What 56 FEET of Snow this Past Winter Taught Me About Pickleball

Last Updated on August 20, 2019 by Cathy Jo Johnson

As you can see in my Youtube Video’s, Lake Tahoe is a beautiful place to play pickleball. What you don’t see on those videos is what happens the other six months of the year, it snows. And by most people’s standards, it snows a lot!

You may be wondering why I live here? Long before my addiction to pickleball, I was passionate about skiing.

Winter 2018-19 was big even by a Tahoe locals standards. It was the 4th largest winter on record with a total snowfall of 682 inches. So what does any of this have to do with playing pickleball? A lot!

Here are six lessons 56 feet of snow can teach you about pickleball consistency

Good Things Accumulate

When most people who live in snow country hear a forecast of 1-3, they assume the weather person means inches. Here in Tahoe, it’s feet.

Even though our storms are big, we don’t get 56 feet in a day, a week or even a month.  This past February was the most significant monthly snowfall on record, and that was only 247 inches or 20.5 feet.  Yes, I realize that’s a lot, but the point is that snowpack, like most things in life, builds over time. The same happens with good pickleball.

Good Things Build Over Time

One of the reasons I believe pickleball is so popular is that most people can pick up a paddle for the first time and be playing a game within an hour.  Yet, even the most talented of players need to learn to play the game and understanding the strategies of pickleball takes time.

Several years ago, I watched experienced players Christine Barksdale, and Joy Leising play a team of former ATP Tour tennis players. One of these ladies had a forehand that was so fast I cringed, and I wasn’t even on the court.  Another friend played a match with her the day before and told me that in all her years of playing, she never flinched at a woman’s forehand, until now. I thought it might be close, but Christine and Joy barely cracked a sweat in a convincing victory.

Why? One team had accumulated experience and knew how to play pickleball, and one team didn’t.

It doesn’t matter if you simply want to have longer rallies or play at the top levels of the game we will all progress at our own pace. Just remember no one is born a great player.  It can be easy to compare yourself unfavorably to others on the court, and that’s sure to hurt your confidence. If you’re ready to play better, create a plan, find a coach, and commit to practice. Good skills accumulate over time.

Attitude May Not Be Everything But…..

This winter was a lot like Bill Murray’s movie Groundhog Day. Wake up, shovel out, drive in the dark for 35 minutes on slippery snowy roads, enjoy a fantastic day teaching skiing, dig the car out, drive 35 minutes home in the dark on slippery snowy roads, fire up the snowblower to get into the driveway, eat dinner, shovel one last time so the snow removal in the morning isn’t so time-consuming, and finally fall asleep dead tired.  REPEAT

After 39 straight days of snow, something highly unusual for Tahoe, I was tired, and my attitude was slipping. My internal and external conversations took on a negative tone. It was minor at first. Most people wouldn’t notice it. But as a lifelong competitive athlete, I am accustomed to monitoring my internal dialogue and listening carefully to what I share with others. It started small, but there was no doubt it was growing.

You see the same thing happen to people on the pickleball court. Maybe it has happened to you?

Have you ever missed a couple of easy shots, followed it up with a disparaging remark, (to yourself of course) and then things got even worse?

Your attitude has a direct correlation to your confidence, and pickleball is a game of confidence. If you think you can your probably right and if you think you can’t your probably right too.

The sad part is that most of us aren’t aware of our self-talk. I often hear people say things like “you dummy,” “I’m just not getting better” or “I can’t hit that shot to save my life.”

The first step to changing your internal dialogue is to become aware. The next time you play, listen to yourself on the courts, what you say out loud and what’s said in the privacy of your mind.  Afterward, ask yourself this, if my best friend talked to me the way I spoke to myself, would we still be friends?

Get Excited About Practice; It will Help You Learn

Squaw Dogs are an elite group of highly trained avalanche rescue dogs used by the Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows ski patrol. As I’m getting ready in the morning,  I often pause to watch the dog teams head out to their daily assignments. The weather matters little to the dogs. They romp and play as if they have never seen the snow before. You can hear the sheer delight in their bark and see the playfulness as they slide around on the white stuff.  It doesn’t matter if they are going to do the same thing today that they did yesterday, the dogs greet the day with excitement and willingness to do what’s asked of them.

