Have a happy and healthy pickleball year

Date Published: 
Dec. 29, 2017

I am looking forward in 2018 to getting back into the game of pickleball, with the idea of competing in some tournaments.

I will be following my own advice. Several weeks ago, I wrote about a plan on how to improve your pickleball game in 2018. Although the reader might have thought it oversimplified, Rick Bell, one of the top and most improved players in the region, basically followed this plan in 2017 and medaled in every category at one of the most prestigious tournaments in pickleball.

Over the next few months, I am only going to write a series of sessions on playability tips for our local pickleball crowd. I am conducting some clinics the next two weeks at which these basics will be introduced and reinforced.

Allow me to use an absurd example to make a point: Suppose every time John Doe hit a backhand, he shook his paddle violently five times and then hit himself on his head before he hit the ball. Let’s say John was such a good athlete that he beat most of the people in his neighborhood group. After a while, he started to play at various area locations and after a while, he reached a stall point because there was a group of players he just could not surpass. His solution was to play more. Same result.

Had John Doe participated in a clinic at Sea Colony, Clayton or Ocean City, Md., someone might have picked up on this bizarre habit of shaking the paddle.... or standing upright on his heels... or hitting volleys off-balance.

The local clinics are simply a time to readdress the basics, like a periodic visit to your family doctor, and to tweak your game.

Here is a real-life story: In my travels, I was privileged to sit with one of the most successful coaches in tennis as we observed his Davis Cup Team beat the Soviet Union. He was quite proud of one of his young players who, at that time, was beating most of the players from surrounding countries.

The coach, wondering if it was time to unleash his young protégé onto the world tennis scene, asked me my opinion of his young sensation. I quite honestly explained that I thought the young man had one major flaw. I explained that I felt he hit the ball too short, and when he played some of the top Americans on hard courts, they would destroy his game.

There was a very long, uncomfortable pause, and then he looked at me when he realized I was correct. He held his young sensation back for another season to work on the depth aspect of his game. The youngster would later win three of the four majors: the Australian, French and U.S. Open tournaments.

Even at that international level, the basics of the game need to be continually tweaked... flaws isolated... and practiced.

Practice is important, but smart practice is even more important. My college coach always said that you should never hit a ball without purpose in practice. If your backhand dink is weaker than your forehand, practice it 75 percent of the time.

An example: Because I was shorter, I received a great many lobs in tennis. Before I would go to dinner each night, I made myself hit 100 overheads in a row without a miss. If I missed at 95, I started over. As a result, my overhead became my signature shot.

There is no “silver bullet” in making you a better player other than smart practice until a correct technical game becomes second nature and all you think about is where you are going to hit the next ball.

I wish you a healthy pickleball year filled with tons of belly-laughter. Even though this week I wrote about improving your game, please remember that having fun every time you play pickleball is the most important.

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.