Happy, happy, happy,….well, if one never figures out the deeper meaning of life, a good game of ”I can” usually goes well with the pb frame of mind. Pickleball is an activity that, at its’ best, does not take itself seriously. ”I can do this”, because ”I can” has a lot of ways to play….It is great fun to see a different, and broader, definition of what it means to learn to play a game.
Introducing our teacher, student, and for some of my readers, teammate:
Matthew Blom In His Own Words
(Please take the time to fill out the reader survey at the end of this player profile)
1. How did you start out your sports life, Matthew,….and at what age did you become interested in racquet sports?…Have you always looked at sports in a wholistic way–as part of your development as a person?
MB – One of my favourite things to do with my dad, growing up, was playing ping-pong together….I remember getting so upset when he would constantly hit to my backhand–again and again. After a time, lo and behold, my backhand improved….There was something about this that impressed upon me that if you have a weakness, you can work really hard to protect it, or you can expose it (in this case by a wise father), and have it transform itself into something that you could enjoy, and in this case, even become a weapon for the sport…My grandfather was also influential in the way that he would playfully f*ck around with us mentally while playing golf or racquetball. It’s like he knew that physically he wasn’t as capable anymore, so he’d make up for it by getting a psychological edge. I still remember his smirk as he’d say (after leaving a putt short in golf), ”studies have shown that 90% of the ones you leave short, don’t go in…”
Later, although I never talked with him about it (but he would be fascinated to know), my high school tennis coach was a brilliant man who clearly had dropped out and unplugged in the 60’s. He had a very wholistic approach to the game, and how it served in developing the young men on his team.
All this tilled the soil for my college tennis coach who forever changed my outlook on racquet sports and life…Have you ever read the book The Way of the Peaceful Warrior? There’s a high performance gymnast who meets a gas station attendant (Socrates)–who turns his world upside down, and introduces him to a ”spiritual/philosophical” approach to life….In a nutshell, Dave, my college tennis coach, was my Socrates–and over the course of the 3 years that I knew him. He altered the course of my life like a comet zooming around a planet that turns the corner towards a whole new trajectory. Racquet sports were a vehicle to explore the power of thought, emotion, one-pointed attention–defying ”rules” we have about ourselves, physics, or life itself.
I grew up the son of a pastor in North Dakota, and Dave, my tennis coach, completely blew my world apart. In person, I could tell you stories of the extra-ordinary phenomena he introduced me to….After meeting him–and through the books he gave me–I left this country and spent most of the next 6 years living in Asia and East Africa (a whole other story). For the most part, I gave up all racquet sports after leaving South Korea–where I played badminton and table tennis, finally, for the first time with people who took those sports seriously.
I’m returning back to sports after around 7 years. I enjoy them. I’m competitive…I like the improvement and the study that goes along with them. More and more I use it as one more area of life where I get to see who I am, and what gets in the way of having a relaxed, enjoyable experience on and off the court. I enjoy the sport for itself–and also use it as a vehicle for studying myself through the work with my current teacher in life.
2. What was your learning environment like where you grew up? Where your parents supportive of your goals?
MB – Yes, they both were very supportive. I feel lucky with the encouragement and love I received in so many ways….My dad was always the one who’d be there cheering for me at my tennis matches–and picking on my backhand at home.
3. What was the impetus that caused you to go from tennis to pickleball?
MB – The college tennis coach I mentioned, also happens to have been the very first pickleball champion in the 1970’s (back when the sport was mostly isolated in the Seattle area). Dave believed that it was beneficial to our tennis game to learn to play pickleball and badminton. So I learned pb back in college. Then I didn’t hear about pickleball until about 5 years ago when I worked at a family camp for NonViolent Communication (something I was trainer of), and met a beautiful couple who had this new found enthusiasm for pickleball. They were travelling around in their van, with virtually no money, going from one pickleball event to the next. This was Prem Carnot (aka the Pickleball Guru), and his wife Wendy Garrido. They kinda drug me back out onto a pickleball court–I was reluctant to play such a ”wimpy, old-person sport”….Well, I jumped out on court, and was immediately the dominant player at my local club. That hooked onto my addiction to being the best at something….I found that it was way more social, friendly, joking, and light than tennis. At the time I was playing competitive competitive table tennis 2-3 times a week. I was very focused–studying and buying training programs….It was all so serious….Pickleball let me get out on the court and enjoy the fun and love I have of having a paddle/racquet in my hand–without the extra stuff I had added to other sports that made them less enjoyable.
4. What make of paddle do you use, and would you recommend a long paddle for the average player?
MB – I get asked this question a lot, and have more to say about it than I’ll probably write about.
