So they say in developing skill, the growth curve is not a straight line. It’s more akin to climbing to the top of a jaggy mountain peak, with high points and low points. And tonight was downright depressing. There were games that I played that were just outright embarrassing. So much so that I had to fight a desire to simply leave and head home. It was awful. On that skill graph, today was a severe drop into a valley.
I hit the white tape of the net at least eight times. I hit a few shots beyond the baseline that otherwise would have been winners. An example of ineptitude, I sped up shot at Paul—crosscourt, how dumb!—but I know he has very fast hands and so he simply ended the rally when I gave him patty cake shots like that.
On the upside, I went out and got some exercise. My serves were strong and reliable. They were also some resets that I made back into the kitchen off of slams.
But overall it was the disaster.
I arrived a few minutes before 7 p.m. The lot was full and I watched a slow moving car that had apparently failed to find a parking spot in the overflow area next to the courts. I ended up parking on the street nearby.
I was talking to one of the regulars, and we agreed that we only recognized about half of the people that were there. Pickleball continues to grow like crazy.
My first game was with two UCSC students, Diana and Cait (short for Caitlyn). There is a tall guy named John, a 3.0 player, and he was our fourth. He played with Diana and I played with Cait. Cait was the weakest of the players. I held back in that game and tried not to make the rallies end too quickly.
I was able to get into some better games with Paul, David, and Scott A. I picked Scott as my partner, leaving the two stronger players as my opponents. I wasn’t after balance, I was after the hardest game. Which it was, Scott and I didn’t win a game in this configuration.
Not at to dwell on it, but if I play like this in René and my tournament, it’s over. The good news, is I do tend to play for better during the day than at night and I also play better when it’s not the end of a long day.
I guess one other consideration, although it’s typical for me, is, I didn’t eat dinner before I played tonight, though midway through the evening I did drink the protein drink that I had in my backpack. But I doubt that made any difference, I often play in the mornings without eating since dinner the night before.
I played until right before the lights went out at 9:30 p.m.
It’s supposed to rain tomorrow. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to play next.
I woke up in the middle of the night and it occurred to me that I had received the flu vaccine shot about 1 p.m. I wonder if that could have thrown me off at Skypark.
The one really positive occurrence this evening was one of the regulars, a woman, came up to me and said, “I hear that you are a really good coach.” And later, Aud and Shaye came up and they said that they are working on serving deep, returning deep, and the third shot drop that I had them all work on at the Intermediate class that I substituted for last Thursday. At that Intermediate class, I had pointed out to Aud that she might do better standing a little bit more to her left when serving so that she could take more returns with her forehand and less with her backhand or have to adjust less to do so. Little things add up. She shared that she was working on that too.
Wednesday, January 24, 2024 (No Play)
I woke up at 5 a.m. with a mild headache and a slight sore throat. Those symptoms went away over the course of the day, thankfully.
A few weeks ago, I was asked by Mike at Rec.us to substitute teach for Bob Hansen‘s Intermediate pickleball class at Brommer Park. I had agreed and today is that day. Bob’s two classes run from 1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. and then 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.
It’s supposed to rain tomorrow, so I decided to take the morning off from work and head to Brommer to get in some play before I had to teach. I asked René if she was available because we have a tournament coming up in a month and she was able to arrange things so she could be there this morning.
Yesterday, my right knee was aching a little bit. First, it was on outside of my knee and then the inside of my knee. This morning, my right knee has mild pain on the outside. I took a couple of ibuprofen to stave off any inflammation and pain from playing this morning.
I left my house and got about half a mile before I realized that I had left my phone at home had to turn around and go back. That’s a rarity! I texted René that I’d be a few minutes later than discussed.
It was a hazy morning and my car dashboard read 50°F when I pulled into the Brommer Park parking lot at 9:24 a.m. About a quarter of the parking lot was still empty.
René was sitting on the wall getting ready, and the first thing we did was move to an open court to warm up. Kim, the one who wears the cap with a star on it, asked if she could warm up with us, and we agreed. Kim was on one side of the net and René and I were on the other. Initially, René was on my left and I was on the right. We dinked for a bit and then we worked on drop shots with René and me back and Kim with the net. René and I were consistently dropping good shots and Kim commented on it. It’s nice that those are coming along in my game.
We rolled right into actual games, with me spending most of my time with René as my partner, as planned. Overall, the games were good, with the exception of one. The games I typically enjoy the most are the ones where the skill levels of the players are equal or better to my own. One was not and make for a less interesting game.
Later, René and I were leading 8 -3 or maybe 8-5 in the game against Marcus and Francis. But momentum shifted and we ended up losing that one.
