How Pickleball Can Change an Inmate’s Life

“Sadly, most inmates in correctional institutions come from very difficult backgrounds. For much of their lives positive guidance has been limited. One of the many benefits of pickleball is that the game can be used as a metaphor for teaching ‘life skills’ such as being a good teammate, following the rules and thinking about consequences.”

These are the words of a man spending time with people most of us hope we do not encounter. Driven by his love of the game and his willingness to help others, Roger BelAir went into an environment few will ever experience: Chicago’s Cook County Jail.

Why? To teach the game of pickleball to dozens of inmates.

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Bit by the Pickleball Bug

Roger began playing pickleball about six years ago. He took to the sport quickly and realized that just about anyone can play the game. It’s easy to learn, low impact on the joints, social and—most importantly—fun. Since then, he plays practically daily and frequently competes in tournaments.

Roger’s love for pickleball resulted in sharing his passion with others. With a background in professional speaking, he started conducting clinics at local recreation facilities. From there he expanded to teaching at corporate retreats and destination health spas like Rancho La Puerta.

Eventually, a chance episode of CBS’ 60 Minutes opened up a new avenue.

An Idea is Born

One Sunday evening, Roger watched an episode of 60 Minutes profiling the Sheriff of Chicago’s Cook County Jail, Tom Dart. It appeared from the piece that inmates spent much of their time eating, sleeping, watching TV or playing cards.

Roger thought, “If the inmates played pickleball, they’d get exercise, interact with others from different backgrounds and would learn ‘life skills’ in a positive setting.”

Following the airing of 60 Minutes, Roger contacted Sheriff Dart. He encouraged him and his staff to consider pickleball for the many benefits it offers.

A Safer Alternative

One of the aspects Roger brought to the attention of Sheriff Dart and his staff was the safety of pickleball. When exercise in correctional settings does take place, it’s often basketball.

“The game can be aggressive and is usually dominated by big and strong men,” says Roger. “As you’d expect, anger and frustration can boil over onto the court.”

In fact, injuries are such a problem that many correctional facilities are cutting back on basketball as a form of recreation.

A major difference between pickleball and basketball lies in the equipment. Little damage can be done to players by a portable net, plastic ball and paddles. Additionally, there is no physical contact between the players as in basketball.

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The leadership at Cook County Jail was open to allowing pickleball into their facility. Before he knew it, Roger was on a flight to Chicago where he would spend a week working with inmates and staff on the basics of pickleball.

Welcome to Chicago

As Roger put into perspective, “Today in the United States there are over two million people incarcerated. 98% of them will eventually be released back into society. They’ll be in our shopping malls, driving on our freeways and in our parks where children are playing. I’m not a bleeding heart. I’m a realist. If we can help these individuals become better people while they’re on the inside, it will be safer for all of us when they are released to the outside.”

Chicago, in particular, has a challenge with crime. This past year there were more homicides in Chicago than in New York and Los Angeles combined. Each year, approximately 70,000 men and women are admitted to Cook County Jail to await their day in court.

For one week, Cook County Jail was where Roger BelAir got in his daily workout of pickleball.

“For my own safety, I worked with the ‘best of the worst.’ I was scared only once. It happened in the maximum security unit Division 10 when the officer left to go to the restroom. Suddenly I realized I was alone with 24 inmates, many charged with murder. Everything turned out fine, of course!”

Pickleball in Chicago

Roger has taught hundreds of people to play pickleball, but teaching in Chicago was a different experience. Initially he felt the inmates’ apprehension.

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As soon as he walked in, they were aloof and distant.

“You could tell by their body language. Many had their arms crossed or wouldn’t make eye contact with me.”

After a few minutes, their walls began to fall down. By the end of the clinic, their demeanor was the opposite extreme. There were big smiles, excitement and lots of laughter.

“By the end I compared it to watching a group of 5-year-olds enjoying the novelty of a special experience, like Christmas. I’m certain getting exercise was part of the reason,” says Roger. “Perhaps more important was the mental aspect. Once they stepped onto the court—just like the rest of us—they forgot their problems and focused only on hitting a plastic ball over the net. They were living in the moment.”

