A Pickleball Lesson With a Pro - # 2 in a series of 12 Adam MacKinnon
Updated: Dec 19, 2020
During our pet sit in Sonoma, Ca, we had been through almost a month of smoke and fire evacuations happening all around us. We had packed our bags and supplies for "our" two cats multiple times in anticipation of having to leave at a moments notice. Fortunately we never had to evacuate.
Pet sitting always brings new excitement for us, but this sit had created a different kind of adventure. The heat wave and unexpected lightning storms in early August, caused some of the largest wildfires in California history. The smoke from the fires being battled statewide created scenes like this one not only in nearby towns, but as far away as Europe.
The smoke in the skies and the ash on the courts in Yountville were thick. We didn't stay out for long, and no one else was there (of course), but we swept away enough ash from one court to hit the ball around a bit. The nearby vineyard and small park would normally make this an exceptionally great place to play.
We moved on to another pet sit after six weeks with a small sigh of relief, happy to leave the smoke. When the Sonoma pet owners decided to stay away longer to avoid fire season, we were asked if we wanted to return to Sonoma for a second round of pet sitting. It was a questionable proposition, and we wondered about the sanity of going back.
Fire season had not even officially begun in California when the state began to burn this year. Surprisingly, it was a pretty easy decision to return to Sonoma. We love the cats, Finn & Hailey, and we wanted to have another shot at experiencing the Sonoma area, hopefully this time without smoke. We made arrangements with the owners that if the area was affected again by fire or terrible air quality that we would evacuate and deliver the cats to them. Fortunately conditions improved and we were able to enjoy the beauty of the area.
Being back in Sonoma also gave us another chance to take a pickleball lesson with someone who had come highly recommended by area players.
Adam MacKinnon is from Edinburgh, Scotland, so he has a great accent. He is a professional pickleball coach with Level 2 accreditation from the IPTPA (International Pickleball Teaching Professional Association) and is also a paid member of PCI (Pickleball Coaching International) and CoachMe Pickleball. With these credentials he clearly demonstrates both thorough training and skilled ability to teach. He's now a 5.0 level player himself, who had just started to play Senior Pro events before the pandemic began. He has won a gold medal at every tournament he's played since fall 2017 (his last 12 tournaments), including Mens 4.5 19+ with then 15-year-old son, Theo, at the 2019 National Championships and the Tournament of Champions. Interestingly, they were the oldest and youngest players in the bracket at both events.
Teaching pickleball is Adam's full time profession. A person can be a gifted player, but that does not mean that they are good teachers. When you find someone like Adam that has both the gift for playing and who can teach well, they are worth their weight in pickleball paddles. And that's the same as gold isn't it?
Adam MacKinnon - Pickleball Instructor in Sonoma County, CA
We were happy that Adam had a two hour slot in his schedule to give Ky and me a lesson. Adam is the only qualified and insured pickleball instructor in Sonoma County who has been approved by various city recreation departments. Even so, he has to navigate some challenging issues around court access.
Adam gets permits and pays for court use at all public courts, and he still avoids busy times on the courts (which can be difficult to predict). He works diligently to abide by all the rules, and even came up with extensive coronavirus safety protocols for city approval in order to resume teaching after three months of shelter-in-place.
He's hoping to be able to teach soon in Rohnert Park as well. He has offered indoor classes there for the city over the past couple of years, and there are six beautiful outdoor courts recently opened. Adam is the pickleball pro at the Oakmont Village active-adult retirement community (which has 6 great private courts) and at the Airport Health Club, which recently added outdoor pickleball to its activities.
Our lesson took place on one of the four public courts at Howarth Park in Santa Rosa at a time when the courts were not occupied by other players. It is in a good location in Santa Rosa, but unfortunately loud traffic noise on a busy street alongside the courts makes teaching there challenging. My GoPro couldn't compete with the traffic to record Adam's lesson effectively, but we did get a good wrap up video. Part of that discussion can be seen here so you can meet Adam.
Watch our YouTube lesson summary with Adam MacKinnon
For a video of the courts when they're in full action take a look HERE.
We began warming up so Adam could take a look at our mechanics and skills. He quickly assessed that we needed to work on a few of the fundamentals. Even after playing for 3 1/2 years, we still need work on the basics. Some bad habits are hard to break, but I'm hoping that after one year and a dozen lessons our pickleball skills be immensely improved. I'm not thinking that the lessons are going to be able to give us the ability to win 5.0 gold in any opens. No one has found the lesson for turning back the clock. Well, maybe Scott Moore has, but he's the exception.
Literally every area of our game can still use improvement. That seems to be one of the most alluring parts of the sport. There is always more to learn.
Adam covered a lot of different areas in our two hour lesson. Rather than talking about each of them though, I will just mention a few of the many tips that we learned.
First, Adam worked with us on our dinking. He demonstrated a very good concept of visualizing through four balls in a row to help make follow through deliberate. That works for virtually every stroke in the game. When dinking, errors are less likely when you hit the ball back in the same direction from where it came. Changing directions increases the number of unforced errors.
We are really starting to see the advantage of stepping back from the NVZ line to take dinks after the apex when the ball is lower and it is moving more slowly. That doesn't mean to stay back from the line - quite the contrary, get back to a ready position at the line immediately afterwards. Stepping back, especially with the foot on the side the ball is coming towards, gives room for the paddle to be in the correct spot for more consistent shots.
Ky was wanting to work on improving his long ground strokes. Adam taught him to get in to more of a "side on" position (or perpendicular to the net) rather than "chest on" (or parallel to the net). He stressed stepping into the stroke and hitting the ball in front of one's body. He also suggested that Ky stay away from spins until his basic strokes and body position are solid. Adam also noticed that Ky had a tendency to overdo the backward rotation of his left shoulder for his backhand.
A key tip for both of us was that, after our third shot, if we couldn't advance at least a third of the way towards the NVZ, it is better to stay at the baseline. Being just a step inside the baseline is the worst place to stop as it exposes a player's feet to attack.
I have been trying to get my wrist to remain stable in all my shots, especially my dinks. In some warped way when first learning to play, I started twisting (rotating) my wrist, thinking that was how I would be able to spin shots. That is clearly not the way to achieve spins and my twisting wrist has given me so much grief as I try to make that bad habit go away.
Good instructors make learning pickleball fun. Adam had some great drills that we can incorporate in to our sessions to liven them up. One of my favorites was for practicing volleys. Rather than standing in one place directly across from each other, we started cross court from each other and we worked our way to our opposite sides while volleying. This forces foot movement rather than getting stuck in one place and stretching to hit a ball.
You'll need to ask Adam to show you how practicing "throwing darts" can improve your pickleball. We'll leave that as his secret tip for you to learn directly from him.
We have a month to practice the skills that we have learned now from both Caden Nemoff (read the blog post HERE.) and Adam. We haven't chosen our next instructor yet. If you have recommendations for professional instructors in the Phoenix, AZ area, where we'll be in early December, please send them my way. I would really love to have a woman instructor soon to see if their teaching styles are very different from men's styles, but all good suggestions will be appreciated!
For those of you who are wondering how we find pet sitting gigs around the world, click HERE. This website has helped us to afford traveling and playing on 160 unique courts in eleven countries (so far!)
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Happy Pickling to you all from Sonoma, CA!
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