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Morgan Brown

This month’s Junior Spotlight shines a light on 14-year-old Morgan Brown from Naples, Florida. And even though she’s competed in many different sports, pickleball is her game! At 12, Morgan fell in love with the game and has been playing practically nonstop for two years. She’s currently a 7th grader at Pine Ridge Middle School and is proud to be a straight-A student.

The life lessons and values that are a part of pickleball closely mirror Morgan’s own principles and core beliefs. Pickleball has helped her through many difficult times and continues to teach her valuable life lessons.

Through persistence, grit and hard work, Morgan’s game continues to improve. She has progressed rapidly from being a “banger,” to concentrating on a soft-hands approach and focused placement. She maintains a positive attitude, is constantly smiling and always has fun. Morgan’s favorite shot is her two-handed backhand volley. Her all-time favorite pros are Simone Jardim, Ben Johns, and Kyle Yates. Her dream is to one day play in a tournament with them.

Morgan has had the good fortune of learning, playing, and winning with many great partners. She has played in and/or medaled in many tournaments, including the U.S. Nationals in Palm Springs, California, the US Open in Naples, and a tournament at the PicklePlex in Punta Gorda, Florida, where she took gold playing with her mother, Sharon Brown.

Morgan has won many medals in singles, doubles and mixed doubles, but her most memorable tournament was the 2019 US Open where she was noticed and sponsored by Paddletek. Recently, she has accepted sponsorships from PB1965 and Jigsaw Health and is the “face” of the Naples Pickleball Junior Academy. Morgan is so excited and humbled to represent these brands and looks forward to what the future brings.

“What I love most about pickleball is that it’s so friendly and I love how it’s a great way to meet new people,” she says.

The socialization, experience and camaraderie in pickleball has taught Morgan that practice, dedication and hard work will always pay off. She’s always watching videos, taking lessons or hitting against a wall. This has considerably helped her to become a 4.0 player.

During the summer, Morgan assists her mother, who runs the Veterans Park Pickleball Program. Specifically, Morgan plays when needed, checks and sells program memberships, helps in the pro shop, takes lessons when it is slow, and assists with the lessons when it is busy.

Morgan would like to become a Pickleball Ambassador to help inspire more kids to join the sport. She’s currently studying to become a referee and a Level One IPTPA Certified Trainer. Her long-term goal is to become a professional pickleball player and a veterinarian; and of course, to marry Ben Johns. When Morgan is not on the courts hitting or training, you can find her playing with her dog Finn, or filming TikTok and YouTube videos with friends.

Morgan will continue to follow her dreams to show the world that persistence, dedication, and intense focus pays off! •

Oops, I Gained the Quarantine 15: Five Tips for Pandemic Weight Loss

"You're a nutritionist!" one of my more direct pickleball friends reprimanded during our socially distanced water break. I had pointed out that absence of play during the pandemic somehow caused my leggings to shrink. With public courts shut down for months in the Pacific Northwest, it was my first time back.

Judge if you will; I am not alone. We players lost our favorite form of exercise as we knew it during the pandemic, finding ourselves dinking around the house with more access to the pantry. Drop in some situational blues from lack of social interaction, and you have a recipe for unintentional weight gain. Dietitian or not, I’m going to cut myself some slack this time.

Luckily for me, I knew what to do. Here are a few of my favorite tips for weight loss that have worked for myself and others.

#1 Rid yourself of the sabotage. Is your problem sugary drinks? Do you have a pantry full of nutrient- empty snacks “for the kids”? Do you keep a candy stash? Has your alcohol intake increased during the pandemic? I find it best to rid the home of temptations if at all possible. Don’t get me wrong—I believe that occasional indulgences are an important part of life if you enjoy them. Planning is key to prevent overdoing indulgence. If you avoid having your favorites handy, you can’t mindlessly grab for them in a weak moment.

#2 Eat only during the day. It doesn’t get simpler than this. As one form of intermittent fasting called time-restricted eating, this has become trendy for good reason. It’s what humans are meant to do! The 2017 Nobel Prize for Science was earned by researchers who discovered the enzyme that controls circadian rhythm. Since then, nutrition researchers have used the information to find that many diseases and weight gain can be prevented just by restricting eating to daytime hours.

For general health and weight maintenance, I recommend no more than a 12-hour eating window, fasting during the other 12, five days each week. For example, I choose to fast from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. For weight loss, I recommend an 8- to 9-hour eating window, for example fasting from 6 p.m. to 9 a.m. And by the way, true fasting means everything besides water. It’s about allowing the liver and other organs to rest and repair, which they cannot do while processing caffeine, artificial sweeteners, etc.

#3 Choose a healthy diet plan. In a dietitian’s world, this means choosing a plan that is not excessively restrictive so that you can get the nutrients your body needs. It’s especially important now to keep the immune system robust. Plant-strong, high-vegetable plans such as Mediterranean-style diets offer an abundance of nutrients, while the built-in benefits of high fiber and low calories promote weight loss.

