Scott Golden had a fun chat with Lauren Stratman, Pat Smith and Lea Jansen yesterday afternoon. We both really enjoyed the discussion and we’re hoping Scott can have more conversations like this with the pros going forward. There were some interesting nuggets in there and we wanted to react to some of the topics that came up. A link to the chat can be found here.
Lauren and Pat’s Thoughts on Newman Match and Straight On Dinking (Slim)
I thought Stratman’s reflections, in particular, on her and Smith’s match with the Newman’s at the US Open were interesting. It was a very competitive match and entertaining. If you haven’t watched it yet, I would recommend checking it out. A link to the stream is here.
What I found particular interesting was Stratman saying she was not as comfortable once the Newman’s put Lindsey straight in front, and she wishes she had of dinked cross-court more to Riley once this happened instead of going after Lindsey, because she is more comfortable going cross court, and she can’t just fall into the trap of playing it to the girl. She also said she didn’t like turning it into a game of singles with Lindsey and by going cross court with Riley it would also force him to attack Pat, getting Pat involved.
I was very surprised that these were her takeaways, with time to reflect. In my opinion her first observation should have been that if she is not comfortable dinking etc. straight on, it is something that she needs to drill and become more comfortable with. Gritty and I have both been of the mindset, for a while, that a lot of players are not in general comfortable enough dinking straight on, and that in certain match ups, especially in mixed doubles this can be problematic when teams reverse stack. Secondly, I think Stratman should be excited if the Newman’s want to make it a game of ‘singles’ as she calls it between herself and Lindsey. I think this is match-up that Lauren should want, and frankly if you can keep Riley a top 2 or 3 player or the planet out of the match you should love that. While Lindsey is a great defensive player (why we ranked her 3rd in mixed doubles women’s rankings), Stratman clearly has the superior weapons and attacks in that match up and should feel like that superior offense can carry her there against Lindsey.
I also thought it was interesting that if she prefers cross court dinking, she and Pat didn’t consider stacking her on the left so she could cross court dink with Lindsey. This was mentioned in our live blog at the time too.
Seeding for Tournaments (Gritty)
There was some discussion about doing things a little bit more like tennis for these tournaments. If you don’t know, in tennis the major tournaments will seed the top 32 players and then the remaining players are then randomly put into the draw. In pickleball, all players are seeded in the draw. Stratman and Jansen discussed having only the top players seeded in a tournament and the remaining seeds be random to create some different matchups.
I think this is a good idea, particularly in some of the bigger draws and it has the potential to give us some more interesting early round matchups. One big issue is that we still don’t have a universal rating system so the seeding is incredibly unreliable and that can create major unfairness for who gets a seed and who does not. The ratings issue makes any solution for seeding players problematic.
Game Plans (Gritty)
Further to Slim’s comments about the Newman match above, I wanted to touch on Golden’s question to Stratman and Jansen about whether they go into matches with game plans or do they simply react in game. Stratman said that her and Jansen are now starting to be more comfortable with themselves as a partnership and that they are doing more to come into tournaments with game plans now. It did not sound like Pat Smith is big on game plans even if it is clear he does think about the strategic parts of pickleball.
I thought this was an interesting talking point because it seems too often when watching these matches in pickleball teams don’t have game plans. In gender doubles, teams generally dink cross court because that is where their comfort is. Players are confident in their abilities so they dink cross court regardless of who is there. This is more of a general statement but I often can’t understand why there isn’t a more focused game plan of targeting a player as well as stacking to get the matchup of who you want either cross court or straight up with the opposing team. More game planning in pickleball is needed!
Stratman did discuss the difficulty of making in-game adjustments and I think that is where lack of coaching comes into play. It is much more difficult to see the possible strategic mis-steps on your own in the middle of a match, particularly when things happen so quickly in pickleball (i.e. 1 minute timeouts, less than 10 seconds between points). I think this is why teams not only need to come in with a game plan but they need to know before the match what their potential adjustments are. If you haven’t considered potential in game adjustments before the match, it’s harder to think of those things organically in the flow of the match.
Of course, the nature of pickelball with multiple matches in a day makes game plans harder to come by. Nevertheless, the top players should all know each other at this point. If they don’t, then you probably should do some more film study in between tournaments.
Difficulty in Becoming a Pro Pickleball Player (Slim)
Stratman and Jansen highlighted the cost difficulties in trying to become a pro player on the pickleball tours. With prize money limited generally to the podium positions and there being well established pros who usually take those podiums positions, prize money opportunities for new pros are very limited. Sponsorship opportunities are also quite limited for new pros. When you add in the high registration fees for these tournaments and travel expenses, you have a real barrier for entry of new pro. This is particularly an issue when the only way for more pros to really enter the scene is to get those tournament repetitions in and get experience playing against the top players.
I do think that this is currently a real barrier for the growth of the professional game right now. Hopefully as more sponsors and money come into the game, there will be more opportunities for new and promising pros.
Another real barrier for new aspiring pros is that it is a doubles games, and it can be very tough to find other partners who also have potential or are established and have a similar mindset.
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