Beginner clinic in Ferrysburg, Michigan
For the past year, a group of players in Michigan have taken it upon themselves to offer pickleball clinics to beginner players and “never-ever” players. The organizer, Kevin Curley, is a friend and student of mine – and he’s on the Pickleball Guru web strategy team. Kevin will be the first to tell you he’s not the best player in West Michigan. As a small business owner, brand new dad, volunteer board and planning member for three local organizations and supporting husband, he has a hard time scheduling in his pickleball time. But he is committed to teaching new players about the sport he has grown to love. Here is his Report from the Field.
Starting in November, I hosted a beginner player’s clinic at the Ferrysburg Community Church. As with all of our clinics, it was free to attend – all that we asked was that students donate non-perishable food items to the Church’s food pantry. Unlike our past clinics, we were upfront with our expectations. We wanted students that could commit to the 4 week class; each week would build upon the other. We noticed in our past clinics, that reteaching the same lesson each week didn’t really help people progress.
I was happy that initially 12 people registered for the class – although only 9 would actually make it through until the end. We scheduled the class to coincide with evening open play time at the Church; this way students could stay longer and apply what they learned in the class.
On the first night of the class, I made a full agenda and left some time in the beginning of the class to understand the level of exposure the students had with pickleball. I remember from your 2-day clinic at Mulligan’s Hollow that you asked a lot of questions and a lot of “Why” questions; I tried to apply that same approach in my clinic. It was very helpful to gauge each player’s expectations, concerns with playing, and goals. I remember one older woman saying she wanted to feel “less intimidated” on the court; most of the other players agreed. With that in mind, I tailored the clinic to address that issue. We would always bring it back to that point.
We worked on a range of drills that emphasized ball control and control of the court, including:
- Bouncing the ball on the paddle: no more than six inches, higher than 3 feet, higher than 10 feet; and focusing on controlling the ball
- Passing the ball to a partner without having the ball hit the ground: 5 feet separation and 10 feet separation
- Dinking: I stole a few of your drills
- Deep simple serves
- Deep and high-lofted returns
- Court positioning and shot selection
As each week progressed, I saw high levels of enthusiasm from my students. It was great to see them progress and learn the different components of the sport. Because we focused on control, we didn’t review overheads or slamming, but mainly where to hit the ball to score. We had a blast.
On the final night of the class, we played a shortened round robin tournament – with a slight catch. I told the students that they were not allowed to hit overhead shots. That I was going to watch how they applied the lessons of the class. The player who showed the most improvement over the 4 weeks and during play that night would be awarded a 1-year USAPA membership. I picked this format of play because I wanted the players to have fun and have a positive tournament experience. We succeeded!
When the class was done I awarded the Most Improved and gave a final report to each player. Based on reports I’ve heard since, I think we’ll do another class in February.