#4 Start your meals with raw vegetable appetizers. Do you ever notice that once someone starts to cook
a meal, you begin to feel hunger? That’s a digestive- system hormone kicking in, often triggered simply by the thought of food. Some people are tempted at that point to find a snack to tide them over, which often leads to poor choices. Outsmart your body by keeping a prepared veggie plate in the fridge for easy access when the pangs begin. By filling up on those, you’ll fill up on nutrients before you’re tempted to over-portion the less nutrient- dense foods in your meal.

#5 Find a partner to help with exercise motivation. COVID-19 restrictions took pickleball away from most of us. While play may not yet be back to the way it was, it helps to encourage each other to keep moving so that we stay court-ready. Using the accountability of a court buddy with similar health goals increases success rates. Try going on routine walks “together” while chatting on the phone, or challenge your pickleball pals to complete favorite workouts found online. One hour of heart rate- increasing exercise almost every day is recommended for weight loss. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is especially effective.

Muscle building is also helpful for weight loss. Higher muscle mass burns more calories, even while resting. In addition, if you’ve gained weight because you’re moving less, you may have lost tone important for court safety. Many muscle-increasing exercises needed for court readiness, including squats, lunges, and push-ups, can be done at home with no equipment.

Regarding the Holidays

Everything is different this year, including celebrations. This can be used to a weight-loss advantage. There will certainly be fewer parties to attend, which means fewer of those end-of-year temptations. It’s a great opportunity to try out new recipe traditions that are both delicious and healthy, so that you can get back to feeling your best.

And may the new year bring you, your family, and friends health, happiness, fitness, and lots and lots of pickleball. •

A Proper Warm-Up

Traditionalists are not going to like this, but getting out there and dinking for three minutes is not a proper warmup. Think about it. All points start with a serve and return. Then there is a third shot or fifth shot drop. Maybe some dinks get in there, but if you can’t hit a few shots first, you don’t get to the dinks! Furthermore, dinks are easy. Using up valuable warmup time to do them is a waste of time. They don’t help you determine the wind speed and direction, or the court perspective and depth (some courts have close fences, etc.). Dinks don’t help much with information on court surface speed. With a three- minute dink warmup you’re not ready to play, and you really are woefully unprepared.

Instead, have a useful routine. Have one you can adapt to practice matches (10-15 minutes) and one you can adapt to tournament play (3 minutes). Do not waste a moment. The match really begins when you walk on the court, not when the referee calls 0-0-2. The minute your match is called, start stretching with an exaggerated walk, ankle lifts, and some side-to-side twists. When you reach the court, begin the warmup by starting with a purposeful first hit. Both players should be at the baseline. Instead of just casually putting the ball over the net to your partner, use that first hit to get your range. Start the ball as if you’re serving deep. Bend your knees. Watch where the ball lands.

In the warmup you must find the baseline, because it’s better to hit the ball long than short since it’s easier to pull the ball down and in rather than hit out on the ball once the match begins. Nerves shorten most shots, so you should warm up long rather than short on both your serve and your groundstrokes. If the ball is long, it’s an easy fix—bend your knees. That will bring the ball down into the court without your having to change your stroke.

Next, both players should move toward the No Volley Zone and simultaneously work on volley exchanges with control and pace. Make the shots playable for your partner, but hit them with authority. Once you have become comfortable with the deep volley, have one player step back and hit a few lobs so that you can check the angle of the sun, speed of the wind, and work on your footwork preparation.

Each player should hit a few drops to the partner at net, and the partner volley or place the ball deep in return. Now you’re ready to dink. Get down low and work the ball side to side. Work on your control and get comfortable with staying low. There is no logical reason to dink for three minutes and then play a match of serves, returns, first volleys, and putaways.

Confidence comes with preparation. Have a routine that gives you confidence and information on the conditions. You need to be able to count on your routine whether it’s a windy day, evening under the lights, against bangers, or against good third shot droppers. You’re ready and you have the checklist to help you adapt.
Warmup Focal Points:

1. EARLY PREPARATION. Paddle back early. If you play bangers you’ll be ready.

2. BEND YOUR KNEES. This will keep the trajectory of the ball at a lower angle so the ball you hit is a “heavy” ball.

3. WATCH THE BALL. Watch the ball from the moment you hit the starter ball in the warmup. It’s game time right then, not when the referee asks if the players are ready.

4. MOVE FORWARD. Warm up by moving forward into your groundstrokes. Your goal is to be King of the Mountain. That means you need transportation to get to the NVZ line. Good groundstroke follow- through is that transportation.

5. GET DOWN. Get down and stay down on your dinks. Practicing and warming up by staying low will make you comfortable in that position. Muscle memory and all that!

6. PADDLE UP. Keep your paddle up and leading the way on your volley. Don’t be lazy. Sight the ball early.

7. CONTROL YOUR OVERHEAD. Your overhead in the warmup needs to help you establish a rhythm. Establish a confident swing. No need to overplay it. The overhead in pickleball is a position shot; you establish good position and you prevent your opponents from obtaining good position.

