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By: CJ Johnson | May 17, 2019 |

What 56 FEET of Snow this Past Winter Taught Me About Pickleball

As you can see in my Youtube Video’s, Lake Tahoe is a beautiful place to play pickleball. What you don’t see in those videos is what happens the other six months of the year; it snows. And by most people’s standards, it snows a lot!

You may be wondering why I live here. Long before my addiction to pickleball, I was passionate about skiing.

Winter 2018-19 was big, even by a Tahoe local’s standards. It was the 4th largest winter on record, with a total snowfall of 682 inches. So what does any of this have to do with playing pickleball? A lot!

Here are six lessons 56 feet of snow can teach you about pickleball

Good Things Accumulate

When most people who live in a snow region hear a forecast of 1-3, they assume the weather person means inches. Here in Tahoe, it’s feet.

Even though our storms are big, we don’t get 56 feet in a day, a week, or even a month.  This past February was the most significant monthly snowfall on record, and that was only 247 inches or 20.5 feet.  Yes, I realize that’s a lot, but the point is that snowpack, like most things in life, builds over time. The same happens with good pickleball.

Good Things Build Over Time

One of the reasons I believe pickleball is so popular is that most people can pick up a paddle for the first time and be playing a game within an hour.  Yet, even the most talented of players need to learn to play the game, and understanding the strategies of pickleball takes time.

Several years ago, I watched pro players Christine Barksdale, and Joy Leising play a team of former ATP Tour tennis players. One of these ladies had a forehand that was so fast I cringed, and I wasn’t even on the court.  Another friend played a match with her the day before and told me that in all her years of playing, she never flinched at a woman’s forehand until now. I thought it might be close, but Christine and Joy barely cracked a sweat in a convincing victory.

Why? One team had accumulated experience and knew how to play pickleball, and one team didn’t.

It doesn’t matter if you simply want to have longer rallies or play at the top levels of the game. We will all progress at our own pace. Just remember, no one is born a great player.  It can be easy to compare yourself unfavorably to others on the court, and that’s sure to hurt your confidence. If you’re ready to play better, create a plan, find a coach, and commit to practice. Good skills accumulate over time.

Attitude May Not Be Everything But…..

This winter was a lot like Bill Murray’s movie Groundhog Day. Wake up, shovel out, drive in the dark for 35 minutes on slippery snowy roads, enjoy a fantastic day teaching skiing, dig the car out, drive 35 minutes home in the dark on slippery snowy roads, fire up the snowblower to get into the driveway, eat dinner, shovel one last time so the snow removal in the morning isn’t so time-consuming, and finally fall asleep dead tired.  REPEAT

After 39 straight days of snow, something highly unusual for Tahoe, I was tired, and my attitude was slipping. My internal and external conversations took on a negative tone. It was minor at first. Most people wouldn’t notice it. But as a lifelong competitive athlete, I am accustomed to monitoring my internal dialogue and listening carefully to what I share with others. It started small, but there was no doubt it was growing.

You see the same thing happen to people on the pickleball court. Maybe it has happened to you?

Have you ever missed a couple of easy shots, followed it up with a disparaging remark (to yourself of course), and then things got even worse?

Your attitude has a direct correlation to your confidence, and pickleball is a game of confidence. If you think you can, you are probably right, and if you think you can’t, you are probably right too.

The sad part is that most of us aren’t aware of our self-talk. I often hear people say things like, “you dummy,” “I’m just not getting better,” or “I can’t hit that shot to save my life.”

The first step to changing your internal dialogue is to become aware. The next time you play, listen to yourself on the courts, what you say out loud, and what’s said in the privacy of your mind.

Afterward, ask yourself this, if my best friend talked to me the way I spoke to myself, would we still be friends?

If the answer is no, you’ve got something to change.

Get Excited About Practice; It will Help You Learn

Palisades Tahoe dogs are an elite group of highly trained avalanche rescue dogs used by the Palisades Tahoe ski patrol. As I’m getting ready in the morning,  I often pause to watch the dog teams head out to their daily assignments. The weather matters little to the dogs. They romp and play as if they have never seen snow before. You can hear the sheer delight in their bark and see the playfulness as they slide around on the white stuff.  It doesn’t matter if they are going to do the same thing today that they did yesterday, the dogs greet the day with excitement and willingness to do what’s asked of them.

From their first days on the job, which usually happens when they are 8-12 weeks old, handlers make everything a game for the dog. After all, who doesn’t like to play games?

The dogs and their handlers train for countless hours, on and off the snow, so that in the unfortunate event someone is buried in an avalanche, the dog may be their lifeline. Most of the dogs work well into their early teens and will rarely be involved in a rescue at the resort. The majority of their time is spent practicing, but to them, practicing is a game, and it’s fun!

In pickleball, consistency separates the levels, and it’s developed by repeating the same motion over and over and over. It’s almost impossible to do that playing.

Consider this, how many 3rd shots do you get to hit in a game? Perhaps 10? Most games take 15 minutes or so. What if you hit 3rd shots for 15 minutes? How many could you hit? 100? At least!

If you are fortunate enough to spend any time with pickleball’s top players, ask them, what is your play to practice ratio?  Most of them will tell you that at least 75% of their pickleball time is spent practicing.

If you are a Pickleball System Member you have drills in your library.

We turn the drills into games, assigning points for success and penalties for failures. Since neither of us likes to lose bragging rights is a motivator.

At the end of the drills, we leave a little time for singles.  After all, isn’t one of the benefits of practice being able to play better in games?