With recreation times limited to 90 minutes, Roger had to improvise in order to get all 24 inmates at a time playing on the three courts available.

As Roger admits, “The rules weren’t followed to the letter, but it didn’t matter because everyone had so much fun.”

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After the first game ended he shouted, “ ‘Okay, everybody! Group hug!’ You could tell the prisoners thought I had lost my mind. They were likely thinking, ‘Who is this guy and I ain’t givin’ nobody a hug.’ But slowly they came forward and joined me at the center of the court. I raised my paddle over the center court, they raised theirs and we did the traditional high five with our paddles touching.”

Smiles from the inmates and undoubtedly a sense of relief. An awkward moment turned into a touching one. After subsequent games one of the players would always yell, “Group hug, everybody!” They’d meet at the center of the court and tap their paddles.

Afterwards, many of the men lined up to thank Roger and shake his hand. Some said, “God bless you, Roger.” It’s an experience he’ll never forget.

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“I’m impressed with the leadership and staff at Chicago’s Cook County Jail. They do an exceptional job in a challenging environment. The head of a maximum security unit even played pickleball with the inmates. What a terrific role model he is for the rest of the staff. This is the type of behavior that builds bridges and opens lines of communication; much better than the mindset of, ‘Us against them.’ ”

The Future of Pickleball in Jails

While Roger hopes the experience touched the lives of some, it has impacted him greatly. So much so that he’s continuing this program in other facilities. He has reached out to the Washington State Department of Corrections which operates fifteen facilities throughout the state.

So far, the process is going smoothly. The program coordinator for the Washington State Department of Corrections is supportive of including pickleball in their recreational program.

“Pickleball is a simple game and easy to teach, as long as you’re passionate about it,” Roger says. “Skill level and teaching experience really don’t matter. All you need is a willingness to share your passion.”

His hope is that other players will decide to teach the game in their communities.

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He adds, “It would be wonderful if others contacted their local correctional facility, Senior Center, or Boys and Girls Club and said, ‘Let me tell you about a terrific sport called pickleball!’ ”

Meet The Pros – Lucy Kovalova

Meet The Pros – Lucy Kovalova

Lucy Kovalova

Lucy Kovalova

A tennis pro turned pickleball pro – what’s not to like about Lucy, who keeps a delicate balance going between the two sports?  She feels fortunate to be part of the best of both worlds. Enjoy!

Can you list for us your major wins so we can correctly introduce you to our readers?
2017 USAPA Nationals: Open Mixed Doubles with Matt Wright– Gold
        Open Women’s Doubles with Irina Tereschenko  – Silver
        Open Women’s Singles – Bronze
2017 Tournament Of Champions (TOC): Mixed Doubles Pro Open with Matt Wright- Gold
        Women’s Singles Open – Silver
US Open 2017: Mixed Doubles Pro with Matt Wright – Gold
        Women’s Doubles Pro Open with Irina Tereschenko – Silver
        Women’s Singles Pro Open – Bronze
2016 USAPA Nationals Open Mixed Doubles with Matt Wright – Silver
        Open Women’s Singles  – Silver
2016  TOC  Women’s Singles Masters – Open – Silver

What paddle do you play with and why?
I play with my signature paddle, the Elite Pro “Kovalova” made by Engage Pickleball. I really love this paddle because it produces a lot of power and spin, while it has control as well. I think the paddle is one of the reasons for my latest success.

What’s your pickleball story? How were you introduced to pickleball?
My pickleball story is relatively short compared to other pros. I started probably two years ago when I transitioned from tennis through paddle tennis to pickleball. The Wichita Country Club, where I work, introduced pickleball to its members so we tried it and loved it. After a couple of months, my pickle group, Matt Wright and Jack Oxler, decided to go and play at the 2016 US Open and I think we did much better than we expected. After that great experience, we decided to play more and more tournaments and I’m so happy we made that decision.

What’s your preference – playing indoor or outdoor?
I don’t mind playing outdoor or indoor but I probably prefer playing indoor. I think it is easier to play without any sun and wind, especially in Kansas. (Haha!) 