8. CONFIDENT FOLLOW-THROUGH. Don’t quit on the ball. Stay with it. Warm up with an extended, exaggerated follow-through. You’ve got this.

9. PURPOSEFUL PRACTICE SERVES. Take practice serves and use that time to see how the conditions affect your serves. Make sure you know the wind direction and speed. See what kind of serves your opponents like to use. Gather information.

10. SYNCHRONIZE. Make sure your partner is ready. Ask if she needs any certain shot to hit to feel comfortable and ready. Forge a bond by making an encouraging comment. Your partner’s warmup is as critical as yours. Yes, the players are ready!

Pickleball to the Rescue

Pickleball’s popularity among first responders not only keeps them fit, it builds trust and camaraderie.

Inside firehouses and behind police stations, the sticky tape on the ground is evidence that pickleball has come to the rescue of the nation’s first responders.

Before her retirement from the Biloxi Fire Department as Battalion Chief of Health and Safety, Michelle Crowley saw firsthand how pickleball benefits the firefighters she worked with.

“We saw it happen in Biloxi when we started this pickleball revolution a few years ago,” she says. “It caught on with the fire stations because we could tape down a couple of pickleball courts in an area the size of a typical pumperhall and, instead of sitting on the couch, everyone was playing pickleball.”

Before ascending to battalion chief, Crowley was a captain and, after 17 years with the department, she’d seen it all.

“It was amazing for the firefighters to participate—to see so much attention being paid to their physical fitness,” she says.

With her station as part of a larger municipal complex, Crowley says pickleball courts eventually popped up across the street in the recreation facility, eliminating the need to tape down courts in the firehouse.

“They still play in the large facility across the street from one of our firehouses, mostly in the evenings, but also when they standby,” she explains. ”Spending time with each other is a huge part of building the bonds you need in this field. Everything is a team building skill with us, and a large percentage of the department took up pickleball because it’s an inexpensive sport they can participate in with just a paddle. It’s easy to access, and it’s good for them.”

Retired firefighter Jim Barnes of Idaho, and a co-founder of Selkirk Sport, discovered pickleball outside of the station and tried to introduce it to his department. And while it never got off the ground during his tenure there, he says the sport is ideal for emergency responders in general and firefighters in particular.

“Firefighters have the opportunity because they have the time [to play],” Barnes explains. “And a lot of departments are getting away from basketball because of injuries, so they wanted us to participate in low-impact sports like pickleball. Pickleball is perfect in that it provides camaraderie, and firemen are highly competitive in general. Anytime you have an opportunity for teamwork, competitiveness and physical fitness—which is one of the biggest things you need—you go for it. There are guys who don’t do the physical fitness like they should, so pickleball is a good opportunity to get guys out there who wouldn’t normally be out there. It’s also very strategic—all of these attributes are things we enjoy, so it’s a natural fit.”

Timothy Connor retired as a commander for a police department in Farmington Hills, MI, before moving to Tennessee. He didn’t discover pickleball until after his retirement in 2010, but wishes he’d known about it earlier in his career—not just for all the fun it’s brought him, but because it can help officers in ways most people don’t think about.

“I do some instructing, and you can approach it as going to battle, a gunfight of sorts—the kind of prep, focus, mindset—the tactics transfer from firearms to pickleball patterns fairly easily,” he says. “From a physical point of view, pickleball can enhance agility, balance, movement, your ability to maintain movement laterally, forward and backward, hand-eye coordination, perceiving and tracking moving targets and aiming. These physical things transfer from the court into the officer’s street life.”

What’s more, Connor adds that the mental aspect of the game is extremely beneficial to police work in that it sharpens focus, concentration, perception and reaction time. Playing in teams provides even more benefits because you have the opportunity to work on communication skills, which also mirrors police situations.

“The communication is especially important in a tactical situation. Those short, quick, concise, loud, one- or two-word transmissions all occur on the street as well,” he says. “When you’re working with a partner, it’s pure teamwork—assessing a fluid, tactical, changing situation on the fly as the ball’s moving back and forth. Things change from offensive to defensive and back. All those transfer from the street to the court and vice versa.”

While police officers typically don’t have the kind of downtime firefighters do, Connor notes that municipalities with forward-thinking, progressive management will usually work with local facilities to give officers a chance to work out during the workday.

“We used to work out for an hour and do aerobics or lift weights, but you could just as easily meet the guys somewhere in a parks and rec facility,” he says. “The only caveat is you’re subject to recall, so you can’t get too sweaty or dirty only to have the big one hit and be back on duty in 60 seconds.”

For all the first responders across the country who have never tried it, pickleball can definitely up your game off the court. Plus, the ability to have fun and blow off some steam during a shift can help a first responder’s performance when it matters most—while saving lives.

Crowley says one of the most enjoyable aspects of setting up pickleball for the first time in a first responder facility is watching how everyone underestimates the sport and the skills necessary to master it.

“You go out there thinking you have a lot of sports and athletics in your background. You think it’s a small court—this will be easy,” she says. “And it challenges you more than you realize.”

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