Refereeing: An Underrated Way to Improve Pickleball Skills?

If you ask most players the best way to get better at pickleball, many will say drilling, practice and of course, playing as many games as possible. Yet there’s another option that doesn’t often get discussed that will not only improve your abilities, but allow you to give back to the pickleball community—refereeing.

Becoming a referee isn’t an overly involved process, and it allows you to get first row “seats” to many competitive games. Get good enough and you might even find yourself making calls for pros. You can bet that watching and listening to some of the best will allow you to make better decisions in your own play, not to mention you’ll have a very clear understanding of the rules and how to apply them.

Top pickleball ref and competitor Byron Fresno explains that he’s greatly enjoyed the benefits refereeing has provided him, and his own skills have become polished enough that he’s become an ambassador for paddle manufacturer Onix.

Check out some of Byron’s tips about how to be a good ref and also learn what he believes to be the most misunderstood rules are so you can make sure you’re interpreting them correctly!

The USAPA provides free refereeing resources on their Referee Training Tools page. The most important reference you’ll need is of course the official pickleball rulebook. Once you’ve reviewed the rules and know them inside and out, you can take the corresponding rules test and make sure you have a solid working knowledge of the game.

You can then go on to refereeing local recreational games before reaching out to more experienced refs and learning from them in turn. Several pickleball centers such as our own Pickleball Station occasionally have referee training clinics, which can be great supplements if you’d like some firsthand advice on how to make calls.

Pickleball Channel has a great Quick Start Guide to refereeing which will walk you through many necessities such as techniques on how to accurately keep score, remember which player is first or second server and many other helpful tips on how to keep all of a game’s details clear in your mind.

After you have some experience under your belt, you can apply to become a certified referee and get in on the truly top tier games. You may end up loving reffing and find that it not only enhances your abilities, but allows you to become a more well-rounded pickler and community resource!

Have you had any experience refereeing or is it something you’d be interested in trying for yourself? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Mike Welter Is Unstoppable; Named Florida Senior Games’ Athlete of the Year

Mike Welter is an incredible athlete and has rightfully been named the 2017 Florida Senior Games Athlete of the Year. Sadly, Mike suffered a stroke on September 30th this year which will prevent him from playing in the 2018 Senior Games, but he currently plans to take about a year off then leap right back into the fray.

This former Marine Corps colonel shows no signs of slowing down despite the health scare. The stroke initially paralyzed Mike’s left arm and leg and he lost his sight, but he’s since regained the use of his limbs and is beginning to see more clearly. Mike explains:

“I’m walking a mile or more each day and my sight is improving. The doctors are taking good care of me and I’m trying to get better. I’m going to take a year off from pickleball, but I’m going to be Comeback Player of the Year when I return.”

Mike Welter with Nancy Robertson

Mike Welter with Nancy Robertson (Credit: Cape Coral Daily Breeze)

We admire Mike’s determination and look forward to his return! At the Games last year he played in three medal events and placed in each for his 5th consecutive year. Mike partnered with Bobbi Little to win mixed doubles for the 3rd consecutive year, and also snagged gold in men’s doubles and silver in singles.

His win streak doesn’t stop there. Mike has won many medals in competitions across the world, even traveling with his wife to Mexico to participate in tournaments. He notes, “The game, when it’s played in big matches, can involve a lot of strategy, like a chess match. You have to put the ball in the right place.”

Here’s another interesting fact about Mike—did you know that he’s Kyle Yates’ uncle? That’s right; we not only have Mike to thank for his impressive personal records, but for getting one of the world’s best picklers into the game!

When Kyle was only a tender 15-years-old, he was convinced by his uncle to give the game a try. Mike noted (like many!) that Kyle initially thought that pickleball sounded stupid, but then “he picked it up in about one minute. He was very, very good, but I beat his butt (the first time). A week later he beat my butt, and he hasn’t looked back.”

Mike has been a big supporter of his local hospital’s wellness center in Cape Coral, having helped outfit the center with pickleball equipment so established fans and newcomers could play. He’s also been excitedly waiting for a new pickleball complex to be built by Lake Kennedy, which he’s certain will help spread the sport even further.