From their first days on the job, which usually happens when they are 8-12 weeks old, handlers make everything a game for the dog. After all, who doesn’t like to play games?

The dogs and their handlers train for countless hours, on and off the snow so that in the unfortunate event someone is buried in an avalanche, the dog may be their lifeline. Most of the dogs work well into their early teens, and will rarely be involved in a rescue at the resort. The majority of their time is spent practicing, but to them, practicing is a game, and it’s fun!

In pickleball, consistency separates the levels, and it’s developed by repeating the same motion over and over and over. It’s almost impossible to do that playing.

Consider this, how many 3rd shots do you get to hit in a game? Perhaps 10? Most games take 15 minutes or so. What if you hit 3rd shots for 15 minutes? How many could you hit? 100? At least!

If you are fortunate enough to spend any time with pickleball’s top players, ask them, what is your play to practice ratio?  Most of them will tell you that at least 75% of their pickleball time is spent practicing.

They create plans and games to help them improve. One of my favorite pickleball books is 20 Drills and 10 Games by Mark Renneson.  (Don’t worry if you don’t have a partner, he has another book, and all you need is a wall). Each week my practice partner and I discuss our games, what’s been working, what we need to change, and our goals. After which we assemble a plan.

We turn the drills into games, assigning points for success and penalties for failures. Since neither of us likes to lose bragging rights is a motivator.

At the end of the drills, we leave a little time for singles.  After all, isn’t one of the benefits of practice being able to play better in games?

How much better do you think you would be if you practiced some of the shots you frequently miss?

Patience is a virtue not just in life but on the pickleball court too!

Our regular commute after skiing on Saturday doubles to around 60 minutes. Two feet of snow during the day, an accident on a two-lane road, and the only other alternative route closed because the banks were so high the plows were no longer effective led to a record-shattering 4-hour drive.

For some of you who live in places like So Cal or NYC, you are probably thinking Big Deal! For Tahoe, where most days three cars at a stop sign can be considered a traffic jam, it was an exercise in patience.

It didn’t take my husband and me long to realize we were going nowhere fast, so we made a pact to be patient and enjoy our time together. How often do you get four hours uninterrupted with someone you love? We talked, laughed, told jokes, and enjoyed each others company. A little patience made a significant headache into an enjoyable inconvenience.

How many times have you tried to attack the ball when you should have hit it soft? How many times have you tried to finish off the rally by hitting a winner when all you needed to do was hit the ball in play?

Those lapses in judgment cost us points, games, and even tournaments.

Have you ever been pinned down at the baseline, hopelessly at the mercy of your opponents smash, unable to reset the point, and you get it over one more time, and they hit it out?

One of the things Laura Fenton Kovanda always says is to do whatever you must to get your opponents to hit one more shot.

Utilizing patience and waiting for the right time to attack leads to fewer mistakes and more points to your team.

Fitness is Critical for Playing Good Pickleball

It was a powder day in early January, and as I entered a steep chute, I unexpectedly hit a patch of ice under the new snow, immediately launching me backward onto a rock band.  My calf smashed the rock just above the top of my boot, and my entire lower leg looked and felt like it had gone ten rounds with Muhammed Ali.

Considering I took a significant wipeout in a No Fall Zone (for non-skiers, it’s precisely what the name implies, if you fall here chances are you’ll get injured), I felt blessed and incredibly lucky it wasn’t a season-ending (or worse) injury.

Miraculously I was back on skis 2 1/2 weeks later. Now I’m not going to lie and tell you that I was at 100%. I’m going to fully admit I pushed it too hard. However, because of my fitness level, I was able to enjoy skiing with my clients for the next five months.

Be honest with yourself. Does your current fitness level decrease or increase your chance of injury?

Dr. Allan Rosenthal, affectionately known as Dr. Pickleball, recently talked about the increased number of pickleball injuries. Yes, some of them are acute, but many of them may have been avoided if the player were in better condition. Besides, good conditioning will get you back on the court faster after an injury.