Unfortunately, I hit the white net tape in that three or four times over the 3 1/2 hours today. I’ve been much happier if that was zero. I also missed two or three serves into the net when trying to serve hard. That’s a bit unusual as my serves tend to be very reliable.
René and I have an ongoing disagreement over bangers. René is contention is that regularly hitting the ball hard is not playing pickleball. My contention is, if you are hitting the ball hard regularly to your opponent and your opponent can’t handle it, then that’s what you use regardless of “the way the game should be played“.
In a game with René against Marcus and Francis, I remember one dropshot that was definitely too high on my part, and Marcus simply angled it off the court for a winner. Of course, I was disappointed with myself, but with retrospect, that’s a far better shot than having my drop shot land in the net and not even giving my opponents a chance to hit the ball. A minor solace for a non-professional player like me, I guess.
When you get into games that are good enough, you have all four players at the net get into a firefight, who can then reset the point and get back to dinking. That’s not something that you see in most intermediate and lower games. Those are fun to experience.
I played all morning and then right up to 12:58 p.m. when my intermediate class was just about starting. I had warned by game-mates and, indeed, had to stop mid-game.
There were some people using one of the two rolling county Rec.us nets so, being a nice guy, I brought out my portable net from my car and used that for one of the two courts for the class.
Both groups of students paid attention and followed directions. The first class had a woman named Deb, who I met at Willowbrook a couple of months ago for my very first beginner Rec class. She had been playing with a group of friends there, including a woman going by “Debzo” who was also in the same class as Deb. The second class had a woman named Chris who I was familar with but to be reminded of her name. Also in the second class was Aud and my around-the-corner neighbor Shaye (whose husband is Mauricio). But I didn’t know the majority of the students.
There were only 7 students instead of 8 in each class which meant I had to be on a court to complete the two sets of doubles. I rotated through to get exposed to all the students.
Both my classes seemed very happy.
Friday, January 19, 2024 (No Play)
Back in October, barefoot Terry S. had come by my work and, with my knee surgery recovery coming up in our discussion, she mentioned a joint study at Stanford. I was intrigued and she texted me the link later. I connected up with the study and had originally set up a visit in December but I had thrown out my back and couldn’t go. We rescheduled it for today. It’s to do scans with a joint “under load”.
After roughly an hour drive, I arrived at 2:35 p.m. at Stanford University in Palo Alto for their study, at their Lucas Center for Imaging. Two biomedical engineering young women grad students—one was Ananya, to whom I’d been talking and texting—were waiting for me in the parking lot even though it was lightly raining. I had texted them when I was three minutes away, but still, they were very much looking out for my well-being. They set me up with parking then led me into the foyer to fill out paperwork. One was there only as a mentor to the other, supervising.
Once done, they took me to the floor and area where I’d spend the most of the next three hours. I changed into their provided scrubs shirt and pants. The MRI tech, Dawn, who, it turns out, lives in Santa Cruz a few blocks from my house, put in two I.V.s.—one on my right arm and one on my left and drew some blood.
Dawn said the large medical device, an MRI-PET combination, was the first in the country but now there are three, including one at a children’s hospital. This one, she said, is for research only.
When I was lying down and about to be fed feet first into the machine, Dawn injected some fast-decaying radioactive solution into my I.V. for the PET part of the scan. I’d had an MRI for my shoulder and my right knee a few years ago, so this wasn’t all new to me. The scan took 45 minutes to an hour and you just lay there in your own thoughts. The machine is quite loud, but they inserted foam earplugs then added hearing protection earmuffs. Even then, it’s far from a quiet experience.
Once the first scan was done, the primary grad student led me outside then down some stairs to a tent in an open-air atrium. There we connected up with the other student from the parking lot and a new third grad student, another young woman. Fortunately, it wasn’t raining, just an occasional drop now and then, but it was a touch chilly—it is winter after all! They recorded me with two mobile phones mounted on tripods. Up the stairs. Stop. Wait. Turn around. Down the stairs. Stop. Wait. Turn around. Up the stairs. We did this for ten cycles. The main student excitedly shared that they could estimate my skeletal movements, then she held up the laptop, turned the screen towards me, and showed a yellow simulation of my skeleton on a black background. So this was the “load” part. Scan, load, scan.
The Second Scan
Once done with the steps, we headed back to the machine for another 45 minutes to an hour scan. From there, maybe another blood draw then the I.V.s were removed and I was free to change and go. The grad student kindly led me back out through the maze of the building to the parking lot at about a quarter to 6 p.m. A little over three hours total.