With this recognition from the Florida Senior Games, he’s become the first ever pickler to win the honor and the fourth from Lee County. 

We appreciate all of Mike’s efforts to assist pickleball in reaching more participants and can’t wait to have him back!

Singapore Helps Find Fun and Fans with Pickleball Fiesta

Happy Thanksgiving picklers! We hope everyone is enjoying time with family and friends and feasting on a hearty meal. We’re thankful for all the wonderful people in our lives, and we especially appreciate all those who have been willing to share a game or two (or more!) with us over the years.

Today we have an announcement that makes us grateful for pickleball’s ability to bring people together all over the world. Last month on October 28, over 140 people gathered in Singapore at the Clementi Sports Hall to enjoy the Pickleball Fiesta.

Pickleball Fiesta

This event was organized by Pickleball Club Singapore and supported by Sports Singapore in conjunction with the Women’s Tennis Association finals that took place there.

The goal was to promote sports, and particularly pickleball, among residents. Many newcomers came out in addition to long-time players who were willing to play a game among friends. There were several interesting skill-based games and competitions that took place which might inspire a few contests in your own clubs!

Have a look at the line-up:

Volley The Cones – Players stand at the NVZ and a ball machine shoots a ball over the net, while the player tries to return the volley and hit cones placed at the back of the court.

Drop The Shot – Players get a chance to return a ball from the machine from baseline and drop it into the NVZ.

Lob The Cones – Players get a chance to return the ball from the machine from the baseline and try to lob the ball into the opposite court baseline within the cones.

Pickleball Fiesta Challenge

When players succeeded they would win a prize. There were also two contests which involved player to player interaction instead of man versus machine. They were:

Dink Dink Competition – 16 teams competed with each other on a knock-out basis, dinking against each other within the NVZ.

Jolly Volley – 20 teams volleyed with one another and the team with the highest successful volleys won.

Pickleball Fiesta Contest

Pickleball Fiesta was organized with fun in mind and encouraged participants to pick up pickleball even after the action was concluded. There was a photo booth present so everyone could commemorate the event.

Do you have any fun yet lower stakes competitions you like to run within your club? After Thanksgiving dinner, somehow we don’t think we’ll be playing our best and fastest with a belly full of food…

Send a congratulations to Pickleball Club Singapore on their successful event and stop by if you’re ever in the area!

Pickleball Fiesta Sign

Pickleball Fiesta Photo

Margaritaville Paddles & Accessories Add Tropical Charm to Your Pickleball Gear

Margaritaville was the official sponsor for the Indian Wells Pickleball National Championships this year and brought plenty of its signature island flavor to the beautiful Californian locale.

What some players may not know is that a bevvy of Margaritaville-branded pickleball gear was released several months ago, and you can snag them for yourself if you’re a fan of summery styles or just want to put yourself in a vacationing mood.

Find all the options below at PickleballCentral’s Margaritaville category page! The paddles offering were made in conjunction with experienced tennis and pickleball manufacturer HEAD, so you can be sure you’ll be getting quality in addition to style.

Margaritaville Paddles

Paddles

All of the Margaritaville paddles have polymer cores with either graphite (Changes in Latitudes, Fins) or fiberglass (Washed in the Ocean, It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere) faces. Each option in the two categories offers a medium or heavier weight depending on your play preferences.

As you’ll note in the image above, the Fins and Washed in the Ocean paddles have more of an angular shape while the others are rounded at the top for a more standard design. The paddles have medium-sized circumferences with beautiful, vibrant coloring and imagery.

Margaritaville Tops

Apparel

PickleballCentral currently offers all the same designs shown on the paddle faces in t-shirt options for both men and women, so you can wear your favorite Margaritaville style regardless of the paddle you choose. The shirts are made with breathable polyester so you’ll feel just as breezy as you look.

The designs also use a unique PosiCharge technology which prevents fading and keeps the colors bright.

Margaritaville Bags

Bags

There are two Margaritaville bags that can help you carry around your gear while looking sharp. The backpack features a parrot with luggage/travel stamp imagery and has two compartments along with side pockets for water bottles.

