Over the next few months, I am going to offer advice and share thoughts of those who I believe bring real value to the sport that so many of us have adopted: pickleball.
I called Maurice Heckscher and asked him what he thought was the most important thing for players returning to the pickleball courts to consider. Why Maurice? Because he comes to pickleball from the world of squash, where he was honored by the Squash Hall of Fame as the “Best Right Waller in the last fifty years.” Maurice knows something about coming back onto the courts, as he did it year after year. He coached squash in the Philadelphia area for 15 years, and his teams won 85 percent of their matches over that period.
Here are some of his comments: “One of the two things I think are most important to consider when returning to pickleball is very similar to when returning from a lengthy injury: be certain that you’re prepared to compete again! Sure, you’ve been cutting the grass, gardening, going on walks and/or bike rides. And maybe you’ve even been lifting a few weights at home. But I’ll bet not enough of you have been seriously stretching, and I know that few of you have been doing regular agility and balance drills!
“So you head back to the court, warm up a bit and start. The first point involves a lob you have to go back for... You haven’t moved quickly like that in four months! And down you go.
“The second issue I would consider in these uncertain times is, of course, safety. The older you are, the more you’d better think about this. Personally, I think singles pickle is relatively safe if you follow standard safety protocols suggested by the U.S. Pickleball Association. But for me, I’m staying away from doubles, because I’m 77 and deep into the high-risk group, so I’m not going there.”
Similarly, I called Rick Bell, now that he is back from Florida, and asked him what he thought was so important for players just coming back to the court. Why Rick? He is one of the few area professionals accredited by the International Pickleball Teaching Professional Association as a Level 2 Teaching Pro. Besides 30 significant regional medals, Rick won gold in men’s doubles at the famous Huntsman World Games, followed by silver in men’s singles and bronze in mixed doubles. Huntsman is an international event and involves the best senior athletes in the world.
His advice was quite simple and very doable: Stretch, don’t overdo it, be patient with yourself and others, and have fun. Your memory of how you were playing before COVID will already be exaggerated, so don’t beat yourself up if you are missing the ball. It’s not enjoyable for you or those you are playing.
Rick also spends a great deal of his time warming up before playing by dinking and gently hitting all the shots. Rick went on to say, “I bet very few of these players who just want to go out and play even hit any warmup overheads, and then bam! Busted butt, or worse, skull.”
The experts are telling you come back slowly, and my own tip this week is something you can all do — drink pure water! The type of water with no alcohol is recommended, because alcohol further dehydrates you, as do caffeinated products.
In my day, they — “the experts” — all said not to drink water, because it would hurt, water-log, our performance. So we trained without drinking water — because it was “bad” for us. I woke up several times in those days in an ER as a result of the unsound advice of group-think, and since then, I have always been a hostage to excessive humidity. Hydrate! Acclimate! Don’t terminate!
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.