Cemented: The Success Story of Seymour Rifkind

CEMENTED: The Success Story of Seymour Rifkind

“I will be the 1969 State All-Around Champion and State Parallel Champion.”

These are the words that 16-year-old Seymour Rifkind etched into wet cement on a hot summer night in 1967. This was the same cement that he used to anchor the parallel bars into the ground that he built in his backyard. “I had a lot of my teammates come over and practice on the bars,” the International Gymnastic Competitor Gold and Bronze medal winner fondly recalled.

“It was there for everyone to see. I shared that goal and dream with others. When I had injuries, when I was tired, burnt out, didn’t feel like working out, they would be the ones who would say, ‘Hey, remember you said you would be State Champion?’”

Two years later, Seymour Rifkind became the 1969 State All-Around Champion and State Parallel Champion.

Seymour Rifkind on the cover of The Modern Gymnast Magazine in 1969

Seymour Rifkind on the cover of The Modern Gymnast Magazine in 1969

“If you do everything you promise yourself, then your belief system is extremely powerful. In your mind the goal is already accomplished.” It’s this exact mantra that has propelled Rifkind from a High School standout in the field of gymnastics into an international superstar.

The Strength of Family

With a DIY mindset and drive to succeed, Rifkind has parlayed that success by creating his own marketing firm, becoming a best-selling author and founding the International Pickleball Teaching Professional Association (IPTPA).

The need to succeed wasn’t something that Seymour Rifkind just woke up and decided one day. It was a gene he was born with. As the first-born son of a Holocaust survivor, Seymour understood the importance of family from an early age.

“There are many studies and books written on children of Holocaust survivors,” recalled the eldest Rifkind boy, “One trait is a strong motivating factor to be successful not just for themselves, but their parents.”

An estimated 11 million people died during the mass execution known as the Holocaust. This number includes many of the family members of Albert Rifkind. “My father lost his siblings. Two other brothers. He felt guilty for surviving. He felt his older brother was smarter. His younger brother was the kindest. My father was the troublemaker.”

Coping with the loss of losing his beloved family, Albert Rifkind was determined to provide the family he created with everything they could ever need. The guilt-ridden survivor emigrated to the United States without knowing a lick of English. He never passed the 10th grade, instead turning to the workforce to provide for his family.

Seymour Rifkind at the Ironman Triathlon

Seymour Rifkind at the Ironman Triathlon

This exhibition of work ethic and sacrifice paired with his father’s stories of survival resonated with a young Seymour.

“It became extremely important to me to make him happy, make him proud. I was the first born Rifkind son, and I took that as a major responsibility. The Rifkinds had survived another generation.”

Although the Rifkind brood had everything they needed thanks to the sweat of their father’s brow, there was little money to be had. The reality of their situation as a poor family in the 1960’s was that the young men in the Rifkind household wouldn’t be able to attend college. Therefore, they would have to enlist in the army. This was during the height of the Vietnam War. “I knew people that graduated, turned 18, went to Nam and in six months they were gone.”

As Seymour’s peers found themselves being drafted, the savvy teen needed a plan that would get him into college and away from the battle lines. Aware of how war ravaged his father’s family was, Seymour sought a path to freedom through extracurricular activities. It was during this formative time that the driven teenager discovered his ticket to higher education: gymnastics.

“In PE class I did the most pull-ups, chin-ups, sit-ups. I was a small guy with innately good strength in proportions of my body.” It was these characteristics that led him to become a standout on the parallel bars. As his aspirations to compete at the college level became clear to coaches, the Head Coach at Michigan State University said, “You’re a talented kid. A good parallel bar specialist, but to get a scholarship to college, you need to compete in all the events.”

That was all Seymour needed to hear.

Hard Work’s Reward

With two years to graduate, Seymour Rifkind began the intense training that has become his trademark. There were five events that he needed to excel in to become the well-rounded star athlete he dreamed of being. They were parallel bars, rings, high bar, floor exercise, pommel horse.

Seymour Rifkind's 21st Century Samurai book

Rif’s book on the path to success and fulfillment.