The tote bag has a tropical appeal thanks to its palm trees foliage and orange/blue color palette. It provides a main compartment, interior accessory pouch and zippered exterior pocket.

If you’re planning a sunny getaway, be sure to grab some gear to match your surroundings! Which of the Margaritaville designs do you like the most? Are there any other Jimmy Buffett-inspired lyrics or images you’d like to see?

The Top 4 Draws of the Pickleball National Championships at Indian Wells

Now that the intense competition of the USAPA National Championships has cooled down, we’ve heard plenty of feedback from individuals who have attended as both participants and observers. The event was a rousing success and many were extremely pleased with the professionalism and attentiveness displayed by the staff at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

For those who only got to watch the coverage on ESPN or are curious if it might be worth attending next year, here are a few of the positives attendees appreciated about the event and venue:

Affordability

Parking at Indian Wells was $10 for the day, and many of the matches were completely free to attend. The Championship Court was only $10 to sit in the general seating area and ranged from $35 – 50 depending on the day and event for more premium seating.

The range of available food wasn’t incredibly varied and mostly included the basics (salad, burgers, hot dogs), but on the plus side the venue allowed visitors to bring their own meals, making it easy to maintain a budget or indulge in fine dining while watching games.

At PickleballCentral we also gave out over $9k in free merchandise, so you could’ve ended up leaving with more gear than you came with!

Incredible Matches

Around 2,300 players came to play on the 45 converted tennis courts at Nationals, and top talent from around the U.S. was on display. If you wanted to see some great games, Indian Wells was certainly the place to be.

Many visitors also noted that the pros were very approachable and enjoyed chatting with fellow competitors and attendees at their tents between games. Whether watching or participating, there were many opportunities to learn from the best by proxy.

Top Tier Management

The Indian Wells management team was noted to be very receptive to feedback and continually worked to ensure a pleasant experience for all involved. A number of observers noted that their comments were taken into consideration, such as asking for shaded bleachers outside the grandstand, and the next day portable umbrellas had been moved into the area.

Indian Wells staff held meetings with department heads daily after the games to determine what was running smoothly and what needed work. After the first day of play it was noted that the white chairs at one stadium’s end were creating a glare in the sun, and so overnight, the staff changed the chairs to dark green to improve visibility.

Clearly the staff cared about providing an exceptional experience for all involved, and they’ll only continue to get better over time.

Impressive Venue

The cleanliness and beautiful appearance of the Indian Wells facility was greatly appreciated by all present. There was live music, the courts were hosed down every night, and the seats were wiped down and cleaned.

Interestingly enough, the bathrooms were of particular note! Attendees noticed that they were continually cleaned throughout the day and had a very spacious interior. Seems like a small thing, but everyone appreciates it when the place they relieve themselves actually feels relieving!

If you got the opportunity to go to Nationals, what were some of your favorite moments or aspects of Indian Wells? We’re looking forward to another fantastic showing next year!

Pickleball Players Create Calendar to Raise Funds

Many picklers have come up with unique and interesting ways to raise funds for their clubs, from themed tournaments to collaborations with local businesses. Recently the women of Simi Valley YMCA came up with a new idea to support their local courts by making a pickleball-themed calendar.

Florence Trapani, aka Miss November, shared, “I always take pictures and videos and put them on Facebook. Then Sue and I were like, at the same time, ‘We should do a calendar!’ Then we were laughing about who’s going to buy our calendar. So we asked the guys who play with us, and they were like, ‘We’ll all buy a calendar!’”

Image from last year's  2017 Triple Crown Professional Pickleball Tournament in Simi Valley

Image from last year’s 2017 Triple Crown Professional Pickleball Tournament in Simi Valley (Credit: Simi Valley Acorn

The women involved are all sizes and dressed in their favorite pickleball attire for the images. Alongside raising cash for the YMCA, they hope that the calendar might dispel some of the uncertainty surrounding pickleball for newcomers. Gary Gossett, the local USAPA ambassador explained:

“Sometimes people poke their head through the gate and they’re intimidated because they see all of us playing and they don’t know how to play. This looks intimidating because it’s such a small court, so I think the ladies doing this will lighten it up a little bit — and it will be a hit.”

