On January 29, my wife and I attended the East Coast USAPA Pickleball University at the Sandpiper Club Med in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
The University was a 4 day/3-night pickleball teaching clinic available for up 48 people. There was an 8:1 student to instructor ratio for the clinics, providing each of the participants with hands-on coaching from top ranked instructors, as well as a full array of amenities including on-court and off-court activities.
A note about “4 days/3 nights.” The first day started at 3 PM, and the last day ended at 11 AM. We originally thought there would be three days of instruction, but there were two full days, each containing about six hours of on-court activities. I managed to get some great instruction on the last day and will write about that later.
The information about the university said “top ranked” instructors. They were right. Here are the instructors we had.
Sarah Ansboury is the lead clinician and educational consultant for the PPR (Professional Pickleball Registry) and was our lead instructor. In November, Sarah medaled four times at the USAPA National Tournament including winning Gold in the Women’s Doubles Open.
Both of these sites contain valuable information, especially if you are new to the sport.
Rob Davidson is recognized as one of the top players and instructors in pickleball. He is a full-time instructor and is one of the first instructors certified by the IPTPA. Rob has won numerous tournaments as well as being a gold medalist in the US Open and USAPA National Championships. Rob is also the head coach for the highly successful LevelUP Pickleball Camps, sponsored by Pickleball Magazine.
Tim is a 5.0 rated player and a USAPA National Medalist. Starting in 2015 with the State Games of America winning 2 gold medals, to winning a gold medal in 2018 at a USAPA Regional tournament, he excels in tournament play. Tim is one of the Original Founding Members of SSIPA, Super Senior International Pickleball Association and serves as a Board Member and Vice-President 2017-2018.
He is one of the top 5.0 pro pickleball players and has been playing the sport for over 10 years. He and his family live in The Villages in Florida, a 50+ community that has more than 100 pickleball courts!
Jennifer is a professional 5.0 pickleball player and a global pickleball ambassador. Her numerous gold medal championships include: 17-time USAPA Nationals, 11-time Canadian Nationals, 6-time Huntsman World Senior Games, 4-time Tournament of Champions, 4-time International Tournaments and many golds at US Open Pickleball Championships. Jennifer is also a senior player. Jennifer is also the author of the book History of Pickleball: More Than 50 Years of Fun!
She also has a pickleball blog which has lots of good information. View it here: Jennifer’s Blog
Byron Freso is a Certified Pickleball Instructor who has been teaching the sport of Pickleball at all levels for the past five years. He is also a Senior Pro Pickleball Player and has won many medals in tournaments at the national and local levels. Prior to playing and teaching pickleball, Byron was an open level racquetball player. Over the years, Byron has medaled in the following tournaments, winning several gold medals at USAPA Nationals, US Open, National Senior Games, State Games of America, Huntsman World Senior Games and many more.
CLUB MED SANDPIPER BAY
I had only been to a Club Med once before, and that was in Malaysia. I had pretty high expectations and was not disappointed. The rooms were large and clean, had a bathroom with his/her sinks, and had a huge closet. That was quite different from the place we stayed at the night before – it had no closet at all.
WE arrived some time after 3 in the afternoon. After checking in and unpacking, we were not about to go out and exercise, especially since we had done a long walk on the beach in the morning. So, instead, we went to dinner in the restaurant known as The Marketplace. It’s not often that I can remember what I had for dinner more than one day in the past, but I do remember what I had that night – spaghetti marina! Why spaghetti when there was so much more available? Because I had not had it in ages.
The restaurant is called The Marketplace for a reason – there are many, many choices available to you. The pictures below show a tiny portion of the restaurant and, of course, the dessert bar.
We also had wine with dinner, as much as you wanted. I believe that Club Med has a pretty good deal going with a winery called Cuevas del Sur, a vineyard located in the Central Valley of Chile. I’m a self-admitted wine snob and prefer red wine, but I thought the Sauvignon Blanc was very good. I found a restaurant in Atlanta that sells the Sauvignon Blanc for $75 a bottle, yet Club Med lets you have as much as you like.
I’m not going to talk about meals anymore, suffice to say that (1) the food was fantastic (2) I overate and (3) the desserts, in particular, were phenomenal. I am a dessert nut, so that made me happy.