“Pommel horse would be my greatest challenge, so I borrowed one from the school. I took it home and set it up in the basement. A friend came over and I told him that I wasn’t quitting until I did two circles around the horse.” Saying it out loud makes it a reality. With blistered hands, Seymour refused to come up for dinner when his mom called. His friend went home.

Finally, his dad came home from work at 11:30 that night. He came downstairs and said to Seymour, “What is this? You’ve had enough! You’ve been doing it for 9 hours already. Enough is enough!” Before heading back upstairs, his father turned around one last time. “Ugh. You’re so damn stubborn.”

Stubborn indeed. At 2:30 AM, Seymour finally nailed the two circles.

It was during this time that Seymour built his parallel bars in the backyard. “I got pipes, found oars from a row boat, dug holes and poured cement.”

And it was in that cement, that he cemented his legacy. Two years after etching his goals and aspirations into the foundation, the soon-to-be graduate stamped his ticket to college. The rest is history.

Upon graduating college, Seymour Rifkind would go on to become an International Gymnastic Competitor Gold and Bronze medal winner. Acknowledging the example set by his father, the advice given by a college coach and the encouragement of his peers, Seymour realized that he didn’t accomplish his goals alone.

“It’s a mixture of success and luck. There’s a lot of people who work hard, but they’re not successful and don’t go the right way. You need to surround yourself with those who share your visions. Put forth the work ethic and sacrifice.” The ability to separate himself from the tunnel-vision athlete and step into the role of a leader who sees the big picture is what led him to become a coach. Rif competed in an Iron Man Triathlon, and using the wisdom that was passed onto him, he’s since coached over 25 All-Americans and worked with five Olympic gymnasts.

Following his successful sports career, Seymour Rifkind met athletic retirement with yet another journey. He started his own marketing firm. Through this endeavor he’s been able to share his visions and work ethic with like-minded people. Seymour’s success has bred the success of many others, and continues to do so with his book, 21st Century Samurai: The Secret Path to Success and Fulfillment.

Much like his father, Seymour prides himself in his ability to provide for his family. He wants his children to live an even better life than he did. Spending quality time with those he loves is something near and dear to his heart.

A New Dream for Pickleball

“I’ve always been a big sports nut and had season tickets to the Bears for 30 years. I had a goal. I wanted to visit all the different NFL stadiums, but only when they played the Bears.” He loved the opportunity to see new communities, meet different people, but most of all, allow for some quality time with his wife and two sons.

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Rif in the orange shirt, lower right corner, competing at the 2016 US OPEN Pickleball Championship

It was during this time that fate met Seymour Rifkind yet again. After taking in a Chicago Bears vs. Carolina Panthers game, Seymour looked at his team’s schedule and saw they were going to be in Atlanta next week to take on the Falcons. Instead of flying back to Chicago, the Rifkind brood stayed local. He decided to visit some friends who lived at The Villages in Florida.

It was then that Seymour was introduced to pickleball. “15 minutes, I was hooked into the game.”

Upon heading back to Chicago, Seymour couldn’t keep his mind off the sport he knew so little about. He attempted to seek out other players in the community, and found a couple of park districts where he could play pick-up games. “All different levels of players. No real drilling. No instruction. Just go out and have fun.”

Having a tennis background, Seymour couldn’t help but pick up the fundamentals relatively quickly. However, it was that exact tennis background that made him realize there were a few bad habits he needed to drop. Driving the ball at other beginners, Seymour thought his tennis background was the secret to pickleball success. That was until he entered his first pickleball tournament.

“I got beat up real bad. I saw people doing shots I never attempted before.” And then he thought to himself, “There’s obviously a better way to play than what I am doing.” Like always, Seymour sought out like-minded people with more experience. He needed a better understanding of the fundamentals.

Organizing Excellence

“I recognized right away that this is a great sport, but there was no formal instruction taking place.” The same man who as a young boy wrote his dreams in cement now had a new goal in sight. He was going to set up a commission that would agree on the fundamentals of pickleball. Once everyone was on the same page, those people would train the teachers who will train the pickleball players of tomorrow. The long-term goal? To make pickleball an Olympic sport in the next 20 years.