The players all decided to take action shots of their signature moves, such as the “chicken wing” and “punch.” The calendar serves as a way to promote pickleball, its players and the community.

We’ve actually seen a few other groups put together pickleball calendars, but it’s primarily been for fun/promo purposes rather than as a fundraiser. AIPA, for example, showed several of their members in different court locations to serve as memorabilia for their members, partners and friends.

Have you tried any unique ideas for fundraising to support your pickleball club? What sort of activities or goods would you be interested in?

Upcoming 2019 Pickleball Retreats in the Tropics

As the weather cools down in the Northern Hemisphere, we’ve been looking out for exciting new pickleball experiences that offer a bit more warmth on the courts. Most of us prefer playing outdoors, and unless you’re used to weathering icy blasts, it’s a lot more fun to play in the sunshine!

Pickleball Vacation Adventures has a beautiful trip to the Mayan Riviera scheduled for 7 nights, running from Jan 6 – 13th in 2019. There will be daily open play at the stunning Grand Palladium Colonial Resort including clinics led by the PVA team of pros including Ben Johns and Christine McGrath.

Pickleball Vacation Adventures

Pickleball Vacation Adventures – Mayan Riviera

Meals, lodging, hotel transport and instruction are all included in the price tag. Pickleball Vacation Adventures will also be heading to Israel and Ecuador in June and August respectively, so if you don’t have enough time to plan for Mexico, take a look at their other upcoming trips.

The Pura Vida House is another excellent tropical escape that should be on your pickleball to-do list. Located in Costa Rica, this 5-star resort is home to three white sand beaches, two spas, a host of fantastic restaurants and private courts at the nearby Hacienda Pinilla.

Brian in Costa Rica

Brian in Costa Rica (Credit: Pura Vida House)

Pura Vida House also offers 7-night trips throughout the year and hosts a number of traveling pros for top tier instruction. Spots for these experiences sell out fast, but act soon and you might be able to snag time with athletes like Tyson McGuffin, Aspen Kern and Laura Fenton Kovanda.

PickleballCentral’s beloved, bearded pro Brian Ashworth helped host travelers in Costa Rica earlier last year and said the experience was one he’ll always remember. Available trips start in April 2019 and are currently scheduled through May.

Lastly, we have a reminder that PickleballTrips, run by the highly talented and kind Daniel Moore, has several tours scheduled around the world next year in stunning international destinations. The first to come up will be in San Carlos, Mexico (February) and Thailand (Feb/March).

We’ve spoken with Daniel about his work as a instructor and guide before, so be sure to take a look at our PickleballTrips interview to find out more about the exciting and personal experiences he seeks to create.

Are you planning any warm weather retreats this winter, or are you taking your game indoors so your skills don’t ice over this season?

When Should You Poach?

Poaching, which involves one player moving to take a shot that was hit to their partner, is a fairly common technique in pickleball, especially at higher levels of play.

Some picklers rightly assume that poaching can be frustrating to your partner if done indiscriminately. After all, those balls were intended for them and there should be a certain level of trust between both players. However, in high stakes scenarios like tournaments where one player is often heavily targeted (either due to a lower skill level and/or to try and fatigue half of the competition), poaching can be a necessity to avoid burnout.

So when should you make a move to cover your partner? We discuss the best circumstances below:

1) If your partner is out of position.

The best and clearest instance of when you should poach is when your partner is having to really exert themselves to cover their side of the court. Maybe your opponents hit a tricky shot right at your partner’s feet and there’s no way they could recover fast enough to chase after it. The ball was lobbed and they’re facing the wrong way. They’re struggling to follow the ball’s spin. In any of these situations and similar scenarios, if you see the opportunity it’s safe to say you should take it to avoid losing the point.

Shot down the middle

If he’s a rightie, the player in white should normally take this shot. (Credit: Michael and Sherry Martin)

2) If the ball is coming toward your forehand.

