Sunday, January 16, 2022

A Game For The Ages

Coach Wayne’s Corner

In my previous column, entitled “Last Call,” I discussed the demise of tennis and the current lack of interest in the sport.

I have spent the majority of my life as an avid tennis player, and the last twenty-five years as a tennis instructor/coach. As such, I am always happy and proud when one of my young students, who is committed to putting in the hard work and time required to become a qualified player, makes a middle school or high school team.

School team tennis is one of the main driving forces that is keeping the sport of tennis alive and bringing new generations of players into the game. The utilization of a cumulative team scoring format that is used in school competition, as well as the simple pride and camaraderie of making the team, creates an atmosphere that is socially more attractive to young players, as compared to the stress and pressure they can experience in individual sanctioned tournament play competition.

This now brings me to the sport of pickleball, which has been, for the most part, considered to be a baby boomer/retirement activity. However, I am happy to report that I am now seeing more and more younger generation players at the Racquet Center playing pickleball and having fun! I recently had one of my customers tell me that except for taking the family bowling, he could not think of any other activity in which all ages can participate together, competing against one another, just for fun.

As for more of a serious level of competitive play, the kids I have been training in tennis are able to instantly convert the skills they have learned to become very proficient in competitive pickleball.

Several of my students, who play on the Marco Island Academy or Lely High School tennis teams, have quickly become qualified, competitive pickleball players because of the inclusion of pickleball as part of my youth sports programming.

These young players are regularly participating in social, competitive, rotational play activities at the MIRC, and have told me that they wish there was a venue for them to compete in pickleball at school.

Due to all of the above-mentioned facts, I strongly feel that school boards should adopt a policy to include pickleball as an official organized school team sport.

As a coach, I have seen kids who struggled to master the skills required to become a serious tennis competitor conquer the skills required to become a serious, competitive pickleball player in a fraction of the time.

Having competitive pickleball as part of the athletics curriculum would provide students another opportunity to participate in a team sport at school.

I also believe the social atmosphere created by the pickleball play format provides a positive environment for the kids, and encourages them (as well as players of all generations) to want to participate and compete.

Middle school and high school kids enjoy playing pickleball and would benefit from the experience of being on a school team. Further, with very young kids, the basic fundamental eye-hand coordination with the pickleball racquet and plastic ball is much easier to master than it is with a tennis racquet and pressure-less tennis ball. Kids at this young age are able to instantly make contact with the paddle and the ball, and can successfully hit balls over the net.

I have had great success utilizing pickleball paddles to teach kids a proper overhead serving motion. It is much easier for them to coordinate the smaller size and lighter weight of a paddle, than a tennis racquet.

And for all you die hard tennis players, who think pickleball is going to mess up your tennis game, believe it or not, pickleball actually improves your tennis! This is due to the fact that the fundamental strategy of pickleball is to finish points and execute shots at the net. Because of this fact, your volley and net play skills on the tennis court will improve.

In addition, I have personally discovered that because of the strategic patience required to properly play a point in pickleball, my strategic approach to how I play a point in tennis has improved.

I am, and will always be, a tennis player. There is nothing better than getting out and banging some balls on the tennis court. But I also really enjoy playing pickleball.

The sport of pickleball is exploding in popularity as a recreational athletic activity, and with the ever-increasing success of tournaments like the Minto U.S. Open, it is proving itself to be the real deal on a professional level as well. I feel it is now time for pickleball to be the real deal in regards to school competitive team sports.

Wayne Clark is a certified professional tennis instructor with over 25 years experience coaching players on all levels of the game. Wayne is also qualified in pickleball instruction. He has been the head instructor at The Marco Island Racquet Center since 2001. The Racquet Center offers clinics, private and group lessons for both tennis and pickleball. Coach Wayne’s Island Kids Tennis/Sports Juniors programs run year round, and offer classes for players ranging from kindergarten through high school. Contact Coach Wayne by email at or by phone or text at 239-450-6161.

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