“In the summer of 2015, I had a simple strategic plan. We need to do what’s best for the sport. We needed people more qualified than me to buy into this.” Seymour called a meeting between top players in November of 2015 at the Pickleball Nationals. He shared his vision. “They responded positively and quickly. A lot of other people saw the need to get this done.” Once the like-minded people were on board, the IPTPA was born.

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One year later, IPTPA has certified over 100 instructors, with 235 in the system at various stages of training. They are doing it consistently. They are doing it the right way.

“A year ago when I first started thinking about this, if we could get 100 instructors, it’s an obtainable objective. And we did.” Now, the sky is the limit. Heading into 2017, one of the initiatives of the IPTPA is to spread into Europe and Asia. Seymour recently spoke to federations in India about getting IPTPA directors over there. They plan to assist these countries and give them better equipment.

“Some countries don’t have the funding needed to afford some of these things. If everyone in the pickleball community, manufacturers of paddles and balls, if we all get together, we can put together a program to help developing countries enjoy pickleball.

After all, you need competing countries if you are going to have an Olympic sport. With a DIY athlete with the mindset of Seymour Rifkind at the helm, this can become a reality. “The sum of all good helps. Being unselfish and loving the sport makes them share with each other.”

This is exactly why Seymour Rifkind’s legacy has been one of a success. It’s the same reason why his success story can help cement pickleball’s Olympic aspirations.

Meet The Pros: Mohammed Massaquoi

Meet the Pros: Mohammed Massaquoi

I came across Mohammed’s name on the medal list at the 2016 US Open Pickleball Championship Tournament. I thought this pickleball pro is one to watch, since he can compete with some of the best, including Steve Wong, Rob Elliott and Tao Thongvanh.  Enjoy!

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Medal Win at the Real Dill Tournament in Houston, Texas

Can you list for us your major wins so we can correctly introduce you to our readers?

2016 Fall Brawl, Men’s Doubles, Skill 5.0 with Tao Thongvanh – Bronze
2016 US OPEN, Men’s Doubles Age with Steve Wong – Bronze
I beat Robert Elliot 1 out of three games 11-1 at Mid-South Regionals. I have won gold in multiple local tournaments.

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Fall Brawl Men’s Doubles – Mills Miller/Morgan Evans, Gold; Dave Weinbach/Brian Ashworth Silver; Mohammed Massaquoi/Tao Thongvanh

What paddle do you play with and why?

I have played with the Onix React paddle and currently play with the prototype Onix Voyager because it’s heavy enough to control the strongest impact from the outdoor ball, but it’s not too heavy. Also the handle is thick and long which fits well in my large hands.

What’s your pickleball story? How were you introduced to pickleball?

I consider myself to be open minded. I’ve played pick-up basketball my entire adult life. So one day when I arrived at the community center courts and found that there was no basketball because of pickleball, I decided, “Why not?” I’ve been playing ever since.

What’s your preference – playing indoor or outdoor?

It gets hot in Houston so we mostly play indoors. I’m a much better indoor player than outdoor.

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The Real Dill Tournament in Houston: 1st Place went to Mohammed Massaquoi/Shay Alhalaby, 2nd Place went to Mitus Junatas/Vuong (Joe) NGuyen and 3rd place went to Li Liu /Alan Huang

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?

I like doubles because it embodies what pickleball was created to be: a way to have fun with multiple people. Singles is more grueling and antagonistic.

What’s your favorite place to play? Why?

The Pearland YMCA is the place to play in greater Houston. The courts have plenty of space. The competition is good and I like the players. Besides that. I love to play anywhere where I can find great competition.

 

What’s your secret sauce? Any tips for players?

Every opponent is a puzzle. If you learn what the right decisions are, then winning is just
a matter of repetition.

What’s your day job?

I’m a certified Loss Control Consultant. I’ve been doing insurance surveys since 2007.

massaquoi-on-the-court

How many hours a week do you play? How do you make time to play?

I only play about 6 or 7 hours a week. I make my own schedule and so usually I play Fridays for sure.

Any lucky rituals before a big tournament?

I’ve learned that it’s better to drink a whole lot of fluids and take cramp pills before the tournament starts and not during the tournament or after you start cramping.

Do you have any pickleball goals you’d like to share?

My goal is to get a gold in the Open Division of a Tier 2 tournament.

