Sunday, November 28, 2021

Keep Your Options Open




For those of us who reside here yearround, things really slow down in the summer, especially during August and September. Schools are back in session and the summer vacationing tourists are no longer here. Our seasonal residents and visitors have not yet returned and everything is really dead. This slowdown in activity also includes participation (or the lack of participation) in both tennis and pickleball play.

Recently, a husband and wife stopped by the Marco Island Racquet Center (MIRC). They were new full time residents and were interested in playing pickleball. They informed me that they had only played a couple of times and really enjoyed the game, but, at this point, they were not yet comfortable with mixing in and playing with more experienced players. I explained to them that when season kicks in, we will have plenty of pickleball activity for all levels of play and that there would be more players of their ability, who they would feel comfortable playing with.



This got me to thinking about options for playing during the off-season.

As an instructor and competitive player, one of the most challenging things for me is to make sure that when I am playing with students I don’t get carried away with my competitive attitude and make them feel uncomfortable. This relates to both tennis and pickleball.

I have found that when I am forced to have more control of my shots, sometimes just to keep the ball in play in order to allow less experienced players to sustain a rally with me and improve their skills, my abilities and my game actually improve!

Looking back on watching the professional championship level competition play at this year’s Minto U.S. Open Pickleball tournament, it really reinforced my understanding of the fact that the points of the top level championship players were lasting much longer than the points I see in most recreational level play.

This was due to the simple fact that these players were not missing any shots unless they were forced by their opponents, which leads to my pet peeve of “unforced errors.”

I have stated before in previous articles that the basic strategy of both tennis and pickleball is very simple: Just be the last person to hit the ball over the net and inside the lines, and you will win the point!

For me, personally, unforced errors are the biggest challenge of my game. I am not referring to the fact that I make a lot of unforced errors, but that I am somewhat of a perfectionist. I am also a very competitive person, but I am not so much a “in your face, I have to win” type of competitive person, as much as I am a “challenge myself to be the best I can” competitive person.

It is the downfall of my game! I get so concerned and upset with myself over any unforced errors that I lose focus of my game plan and strategy.

However, I have found that playing with beginners, who require my assistance to keep the ball in play so they can enjoy competing and playing, actually improves my ability to be more consistent and make fewer unforced errors, when I compete on a higher level of competition.

I always keep reminding myself that just a few years ago, I had never played pickleball either.

Having grown up playing a variety of sports, I initially found pickleball an easy and fun game to play. However, as I started really getting into the sport, I soon realized that there is an extreme level of competition in the sport of pickleball.

Players on the championship levels of play were true professional athletes, and if I wanted to play and compete on that level, it was going to take a lot of effort and patience from me. I was going to have to dedicate time to training and practice in order to be able to convert my skills from championship level tennis to championship level pickleball.

In order to accomplish this task, I sought out the best top-level championship players I could find and I asked them to teach me how to teach the sport of pickleball. Most of these veteran/seasoned top-level players were themselves also championship level tennis players who had converted their skills to the sport of pickleball.

While I spent time training and acquiring knowledge from these players, I realized, that as seasoned, qualified instructors they were being very patient with me as I was learning, comprehending and understanding the differences in the strokes, strategies and overall aspects of the game of pickleball, as compared to the sport of tennis.

As my skills improved, these instructors began to challenge me with their skills, to where eventually, I could hold my own with them and compete on a higher level of play.

So if you are an intermediate to advanced level player, challenge yourself and see how good of player you really are. Do you actually have enough control of your shots to play on a variety of levels of the game?

Keep your options open.

Play with people who are new to the sport and challenge yourself to keep the ball in play and not lose any points on unforced errors. Let them hit a winner against you, if they strategically have the opportunity to do so, and then compliment them for a great shot. It’s the sporting thing to do!

You will find that in conquering this challenge, it improves your skills and abilities, and it’s a great way to make new friends and bring new players into the game. It is a win/win scenario for everyone.

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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