Not sure where to start? There are five critical areas of fitness, and if you want to know more about them and how you measure up for your age, click this link.

Recovery is Essential Especially When You’re Over 50

This winter, above all, I learned that I need to take care of my body if I want it to perform. As a competitive athlete, I am conditioned to push it. After the injury, I needed to listen to the cues my body gave me, and here’s what it said.

Sleep

I usually sleep 7 hours nightly, but that wasn’t enough for my body to heal. That meant hitting the hay an hour earlier and sleeping 20 minutes longer. There is no better recovery for the body and mind than rest.

Hot and Cold

As much as skiing is in my blood, this may sound silly, but I detest being cold. Unfortunately, nothing controls the swelling and reduces the pain like a good old fashioned ice pack. Perhaps the idea of ending the day with a hot bath of Epsom salts and essential oils made those ice packs a bit more bearable.

Stretch and Roll

Yoga moves a little slow for my taste, but my body pays the price if I skip stretching.  It’s most effective when followed by a little Trigger Point Therapy.  This has long been one of my favorite ways to release the tight spots leftover after stretching.

Conventional and Unconventional Treatments

When it comes to the body I’m an east meets west kind of gal. That meant combining traditional physical therapy with acupuncture. Ibuprofen with WuYang Chinese patches, something I can no longer live without! I was desperate to get back to 100%. If someone said it worked for them, I tried it.

Speaking of Unconventional….

At the suggestion of my PT, I researched and tried CBD cream. I was hesitant for a few different reasons, but after doing my homework and understanding that topical creams don’t create a high, I gave it a go, and it helped tremendously. I am working on a future post to share my experiences.

You Don’t Have to Do it All

A ski boot stabilized my leg, but the lateral movement of pickleball was impossible. It was time to take an unplanned but necessary hiatus from the courts and Youtube. Did I want to? No. Did I need to? Yes.

Conclusion

Life is full of twists and turns. Even the most pleasant of situations can be fraught with challenges. If we are willing to take a deep look at the lessons every opportunity affords us, we can often use it as a springboard to become more. More of the athlete we desire to be and more importantly, the type of person we wish to become.

What have you learned off the pickleball courts that has helped you become a better player? Put it down in the comments below.

Better Pickleball CJ JohnsonCJ Johnson
Better Pickleball
Age Well with CJ
Train Smart · Live Bold · Age Well

Email: CJ@AgeWellwithCJ.com
Better Pickleball on YouTube

P.S.S. Click Here to get a copy of 31 Quick Tips to Play Better Pickleball

If you got value from this post, please share it with your pickleball playing friends.

 

 

Winter 2018-2019 Photo Gallery

 

10 Comments

  1. Sharon on May 18, 2019 at 4:52 pm

    HI CJ,

    YOU ARE SO INSPIRATIONAL. THANK YOU FOR YOUR STORY. DO HOPE ALL IS GETTING BETTER EACH DAY.

    I AM 75 AND LOVE PICKLEBALL AS MUCH AS THE NEXT PERSON, HOWEVER, I KNOW MY LIMITS AND AM SO HAPPY THAT THE GROUP I PLAY WITH ARE DEDICATED AND SO MUCH FUN. I AM OUT THERE FOR MY HEALTH, LIVING WELL, TRYING TO KEEP FROM GETTING OLD. SOME ARE GOOD SOME ARE AVERAGE PLAYERS. WE HAVE A GREAT TIME AND IF SOMEONE GETS TOO CRANKY WE ENCOURAGE THEM TO PLAY IN ANOTHER GROUP WHERE THEY ARE VERY COMPETITIVE AND HAVE ALL SORTS OF INJURIES. THANKS FOR YOUR TIPS. IN OUR GROUP WE HAVE 75-76 YEAR OLDS AND 80 AND 85 AND 88.

    STAY WELL, STAY SAFE. I WILL PASS ON YOUR EMAIL TO ALL MY BUDDIES!

    THANK YOU,
    SHARON



    • Cathy Jo Johnson on May 19, 2019 at 8:38 pm

      Thanks Sharon. I’m feeling better every day.

