Last week, I was fortunate enough to participate in four events at the 2019 US Open Pickleball Championships in Naples, Florida, and walked away with a gold medal in the Women’s Doubles 5.0 19+ event with my partner, Anna Leigh Waters, and a bronze medal in the Mixed Doubles 4.5 19+ event with my partner, Seth Muse (also, big shoutouts to my talented partner, Rachel Oxenden, in the Women's Age 30+ event and my talented partner, Jeronimo Simonovis-Armas, in the Mixed Age 25+ event). From playing in these four events—with some wins and some losses—and from enjoying some time at the US Open as a spectator and pickleball fan, I learned some valuable lessons that I hope will improve my pickleball game and make me stronger the next time that I step on to the pickleball courts. So, here are my takeaways from the 2019 US Open Pickleball Championships:
- Strategy is key. I knew this already, and I am sure you already do, too, but strategy on the pickleball courts is so crucial. I always say that the team that figures out the other team and the right strategy first usually will win the pickleball match. This learning was amplified for me, especially when I had the opportunity to play a handful of well-known pickleball pros during the age divisions. However, what I did learn to appreciate during the US Open is that strategy can constantly change and evolve throughout a pickleball game or a pickleball match. Just because you figure a team out does not mean that they will not adjust and reinvent themselves on the next point. You and your partner must constantly focus on strategy and constantly stay ahead of your opponents. If your opponents change their strategy, determine whether you need to change your strategy in response. Again, the team that figures out the other team and identifies the right strategy—on each and every point—usually will win the pickleball match.
- Referees are valuable. I admit that I am guilty of overlooking the value of referees in the sport of pickleball, especially at higher level play. However, at the US Open, I witnessed a number of uncalled and unnoticed Non-Volley Zone (or Kitchen) foot faults and stacking service or return of service errors in matches that did not have a referee—whether the players intentionally made such faults or not. If these pickleball matches had had referees, these unnoticed faults may have been called, which could have altered outcomes of matches, as such calls would have certainly changed the momentum of games. Referees add value to the sport of pickleball, especially at higher level play, and I hope more and more pickleball players (including myself) work to become certified referees, so we all can add value to our game.
- Drink and eat throughout the day. If you were in attendance at the 2019 US Open Pickleball Championships, I do not need to remind you how hot, humid, and long the days on the pickleball courts were. Announcers were constantly reminding players to stay hydrated. I was constantly drinking water and trying to find ways to replenish the electrolytes in my body. However, one thing that both I and my partners fell short on was staying energized by eating food, as we all were fading and feeling fatigued during our medal matches. I typically do not like eating while I am playing—mostly because of the nerves and I do not like the feeling of being full on the pickleball courts. However, as the days dragged on, my energy levels seemed to slowly drop. I should have been eating small, healthy, and energizing snacks throughout the day. So, in your next tournament, I hope you not only stay hydrated, but also stay energized and eat throughout the day.
- Integrity is everything, and karma is real. During the semi-final of the Women’s Doubles 5.0 19+ division, Anna Leigh Waters and I played a match against Beth Merchant and Julie Manuel (to note, this match can be watched on Pickler's Facebook page or on Pickleball Channel's Facebook page). The match was close and went to three games. At one point in the tight match-up, a pickleball glanced ever so slightly off of my paddle, such that I did not even feel it, but I heard a faint “chh” as the pickleball passed by my paddle. Neither the referee nor any of the six line judges saw or heard the pickleball touch my paddle. However, my opponents thought it might have glanced my paddle. Despite the referee and line judges ruling that the pickleball did not touch my paddle, I came clean and spoke up that the pickleball did in fact touch my paddle, which resulted in a point—a crucial point—for my opponents. As much as we all want to win, integrity and sportsmanship must come first on the pickleball courts—certainly before our competitive spirit. Plus, karma is real! As my good friend, Leigh Waters always says, the pickleball never lies. So, play honest, or the pickleball may come back to bite you!
- Pickleball people are the best! I know we all already know this, but it is nice to be reminded about how wonderful the people in our pickleball community really are. Pickleball has brought us all together! Pickleball has forged friendships and relationships and continues to forge new friendships and relationships. I, myself, gained countless new friends during my time at the US Open Pickleball Championships and, for that, I am forever grateful to the sport of pickleball. Pickleball is about these friendships and about having fun! Medal or no medal this past week at the US Open Pickleball Championships, we are all winners because we all have pickleball!
Did you attend the 2019 US Open Pickleball Championships? What was your main takeaway or learning from the tournament? Share your experience with us in the comments below!