Like many, I stayed up till midnight on Tuesday to register for the Huntsman World Senior Games. It was a competition in its own right, and some walked away winners.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of them.
A note: I have nothing but respect for the wonderful people running the Games, and this is no reflection on them. I just had to take a moment to lament a missed opportunity and share my tale of woe!
The Huntsman Games provided detailed instructions on how to register for pickleball. It was my opportunity to get into the world’s largest multi-sport event for 50+ athletes, and with them celebrating a 30th anniversary no less, I wanted to be prepared.
Beginning months before the deadline, I studied the “how to register for pickleball” formula with engineering precision—hey, I am an engineer!
But alas. I’m no software engineer, and that night I found my technical skills lacking.
I sat on the couch for hours past bedtime watching World Tennis, thinking I was as prepared as Djokavic when he trounced the 47th player in the world.
My mental list checked out: Both partners identified. Both partners had Huntsman accounts and athlete numbers. My USAPA membership number was active and ready. Credit card prepared. Even my lodgings were booked.
When the Athlete Registration countdown screen flashed to zero, I took off. Enter, enter enter!
By 12:02, after hitting the enter screen many times, I was ushered onto the sacred registration screen. I had completed the registration entries for all four pickleball events. The only difficulty I had was entering my skill rating. The screen would not accept my entry for about 20 seconds.
With every entry filled, I hit the “Continue Registration” button at 12:03. I clicked it again. And again.
After 5-10 minutes and countless clicks, I was rewarded with the next screen. But something seemed off. I owed $199 for 12 events? No time to question it, just pay!
I entered my credit card number and its expiration date. The date worked, but I could only enter four digits for the number.
The instructions required payment for registration, so I backed up and started from the beginning. I tried entering only men’s doubles, even though the instructions explicitly said to list all partners and events on the registration screen.
Enter! Yet I still couldn’t submit my credit card number.
I got an email at 12:10 saying I was waitlisted for men’s doubles. Back on the registration screen, all events were full except singles.
I frantically tried to register just for singles, but six attempts later, I’d found no success. As soon as singles showed full I tried my luck one more time for the road, but was again told I was waitlisted.
I may have won in the Grand Canyon State Games four days ago with Larry Moon, but I lost big time Tuesday night.
Scott Lennan is a force to be reckoned with on the pickleball court, according to our own Brian Ashworth. He also has an interesting “habit” for keeping his attention on the game: He sings! Enjoy!
Can you list for us your major wins so we can correctly introduce you to our readers? 2016 USAPA Nationals VIII Men’s Doubles 55+ with Jim Hackenberg – Gold 2016 USAPA Nationals VIII Mixed Doubles 55+ with Roxanne Pierce – Gold 2016 USAPA Nationals VIII Senior Mixed Open Doubles with Roxanne Pierce – Bronze 2016 Huntsman World Senior Games Men’s Doubles 55-59 A with Jim Hackenberg – Gold 2016 Huntsman World Senior Games Mixed Doubles 55-59 A with Roxanne Pierce – Gold 2016 Huntsman World Senior Games Men’s Doubles 5.0: 50+ with Jim Hackenberg – Gold 2016 Fall Brawl Mixed Doubles 50+ / 5.0 with Roxanne Pierce – Bronze 2016 USAPA Southwest Regional Men’s Doubles Skill/Age 5.0: 19+ with Jim Hackenberg – Silver 2016 USAPA Southwest Regional Mixed Doubles Skill/Age 5.0: 50+ with Yvonne Hackenberg – Silver 2015 USAPA Nationals VII Men’s Doubles 55+ with Jim Hackenberg- Gold 2015 USAPA Nationals VII Mixed Doubles 55+ with Roxanne Pierce – Silver 2015 USAPA West Regional Men’s Doubles Skill/Age 5.0: 50+ with Doug Koch – Silver 2015 USAPA West Regional Mixed Doubles Skill/Age 5.0: 50+ with Roxanne Pierce – Gold 2014 USAPA Nationals VI Men’s Doubles 35+ with Tony Tollenaar – Bronze 2014 USAPA Nationals VI Mixed Doubles 55+ with Roxanne Pierce – Gold 2014 USAPA Nationals VI Senior Open Men’s Doubles with David Redding – Silver 2013 USAPA Nationals V Men’s Doubles 50+ with Jim Hackenberg – Gold 2013 USAPA Nationals V Mixed Doubles 50+ with Roxanne Pierce – Gold
What paddle do you play with and why? I’ve been playing with the POP Aluminum XL Paddle for three years. It gives me tremendous power and spin as well as a long reach.