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?
When I started, I preferred singles because it fit with my tennis game better. Now I prefer doubles and mixed doubles much more. I think it took a little time to get use to the strategy but now I think it’s way more fun.

2017 USAPA Nationals Open Mixed Doubles

2017 USAPA Nationals, Open Mixed Doubles – Daniel Moore/Simone Jardim – SIlver, Lucy Kovalova/Matt Wright – Gold, Wes Gabrielsen/Sarah Ansboury – Bronze

What’s your favorite place to play? Why?
Even though I haven’t seen all the venues yet, I would say that my favorite place to play is Naples, Florida. Mostly because it was where I played my first tournament, so I will always have those great memories. Another great place is Casa Grande because we just won the Mixed Doubles Open there.

Lucy Kovalova Bronze USAPA Nationals 2017

2017 USAPA Nationals, Open Women’s Singles: Irina Tereschenko – Silver,Simone Jardim – Gold, Lucy Kovalova – Bronze

What’s your secret sauce? Any tips for players?
I don’t really know what my secret sauce is but I think it is my power. I can hit a ball pretty hard, especially on my forehand side. One tip for players: Don’t be scared to drive the third ball once a while.

What’s your day job?
I’m a tennis coach at the Wichita Country Club and full time student.

How many hours a week do you play? How do you make time to play?
My job is very physically demanding so I don’t really have that much energy left for pickleball on a daily basis. I’m trying to play at least once a week. When we play, it has to be early morning before everyone goes to work or during the weekends.

Any lucky rituals before a big tournament?
I don’t think I have any rituals, I just need to have my breakfast, coffee, a good paddle and I’m ready to go! 🙂

Do you have any pickleball goals you’d like to share?
I would like to keep being on the medal stands at major tournaments, and hopefully I can win few more golds in the future.

Anything else you’d like to share about your experience being one of the best pickleball players in the world?
It’s a great experience! It’s not only about pickleball, it is about the people, the atmosphere, the whole pickleball community. Everyone is very supportive and even though we compete and fight during the event, at the end of the day we’re all friends. And of course, it feels great to win! 🙂

Local Pickleball Tournaments in Washington State

Local pickleball tournaments are a great way to get involved in the community and test your skills without breaking the bank or sacrificing a lot of time to travel.

After Karen Thomas, our Director of Marketing/Communications and an excellent pickleball player, shared how much fun she had at a few nearby tournaments, we started rounding up a variety of Washington-based competitions to spread the love.

Mt. Rainier

Mt. Rainier in the lovely Pacific Northwest (Credit: the norse)

These events are a great way to support your local pickleball community, meet other players and hone your abilities on the court. Instead of worrying whether you’ll place the highest, just focus on getting the most enjoyment out of each event!

There are options available for players of all skill levels to get in on the action in a relaxed environment. Each city is noted on the first line under the tournament name so you can stay close to home.

The information listed here is based on data gathered during late 2017 and is only intended to give a general idea of entry costs, time of year and the format for each event, so please note that details will likely vary in the future.

To check the most up-to-date information, follow the event links to each group’s homepage.

City of Edmonds Pickleball Tournament 

  • Yost Park (Edmonds)
  • September 9
  • $25 first event / $10 each additional
  • Double elimination or round robin depending on # of participants
  • Doubles only, open

Columbia Basin Pickleball Classic

  • Lawrence Scott Park (Kennewick)
  • August 4 – 6
  • $50 early bird, $60 normal registration + $10 per event
  • Round robin
  • Singles and doubles

Larry & Marlene Nicholson Memorial Tournament

  • Steamboat Tennis and Athletic Club (Olympia)
  • January 19 – 21
  • Fee TBA
  • First match losers consolation
  • Doubles only

Lighthouse Oktoberfest Picklepalooza

  • Lighthouse Oceanfront Resort (Long Beach)
  • Oct 20 – 22
  • Double elimination
  • Doubles only

North Cascades Fall Pickleball Classic

  • North Cascades Athletic Club (Omak)
  • Oct 14 – 15
  • Friday clinics with pro Tyson McGuffin
  • Cost and elimination style not noted
  • Singles and doubles