My son Nicholas had been recruited by my traveling sister-in-law Liz and her family—yes, the pickleball playing one—to watch their dog at their house in San Carlos. Nicholas and I arranged to meet at her house where we hung out for a little bit, had pizza from a shop downtown, then I left Nicholas to watch Lucky and I headed back to Santa Cruz.
It’s a Wrap!
I learned this study is multi-year, so they’ll probably want me to come back for more scans. For each visit, they give me $100 for gas and time. The benefit for me is if their radiologist finds anything needing attention—anything torn in my knee, for instance—then I’m to be notified and my doctor can order an MRI that isn’t proprietary and secret. Basically, I get a free “super checkup” on my lower extremities: hips, knees, ankles. I’ll take it.
Number of days on a court: 623 Number of total hours: 2,714 Number of paid coaching hours: 14
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It was quite rainy last night and this morning and I woke up to cloudy skies and very wet ground. With no sun, there is very little question about whether to cancel club play the Derby Park this morning. I sent out the club cancellation notice.
My brother John texted me asking if I was playing today. I told him that it might work out later in the day.
The big question was whether or not Willowbrook would be dry enough to hold my afternoon class. Fortunately, my wife and I have friends near there so I had Laurie check the courts at 12:30 p.m. for me. There were some puddles but her photo showed sun and that should dry out the courts.
I emailed all my students and asked them to bring towels just in case. As it turned out, the one towel that I brought was adequate to get the remaining small puddles dried out from when I arrived at 1:05 to 1:30 when my class started. We ended up using the two drier courts nearest the road instead of the two we normally use.
One of my students, Nina, didn’t come again this week. That was unfortunate as it left me with seven students which meant I had to be in a foursome, which is always harder to teach. (When I checked email in the evening, she said she had to drop out of my class completely. Bummer.)
Once I was done teaching, Maia called over and asked me to play on their court with Lester and his wife. (I rarely see Lester and I’m not sure if I’d seen his wife before, I think they may be south county residents.) They are all 3.0 players, so rallies were short and I was taking it a bit easy so the points wouldn’t end too quickly. For instance, every time I returned a serve with slice, the rally would immediately end. So I only did a few of those. We played a couple of games, then I headed to Derby Park.
I drove to Derby to meet my brother John, his friend Deborah, and my son Nicholas who they picked up at my house. (He’s visiting this weekend.) Derby was the busiest I’ve ever seen it at any off time! All the courts were full, the bench was full and a couple of college-aged youths were sitting up against the fence waiting to play.
I spotted a few familiar faces, Pauly, Avery, Mauricio. It would be hard to get any play and the sun was not going to last all that much longer, so we decided to head to Willowbrook in John’s car.
When we got to Willowbrook, there were a couple of familiar faces. Rick Abend and Lourdes were drilling on a net that they’d brought and set up. When I asked, Rick said he was now living nearby and his daughter is living in his house back near Derby Park.
Our group of four rotated partners and played an hour until it got too dark to see. I played most of the time left handed. It’s good practice for me, I don’t want to lose that skill. John dropped Nicholas and me back at my car and that was a wrap!
I registered for the newly announced tournament at Cabrillo on February 24. It’ll be my first 4.0 tournament. I’m playing with Jason Brown for men’s doubles and René Baker for mixed doubles.
Binh texted me a couple days ago about a couple tournaments coming up. Monterey next month and Templeton in March. I’ll have to mulch that.
29-year-old Genie Bouchard, formerly ranked #5 in women’s tennis, crossed over to try pickleball.
But, to her credit, she’s not discouraged and will continue to play both sports,
New Tour Ball
On January 4, it was announced that the PPA reached an agreement to have the Vulcan VPRO FLIGHT be the official pickleball of the PPA tour. This new, previously unannounced, ball replaces the Onix Dura Fast 40. The Dura has been obsolete for some time given the new generation of balls that have arrived. The venerable Dura plays well, but breaks far too easily and because of that, few players like it.
This agreement cost Vulcan between $2,000,000 and $3,000,000, plus a percentage of each ball sold. As a result, Vulcan is selling the balls for $4—about 30% higher than, say, a Franklin X ball.
Monday, January 16, 2024 (No Play)
A neighbor of Sgt. Derby Park wrote an email to the SCPC complaining about the parking impact of pickleball players. She said she contacted the City first. I wrote a nice letter back explaining that the club is working hard to find more and better places to play and also that only a minority of players at Derby are actually part of the SCPC.
Parking and other neighborhood impacts will continue to be an issue as pickleball continues to grow and grow.
Number of days on a court: 622 Number of total hours: 2,708 Number of paid coaching hours: 11
To start at the beginning of this blog click on “1st Post” in the menu above.