What I Saw at Nationals: Head, Heart and Feet
This past Monday I returned home from the 2016 USPA National Championships (also known as NationalsVIII) in Casa Grande, Arizona. While I did take part in the competition -- I did okay, thanks for asking -- I was there primarily as a coach and observer of the game. I was there to watch for current trends in pickleball; to see how the game is evolving and to check out the new upstarts in person. Yes I was there to play. But mainly I was at Nationals to watch and learn so I can pass on some insights to the people who follow my work both online and in person.
I came home with dozens of hours of "the pros" doing their thing in singles, doubles and mixed doubles. It is this footage that will be turned into the Third Shot Pickleball videos that you know and (hopefully) love. But while I take the time needed to put those videos together -- a process you can read about here -- I thought I'd share a few observations. Here's some of what I saw.
"Head, Heart and Feet". I once heard that this the mantra for the Spanish Tennis Association. A Google search was unable to confirm this (although it did lead me to what looks to be a great documentary on ultra marathons and the people that run them). The suggestion was that Spanish tennis players are trained to think intelligently, move incredibly and at all times believe they can win the match. If you have even a passing interest in pro tennis, it wouldn't surprise you if these are the words that power superstars like Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer. Watching the top pickleball players compete at Nationals reminded me of "Head, Heart and Feet".
Head. The disciplined decision-making was remarkable and truly sets apart great players from the good ones. Knowing when to patiently bide your time in a dinking rally before driving it at the chest of your opponent is one thing. But being patient enough to wait for that moment (even at the end of a 45 shot rally) is another. The elite players are disciplined enough to wait for their moment and astute enough to see when it has arrived. It's not just about hitting good shots; it's about making smart choices.
Heart. I love watching high-level athletes compete. I enjoy the slow building of tension and then its final, explosive release. These dramatic moments are more likely to happen when you put together people who not only care about the outcome of their matches (which is not always the case in recreational pickleball) but who can play at such a level as to push their opponents to be even better. I watched numerous examples of players who -- for the moment at least -- were so focussed on competing that it was almost as if nothing else mattered. I'll make full videos on the topic but for the moment you can see an example here.
Feet. When I coach I spend a lot of time working on my students' movement. You can have the nicest swing in the world but it won't matter one bit if you cannot get yourself to the ball. While some people bemoan the fact that pickleball seems to be speeding up, for me, watching pickleball become faster, more dynamic and more athletic has been a treat. You can see players getting to balls and doing things with them that not long ago were impossible. It has reaffirmed for me that movement must be a primary focus for anyone who is serious about improving. Here is a great example.
I'm looking forward to spending the time producing some videos on the topic. In the meantime, if you'd like to see more of what I saw, just click here and look around.