USAPA Reapproves Jugs Pickleballs, Clarifies Ball Conditioning Requirements for Pure 2

Jugs Indoor Pickleball

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

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

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.

Neon Color Dura Fast 40 Ball

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! 

US Open Logo

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.

Cosom Fun Ball

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.

 

Meet The Pros: Rosi Pietromonaco

Meet the Pros: Rosi Pietromonaco

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Rosi at 2015 USAPA Nationals with her Gold medal, Women’s Singles

Can you list for us your major wins so we can correctly introduce you to our readers?

I’ve had major wins at the USAPA Nationals, the Huntsman Senior Games and many state tournaments.

rosi-pietromonaco
What paddle do you play with and why?

I use the Engage Blade pickleball paddle right now. I like using it to play singles. I’ve also played with the Encore Composite and the Paddletek Element.

What’s your pickleball story? How were you introduced to pickleball?

I saw pickleball for the first time in 2000 when I moved to The Villages. Of course, I wanted to learn the game right away. I fell in love with it and started competing in 2003. The Florida State Senior Games allowed pickleball as a sport for the first time. 

What’s your preference – playing indoor or outdoor?

I play mostly outdoors and I prefer it. Indoors is okay if the lighting is good.

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?

I enjoy playing singles, because if I have an off day I only disappoint myself. I don’t like to let my partners down.

What’s your favorite place to play? Why?

I enjoyed my experience playing in Casa Grande, Arizona and thought the way they’ve organized their four center courts is great for the spectators.

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2016 USAPA Nationals – Women’s 70+ Singles – Gold/Barb Wintroub, Silver/Fran Myer, Bronze/Rosi Pietromonaco

What’s your secret sauce? Any tips for players?

I try to watch my opponents play if possible to see their weaknesses and movement capability. I also focus on my main shots: the deep serve, deep return and the drop shot. After that, I just try to keep it away from their forehand and hit down to their feet.

How many hours a week do you play? How do you make time to play?

I play every day, sometimes twice a day.

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2016 Florida Senior Games, Mixed Doubles Gold with Keith Coates

Any lucky rituals before a big tournament?
We practice dinking and drop shots a lot.

Anything else you’d like to share about your experience being one of the best pickleball players in the world?

I feel the most important part of playing is to enjoy it, and if you’re competitive, the rest falls into place. I try to have fun. I never get angry if something goes wrong. I just laugh it off and move on to try not to make that mistake again. I always keep it positive for my partner too, and frequently compliment them.

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2016 Huntsman Senior games: Women’s Skill Doubles: Lola Benneyan/Claire Norton – Gold, Barb DiDonato/Carol Hammerle – Silver, Rosi Pietromonaco/Phyllis Ward – Bronze

Lunch with Pickleball Founder Barney McCallum

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Glen Petersen and Barney McCallum, 2016

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.

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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.

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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.


Glen Petersen

Meet The Pros – Scott Clayson

Meet The Pros – Scott Clayson

Silver Fall Brawl Scott Clayson/Laura Ogden

Fall Brawl St. George, Utah: Gold with Tyler W. Sheffield, Silver Scott Clayson/Laura Ogden Fenton Kovanda, Bronze Roxanne Pierce/Scott Lennan

Scott Clayson has been described as an “awesome partner and a class-act person” by one of his doubles partners. He’s a humble guy who is totally addicted to this sport! ENJOY!

Can you list for us your major wins so we can correctly introduce you to our readers?

Silver in 2016 Fall Brawl Mixed Doubles age with Laura Fenton Kovanda
Gold in 2016 Tournament of Champions Legends Men’s Doubles with Scott Moore
Silver in 2016 Tournament of Champions Legends Mixed Doubles with Alex Hamner
Gold in 2016 US Open Men’s age 50-55 with Scott Moore
Silver in 2016 US Open Mixed age 45-50 with Stephanie Lane
Bronze in 2016 US Open Men’s Senior Open 50+ with Michael Gates
Gold 2016 USAPA Western Regional Tournament Mixed 50+ with Gigi LeMaster
Gold in 2016 Grand Canyon State Games Men’s age 50-60 with Michael Gates
Silver in 2016 Grand Canyon State Games Mixed age 50-55 with Alex Hamner

What paddle do you play with and why?