What’s your pickleball story? How were you introduced to pickleball? I saw employees playing pickleball at work. They let me play and I loved it immediately.
What’s your preference – playing indoor or outdoor? Outdoor! All of the medals listed are outdoor tournaments. I love the Dura 40 Ball.
2016 Fall Brawl St. George, UT! Gold – Gigi LeMaster/Tyler Sheffield, Silver – Scott Clayson/Laura Ogden Fenton Kovanda, Bronze – Roxanne Pierce/Scott Lennan
Do you like singles or doubles better? Why? I like doubles better than singles. There’s more strategy in doubles and it’s not as physically demanding as singles.
What’s your favorite place to play? Why? I like to play at Redmond Community Center and at Palm Creek in Casa Grande, AZ. There are 32 individual dedicated courts. It doesn’t get any better than that.
What’s your secret sauce? Any tips for players?
Change the pace on most of your shots. Hit different speed serves, volleys and ground strokes. If you’re predictable you will have a difficult time winning. Also play with great partners like I have!
Play against better players if you want to improve. Take your beatings. Learn from them.
Practice dinking and third shots. Any team can be beaten by keeping the ball low. Also, have lots of patience.
Scott Lennan at 2014 Huntsman World Senior Games
What’s your day job? I test and repair ultrasound systems for Philips Healthcare.
How many hours a week do you play? How do you make time to play? Approximately 10 hours a week. I play after work and on the weekends.
Any lucky rituals before a big tournament? While I’m playing, I sing parts of songs to keep my brain from thinking about shots to hit. I’ve practiced enough before the tournament and know what shots to hit and when.
Do you have any pickleball goals you’d like to share? To win a gold medal at the US Open in 2017.
2016 Huntsman Senior Games – Gold: Roxanne Pierce/Scott Lennan Mixed Doubles 55-59, Gold: Jim Hackenberg/Yvonne Hackenberg – Mixed Doubles 65-69, Bronze: Ron Chang/Bonnie Williams – Mixed Doubles 50-54
Anything else you’d like to share about your experience being one of the best pickleball players in the world? Find someone that will practice with you. Don’t just get the ball over. Have a purpose for every shot. Develop an overhead shot. This will keep your opponents from lobbing every shot. Work on your game if you want to be on the podium. Watch teaching videos by Joe Baker, Mark Renneson and Deb Harrison.
Jugs Indoor Pickleball, available in white or green
The USAPA has announced that the much-beloved Jugs Indoor Ball is back on the list of approved balls for tournament play PROVIDED they are properly conditioned. They’ve clarified that the Onix Pure 2 Indoor and Outdoor Balls need to be conditioned prior to use at sanctioned tournaments as well. This is to assure the balls bounce less than 34 inches when dropped from a 78-inch height.
Straight out of the package, the Jugs and Pure 2 Balls all bounce about 36 inches. According to Christine Barksdale, Director of Competition at the USAPA, “Effective January 1, 2018 conditioning will no longer be an acceptable method for meeting bounce height criterion.”
But there is much more to this story for any who are interested…
The Real Story Behind the Announcement
You may think this rule change is much ado about nothing. As a 5.0 tournament player, I can tell you this is not the case. Many players have expressed passionate views about the rule changes relating to balls on social media in recent months. A couple of inches of bounce height is serious stuff.
While USAPA ball rule changes have fueled much of the debate, the melee really began in 2015 with the introduction of new balls like the Onix Pure Outdoor Ball. The original Pure Ball was a yellow or orange 40-hole outdoor ball that was softer and easier to control than other outdoor balls. These are fantastic in many ways. However, because it was easier to control, many top players complained that it equalized play between lesser and better players.
