Any professional athlete can attest that a lot of work behind the scenes goes into his or her success on the court or other playing field. The same is true for pickleball athletes, including mother-daughter duo, Leigh and Anna Leigh Waters—also known as Team Waters. Attending practice sessions (both on the court and off the court), coordinating travel plans, working with sponsors and partners, helping organize food preparation, etc. is all required to be able to play on the pickleball court. And, for 14-year-old, Anna Leigh Waters, the list goes even further, as she has to add to that list attend school, study, attend soccer practice, attend soccer matches (to note, Anna Leigh is an avid (and superb) soccer player, in addition to a professional pickleball player), and, of course, be a teenager.
Fortunately, for Anna Leigh (age 14), she has her mother, Leigh, as her on-court partner to help with all of these things. And, fortunately, for the both of them, they have a team of supporters behind them to help make “it” all come together, so that the pair of them can pursue their professional pickleball careers. This team includes Stephen Waters (Anna Leigh’s father and Leigh’s husband), Neil Eichelberger (Leigh’s father), and Ann Eichelberger (Leigh’s mother). This pickleball blog puts a spotlight on Ann, who Anna Leigh calls “Gaga.”
Ann, of course, has always been in the picture, as Leigh’s mother and Anna Leigh’s grandmother. However, her role in the family evolved when Leigh moved with Stephen and Anna Leigh to Florida from North Carolina circa 2016. At the time of the move, Leigh and Stephen called Ann to ask whether Ann, as a former schoolteacher for many years, would move to Florida with them to home school Anna Leigh. Ann claims that “moving generally ranks up there with death” to her, but she didn’t even have to think about the decision to move—she was moving to Florida to homeschool her granddaughter, so that Anna Leigh could get the best education she could, while taking advantage of the many athletic opportunities in front of her (which, at the time, were focused on tennis).
So, Ann moved to Florida to homeschool Anna Leigh. After five years of working together (including summers to get ahead of the curve), Ann and Anna Leigh have moved on to 10th grade (to note, Ann likes to say “we” when referring to Anna Leigh’s studies, as Ann has learned every topic and subject in order to be a resource to help explain the topics and subjects to, and otherwise guide, Anna Leigh). Through these past five years working with Anna Leigh, Ann—or Gaga—has been incredibly busy doing something that she enjoys—teaching Anna Leigh (which is essentially a full-time job). She has found a new outlook on life and a new purpose, and, despite being in an athletic family and not being athletic herself, found a way to make an incredibly meaningful contribution to Team Waters, which is to keep Anna Leigh focused on school, in conjunction with her many other athletic goals.
As alluded to above, unlike Leigh and Anna Leigh, Ann is not athletic. Fun fact, it was Neil—Ann’s husband and Leigh’s father—that introduced the girls to the sport of pickleball. Ann claims that she is not athletic because she does not enjoy competition. This is because she feels bad when she loses, and then, when she wins, feels sorry for the person(s) she beat. Ann’s dislike for competition even affects her ability to watch Leigh and Anna Leigh play professionally. Ann has been known to skip out on pickleball matches (for instance, when Leigh and Anna Leigh won the National Championship!), but she has also been known to sneak into the corner seat of a match, where no one can see her, so that she can squirm in her seat to send whatever positive energies she has down to the pickleball court to help her girls.
Whether she is in-person or not at the pickleball courts, Ann is always there to play the grandmother role for Team Waters (in addition to her role as Anna Leigh’s teacher). Ann offers Anna Leigh grandmotherly advice, as well as Leigh motherly advice. When asked what kind of advice that she gives, Ann says it in no way relates to technical advice or strategy. Rather, something along the lines of the following (which actually happened):
Anna Leigh – “If I win, can I have a slice of cake?”
Ann – “Of course you can!”
Anna Leigh – “But, what happens if I lose?”
Ann – “Well, then, you get two slices of cake!”
In other words, Ann is there to keep life in perspective for Leigh and Anna Leigh. Pickleball is a sport, so, of course, we all want to win. However, life will not change because of just one pickleball match—especially for a 14-year-old.
Like any wonderful grandmother, Ann brags on both her daughter and granddaughter. For instance, did you know Leigh graduated top of her class, is a lawyer, and also has hidden talents as a designer and writer (you can check out some of Leigh’s writing here)? And, did you know that Anna Leigh is actually a little comedienne with a wicked sense of humor? But, when asked whether Ann was surprised by where her daughter and granddaughter are now with pickleball, she admitted that, although she was not surprised that they were good pickleball players, she was surprised at the level of success and how quickly they achieved that level—National Champions in just over two years of being introduced to the sport!
Reflecting on the effect that the sport of pickleball had on her family, Ann notes that pickleball has certainly brought her daughter and granddaughter closer and she loves the fact that they play together. She does note, however, that their relationship could have gone very differently. The relationship could have soured, instead of becoming stronger. But, it didn’t, and she is proud of the team that Leigh and Anna Leigh are and the genuine support they have for each other. Ann also notes that pickleball has introduced her to the most incredible people she has met in her entire life and, although she doesn’t play herself, she is very grateful to the sport of pickleball for the people in her life.
Most successful people—including professional pickleball players—do not do it alone. The same is true for Team Waters. Leigh and Anna Leigh are responsible for playing pickleball when the pressure is on while on the professional pickleball tour, but Team Waters runs deeper than Leigh and Anna Leigh. It extends to the Waters family, including Ann, and goes even further to extend to every one of Leigh’s and Anna Leigh’s fans and supporters.
Looking to the future, Ann believes that the sport of pickleball will be around for Team Waters for a while… We hope this is a massive understatement, as Team Waters (including Leigh’s and Anna Leigh’s many fans and supporters) are ready to cheer them on for the long haul.