I play with the Paddletek Tempest Wave. Early on in my pickleball experience I tried a number of different paddles. I have now found a home with the Paddletek Tempest Wave. I think it strikes the right balance of touch for the soft game and pop for a deep return of serve. I also feel that it has durability so it lasts longer than some other paddles I’ve used in the past.

What’s your pickleball story? How were you introduced to pickleball?

Interestingly, I was introduced to pickleball in 1998 by a coworker. We only had four of us playing for about a year. At the end of the year, our most avid player died and our group ceased to play. I didn’t play again for another 13 years, as there was no one to play with. Then a local tennis player, Kyle Klein, started a group in our local community of Brigham City, home of Tournament Of Champions, and my addiction grew from there.  If anything, I’ve had to restrain myself from playing too much. I would strongly encourage others to cross train with other exercises as I have found injuries come from repetitive angles on my joints.

What’s your preference – playing indoor or outdoor?

I prefer outdoor play as I like the fresh air and the outdoor surface. We do play indoors for 2 or 3 months though and still have a great time.

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?

I prefer doubles as I want to save my joints so I can play as long as possible!

What’s your favorite place to play? Why?

I really enjoy playing recreationally in Brigham City, Utah. We have a number of different levels of players in our local area. We have a great time playing competitive games plus a little trash talking to keep it interesting.

What’s your secret sauce? Any tips for players?

My background was in high school tennis and participating in local community racquetball tournaments, but my most dominant influence has been table tennis. My mindset for the game of pickleball is that it’s like one large ping pong table. I grip high on the neck of the paddle handle and use the same grip I use on a ping pong paddle. I use a lot of wrist and particularly favor my backhand, which is unusual for a pickleball player.

What’s your day job?

I retired back in 2010 from working in the oil / gas industry as a CPA. I do a few hours of consulting each month plus some of my own investing activities. When I go out to play pickleball, I tell my wife I am headed to work. She caught on really quickly.

How many hours a week do you play? How do you make time to play?

In past years I played 4 or 5 days per week, but I’ve cut that back to 3 days per week as I want to cross train with other exercise programs like biking, lifting weights, etc. In hours, I probably play 10 hours per week.

Any lucky rituals before a big tournament?

Eggs and whole grain cereal for breakfast. Playing warm up points or games help me greatly.

Do you have any pickleball goals you’d like to share?

My goal is to not take it so seriously. If it becomes too much like work, I won’t enjoy it. It is just a game and I want to keep it that way. With that being said, it is more fun to win than to lose.

Anything else you’d like to share about your experience being one of the best pickleball players in the world?

First, I am not one of the best in world. I prove it by losing regularly! Second, I am excited to see the sport grow and positively affect the lives of people who may not have played a sport at their age or physical ability. I also think the social and emotional benefits are unique and are the greatest part of why the sport is so addictive. I do think there can be a “dark side” to the pickleball addiction if people do not keep a proper perspective and life balance. I worry sometimes that people alter their family, religious or work life to accommodate an excessive amount of pickleball. That being said, the sport has far more positive benefits than negatives and I enjoy it very much!

USAPA 2015 Nationals: Gold Medalists Rob and Jodi Elliott, Silver Medalists Josh and Abby Grubbs and Bronze Medalists Scott Clayson and Stephanie Lane.

2015 USAPA Nationals: Gold Medalists Rob and Jodi Elliott, Silver Medalists Josh and Abby Grubbs and Bronze Medalists Scott Clayson and Stephanie Lane

The Birth of the International Pickleball Teaching Professional Association

Pop! Pop! Pop!

The familiar sound of pickleballs ricocheting off paddles filled the pickleball courts at Palm Creek in Casa Grande, Arizona. The noise was a soundtrack to the hard-fought tournament in progress at the 2016 USAPA Nationals. The rapid back-and-forth of two teams competing their hearts out served as music to the ears of international gymnastic gold medalist-turned-pickleball aficionado, Seymour Rifkind.

“What a fantastic event,” exclaimed the author of 21st Century Samurai: The Secret Path to Success and Fulfillment. “The organization was outstanding, and the media coverage was instantaneous.”