It’s easier for most players to hit with their forehand. When you encounter those annoying shots down the middle of the court, or even if the ball is heading slightly to your partner’s side, if your dominant hand is in position then you’ll be able to reach it more easily and return it with more “zing.” The same goes for your partner as well. When you switch sides on the court, try to allow whoever has the “power position” to take advantage of their role, unless either of you has a killer backhand.

3) If your opponents are being consistent.

Has the other team been reliably targeting your partner? It’s tougher to tell what your competition’s plans are at the start of the match, but if it’s obvious they’re trying to wear your partner down, it’s likely time to start drawing some of the heat away from them. Start slipping over to their side and changing up the pace of play in order to throw the other team off their game.

As always, be respectful of your partner and be sure to discuss strategies with them and if they mind you poaching before starting a game. You may find that when you’re the partner under fire, poaching can be a saving grace!

What experiences have you had poaching or being poached, and is it a technique you like to employ during games?

Can Pickleball Reduce Crime?

We have talked about pickleball being taken to correctional facilities before and how it’s positively influenced the inmates there. Pickleball has little if any direct physical contact between players, making it an ideal spoke to promote competition without aggression. It’s simple to get started and generally lends itself to friendly banter between opponents.

An article from the Daily Herald has presented another interesting viewpoint on pickleball’s perks, saying that the game has even reduced crime in Orem, UT.

Sharon Park Courts

A beautiful view from the Sharon Park courts

Six courts were introduced to Sharon Park, and comparing crime statistics from June – July this year to 2017, “drug calls are down 40 percent, fireworks complaints 50 percent, juvenile problems 60 percent, public peace 60 percent, suspicious activities 20 percent, and theft is down 57 percent.”

Pickleball alone likely can’t be credited with having all the solutions, as city spokesman Steven Downs said that “activating” parks is a known deterrent to crime. The city has also improved walkways, added additional lighting and benches and updated restrooms. Yet pickleball has clearly played a large role in creating a family-friendly atmosphere and revitalizing the area.

Downs says that, “These pickleball courts have not only been a physical benefit to our citizens, it has also been a social benefit. Every day you can see families, friends, neighbors, and others interacting together. We are ecstatic that these courts have been received so well. We plan to do more in the future.”

So there you have it! Pickleball not only provides benefits to health and happiness, but city safety as well. With many parks across the country opening up more pickleball courts or renovating current locations, we hope to see many more improvements in the future.

Have you ever had personal experience with pickleball making a location safer or more welcoming to the community? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Dick Johnson Is the 2nd Pickler to Win “Personal Best” from the NSGA

Dick Johnson has received the “Personal Best” Award from the National Senior Games Association, the largest multi-sport event in the world for athletes 50 years and older. This recognition is only presented to a handful of athletes out of over 100,000 entrants across 20 sports. In the Games’ 31 years of history, this is only the second time a pickler has received the award, and the first for an Idahoan.

Looking at Dick’s incredible accomplishments and character, the award is well deserved.

The indomitable athlete has medaled twice in all seven national and world pickleball championships, and won close to 200 medals (mostly gold) in tournaments. More impressive yet, he’s done it within only five years of starting the sport.

Dick Johnson

Credit: National Senior Games Assoc.

Dick had played tennis since the 8th grade and won state championships. After a back fusion surgery in 1978 he continued to mentor his three daughters, all of whom became high school tennis champs.

Unfortunately, the surgery only partly suppressed Dick’s back pain, forcing him to permanently quit tennis about 20 years ago. Like many coming from a racquet sport background, he wanted to find a sport that would still challenge him and help him stay healthy without exacerbating his discomfort.

Pickleball was the answer, and the 78-year-old has given back by helping to construct a new facility at Hobble Creek in Boise, as well as becoming a founder of the Super Seniors International Pickleball Association.

Dick’s wife, Lawana, is proud of his dedication, skill and passion, saying that she is happy his work inspires others. He continues to serve through his devotion to “God, family and community.”

An article by the National Senior Games Association interviews Dick and shares more of his experiences and impressive accomplishments. Dick explains how pickleball helped him overcome his back pain and type 2 diabetes, how he got through multiple operations, his biggest inspirations and how he stays motivated.

Give it a read to find out more about this wonderful pickler! Our congratulations go out to Dick and his family.