Simply put, many players feel that the Pure Outdoor Ball changes the game in a way that reduces the skill needed for finesse shots. While I personally love both the newer, softer Pure Balls and the older, harder balls (like the Dura Fast 40), I have come to agree with these players’ assessments.
We’re no longer dealing with mere wiffle balls; pickleballs have critical characteristics discernible by connoisseurs of the sport. Should we have one ball for pros and another for recreational players? Should there be different balls for juniors vs. adults? Should there be different balls based on the playing surface or weather conditions? Many sports have these variations.
Because some balls (like the Pure 2 and Jugs Balls) bounce higher when new, this creates inconsistent play as the ball wears over the course of a match or two.
The USAPA sought to address this issue while also addressing issues relating to the very nature of the sport. In October 2015, the USAPA modified the bounce limit from 37 inches to 34 inches.
Their goal in limiting the bounce height was to preserve the tactical nature of the sport which rewards the patience and finesse required to succeed with a lower bouncing ball. The deadline for achieving the lower bounce was first set at May 1, 2016 and later pushed back to October 1, 2016.
Onix PURE 2 Outdoor Pickleball, available in yellow and orange
Balls perform differently when used outdoors on hard surfaces compared to indoors on floating wood floors. This further complicates the situation, much like how a tennis ball behaves differently on a concrete vs. a clay or grass court. More on this later…
In response to the 2015 rule change, Escalade (the company that produces the Onix Pure and Pure 2 balls) scrambled to develop balls that bounced under 34 inches.
Their solution was to have users condition the balls prior to use or testing so that they would meet the 34-inch maximum bounce height. As with many innovations, the law of unintended consequences reared its head.
As 5.0 players, tournament directors and officials within the USAPA learned about the implications of conditioning, it started to create real-world problems, particularly for tournament directors needing balls that performed to USAPA standards without any conditioning.
The first conditioning process published by the USAPA involved squeezing each ball by hand 6 times in 16 different places, for a total of 96 manual squeezes.
For me, thumb tendinitis sets in after conditioning only 2 balls!
Imagine the problem of trying to figure out how to condition 250 balls prior to a tournament. Innovative tournament directors were faced with the challenge of addressing this with a variety of “home remedies.” I’ve heard stories of some really creative attempts to condition balls using clothes dryers for instance.
What’s the right setting? 15 minutes on the perma-press cycle? These approaches were interesting, but largely unscientific and unrepeatable.
Fortunately, the USAPA is sorting this all out. They opened up dialog with the manufacturers to put the burden of consistency and science back where it belongs—on the companies producing the balls.
Aren’t Indoor and Outdoor Balls Different?
While design differentiates indoor and outdoor pickleballs, the biggest changes in performance are determined by playing surface. Most outdoor play is on asphalt or concrete; most indoor play is on wood or carpet. More indoor facilities are accommodating pickleball on tennis courts, and outdoor balls are generally used because of the harder surfaces.
Popular outdoor balls are heavier and have 40 smaller holess. They perform better in windy conditions and on abrasive surfaces. Indoor balls are lighter and have 26 larger holes. Indoor balls perform well on smoother surfaces with no wind. But here’s the catch: Wood floors absorb more energy, resulting in a much lower bounce compared to concrete or asphalt.
The Jugs Ball is the most popular ball for indoor play, and though it bounces over 36 inches on concrete when new, on wood floors it bounces less than 34 inches. The same is true for the Onix Pure 2 Indoor Ball. This is why most of the debate underway concerns the Pure 2 Outdoor Ball used on asphalt or concrete. The Onix Pure 2 Outdoor Ball actually bounces 36-37 inches on the surface for which it is intended: asphalt or concrete.
Talking About the Dura Fast 40 (and the TOP, and the 503…)
As a tournament player involved with a retailer that sells more pickleballs than anyone else in the world, in my own unscientific sampling I found most 5.0 players prefer the original Dura Fast 40 balls for outdoor play. (In the interest of full disclosure, this same retailer acquired the Dura brand in August 2016.)
The Dura and Pure 2 Balls are made very differently, using different chemistry and materials. The Dura Fast 40 Balls are made using a seamless rotomolding process where holes are drilled after the balls are formed using a seamless production process. There is a line on the inside of the ball, but this isn’t a “seam,” it is simply the line that the mold makes during the release process. The Onix 503 and TOP Balls are made using the same process.