I use a model made by Brian Jensen (Performance One Paddles), out of San Diego, who I consider to be a mad scientist of paddles. It’s extra long, and I don’t know the model he calls it. Rob Elliot, of Engage Paddles, just made and sent me a long one that I’ve played with twice. I really like it so far.
Here’s the blunt answer–I don’t know why anyone uses the short, fat model….I think the original design was the shape that the Pritchards carved out of plywood, and that players got used to it, and it simply caught on. Materials changed, but very few designers played around with the shape. If you had to design a paddle from scratch–and were given the legal restrictions that pickleball has–I don’t know why you wouldn’t give it a bit more length over width….Extra length is an advantage on so many shots…Extra width on very, very few.
The advantage I know of with extra width is that it probably provides more stability for touch/feel. Extra width is helpful on quick reaction defensive shots where you might get caught hitting the ball off centre….Other than that, I think it’s worth trying a long one, and learning to hit the sweet spot so that extra width becomes useless, and the extra length helps you to reach those extra few shots per point…The length also provides extra torque on serves, returns, and any hard put away shots.
I’ve heard the long paddles are now being put out by other companies. I think this trend will continue to grow.
5. The first time I saw you Matthew, was on a YouTube video from the 2014 TOC (Tournament of Champions). You were teamed up with Alex Hamner, vs Adina Jones and Daniel Roditi. I mean no offense to your capable opponents, but,…all I watched was you and Alex!… I saw something in your game together that captivated me. I have included the link to the video below. Would you care to comment on Alex Hamner as a playing partner?
MB – Just got this burst of emotion thinking about her…There’s so much I love about Alex. I feel lucky that she and I got to hook up and play, and, stuck with each other. She has a quality that very few know about–and I don’t know if she even realizes how crucial it is to how great a player she’s become. Never once have I heard her blame or criticize her partner….
Now why that’s so important is that ‘whatever happens on court’, she’s looking to what she might have done to have caused it. Now, this can go to a fault and be self-depricating, but what’s magical about it is that with that approach, you are forever improving. As soon as you blame your partner for something, you’re off the hook and an a**hole… Never with Alex….I could pop up some lame duck to our opponents. They’d blast it at her, and she’d be critical that her paddle wasn’t up to defend it…That’s something I find really incredible.
Off the court, Alex is gracious, supportive, understanding–when you’re not facing her as an opponent she has a motherly warmth that comes through in her smile, wit, and playful humour…I always look forward to playing with her.
On the strategy level, she was willing to go with some of my crazy ideas (like the switching you probably saw in the video). We could talk about what was happening. Twice we lost in the first round of tournaments, and we’d go off the court kinda shell-shocked, but we’d sit down and find a positive response. In both cases we came back–one gold, and one bronze. One of my biggest pickleball ”regrets” is to not have pulled off the win in the 2014 US Nationals Mixed Final with Alex….I certainly would’ve liked it–and it’s a gift I wanted to give to her as well.
**Here is a note to the readers of my blog from Matthew Blom:
Hello fellow pickleball fans,….5 years ago I was re-introduced, and turned on to, the seemingly incurable addiction of pickleball. After playing tennis through college, high-level competitive badminton in South Korea, and competitive-level Table Tennis, I put down those paddles and racquets for the ‘all-in one fun’, skill, and intensity of pickleball.
After getting the thrill of climbing to the Pickleball Peak at the Nationals last November, I now turn my attention to how I could pass on some of ‘what I’ve been given’ to other aspiring and experienced pickleball players–the ‘nuts and bolts’ of a basic foundation, to the nuances and split second subtleties that win you points as you climb the ladder on a local or national scene.
I really enjoyed the questions Doug asked me in this interview, and I gave my best to the answers….I hope it means something to you if you read them. He’s graciously let me reach out to you to ask how I might be of most use to you and your pickleball goals.
There’s a brief survey included here….I will make a video based on the biggest response as a thank you for filling out the survey (feel free to pass it on to other players you know might be interested)
Play Great Pickle ball
Thanks to Matthew for putting this survey together…I personally, will be very interested in the teaching videos he puts out.
2014.09.05 – Jones, Adina – Roditi, Daniel vs Hamner, Alex – Bom, Matthew – MXOD 1_4 final
*This is the end of Part One of my player profile interview with Matthew. In Part Two, I will get into what I consider to be one of the greatest pb stories from last year–Matthew Blom and Daniel Moore’s epic battle to win a gold medal in mens doubles at the 2015 US Nationals.
The second part of my conversation with Matthew Blom will be out shortly. Until then….
Thanks for the game,