Pickleball Points

Like many of you, I am sitting around my house in quarantine, with time to reflect on what advice I want to pass to my grandchildren. Today, the wheel of chance stopped on Momentous Life Lessons. Which life lessons can I pass along that made my life easier or better, my tennis better, and my performance in the workplace better? Other than the following five, everything else is just noise and window-dressing.

(1) Mother taught me to keep my word. As a result, people knew I was fair and, in most cases, treated me fairly in return. I traveled the world doing business on a handshake, and that really originated from being consistently straightforward. I never had to manage this version of the truth, or that version of the truth, but just stuck to the basic unvarnished truth. People called me old-fashioned, but I noted they were always the ones served to go to various courts of law.

(2) The military taught me to know my role and assign jobs to the better qualified. In a lecture room of 300 soon-to-be-commissioned second lieutenants, a sergeant explained the one simple rule to be an effective officer.

He set the scene with an example — we were each marching a squad of soldiers down a one-lane road and came across a tree that had fallen and was blocking our path. He explained that we knew very little about the area where we were located, and then asked each of us what to do next.

As you can imagine, a lot of clever and thoughtful ideas came forward from such a large group of individuals, but not one person got the answer. The sergeant explained that the officer’s role was to be responsible for his unit of soldiers, and we should be paying attention to the possible surrounding dangers and worried about the safety of the unit.

He then went on to explain the answer was “Sergeant, clear the tree,” and went on to explain that our sergeant likely had much more practical experience than the young officer just a few years off the pacifier.

More than likely your sergeant has been in a similar situation sometime in his career and could better organize a quick fix. But more importantly, the officer should be looking at the bigger picture. Will a tractor trailer come screaming down the road and hit the platoon or, worse, will hostile forces surround and eliminate your group if no one is thinking about such things?

(3) Sport taught me to keep it simple. In the racket and paddle sports, when you play in competition, it is simply about getting the ball back one more time than your opponent. Hopefully, practice has prepared you to do everything properly so the points can be accumulated, but just one more time until you have won the game or set, and then the match.

(4) Sport also taught me that you need to play as a team, not as one player surrounded by others on your team. The military tried to beat that into me in Officer’s Training School as well, but nothing drives home the point quite as strongly as tennis or pickleball.

In pickleball, you think as a team, you move as a team, you protect the court as a team, and each player takes the best shot between them, as if they were one joined player. Once an interviewer asked me what did I know about teamwork, since my tennis is such a solitary sport? My quick response was, “Obviously, you never played competitive doubles.”

(5) Finally, one of my first sport mentors told me very early that if I wanted to become a top player, I needed to hit the same exact shot, from several locations on the court, and replicate it 100,000 times to burn it into my muscle memory. I figured out that in order to do that, I had to use my eyes, anticipation and legs to get into proper position in order to hit that same exact shot 100,000 times.

So the lesson, for grandkids and pickleballers, is to keep it simple. Learn and practice the basics until you can do them in your sleep. When the day of life or the match arrives, you want to be healthy and positive. Look at how much water is in the glass, not how little.

A good example: When the executive editor of the Coastal Point read this piece, he sent an email playfully suggesting that when I write 100,000 articles, maybe I also will be able to write. My wife asked if I was angered by his comments? “No. I’m nearer today than I was yesterday.”

How do you apply these lessons to pickleball? Stay focused on a simple strategy, utilizing your eyes, anticipation and leaner self to get into position to allow you to get the ball back one more time than your competition.

Finally, you had better hope you don’t run into one of those old sergeants on the pickleball court, because they had this game all figured out long before you saw your first pickleball.

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.