Pickleball Station Tournaments

  • Pickleball Station, part of PickleballCentral in Kent
  • Monthly tournaments
  • Usually $30 registration + $10 per event
  • Double elimination or round robin
  • Primarily doubles

Selkirk PIG (Pickleball Is Great) Chase Tournaments

  • Tualatin Hills Tennis Club (Beaverton), Cascade Middle School (Vancouver), Club Green Meadows (Vancouver)
  • Jan 6 – 7, Feb 17 – 19, March 17 – 18, Apr 21 – 22, June 2 – 3
  • $45 one event/$55 two events/$65 three events (Feb only)
  • Round robin
  • Doubles, singles only in Feb only

Rainier Community Center Men & Women’s Doubles Tournament

  • Rainier Community Center (Seattle)
  • November 4
  • $15 per team / $8 per person
  • Double elimination, best 2 out of 3
  • Doubles only, open

Washington State Senior Games

  • Auburn Riverside High School (Tennis Courts)
  • July 21 – 23
  • $33 or $23 early bird registration / $9 per person per event
  • Double elimination, best 2 out of 3
  • Singles and doubles, open and non-open

Washougal Rivers Edge Dinosaur Doubles

  • Hathaway Park (Washougal)
  • June 24 – 25
  • $35 registration
  • Round robin
  • Doubles only

If you know of any other sanctioned or non-sanctioned tournaments that are worth a visit in Washington, be sure to let us know in the comments!

Meet The Pros – Michael Epp

Meet The Pros – Michael Epp

Michael Epp

Michael Epp and family

Michael Epp is a family man. He is also like a phoenix reborn after suffering knee and shoulder injuries in other sports. He loves that he found pickleball and can continue being competitive. Enjoy!

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

2017 Alberta Provincial Championship, Men’s Singles 5.0 – Bronze,
Men’s Doubles (MDB) with Chris Kay, 5.0 – Gold

2017 Kamloops Open MDB with Chris Kay, 5.0 Silver, Mixed Doubles(MxDB) with Roberta Meakin, 5.0 – Gold
2016 Penticton MDB with Pat Fosbery, 5.0 – Gold
2016 CDA Classic, MDB with Daryl Nap, 4.5 – Silver
2015 Canadian Nationals, MDB with Mark Lowe, 4.5 – Gold, MxDB with Nancy Stern, 4.5 – Silver
2015 USAPA Northwest Regional, Bend, Oregon 4.5 Singles – Gold

What paddle do you play with and why?  

I play with the Selkirk Maxima 21P MXO Composite paddle. I prefer the elongated paddle and really like the weight of the Maxima.

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

After two knee surgeries and a habitually sore shoulder from years of badminton, I never thought I would play competitive racquet sports again. Pickleball has given me a new lease on sporting life.

What’s your preference – playing indoor or outdoor?

Outdoors is preferred, and we try and stretch the outdoor season as long as possible. We have been known to play in pretty nasty weather: wind, light rain and fading light. We draw the line at snow and hail!

Michael Epp in action

Michael Epp in action

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?

Although I really enjoy singles, it is exceedingly difficult to play against young players with boundless energy and great court coverage. Doubles is very enjoyable overall with lots of strategy mixed in.

What’s your favorite place to play? Why?

Michael Epp - Bend Oregon

Michael Epp – Bend Oregon

Living in the Okanagan we have seen tremendous growth in the number of players and the number of dedicated courts. Kelowna and Bend both have exceptional venues and a 12-court venue in Vernon promises to be a great place to play when construction is completed.

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

I’m not sure I have any but one thing that helps me is when things aren’t going the right way, change tactics and mix it up. Staying on a path that isn’t working will guarantee failure.

What’s your day job?

I own an auto dealership in Kelowna. I have also recently developed a structural handle system for paddles, Grip Guard, that I am marketing to paddle manufacturers.

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

I do not play as often as I should, only averaging about 3 hours a week. In preparation for a tournament I will increase to 6 hours a week.

Michael Epp

Michael Epp in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Any lucky rituals before a big tournament?

Green tea from Starbucks! Not sure if that helps but I sure do enjoy it. Plus, it has a calming effect which is always a bonus before pre-tournament jitters creep in.