After breakfast (too much in my case) we hit the pickleball courts. Sarah led us through some dynamic warmup exercises (movement, not stretching) and then is was practice, practice, practice. Virtually every practice session involved dinking on the first day. If you think that is not tiring, think again. The morning session lasted three hours.
After lunch we were back on the courts again for more practice. Again, the session focused on dinking and it, too, lasted three hours or more.
Then it was on to the hot tub, for me at least. I would have had a beer, but the only beer selection was Coors Lite. I am a bit of a beer snob, preferring dark beers like porters, so I opted for the white wine. The combination of exercise, hot tub and wine wiped me out.
After a bit of a respite and a hot shower, we made our way to dinner. I cannot remember that, after that, we watched any TV at all. I do remember that the bed was super comfortable so it was lights out pretty quickly.
I finally go sensible about breakfast and limited myself to cereal (and maybe a sweet roll (or two)).
Unfortunately, the weather was not very cooperative. We had to roll the courts to get rain off but did finally get out on them. The focus on the third days was serving and returning, with the emphasis on getting both deep.
We also did some ball control drills such as “pickleball volleyball.” I’ll provide a link to the drills that I mention in this blog at the end of this post.
I asked Sarah to look at my “ace” serve. It’s a 50-50 serve that I use to swing my serve wide when serving from the deuce court. She looked at it said, because I rolled over the top, that it was borderline illegal. Great.
After lunch it became pretty clear that the rain was not going to let up so we moved indoors where we had a question and answer period. During that period, I asked for a better explanation of the illegality of my serve. Once again Sarah said it may or may not have been illegal because I rolled over after making my upward swing with an open paddle face. Byron Freso, who has been a referee at many national tournaments, said that (1) there are many people with illegal serves, and he will call them on those serves and (2) he does not call players with borderline serves simply because he cannot be sure.
So, back to using that serve!
Later in the afternoon Club Med made some indoor space available to us. We set up three courts where we played what I have previously called the “Crazy Game.” That was a blast.
After that, the pros played some doubles matches that we were able to observe up close. Let’s face it – they can all slam the ball, but for the most part they did. When they did, it usually came back twice as hard. It was a great lesson on the power of the dink.
PS: This day was our 35th wedding anniversary. We discovered, to our delight, that we could get champagne at the bar. When it comes to champagne, we are lightweights, so we limited ourselves to one glass.
PPS: We also got to look at the paddles used by the pros. We loved the Head paddle used by Sarah. She adds weighted tape to hers, something my wife and I used to do and will start doing again. I already have about ten paddles but am up for getting a couple more!
On the last day of the university we sat at breakfast with one of the players who had been in our group. She mentioned that she was going to have a private lesson with the pro Sarah Ansboury. When she left to get ready for her lesson, we were joined by one of the pros, Rob Davidson. Shortly thereafter Sarah joined us. Sarah stayed only a short time because she had to get to the lesson as well.
When Sarah left, I asked Rob if he would give me a private lesson. He said “no” but said he would be happy to play a game with me. Wow. I ran off to get ready and when I got to the courts Rob was practicing his serve. He set up a bucket in each corner to the court he was serving to and I observed him hitting the bucket each time. I commented on how great that was and he said, “Oh. You missed the ones before you showed up.” I’m willing to bet he hit the buckets every time and he was just being humble.
Anyway, this is where he taught me the “Zone Dink Drill” I mentioned in another blog. He emphasized the importance of getting your dink to drop as near as the net as you can because that will force your opponent to pop it up in the air.
He then showed me how to play “skinny singles,” a game that focuses your attention of serve and return of serve.
Some other players were clamoring for him, so I thanked him and hung around to watch for a while. Jennifer, Sarah (after her lesson) and Rob all stayed and participated with the university attendees. They were all very giving of themselves.
I cannot recommend strongly enough the USAPA pickleball universities. Not only were they fun, but I learned as much in two days as I had in many previous lessons. Also, watching the pros played really got the idea into my head that winning is all about dinking.
Here is a link to my page that describes the drills we learned:
Dink Drills and Games