How much better do you think you would be if you practiced some of the shots you frequently miss?

Patience is a virtue not just in life but on the pickleball court too!

Our regular commute after skiing on Saturday doubles to around 60 minutes. Two feet of snow during the day, an accident on a two-lane road, and the only other alternative route closed because the banks were so high the plows were no longer effective led to a record-shattering 4-hour drive.

For some of you who live in places like So Cal or NYC, you are probably thinking Big Deal! For Tahoe, where most days three cars at a stop sign can be considered a traffic jam, it was an exercise in patience.

It didn’t take my husband and me long to realize we were going nowhere fast, so we made a pact to be patient and enjoy our time together. How often do you get four hours uninterrupted with someone you love? We talked, laughed, told jokes, and enjoyed each others company. A little patience made a significant headache into an enjoyable inconvenience.

How many times have you tried to attack the ball when you should have hit it soft? How many times have you tried to finish off the rally by hitting a winner when all you needed to do was hit the ball in play?

Those lapses in judgment cost us points, games, and even tournaments.

Have you ever been pinned down at the baseline, hopelessly at the mercy of your opponents smash, unable to reset the point, and you get it over one more time, and they hit it out?

Instead of trying to hit a miraculous recovery do whatever you must to get your opponents to hit one more shot.

Utilizing patience and waiting for the right time to attack leads to fewer mistakes and more points to your team.

Fitness is Critical for Playing Good Pickleball

It was a powder day in early January, and as I entered a steep chute, I unexpectedly hit a patch of ice under the new snow, immediately launching me backward onto a rock band.  My calf smashed the rock just above the top of my boot, and my entire lower leg looked and felt like it had gone ten rounds with Muhammed Ali.

Considering I took a significant wipeout in a No Fall Zone (for non-skiers, it’s precisely what the name implies, if you fall here chances are you’ll get injured), I felt blessed and incredibly lucky it wasn’t a season-ending (or worse) injury.

Miraculously I was back on skis 2 1/2 weeks later. Now I’m not going to lie and tell you that I was at 100%. I’m going to fully admit I pushed it too hard. However, because of my fitness level, I was able to enjoy skiing with my clients for the next five months.

Be honest with yourself. Does your current fitness level decrease or increase your chance of injury?

Dr. Allan Rosenthal, affectionately known as Dr. Pickleball, recently talked about the increased number of pickleball injuries. Yes, some of them are acute, but many of them may have been avoided if the player were in better condition. Besides, good conditioning will get you back on the court faster after an injury.

Not sure where to start. Pick one of the items below.

Recovery is Essential Especially When You’re Over 50

This winter, above all, I learned that I need to take care of my body if I want it to perform. As a competitive athlete, I am conditioned to push it. After the injury, I needed to listen to the cues my body gave me, and here’s what it said.

Sleep

I usually sleep 7 hours nightly, but that wasn’t enough for my body to heal. That meant hitting the hay an hour earlier and sleeping 20 minutes longer. There is no better recovery for the body and mind than rest.

Hot and Cold

As much as skiing is in my blood, this may sound silly, but I detest being cold. Unfortunately, nothing controls the swelling and reduces the pain like a good old fashioned ice pack. Perhaps the idea of ending the day with a hot bath of Epsom salts and essential oils made those ice packs a bit more bearable.

Stretch and Roll

Yoga moves a little slow for my taste, but my body pays the price if I skip stretching.  I added 10 minutes of stretching right before bed. As a personal trainer, I’ve long recommended this without ever adopting it into my own fitness routine and all I can say is WOW! You can follow your stretch with a little rolling. I like to use Trigger Point Therapy.  This has long been one of my favorite ways to release the tight spots leftover after stretching.

Conventional and Unconventional Treatments

When it comes to the body I’m an east meets west kind of gal. That meant combining traditional physical therapy with acupuncture. Ibuprofen with WuYang Chinese patches, something I can no longer live without! I was desperate to get back to 100%. If someone said it worked for them, I tried it.

Speaking of Unconventional….

At the suggestion of my PT, I researched and tried CBD cream. I was hesitant for a few different reasons, but after doing my homework and understanding that topical creams don’t create a high, I gave it a go, and it helped tremendously.

You Don’t Have to Do it All

A ski boot stabilized my leg, but the lateral movement of pickleball was impossible. It was time to take an unplanned but necessary hiatus from the courts. Did I want to? No. Did I need to? Yes.

Conclusion

Life is full of twists and turns. Even the most pleasant of situations can be fraught with challenges. If we are willing to take a deep look at the lessons every opportunity affords us, we can often use it as a springboard to become more. More of the athlete we desire to be and more importantly, the type of person we wish to become.

What have you learned off the pickleball courts that has helped you become a better player? Put it down in the comments below.

 

 

Winter 2018-2019 Photo Gallery

 

CJ Johnson

Hey there — I’m a professional three-sport athlete and coach who has spent my entire adult life earning a living from playing and coaching sports. Since I started coaching more than three decades ago, one thing has remained the same: My commitment to see students not as they are but as what they can become and to move heaven and earth to help them realize their untapped potential. You should know that when it comes to helping pickleball players over 50 live their best lives on and off the courts, I'm an expert. Good pickleball is not just technique; it's the mind and body working holistically. That's why I'm also a personal trainer and weight management specialist. When I’m chillin', you'll find me watching Star Trek with my husband John and our two fur babies, Shirley and Ralph. (Yes, Happy Days)