With over 10,000 views and counting on YouTube, this year’s 2016 USAPA Nationals has been shared time and again. “The competition just keeps getting better… and younger,” Seymour says in a reflective tone.

USAPA Nationals

Image credit: Tom Gottfried

During the 2015 National Tournament, pickleball coaches and players including Rifkind discussed whether the time was right to organize a formal teacher certification program. All sports have training camps and clinics which are used to cultivate talent. Standards needed to be set and adhered to, and teachers needed to maintain high standards.

This led to the birth of the International Pickleball Teaching Professional Association (IPTPA). According to Rifkind the organization created “a curriculum of agreed-upon basic pickleball fundamentals [such as] identifying the correct strategies, shot selections and strokes for beginner through intermediate players.”

Five months later, on the heels of the US Open Pickleball Championships, the IPTPA was born. “We launched our website and formally started certifying IPTPA teaching professionals,” says Rifkind. Since its inception, the IPTPA has had over 200 people in various stages of the certification process, of which approximately 100 are IPTPA certified.

This isn’t simply a “sign up and get on the list” scenario. The IPTPA takes their certifications seriously to ensure the future of the sport is in good hands. No stranger to success, Rifkind and company challenge the applicants to be their best. “We have a failure rate of 7.5% identified as individuals who did not pass one or more of the three tests required and have been asked to retake the exam at a later date after completing more study, practice and/or teaching experience.”

It’s clear that Rifkind was feeling that passion that made him an Olympic-level gymnast. “One of the most important traits of a good coach is the recognition from the start that this is a selfless profession. It is not about me; it is about my students. You need to feel genuine satisfaction in helping your students achieve their goals.”

“All your planning, study and self-improvement should be directed to helping your students: How can I organize my lessons and clinics more effectively? What additional drills or suggestions can I learn to aid my students in learning the third shot drop? What are the most effective training tools other IPTPA members use while teaching? What can I do to motivate, recognize problem areas and, most importantly, correct the problems I identify with each of my students with each of my students?”

Seymour Rifkind

Seymour Rifkind

Prior to his involvement in pickleball, Seymour Rifkind traveled the world putting on peak performance workshops for major university athletic teams. He explained to coaches that peak performance was more than breaking down film. It was about reinforcing the basics, training harder and longer, and surrounding yourself with other coaching experts. At the highest level of competition, the mental aspects that each individual must train to develop is the critical factor to success and winning titles. Focus, commitment, and one’s belief system become paramount mental factors to success.”

In order to maintain member status as a certified teaching professional, it is required that each IPTPA member continue his or her education by earning 2 continuing education units (CEU) per year. This process will be emphasized and enforced in year two. IPTPA will offer extensive full-day workshops such as the one being offered on April 21 in Naples, Florida (which will fulfill the 2-CEU requirement) as well as monthly webinars and on-line video tutorials.

 

iptpa-logo

 

Members may also write articles, create videos and tip sheets for submission to IPTPA. If they are deemed worthy and published, members will earn CEU credit. In this way, a two-way level of communication is encouraged so that members and management are working together to fulfill their mission:

IPTPA will be the world’s leading organization of Certified Pickleball Teaching Professionals, viewed and highly respected as an organization of knowledgeable experts and industry innovators. IPTPA will deliver an ongoing program of workshops, seminars and other learning experiences to continually raise the quality of each of our members. Our intent is to raise the standards of pickleball excellence on a worldwide basis and to work in conjunction with the USAPA to help grow the sport of pickleball.

As Seymour Rifkind reminisces about all the progress made, he can’t help but look ahead to what the 2017 US Open Championships hold. He is excited to see which star athletes will become the next champions, breaking out of their molds to become superstars.

“In April 2017, we will be celebrating our first full year in operation. We will kick off our second year by introducing the first of many content-driven programs for our membership. The first IPTPA World Congress is scheduled as an all-day workshop to be held April 21, 2017, in Naples, Florida, in conjunction with the 2017 US Open Pickleball Championships.”

IPTPA members should visit their website and sign up for their inaugural IPTPA World Congress.

Prospective members may also be interested in checking the website as well, to learn more about the IPTPA such as requirements necessary for certification. Follow the IPTPA Facebook page for additional content and breaking updates.