Dura Fast 40 Outdoor Pickleball, available in yellow, orange, white and neon.
The Dura Fast 40 Ball was developed in 1980 by Pickle-Ball Inc working closely with a family that specialized in unique high performance plastics manufacturing who had also taken an interest in pickleball. The ball was developed specifically for outdoor pickleball play on concrete or asphalt courts. The rotomolding and drilling process produces a geometrically precise ball with a smooth finish and attractive appearance.
This has been the primary outdoor ball for decades, and most players love it. But this type of ball demands real finesse. Players who have mastered this ball are recognized as deserving their 5.0 ratings. Their ability with this ball sets them apart, and they require no conditioning.
The Dura Fast 40 has always been the official ball used at the USAPA Nationals, and is now the official ball of the US Open. Alas for many, it will always be “the outdoor pickleball.”
When Pickleballs Go Sour
Many other balls have been introduced over the years. Most of them have suffered from a variety of issues including cracking, unpredictable flight patterns, a tendency to go out of round and unusual playability at certain temperatures.
Designing a plastic orb that performs after thousands of high-speed impacts with precision over time, in a variety of weather conditions, is a truly difficult scientific endeavor.
Pickleball evolved around a specific set of playability characteristics, and the USAPA is seeking to protect the integrity of the sport.
New Neon Color Dura Fast 40 Ball is the official ball of the US Open Pickleball Championships
Other sports have had their own issues with equipment. Golf has long suffered from issues with changes to golf balls. Aluminum and corked bats have changed baseball, and many would not say for the better. Remember “Deflategate?” Who would have thought that a half a pound of pressure in a football would have the consequences it did?
Large, well-financed companies have attempted to reproduce the magic of that breakthrough Dura Ball. For example, Wilson launched their similar outdoor ball prior to the US Open in 2015. They believed it would have similar bounce characteristics as the Dura Balls, but they found that the chemistry and manufacturing process was hard to master.
They quickly discontinued the ball due to out-of-round complaints a month prior to the US Open. Players loved the visibility of that new ball, but disliked the irregular bounces, and sometimes no bounce at all!
Late in 2016, a neon green version of the Dura Fast 40 was launched. The Dura Fast 40 will be the official ball of the US Open Pickleball Championships from 2017 through 2019. Others are following suit, and there is now a neon green version of the TOP Ball.
Differences in Pickleball Manufacturing
“Injection molding” is a different type of manufacturing process than rotational molding. The Pure 2 Outdoor and Indoor Balls and the Jugs 26-Hole Indoor Ball (aka the Jugs Bulldog) are made using an injection molding process.
The holes are not drilled but formed in the mold. Each half is molded and the two halves are glued together. The chemistry of the materials and the injection process results in softer balls that bounce higher initially.
These softer balls are easier to control for many players. However, many tournament players, 5.0 pros and pickleball purists disdain them. Tennis players generally prefer the softer balls because they are more responsive to spin.
Do we want to give elite tennis players—already dominating the sport—even more advantage?
Injection molding is a proven way for plastics engineers to create high quality predictable products. While I’m not a materials scientist or polymer engineer (though I am an engineer), what we’ve heard is that the plastic material itself has to have certain characteristics to flow into the molds. These characteristics manifest themselves in the way the balls bounce out of the package. After stress relieving (aka conditioning), these balls bounce less.
The Cosom Fun Ball was the leading indoor pickleball.
Changing the chemistry of injection molded balls to make them bounce less is simple, right? We’ll see. Remember the Cosom Fun Ball which dominated indoor play for years? In my first tournament in SeaTac directed by Mark Friedenberg in 2013, the Cosom Ball was used.
In hard play, most balls would not last a single game before breaking at the seam. The boxes of broken balls at the conclusion of the tournament would have filled a mini van! Achieving great performance and lower bounce may prove a significant challenge for Jugs and Onix.
The Future of Pickleball(s)
Where do we go from here? During my research for this blog post I’ve heard a wide variety of opinions. I’ve had the great pleasure of speaking with dozens of 5.0 players, manufacturer’s representatives, testing personnel at the USAPA and scientists working at the epicenter of this great debate.
