If it’s Monday morning, and you live in The Villages, a sprawling North Florida community of connected communities, you can find Richard “Coach Mo” Movessian on the pickleball courts.
Coach Mo has been offering free pickleball clinics at The Villages on Mondays for the past 16 years. The Villages is an age-restricted retirement haven that spans three counties and offers a dizzying number of recreational activities for its more-than 100,000 residents.
There’s a lot of pickleball going on in The Villages 230 pickleball courts, where Coach Mo has made it his mission to teach the game to anyone interested in learning.
“Hockey is in my blood,” Coach Mo said, “but I plan on playing pickleball until I die.”
Coach Mo is going strong at the age of 80. He was a former teaching pro in tennis at The Villages, who one day looked over the fence at the unfamiliar paddle game going on. From that day on, he has become entranced with pickleball, making it his new passion.
At the age of 70, Movessian won a silver medal in the 35+ open men’s doubles category with his partner Phil Bagley in the USAPA National Championships in Buckeye, Arizona.
Coach Mo has given clinics in 20 states and has coached players ranging from 2.5 skill levels to national champions. He and Joe Baker are co-authors of the book, “How to Play Pickleball: The Complete Guide from A to Z.”
The Pickler reached out recently to Coach Mo, who shared his pearls of wisdom. The following Q & A is a condensed version of that conversation:
The Pickler: You teach a lot of older people how to play. Is there any special advice you have for people who pick up the game later in their lives?
Coach Mo: The first thing they need to make sure of when they start is not to have any accidents. It usually happens in the first three weeks of playing. They backpedal for a lob, catch a heel and go down on their butt.
They should take lessons so they don’t develop any bad habits. A lot of shoulder problems are due to incorrect form on the backhand.
If they don’t take lessons, then watch YouTube videos or read instructional material online or in a book. When I was a teaching pro in tennis, I read Tennis Magazine every month. That’s how I learned to play tennis.
The Pickler: You mentioned the injury potential with lobs. Some people on pickleball forums say it’s unethical when playing with an older person to hit lobs. What do you think?
Coach Mo: If you’re keeping score, it’s OK to lob. Saying somebody can’t lob is like telling baseball players they can’t hit home runs because it might make the outfields run into the wall.
The best thing to do is team up with a younger partner and say, “All the lobs are yours.”
The Pickler: You said you want to play pickleball until you die. What do you do to keep yourself in shape to continue to play?
Coach Mo: I walk two miles a day. Every year after 70 feels like two. But once I get to the non-volley zone line I can still play against just about anybody -- as long as I have a partner who can get the lobs.
I got two new knees at 75. I waited too long. I should have done it sooner. If you’re playing through pain, back off. Rest until you don’t have any more pain.
The Pickler: You’ve taught so many people how to play. If you had to pick one rule to keep in mind to improve the game of a starting player, what would it be?
Coach Mo: Hit the ball down the middle of the court to the left toe of one of the opposing players. (If that person is right-handed).
Too many people aim for shots down the sidelines that end up in a lot of “great outs.” Try to have fewer “great outs” and more “good ins.”
The Pickler: Due to the growing popularity of pickleball, “open play” courts are at a premium in many places. This creates situations where there are often players waiting to play on crowded courts.
Sometimes, this ends up with players with differing skill levels being expected to play with each other.
What’s your philosophy on integrating different skill levels on “open play” courts in a way that makes it fun for everybody?
Coach Mo: If you want to get better at playing the game, you should play with a person who is half-a-point (in skill-rating points) better than you.
If you want to be nice, you should play with a person who is a half-a-point below you.
It helps to remember that it’s good to be nice to the people below you, because one day, when you’re on your way down, you will see them again.