The Heart of Pickleball

Nancy Dowell

If you play pickleball, chances are excellent that you have met Debbie Westwater and Rich Reiner. What you may not know about them is that they are co-chairs of the 3.0 Advanced Assisted Play lessons. They are having a tremendous impact on a segment of SaddleBrooke Pickleball Association’s (SPA) members who are taking their clinic-style lessons. Debbie and Rich are super-proud of this program and once you read about all they are doing, you will understand why.

Debbie, Rich, and SPA member-coaches volunteer their time to lead the 3.0 lessons. They are instructing players each Tuesday for almost eight months of the calendar year. This year’s program began on Oct. 8 and is scheduled to conclude on April 28. Their passion and dedication to this program is of immeasurable benefit to SPA.

There is a core list of 132 players eligible and interested in taking the Assisted Play 3.0 classes. In order to qualify for this complimentary program, one must be rated 3.0 by SPA or by the USAPA. Debbie, Rich, and their team of 12 coaches have taught 440 students since October. After taking the lessons, 30.47% of the participants have improved so much that they have achieved a rating increase to 3.5.

Rich and Debbie have developed a structure that revolves around a progressive series of six two-hour lessons, each focused on a single skill. For those taking the lessons consecutively, each lesson builds upon the one prior with the complexity of the lessons increasing week to week. The program addresses deep serves and returns, drop shots, dinking, put-aways, lobs, and strategy. There are one or two coaches per court of four participants. The lesson includes a demonstration of the skill being taught, practice of the skill by the participants, and concludes with game play incorporation of that skill. Skill consistency is encouraged during play with players rotating out every time an error is made until the next error occurs. The two-hour session finishes with individual evaluations, a coach report to Debbie, and finally feedback to each individual player.

Each week Debbie makes every effort to mix up the students and expose them to a different coach. Coaching styles differ, and both Rich and Debbie feel that this step is very important to the success of the program. Different coaches may have a specialty, specific personalized insights, or a connection with a player.

Sandy Lindquist is a 3.0 rated SPA member taking advantage of the amazing opportunity to learn from these great coaches. She says her motivation is to improve her game. Sandy finds that, as she is improving her skills, she is having more fun playing. The process that Rich and Debbie have instituted of working on one skill at a time in two-hour blocks is helping her improve her skills faster.

In asking about what motivates Debbie to dedicate her time to this program she explains, “I get so much out of seeing player improvement. The satisfaction that comes with that is how I get paid.”

Rich adds, “I also love to see the players’ improvement, teach the patience it takes to gain consistency, and instill proper technique for staying safe on the court.”

Coach Stan Penny feels that, with additional or more highly developed pickleball skills, a player is able to off-set some age-related setbacks. Lessons are often reinforced with recommended video links provided to the participants.

The dedication and passion shown by Debbie, Rich, and the volunteer coaches makes SPA a very, very special pickleball club. I know my fellow club members join me in passing along our sincere appreciation to them. If you would like to volunteer to be a part of the 3.0 AP team or have questions about the program, contact Debbie Westwater at [email protected]