Some suggest the USAPA stipulate the exact materials composition and characteristic of indoor and outdoor pickleballs just like baseball does for balls, while others say that only the playability characteristics be defined by the governing body (like in golf.)
Fortunately the USAPA is taking the lead in helping clear up this controversy in an effort to maintain the integrity of the sport. To that end, they have committed to further clarifying the rules relating to ball specifications, plus they have engaged the services of a new professional engineering testing firm to assist in making sure products used in sanctioned tournament play reflect the characteristics that assure long-term success for our sport.
Ultimately the market will decide what type of balls are used. The one thing I know is this—whenever I get a new package of balls to test from some new company, I’m eager to get on the court and try them out! In 2016 I saw the introduction of several new balls from Paddletek, Gamma and others, and I had a great time getting to know these products firsthand. As a player, I say, “Let the battle for ball supremacy rage on!”
When I think about it, these aren’t just wiffle balls. They are the core DNA of our sport, and innovation in this aspect of our game is exciting and controversial stuff.
I really want to know what you think. Please post your comments here or on our Facebook page. Let the marketplace hear your voice as well.
Glen Peterson is a retired engineer who spent a successful career at Caterpillar. He is a 5.0-rated tournament player who has had earned dozens of gold, silver and bronze medals at the USAPA Nationals, the US Open and other tournaments. He now works with PickleballCentral in a variety of product management roles and is sponsored by Selkirk Sports, whose paddles he uses in competition.
The other day I had lunch with Barney and David McCallum at the Seattle Yacht Club. Time seemed to slip backwards as I sat with Barney and his son in the mahogany-lined dining room overlooking Union Bay, listening to their nostalgic stories of how pickleball came to be.
Mostly they remember the people. Energetic, creative people. Some famous, some nearly infamous. Barney was among the three who invented the game of pickleball in 1965. In 1972 he launched the first pickleball company, Pickle-ball Inc., and started manufacturing the first commercial paddles. Barney made the early paddles by hand.
One of the first pickleball paddles. Made by Barney McCallum by hand.
In April 1966, within the first year of pickleball’s birth, Barney and David were tinkering with the kitchen line placement in their Magnolia neighborhood cul-de-sac. They moved it from six and half feet (badminton distance) back to seven feet to prevent one particularly tall player from dominating the sport with volleys at the kitchen line. We agreed that they got it right.
Barney was an enormously successful inventor and businessman in the envelope industry. Pickleball was never more than a hobby to him, although he’s better known for inventing this quirky sport than his innovative envelope machine patents. Barney was the first player to experiment with the third shot dink as a means to advance to the kitchen line.
He would announce to his partner that “the X is on” before hitting a 3rd shot dink so they would move forward together. Barney and his partner, Jim Weller, routinely won the early pickleball tournaments sponsored by Nalley Pickles back in the 80s.
Barney playing pickleball in the 1970s
I asked whether the game was named after the dog, Pickles, or whether the story was true the name originated from a rowing crew term. Barney and Dave roll their eyes. “Everyone involved knows the name came from the dog.” They have pictures of Pickles back when the name was adopted.
Evidently there were efforts to rename the sport. “Don’t change it,” Barney exhorted. We agreed that all efforts must be made to ensure the name of PICKLEBALL sticks, and that agreement is binding, as far as I am concerned.
Barney still spends much of his summer on Bainbridge Island, the birthplace of this wonderful game of pickleball. I was only four years old in Seattle at the time, but for those few hours in the Seattle Yacht Club, I felt like I was right there with him and his pickleball partners in the summer of 1965.
Stratford-Upon-Avon in England is generally famous for one thing: Shakespeare. This is his birthplace, a town that can claim one of the greatest playwrights of our time as one of its own.
Now it has another equally important claim to fame: It was the host of the first ever international pickleball tournament in the United Kingdom on October 21-23rd. The tournament was organized by the UKPA and represents the first in a series to be hosted by the association.
Pickleball on the International Stage
Any doubts about how big the sport has become in Europe and just how big it’s going to get were laid to rest by this truly international affair. 144 players from England, Wales, Canada, the U.S.A, the Czech Republic, Spain, France, Germany and Ukraine all came together for this three-day event.
