 5.0.
We were in the gold medal match, it was approaching midnight, and we were mentally and physically exhausted (at least I was). The score was 3-9 in the second game and I realized how much I was feeling the fatigue and the pressure. I paused, looked at Glen, smiled and said, “This is really fun, we’re playing pickleball!”
Both of our faces softened, we smiled at each other and came back to win gold. I don’t know if that moment made a difference for Glen, but connecting with why I was on that court in the first place and the comradery of partnering with such a good friend allowed me to feel a renewed sense of energy and to drop into that relaxed place where I have the most fun and play my best.
Do you have any pickleball goals you’d like to share?
I’m working on peaking to win gold at the 2055 nationals in men’s doubles, age group 95+.
Anything else you’d like to share about your experience being one of the best pickleball players in the world?
LOL – I have to say I don’t put myself in that category. This game is evolving fast and the highest levels of play are truly extraordinary. As the game continues to evolve and divides into recreational vs. professional play, I hope we can maintain that same sense of openness and community that I experienced in my first tournament playing 4.0. I was in awe watching the 5.0 players, but was also taken by how approachable and friendly players like Wes Gabrielsen and Enrique Ruiz were.
This is a unique sport due to the community that forms and the fact that we can have players that are two to three generations apart engaged in fierce competition while all having fun together. I hope we can find a balance between supporting the emerging elite levels of exciting play while holding on to the many qualities that make this such an attractive sport for people from all walks of life. This sport originated as a family game after all!