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Monday, January 16, 2017

Blast from the Past

Don't forget the past. Learn from it...

My holidays were a little like Back to the Future in several ways. First, as I do every year, I traveled back to Pennsylvania, where I lived my first 23 years. But that isn't really relevant to a blog about pickleball. What is more relevant is what I witnessed on a visit to the YMCA where I had helped to get pickleball started earlier in 2016. 

I first went to the YMCA in May of 2016 to develop a pickleball program. I followed that up with a visit in the fall of 2016 and was happy to see how far the play had advanced in just a few months. The number of players had grown and several had become fairly good intermediate level players. But there remained a stratification of play where the strong and athletic dominated the weaker players. It was bangers versus beginners. During my brief stay, I encouraged others to learn the soft game to counter the bangers.

I was a little surprised at the changes I saw in my December visit. One surprise was the amazing progress that all players had made in 6 months. The stratification had significantly decreased. While the most athletic and strongest players almost always won, the weaker players were good opponents and provided competitive games. 

The bigger surprise was to see how their skill levels had evolved to certain point...and stopped. The stratification had decreased, but not due to the reason I expected. In lieu of a soft game, I was shocked that everyone had gotten so good at banging that they saw no need to change. Everyone hit low hard shots from everywhere on the court. It was unconventional - to say the least - and required my making some adjustments in order to regain control of play.

It is perfectly understandable why bangers do what they do - it is a winning strategy against weaker and inexperienced opponents. Wanting to be competitive with the best, others mimicked them. They developed their own power games and improved their abilities to handle others' power. Without any outside influences to show them that other strategies were available, everyone strengthened the only skills they knew - power. I liken their lack of development to a long-lost tribe. Neither has had sufficient exposure to the outside world to be aware that there are different ways to succeed.

I will have to admit that revisiting my past life as a banger was fun. I had an occasional thought that it would be easier to go back to playing that style rather than hitting drop shots from the baseline or 6 dinks in a row. Then I remembered how easy it was to beat bangers by simply placing the ball. It was actually more fun to watch them scramble as they were forced to chase balls down outside their comfort zones. They might be more athletic than I am, but I enjoyed beating them with my head...ummm, my brain.

Much like Back to the Future, revisiting my past taught me some lessons. First, I like progressing as a person and as pickleball player. Second, I enjoy learning by exposing myself to outside influences. That is one reason I play in tournaments and encourage others to do so too. Third, I am appreciative of living in an area where we have levels of play from beginner to national champions. The past is great to occasionally relive - especially the blasting part - but I'm looking forward to applying the lessons of the past to my future.

With regard to the future, the next several posts will be devoted to playing bangers. One lesson I learned is that I need to develop a drop volley off of a hard shot. That is only one skill that will be covered.

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