      I love hearing your clubs story. I’ve always believed that any type of successful club is built on common ground. It sounds like your club knows exactly what’s important to the majority of members and if someone joins who doesn’t fit into that philosphy they are welcomed to go elsewhere.

      Pickle On!



  2. Bill Straehl on May 19, 2019 at 5:46 am

    Welcome back CJ! This was a FANTASTIC POST, and wow, did you cover a lot of ground! I’m turning 65 in a week, so I’ll officially be an old guy. Overall, I love it, but it DOES require some adjustments. On a good day, I really need to spend about an hour warming up before playing, and of course I’m not talking about hitting 15-20 dinks (though I need that as well). On a bad day, maybe even more time, plus an evaluation of if I should play at all today – might be better off with something less stressful. I rarely THIINK of pickleball as being stressful, but my body tells me different! I love practicing, and am thinking I should focus more on that, and less on games. It will only make them more special! I’ve got a feeling we could chat about this stuff endlessly. Good luck with the white stuff – glad to hear you’re getting a lot of ‘precipitation’ – better than not getting enough. My white stuff is here on the Florida beaches. Looking forward to more great content!
    Bill S



    • Cathy Jo Johnson on May 19, 2019 at 9:11 pm

      Hi Bill, those are great observations. I believe that you’re trying to be smart and listen to your body, something I’m learning too. If I can offer one more suggestion is to pay special attention to your physical recovery between the days that you play. Specifically focusing on rest, water, stretching, and nutrition. I go in-depth on these topics in my new digital course Fit Ater 50 and plan to do some additional blogs and videos on these over the summer. I believe we can still go hard but can’t do it as often as we used to!
      Additionally, the Wu Yang pain patch and the CBD cream have helped my achy muscles. One word of caution on the Wu Yang patches, they are strong and some people may have a skin reaction. My acupuncturist recommends 24 hours on and 48 off.
      Pickle ON!
      CJ



  3. Steven Kellerman on May 19, 2019 at 10:48 am

    I watch and like you videos event though i haven’t played Pickleball yet. My question is I have 2 artificial hips so my mobility of side to side or twisting motions are limited, is it safe for me to place this sport? I am also 67yrs old if that matters at all.
    Thank you.



    • Cathy Jo Johnson on May 19, 2019 at 8:57 pm

      Hi Steven, let me preface this by saying I’m not a physician and if you a concerned about an injury it’s best to check in with your doctor. As a pickleball player and certified personal trainer, most people, even those with joint replacements can play pickleball safely. It’s one of the things that makes the game so popular! Perhaps it’s time to give pickleball a try. If you’re not sure where to go in your area to learn the game https://www.usapa.org/what-is-pickleball-where-to-play-in-your-area and if you haven’t gotten the Beginners Guide to Pickleball https://cjjohnsonglobal.com/how-to-play-pickleball/. Hopefully we’ll see you on the courts soon!

      Pickle On!



  4. teresa a mele on May 19, 2019 at 4:42 pm

    Good info!!!! Look forward to more!!



    • Cathy Jo Johnson on May 19, 2019 at 8:39 pm

      Thanks Teresa. If you have any pickleball topics you would like to see explored on video let me know!

      Pickle On!



  5. Margo Malouf on May 20, 2019 at 6:10 am

    Great video CJ. I do some volunteer teaching, and you are one person I look to for knowledgeable teaching tips. I use your 3rd shot/9 position drill in my classes every session I teach. My very first lesson 5 years ago was from a great guy in Southern Oregon (Marty Burns); he started us out at the kitchen line teaching us to dink. I’ll always remember him saying, “softer, softer”. So, the first thing I was taught was hitting the ball softer with patience, but the last skill I am actually learning! I have finally made it to a 4.0 level, and drilling dinking with patience is my primary focus right now!

    Thanks for the great information. I really appreciate all you do.

    Margo Malouf



    • Cathy Jo Johnson on May 29, 2019 at 1:10 pm

      Hi Margo

      The 9 position drill is one of my favorites too. I use that in a lot of my personal practice sessions.

      Pickle On!

      CJ