Happy Pickleball New Year

Thursday, December 27, 2018 – 1:06pm

Depending on when you read Coastal Point this week, the year 2019 is about to occur or has already stepped onto center stage. It’s time to plan your new pickleball year with gusto, but you won’t be the only ones. America loves to physically work out in January, at the beginning of the new year. At least once or twice… But also only once or twice. And they always seem to think to do it about this time of the year.

I knew a couple of brothers who used to sell fitness equipment for the home, and they would sell 40 percent of their annual sales on the shopping channel on New Year’s Day. Folks all over the nation purchased equipment to help improve themselves. However, consumer research suggested the bulk of them only exercised once or twice.

My friends did quite well. When I visited them, they sent a Rolls Royce limo to pick me up at the airport, and the first thing we did was play tennis at the indoor court they built in the room adjacent to their office.

Tidewater Physical Therapy’s Bob Cairo told us several weeks ago in the Coastal Point that 80 percent of Americans are not meeting their weekly exercise requirements for health requirements. The weekly goal is exceedingly low — 2.5 hours a week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of high intensity exercise.

Speaking of bulk, almost in a direct cause and effect, the website at healthdata.org pointed out that three-quarters of American men and 60 percent of American women are obese. My observation is that the remainder must be playing pickleball, where we routinely get well over the 75-minute hurdle two, three or four times a week.

I am proud of my pickleballers. Think what the national exercise and obesity averages would be if we were not tugging them upwards. To keep you playing pickleball, and perhaps at a higher level, and certainly more than once or twice before retiring your paddle, I want you to think more about strategy.

Strategy is big-picture thinking, and tactics are how to achieve that strategy. As an example, perhaps my pickleball strategy is to wear down the opposing team, and my tactics for this match will be to attack deep to the corners with varying speeds and spins, run them back and forth, and finally angle the volley softly away in the kitchen.

Never once would I think of how to mechanically hit the ball. My total focus, 100 percent concentration, would be on the ball, the match and my opponents. My only thought would be to get into position early, and possibly remind myself to bend my knees and stay balanced in order to hit varying speeds and spins to execute the plan. If I run into a patch where my forehand lets me down, I know I have practiced all of my other shots to the point I can rely on them.

For 2019, one of the first things you might consider is doing a personal assessment of your own game. On a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (great), how would you rate your forehand and backhand return of serve? If they are not equally balanced, how many hours are you planning to practice them in 2019? Ditto the serve, third shot, volley, dink, etc. I suggest you lay out an entire report card so you can revisit it after six months.

Statistically, almost 50 percent of airplane accidents occur during landings. As a young pilot, I practiced touch-and-go landings, where I would land the plane and, rather than stopping, I would add power and take off again, circle the field and then practice another landing. It wasn’t a death wish, but a training technique where I became very comfortable at landing, so on a stressful day, when something went wrong, my chances of survival greatly improved.

So it is with practicing a concert hundreds of times if you are in show business, or playing tennis, golf or pickleball.

In high-level competition, the pressure of the moment is what normally beats you. But top players have done their touch-and-go routines, and have practiced every shot for hour upon hour. It is amazing what world-class athletes achieve with repetitive practice. Tactically, when they strike a ball in any racket sport, they are not thinking about how to hit the ball. They have practiced every shot from every possible position and situation on the court.

Self-confidence from repetitive practice is how they overcome the pressure. Because of repetitive practice, they do not have to think about how to hold the paddle, where to stand, how much to follow thru, or how much spin to apply. They are only focused on their strategy to beat their opponent.

It is the same in golf, and football. Do you think the football quarterback is thinking about how to throw a pass as a thousand pounds of beef attacks him?

Before you get to strategy, you need the shots. And before you have confidence in your shots, you have to practice them in a repetitive environment. Later in 2019, I will discuss some of my favorite repetitive practice drills and sprinkle them with playability tips.

So practice your touch-and-go landings in style, go that extra mile, give repetitive practice a trial, do it at least 75 minutes or a longer while, and the whole time, do it with a smile!

Happy New Year, Delaware!

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.