The result was a melting pot of styles, tactics and a crash course in how to swear in several European languages!
Over 400 games were played over the course of the three days with day one kicking off with the first-ever competitive singles tournament to be held in Europe. It was father against son, sibling versus sibling, doubles partner against doubles partner, it was an all-out war to win the first ever singles gold medal.
A Pickleball Master Class
The quality of play across the board was up there with Shakespeare’s greatest works, but the men’s under 40’s doubles final was undoubtedly one of the matches of the tournament. It was an admirable showing of power, skill and tactics between traditionally old rivals: the French and the Spanish.
After an intense three matches, the Spanish pairing eventually emerged victorious. Sacré bleu!
Due to the sheer number of games and players, the men’s final took place at 9pm on Saturday night. The number of competitors who stuck around to watch the final underlined the fantastic attitude and commitment players across the global have towards the sport.
Passion and Enthusiasm
This commitment was echoed by every international player at the event. All had made the journey specifically for the tournament.
Few amateur sports invoke the same passion from players, the kind that sees people getting on planes or planning a holiday solely to get a few games of pickleball. Pickleball may not be as big in Europe as it is in the U.S, but it’s getting there, and what the Europeans lack in numbers, they certainly make up for in dedication and skill.
Who knows, in the near future we may be seeing the very first pickleball world championship or perhaps a pickleball Ryder Cup with the best in Europe against the best of the Americas.
Many congratulations to all the players and as one continental player said loudly and often, “Viva le Pickleball!”
Here are some more pictures of the dinking and drop shots from the weekend:
Images courtesy of the UKPA and the competitors of the tournament.
If you’re heading over to the United Kingdom and are looking for your fix of pickleball, visit the UKPA’s website to arrange a game at a local club.
Many of us grew up hearing, “Sports build character.” However, studies have concluded the opposite is true. Winning satisfies like a good steak. Character satisfies like Don Paschal’s kale salad. Like my dear friend Vegen says: “Sport doesn’t build character; it reveals character.”
I learn more about a person in one hour on the court than in enjoying a dozen meals together. I also learn about myself.
Why does winning still matter to me at 55-years-old? What longing is fulfilled through another medal or through winning a game at any level? Does 5.0 status make me a better person? I certainly hope not. Some days I wish I was back at 4.5 level competing for golds with my good friend Ken Crocker.
I am still discovering that a good reputation is more valuable than a drawer full of medals. Don Paschal’s kale salad does satisfy. Consider three tips for gaining pickleball perspective on court.
Concentrate on making good shots and a good game will follow (Credit: Chad Ryan)
1. Compete by making great shots. After all, that is all I control. Be satisfied by playing well and losing. Congratulate opponents when they make better shots. Losing implies I had the opportunity to be on the court with better players.
2. Be the most complementary of partners. Pickleball is a social activity which begs for laughter and smiles. Fun banter and big smiles compensate for many poor shots.
We can all stand to be gracious in both victory and defeat (Credit: Chad Ryan)
3. I love to be around people who can pursue a goal with great intensity and discipline but are content regardless of the outcome. Perhaps there are moments where I can be that person on a pickleball court.
In life as in sports, I have benefited more from my losses than my wins. I think I will make a kale salad for lunch.
As pickleball emerges from adolescence among lawn games into legitimate sporthood, a few changes would make the sport more practical. Some of you might disagree with my five suggestions, but that’s the beauty of blogging!
1. We need a scoring approach that doesn’t confuse or penalize mental lapses. Rally scoring would generate more predictable match time allowances (think volleyball). I hate rally scoring, but this sport needs it.
2. Rules defining a legitimate serve, though clear, are nearly impossible to apply by even the keenest refs. Was the entire paddle below the wrist when the ball was hit? Was that ball below the navel? Must we demand exposed midriffs?
3. Third, double hits and intentional carries are frequently overlooked. Should they be? Carries are only disallowed if intentional, but how can a ref assess a player’s “intentions”? Does any other sports measure intentions?
4.Line calls are almost impossible, partly because different balls compress differently depending on the angle and speed at impact. The popular notion of point contact is invalid. Even Dura balls compress on contact. Close calls are a fuzzy mess and players have different criteria for making calls.