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

I wish I had learned about this sport years ago! A more immediate goal is to visit and participate in a tournament in India in 2018. As I approach 50, my goal is joint preservation and to become more fit. I hope to compete in the US Open and USAPA Nationals in Senior open events in 2020 and bring some hardware back to Canada.

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

Enjoy the competitive spirit, be fair and have fun!

2017 Pickleball Holiday Gift Guide

As the holidays draw nearer, it’s a great time to take advantage of good deals to grab pickleball savings for yourself and others. The following products are some of our most popular and money-saving options, allowing you to mix-and-match whatever items you think will suit your needs.

Whether you’re looking for a deal or wondering what the hottest new picks are, something is sure to catch your eye. Happy holidays and shopping!

Pickleball Luxury Gifts

These gifts spell luxury for a reason. If you’re trying to find a gift for the pickleball fanatic that has it all, or just want to go straight to the top of the line when it comes to quality, these products are sure to please thanks to their design and utility. Whether you want responsive paddles, sturdy storage or the most efficient gear, there’s something to please even the pickiest player.

 

Luxury Gifts

 

 5-Star Rated Paddles

These paddles provide an excellent combination of reactivity, control and power. Regardless of your giftee’s needs as a player, the variety of shapes and styles available will allow you to select the best fit for their playstyle. Save on popular picks before you’ll have to go back to paying a premium!

 

5-Star Paddles

 

Men’s Pickleball Gifts

Most men appreciate a combination of classic looks and functional design. These items are ideal when you want to pick a gift your favorite pickleball guy will want to use on a regular basis. Proven training tips, comfy yet stylish apparel and well-made equipment are exactly what most men will appreciate this season.

 

Mens Gifts

 

Women’s Pickleball Gifts

When it comes to picking a gift for a lady pickler, you’ve got to have it all. Looks, smarts and quality! That’s just what the following products provide, whether you want to give the gift of style or knowledge. We’ve covered all the bases with sterling jewelry, training aids, classy attire and paddles that look as good as they play!

 

Womens Gifts

 

New Products

Not sure what sort of present to buy or feel like you’ve seen it all? Check out our newest releases and see if one might catch your fancy and add new life to your game. These products come with some of the freshest technologies that promise to strengthen play and bring more pizzazz to the courts.

 

New Products

 

Biggest Deals

What’s one of the best parts of shopping during the holiday season? Being able to save big! These items have some of the steepest discounts on our site despite being well-rounded buys for just about any type of player. Whether it’s a new t-shirt, a full net bundle or intriguing piece of gear, treat yourself while the getting’s good.

 

Gift Savings

 

Paddles for Beginners

Want a paddle that anyone will be able to pick up and use? These options offer a broad sweet spot and generous amount of “pop” so that it’s easier for newbies to get the hang of play and start returning pickleballs with ease. Some options like the Tyro and Ranger are even effective choices for kids thanks to their slender design and light weight.

 

Gift Paddles

 

Pickleball Stocking Stuffers

If you need a few smaller accessories or trinkets to keep the holiday cheer rolling, take a look at the following items to bring that extra touch of effort. These products make great add-ons for just about any pickleball-themed gift. Mix and match or grab whatever looks best to up the amount of pickleball “swag.”

 

Pickleball Stocking Stuffers

What Is Pickleball Elbow and How to Treat It

We all know how addicting pickleball can be. Once you get a taste for the game, you may soon find yourself on the courts several weeks in a row.

Pickleball is much gentler on the body than tennis, but as with any racquet sport, it still carries risks. You might find that a little niggling soreness in your swinging arm develops into a full-blown overuse injury.

If that happens, you might be dealing with “pickleball elbow.” Like tennis elbow, pickleball elbow occurs when the tendons in your arm become strained from repetitive motion. The technical name for this condition is lateral epicondylitis, and although a number of factors can contribute to it, the most commonly affected tendon is the extensor carpi radialis brevis or ECRB.

Tennis elbow

Credit: Rakka

This tendon is what helps stabilize the wrist when the elbow is held straight. As such, it’s most likely to be damaged by use of improper form during groundstrokes and backhanded hits, although sometimes you may just need to strengthen the surrounding muscles to prevent these motions from causing damage.

