Pickleball tips: Sweet Spot and Sweet Spots

Session 2 — balance, clinics, places and footwear

Date Published: 
Jan. 19, 2018

Last week, I offered basic, but important, advice to pickleballers, suggesting they cut their errors in half, knowing full well that if they seriously tried to do this, they would become woefully aware of the importance of the three Fs: fitness, focus and footwork.

Over the last two weeks, with the help of members from Ocean View Crew and Ocean Pines, I organized several clinics, where we all tried to draw your attention to preparation prior to striking the ball.

Because balance is the key to hitting any ball successfully, it matters that you prepare your feet prior to hitting the ball. Then, at the moment of impact with the pickleball, you need to have your body weight distributed on both feet, both knees comfortably bent, and your body weight transferred from your back foot to your front foot as you impact the ball.

The tennis star Roger Federer gracefully flows around the tennis court like a ballerina, but at the moment of impact, a trained eye can see that his body is wonderfully balanced, allowing him to hit just about any shot he desires to any spot on the court.

Besides strength, another key ingredient to balance is anticipation. If you are concentrating and focused on the pickleball, anticipation will allow you to move to the ball and position yourself. In the 1970s, I was sitting with Jimmy Evert in Holiday Park, Fla., watching his daughter Chris while talking about a contract eventually worth millions to his daughter after her 16th birthday.

Jimmy, who was also her coach, said, “Watch! Chris can’t run.” I joked and said, “How much should I knock off her contract because she can’t run?” He looked at me, and seriously said, “Nothing, because she has great anticipation and footwork, and is always in position for the next shot.”

Physical therapist Bob Cairo discussed balance at his clinic when he was emphasizing the root cause of most pickleball injuries, which result from falls. Michael Pitts, the personal trainer at Sea Colony, addressed the importance of core training to enhance balance and reduce falls.

The participants at our clinics learned even another lesson about footwork, and that was to use proper footwear. Shoes with tennis-shoe tread are less likely to catch on the court surface as players move around the pickleball court, thus reducing the chance of falling.

Unfortunately, the popularity of running and fitness has made it difficult to find proper shoes with traditional tennis tread. VPShoes at the New Balance store in Rehoboth store actually started to stock tennis shoes three years ago, when First State Pickleball Club officials explained the problem. Your new tennis shoes might be waiting for you at New Balance as you read this column.

Finally, some of the new players wanted to know where they can play indoor pickleball. Unfortunately, it is a small list and the reason Kathy Casey at First State Pickleball has tirelessly badgered public officials. Times for levels of play vary, so the smartest way is visit the facility that best fits your situation and get on their email mailing list, because most use the Sign-Up Genius system to communicate and take sign-ups.

Starting from just below the state border and moving north, there are a number of indoor facilities:

(1) There are six indoor courts available at Northside Park Recreational facility in Ocean City, Md., three days a week — Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. The Ocean City website lists all pertinent information.

(2) Ocean Pines, Md., has several busy indoor courts in their community center — (410) 641-7052.

(3) Sea Colony has one indoor court at the Freeman Center, four days a week — (302) 537-8888.

(4) First State Pickleball Club has made arrangements with a school gym for club members, but those courts are booked for the remainder of the spring.

(5) Moving up toward Georgetown, there are four courts at Sports-at-the Beach, open five days a week — www.sportsatthebeach.com.

(6) In Lewes, Dave Marshall Tennis at the Plantations offers pickleball on six courts —www.davemarshalltennis.com.

(7) Also in Lewes is the Factory Sports Complex, which offers pickleball three days a week — www.factorysportsde.com.

One reason so many of us enjoy pickleball is the belly-laughter. If you are scrambling around the court, off-balance and hitting the ball late, you never really get the chance to hit one of those feel-good shots that precedes the belly-laugh. Fewer chips at the deli might reduce the size of the belly and allow you to reduce the stomach jelly.

(Thank you, Dom Travaglini, Steve Melofchik, Pete Rayner, David Lipstein, Chic Stearrett, Neil Gottesman, Charlie Biddle and Don Creel, for your instructional help.)

So you want to be in the sports business… cont.

Despite my hectic international travel schedule, I wanted to work on my endurance by wearing 5-pound weights on my ankles and run the beaches. Much was expected of the “Wilson” guy when he visited different tennis communities, and seemingly everyone wanted to make an impression by beating the guy who recruited the top players in the world.

I carried my briefcase in one hand and my gear in the other.

I made a three-day trip to the autonomous Spanish community of Gran Canaria. It was off-season, and everything closed. This was years before the personal cell phone, and I was not able to find a public telephone to call the gentleman in Casablanca — one of the top Moroccan sports figures — who I was to visit the following week.

Early Monday morning, racket bag over one shoulder and briefcase under the other, I still was not able to find a public phone that early morning in the Canary Islands, so I boarded with a few other folks, and we departed on the only flight to Morocco.

I was tired from my weekend training and briefly nodded off. When I awoke, we were flying at about 35,000 feet, but rather than on a northeast heading, we were heading east by southeast. And rather than flying over the ocean, we were over the moonlike terrain of Western Sahara. My pilot’s license was not current, but my brain told me something was not in balance.

My passenger jet suddenly did a military evasive landing and started to corkscrew, spin down from 35,000 feet, into the Saharan desert. As old fighter pilots used to say, it isn’t the fall that gets you, it is the very sudden and abrupt stop.

We dropped and dropped. I could have finished two quick games of pickleball while we continued to drop. Actually, neither pickleball nor tennis ever occurred to me while I squeezed the plastic out of the armrest as we continued to spin down.

Suddenly, the pilot pulled out of his dive, just before impact, and executed a fabulous landing.

Well, any kind of landing at that point would have been fabulous.

To be continued after my next pickleball tip — the “Leaning Tower of Pickle”…

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.