I recognize that the technology involved to address this is expensive, but it will come. There is no simple solution here, but some education on ball compression might help.
Who knows if that ball will be in or out without Hawk-Eye technology? (Credit: Chad Ryan)
5. Bracket tournaments often dissatisfy all but the very top players. Players come to participate, not spectate. Traveling to tournaments takes time and money. Losing two matches and spending the rest of the day in a chair discourages many. In some cases, great players are not adequately vetted because matches are too short and it takes time to adjust to the competitive pressure.
While there is definitely a place for bracket tournaments, we need creative organizers developing new approaches for similar level players to gather and celebrate pickleball. Pickleball jamborees might appeal. Laughter during play satisfies me more than winning.
Doubtless, many of you have other suggestions. Let’s hear them!
You’re not likely to get knocked down by a pickleball, but it doesn’t feel good to get hit! (Image credit: Chad Ryan)
Pickleball: A Contact Sport?
By: Glen Peterson
David McCallum from Pickleball Inc. and I were having lunch at Ray’s Boathouse in Seattle the other day when he mentioned that, shortly after Pickleball was invented, the kitchen line was moved back six inches to prevent Dick Brown, an outstanding football player who was 6′ 4″ tall, from being able to volley nearly every ball from the kitchen line. With his long arms, Dick could nearly touch the net with his paddle!
That seemingly arbitrary decision to depart from badminton court lines and move opposing players another foot apart (from 13 to 14 feet) implies to me that the early framers of this sport understood the subtleties of how pickleball play would evolve.
Some of us prefer sports that don’t favor taller athletes. I am convinced this is one reason baseball has remained so popular. Smaller hitters have smaller strike zones.
My friend Scott Lennan once commented that very tall players who can volley every ball from the kitchen line will someday dominate pickleball. Unfortunately, I agree. But with one caveat: because they are also larger targets, they had better be cat-like quick!
More and more, pickleball is becoming a contact sport. Hitting an opponent is a winning shot … and often brings a psychological advantage. Taller, larger opponents make bigger targets. In 5.0 tournament play, the notion that hitting an opponent with a ball is unprofessional is gone.
While most of us still apologize for hitting an opponent with a hard shot toward at the body, this happens often. I would never aim for a person’s head, but I confess that in highly competitive tournament play I would place a shot directly at a the body. Are you offended or angry? Please understand that I am referring to 5.0 tournament play. Tim Nelson popped me with a hard shot in the neck a few days ago; it stung a bit; it was a great shot.
Ken Crocker and I experimented by playing a half court game one-on-one at the kitchen line and rewarding two points every time one of us hit the other player. We discovered it was too easy to hit the opponent. Of course I don’t dodge so well now as when I was in my teens!
Pickleball may become more and more like fencing or dodge ball where hitting opponents with the ball is far more common and a vital tactic in high level play. In many high level games today, several points are won or lost either because a person was hit or because they had to hit an otherwise out ball that would have hit them. Personally I love it. It favors smaller players. And it adds an element of fun just like hitting around the post.
How to avoid being hit? First, at most levels of play, you can simply ask aggressive players not to target your body. Second, bend your knees at the kitchen line to become a smaller target and be prepared to duck. And third, when you see your opponent wind up, play dodge ball!
Don’t be afraid of getting hit. It may sting for a moment. Congratulate your opponent on a well placed shot. And then get them back! Incidentally, this is an example of where the softer Onix Pure I Outdoor ball will be preferred because it hurts less.
This is a sensitive topic for some who feel hitting an opponent is unsportsmanlike. If you strongly disagree – or agree – please comment!
While some players can pick up a paddle and perform well with very little warm up, most of begin feeling comfortable after at least a couple games. Great pickleball requires rhythm and fluid coordination of the entire body, especially for effective third shots and blazing kitchen exchanges. Warming up muscles to perfect this rhythm takes time. If you are like me, you perform best after an hour or more of uninterrupted play. It takes that long for me to get into a zone where body and mind cooperate. This is the stage of relaxed focus between being awkward and fatigued. Alas, sometimes my legs give out before I ever enter the zone! And once in a while the only zone I enter is the non-volley zone with my two big feet!
