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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Reflections (and Lessons) from Aiken

I played in the Palmetto Doubles Invitational tournament on Monday. I like to sum up the experience with a post if there is anything of least to me.

The tournament took place in Aiken, GA, a town I have never visited. My wife researched it and found the business district to be full of interesting shops and restaurants. We headed off early Sunday expecting to spend the afternoon walking the downtown area and then having dinner at a one of the fine local dining establishments. As we drove around town to get our bearings, we quickly learned our plans would need adjustment. The entire downtown was closed on Sunday. Shops, restaurants, even the visitors center - all closed. Oh well, I guess it was meant to be exclusively a pickleball trip so off we went to watch the mixed doubles matches.

The tournament was held at the Odell Weeks Recreation Center with 8 indoor courts (at least on Monday) split between 2 gyms. The facility was set up very well for pickleball. It was well lighted with minimal glare from the polished wood floor. The courts were separated by temporary plastic "cardboard" triangular dividers. These generally kept the balls contained but were a visual distraction with the changing background.

As noted earlier, I had the opportunity to watch quite a bit of the mixed doubles play. The 4.0 gold medal match was evenly matched and well-played. The 4.5 bracket was small - only 4 teams - with some players mis-ranked. One team consisted of 2 players in their early 20's who were skilled tennis players but this was their first pickleball tournament EVER. They knew little-to-nothing about the strategies and never came close to winning a game. The tournament seemed to be very efficiently run with almost all matches completed when we left at 4:30. 

(On a side note, I found that early end time to be a little irritating as I had been on the wait list for mixed doubles and was told that the day's schedule could not accommodate more teams. A 4:30 end-time is extraordinarily early. It seemed to me that more teams could have easily been added.)

My partner and I played 4 matches in the Men's Doubles 3.5 60+ bracket on Monday. Every team we played was a quality opponent. I had never played in a tournament where there was so little differentiation among teams. Our first game was against the Lowcountry Classic gold-medal winners who beat us (15-13) in April. However, this was their first time playing indoors so we had "homecourt" advantage and won in a hard-fought match. While only 2 games, the points and games were long and the match lasted about 45 minutes. 

We had about a 5-minute break before playing our second match. It went 3 games with the first game at 13-11 and the final game going to 12-10. After 2 hours of nearly continuous competitive play, we really needed a break. But we got none. We were immediately called to match 3. It seems that our games were the last to finish each round and the tournament was always waiting for us. We gave it our best efforts but exhaustion set in and we lost to the better team in that match. We then proceeded to lose our survivor bracket game in another close game.

Lessons Learned

Patience - I have frequently discussed in this blog how unforced errors are the bane of a pickleballer's existence. Such was the case in our losses as unforced errors were a major factor. In our winning matches, our dinking game was very good. It led to many unforced errors by our opponents. In contrast, we often tried to end points prematurely in our losses. Rather than playing the soft game with dinks, we more frequently hit balls below net height with hard volleys or groundstrokes. The most common outcome was...into the net. As I look back, the issue wasn't a loss of confidence in our dinking. When we dinked, we still did well. It really boiled down to a lack of patience. Had we maintained the patient game that got us our wins and even our winning points in games we lost, we would have maximized our chances to win the matches. Maybe the lack of patience can be attributed to being tired, but that is not a legitimate reason to fail to execute the best gameplan.

Conditioning - The pace of play was such that I was exhausted by the third match. I had been playing 4-5 times per week leading up to the tournament and thought I was ready. But I was not ready for the 3 hours of nearly continuous play, especially against teams that did not have that same amount of play. Personally, I think tournament directors need to account for these disparities between teams playing times as well as the safety aspects of 60+ year-old's playing so long continuously. But, regardless of my personal thoughts, this tournament was apparently sticking with its efficiency theme for which I was ill-prepared. My new diet has already started. I will be ready next time.

On to Beech Mountain on Friday!

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