What could be better than a lesson with a pro? How about a lesson with TWO pros. Ky and I are in Los Barriles, South Baja, MX. For Christmas we gave each other an Engage Pickleball clinic. We chose this particular clinic because it happened to be in one of our favorite places in the world to play, Tres Palapas. I'll tell you more about why in my next blog post. In this post, I want to focus on the clinic.
The headliner, Gigi LeMaster, is a much deserved member of the Pickleball Hall of Fame. She has been at the forefront of the meteoric growth of our sport. She is a native of Belgium and Gigi began playing pickleball in 2010. Gigi was a Founding Member of the Surprise Pickleball Association in Arizona. She was even on the cover of the very first issue of Pickleball Magazine. She has won numerous titles over the years, and she even been a gold medalist at international competitions in Finland, Canada & The Netherlands. Her teaching style is so relatable, and her friendly demeanor make you want to get to know her.
Kevin Beeson was her partner in this clinic. He a certified International Pickleball Professional, and his teaching experience goes back more than 30 years, starting with years of teaching tennis. Kevin is from Hood River, OR, and he is a dynamic instructor. The pair worked very well together. They demonstrated what we were to do in our drills, and then came around to see that we were performing them correctly.
Without hesitation I can say that every lesson we have taken has brought us new information and skills, or information that is packaged or presented in a different way. There have really been very few conflicting lessons, but just having someone use a different term or show something in a different way can cause an "Ah-Ha!" moment.
I would say that was particularly true in this lesson. I had several take-aways from this clinic, but I'll share two specific ones with you.
Strike Zone. Everyone will tell you to keep your paddle ready and up in front of you, and to make sure that you hit the ball out in front rather than letting it get behind you. For some reason, Gigi's use of the term "strike zone" finally struck me! Showing us the true meaning of what my strike zone was just made sense. Gigi and Keven reinforced it with drills having us move with our paddles out where they should be, and moving our feet to where the paddle is in a comfortable, reproducible area. We were told and shown that our arms should be at a certain distance from our bodies, no more and no less each time when possible. Stretching to get a shot compromises the shot. Moving your feet to the right place gives so much better control resulting in a better shot, and then scrambling to recover from a poor shot doesn't happen as much.
Drop shots are just glorified dinks. In our recent lesson with Jordan Briones, he definitely started my correction of some bad habits on my drop shot. Kevin illustrated another element using the same drill. Starting at the NVZ, you should hit several good dinks then just back up a step and make the same shot with just added swing pace. The use of that term, rather than "added force" gave me an "Ah-Ha!" when I realized that I have been swinging my paddle too quickly, and then not following through because I had hit the ball too fast which equals hard. That led me to feel that the ball would go even farther if I swung all the way with my follow through. I was stopping my swing with less than desirable results.
I know other people have told me to "slow down", but I never related that slowing down with power. Today, just two days after the clinic, I literally felt that I was playing the best pickleball that I've ever played, against opponents that I would never have played against even a year ago. I have to go back to play tomorrow to make sure it wasn't just a fluke and to cement in the muscle memory!
We made numerous new friends at the clinic and we're already planning to see some of them at courts on future road trips. If you have a chance to take a clinic from Engage, I highly recommend it. We had nine hours of lessons over two days and the time went by so quickly. Expect to be very tired afterwards, but it's a good tired. And you will have learned some great new skills!
Thanks Engage for organizing and hiring such awesome instructors. And thank you Gigi and Kevin for sharing your expertise!