Unfortunately for many of us who compete in tournaments, our critical matches arrive with little or no notice after hours of inactivity. I have spent hours on an airplane, passed a sleepless night in a hotel, then tried to compete with some of the best players in the nation at seven in the morning with ten minutes of warm-up. I try to convince myself that I am having fun and not working!
So necessity is the mother of invention! I have discovered some techniques for maintaining the state of being in the zone for big matches without wearing myself out? Please consider these three suggestions:
Play competitive half court singles with your partner for at least fifteen minutes just prior to your match. Keep score. By playing singles, you are hitting every ball rather than half the balls. Using the half court, either diagonal or straight up, simulates doubles. Keeping score gets you focused.
After your first match, never sit for more than ten minutes. If you are in a tournament, between games find an open court and play fun, relaxed pickleball. Don’t push yourself. Laugh a lot. If no court is available, just hit balls back and forth with a partner.
Whether with or without a net, before each match, bang balls back and forth with your partner. Try to hit one another with the ball. Stand less than ten feet apart. This is a good way to put a sharp edge on your reaction time and get your blood circulating. Getting popped a few times in the chest with an outdoor ball always wakes me up.
If you are a recreational player and consider this topic irrelevant, sorry! But you may just find yourself a bit stiff from sitting and find one of these tips helpful in preparing for a particular pickleball opponent.
Please consider these three guidelines when choosing pickleball shoes.
Use tennis shoes outdoors and volleyball shoes indoors (wood floor).
Good-looking shoes compensate for lousy play.
People ask me whether we offer shoes made specifically for pickleball. We don’t, because they don’t exist. When Asics or Nike discover the demand, they will introduce “pickleball” shoes. Yet while the markings will be different, the shoes will not. High performing tennis shoes from any manufacturer are perfect for outdoor play, while volleyball or racquetball shoes are perfect for indoor play on gym floors.
Too often players wear tennis or running shoes for indoor play. Tennis and running shoe soles are designed for wear on asphalt surfaces; traction on gym floors is poor. Volleyball shoes are designed for traction on wood floors.
Tennis shoes should only be used outdoors!
Gym floors, especially when dusty, are slippery. Soft rubber soles provide traction. This is also a safety consideration. Additionally, soles used on rough surfaces like outdoor pickleball courts must survive lots of scuffing. This requires unnecessary weight.
Remember the old adage for backpackers that a pound on your feet equals ten pounds on your back? While 3 pound boots were common 30 years ago, today you can find hiking shoes weighing less than 8 ounces. Studies have not shown that an extra ounce of weight on each foot equates one lost point in every game of pickleball, but I bet they would!
This seems to be more true now that I am in my 50s. I wear a pair of 16 ounce Babolat tennis shoes for outdoor training, and my legs feel the burden. When I played in the US Open a few weeks ago, I ditched the Babolats and donned my 10 ounce volleyball shoes and my did I fly!
Well, it felt like it. By the way, while outdoor shoes ought not to be used indoors because of poor traction, the opposite rule does not apply. My volleyball shoes lasted through the US Open and the soles were gone!
For indoor play, look for volleyball shoes under 9 ounces. For outdoor play, 13 ounces is a good limit. These weights are for standard size shoes, so use your judgment. Hey, I can now repeatedly detect a 0.2 ounce difference in paddle weight, and it affects my play. So a full ounce on each foot must be important! Pickleball is a game of ounces (or grams for our international friends). My favorite brand is Asics for both volleyball and tennis shoes. And oh the colors!
As long as your shoes aren’t in THIS condition, you should be fine! (Photo: Mudstock – University of Arkansas)
Which brings us to the final point: If an extra ounce of weight on each foot might equate to one lost point, a corollary is that the brighter the shoe, the lighter the player. Flashy and colorful shoes create the image of fast and svelte players. I found that plain white tennis shoes work great for gardening. Not on the pickleball court!
Okay, I confess to being a bit disingenuous here. I was wearing nice golf shorts and my flashy Asics on the court the other day, and someone commented that I looked pretty fashionable. It occurred to me that great fashion and a big smile compensate for some pretty poor play.
What are your favorite shoes? Would you suggest PickleballCentral offer shoes?