This condition can be frustrating to deal with, as it can put you out of commission for several months while healing. Worse still, if you don’t fully allow your body to recover during that period, there’s a high chance for recurrence.

Here are some key ways to treat pickleball elbow if you’ve experienced these common pains:

Anti-Inflammatories

Anti-inflammatory medicine can help reduce the pain of pickleball elbow and recover more comfortably during breaks. If it’s safe for you to take an aspirin now and then, go ahead and let the pill do its work. Just don’t take advantage of the lack of pain to jump back into play until you’re truly healed!

Rest

Playing safely and taking stock of your body’s limitations is often the best way to prevent pickleball elbow. A little extra rest now and then is much preferable to having to swear off pickleball for months, so remain aware of any discomfort you feel during play. If you start to feel pain, take a break and don’t force extra play time if your body isn’t prepared.

Pickleball elbow - rest

Credit: Joyce Cole

Stretching and Physiotherapy

Gentle forearm stretches and “banding” can alleviate pain while also making your body more receptive to increased activity. If you’re finding at-home treatment isn’t working, consult a physiotherapist for proper treatment and offer tips on how to keep your body functioning at its highest level.

Weight Training

A good way to avoid overuse injuries is to ensure your body is as prepped for play as possible. By building up the muscles in your forearm, you can take stress away from the elbow. You can use a light weight to perform wrist curls and reverse curls, which will gradually strengthen the load and shock your arm can withstand. Another good exercise is to squeeze a stress ball or weakened tennis ball to build up your grip strength.

Proper Technique

Work with a pickleball coach to ensure that the “riskiest” strokes you perform are executed properly to avoid undue stress on your tendons. Another consideration is that you may want to change up your playstyle and grip. For example, the Western grip is less common in pickleball than tennis but can still help to add additional topspin to your shots. Unfortunately, it also places a lot of pressure on your arm, meaning you may want to try a different method to prevent injury.

Pickleball elbow - technique

Credit: zerothousand

As always, we hope picklers everywhere will stay safe and treat themselves well both on and off the courts. Don’t hesitate to seek professional advice if you’re dealing with pain.

Pickleball should help promote your health, not hold you back!

Meet The Pros – Ken Crocker

Meet The Pros – Ken Crocker

Ken Crocker

Ken Crocker

Ken Crocker is a class act – he loves the game, he loves the community and he is generous with his admiration and accolades. Enjoy!

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

2017 Int’l Indoor Championships, Men’s Doubles (MDB) 50+ with Paul Porch – Gold
2017 Oregon Sr. Games, MDB 50+ with Scot Edwards – Bronze
2016 WA State Sr. Games MDB 50+ with Glen Peterson – Silver
2016 Int’l Indoor Championships, MDB 55+ with Justin Smith – Silver
       Mixed Doubles (MXD) Kathy Rambousek – Bronze
2015 Jim Ringler Memorial, Sr. MDB with Glen Peterson – Gold
2015 OR State Games, MDB 50+ with David Shieber – Silver
       MXD  19+ with Sarah Ansboury, Silver
       MDB with Ron Johnson – Gold
2015 Willamette Valley Spring Rally, MDB with Glen Peterson – Silver

What paddle do you play with and why?

I use the Selkirk Pro S1G Polymer Graphite paddle. For my game, the S1G paddle provides a great blend of power and touch and I’m expecting to switch to their new S2 AMPED Composite paddle for the same reasons. I love the larger paddle face and bigger sweet spot that the shorter handle allows. I also love Selkirk’s products and that the company was founded by two brothers in their early 20’s, Rob and Mike Barnes, who are truly nice young men.

I’ve enjoyed watching them as they marry, have kids and how their families are a part of the business. They represent exactly the kind of company I like supporting and are the reason I enjoy being sponsored by and representing them.

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

I had given up tennis, among other sports, due to rotator cuff and knee pain. Marty Burns, who single-handedly got pickleball going throughout our Southern Oregon region, puts on free clinics for new players. About seven years ago I saw a sign for Marty’s clinic at our local Y and was instantly hooked. I had forgotten how much I enjoy fun competition and whacking a ball! I also appreciated the openness, connection, and community that form around pickleball.

What’s your preference – playing indoors or outdoors?

Given a choice, I prefer outdoors. I love both though, and hey, if there’s a court, fun people to play with, paddles and a ball, who cares?

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?

Sarah Ansboury and Ken Crocker

Sarah Ansboury and Ken Crocker, Silver, 2015 OR State Games

I love the nuances, strategies, teamwork and sense of comradery that doubles provides, and I love the raw physicality, pure 1-on-1 competition and the feeling of a good workout that singles provides. Unfortunately singles is punishing on my body so I limit how much I play. I have to mention though, I really love skinny singles (where you play singles using one half of the court). The strategy is the same as doubles, it’s a good workout, a great way to drill and you get to hit every ball!

What’s your favorite place to play? Why?

I love the creek side feel of our Lithia Park home courts in Ashland, Oregon, and I also love the opportunity to travel, play with good players and meet new people.  I don’t think I’ve ever played on a court where I wasn’t able to have fun!

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

I’m always working on what I call slowing time down even as the ball speeds up. Three or four years ago I realized there were times during a fast exchange where it felt like the ball was moving in slow motion and other times where I felt I was barely keeping up. I love figuring out the different things I can work on to allow playing in a relaxed state where it doesn’t feel rushed, even when hard shots are flying back and forth. I’ve come to realize that good mechanics, footwork, shot selection and the mental game can all be constantly improved to give myself the feeling of having more time. 

Compact blocks and strokes are imperative and split steps before my opponent hits are also critically important. I also strive to quiet my body and sense a pause as my paddle waits for the ball. When I feel that, I know everything is falling in place. I’ve also found that has been important for developing a good and consistent soft game. I just wish I could slow down the passing of my birthdays too!

What’s your day job?

I’m retired, so I finally have time to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.  I also volunteer with various climate change related organizations and efforts, including serving as board chair for the Geos Institute (www.GeosInstitute.org). The more I learn (and worry) about the severity of climate change, the more I realize how important exercise, sense of play and the friendships that pickleball provides are to my well-being.

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

I usually play about three times per week for 2-4 hours. I especially appreciate when I’m able to drill and work on my game.

Glen Peterson and Ken Crocker, Silver - 2016 WA State Senior Games

Glen Peterson and Ken Crocker

Any lucky rituals before a big tournament?

Along with getting enough sleep and eating well, I just remind myself why I’m playing in the first place.  Maintaining perspective works best for me – I also play my best when I’m having fun! One of my favorite memories was partnering with Glen Peterson before we got bumped to 5.0.

We were in the gold medal match, it was approaching midnight, and we were mentally and physically exhausted (at least I was). The score was 3-9 in the second game and I realized how much I was feeling the fatigue and the pressure. I paused, looked at Glen, smiled and said, “This is really fun, we’re playing pickleball!”

Both of our faces softened, we smiled at each other and came back to win gold. I don’t know if that moment made a difference for Glen, but connecting with why I was on that court in the first place and the comradery of partnering with such a good friend allowed me to feel a renewed sense of energy and to drop into that relaxed place where I have the most fun and play my best.

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

I’m working on peaking to win gold at the 2055 nationals in men’s doubles, age group 95+.

Shayne Johnson, Ken Crocker, Bonnie, Enrique Ruiz, Chris Goettling

Shayne Johnson, Ken Crocker, Bonnie Williams, Enrique Ruiz, Chris Goettling

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

LOL – I have to say I don’t put myself in that category. This game is evolving fast and the highest levels of play are truly extraordinary. As the game continues to evolve and divides into recreational vs. professional play, I hope we can maintain that same sense of openness and community that I experienced in my first tournament playing 4.0. I was in awe watching the 5.0 players, but was also taken by how approachable and friendly players like Wes Gabrielsen and Enrique Ruiz were.

This is a unique sport due to the community that forms and the fact that we can have players that are two to three generations apart engaged in fierce competition while all having fun together. I hope we can find a balance between supporting the emerging elite levels of exciting play while holding on to the many qualities that make this such an attractive sport for people from all walks of life. This sport originated as a family game after all!