Doubling Down on the Court
When Yaki-ma, Washington, tennis pro Tyson McGuffin first came to pickleball, he came as a tennis player. Now that he has more than a few gold medals for singles playing under his belt, McGuffin has come to realize that the real challenge in pickleball is in doubles play, where gold has been elusive for many with a tennis mindset.
“I think a lot of tennis players can relate to the transition I had,” McGuffin said. “Singles was an easy transition for me. My tennis background is to play fast. I have a crafty, slice and dice game, and for pickleball, that was a good transition.”
But, when he started playing, that speed and samurai style of play seemed out of place during his first matches at his local YMCA on a gym floor with a judge ball, surround- ed by 60-plus senior players.
“I kind of thought pickleball was a little goofy when I first started out,” he said. “I had no idea there were tournaments, or younger guys for that matter, in this sport. And then, when it came to doubles, I was a 5.5 tennis player coming in and losing to 4.5 pickleball players in their 60s. Playing doubles was definitely the toughest transition for me.”
Slowing down an aggressive player who’s coming from the world of tennis is more of a mental stretch than any- thing, one that many players never overcome. McGuffin came face-to-face with that reality and had a decision to make: wrap his head around the doubles game or remain in singles. He chose the former, but it wasn’t easy.
“I had to slow my game way down, play boring pickleball, concentrate on all the dinking, which is hard when you want to play aggressive,” he said. “But I decided to plow through, get my feet wet, figure things out, figure out the softness of doubles and how slow the game is and get used to it.”
Finding a partner to help him meet these goals was also an essential part of the equation.
McGuffin said that’s when a gentleman named Chris Miller stepped in and matched him up with his current partner, Matt Goebel, another tennis player out of Spokane who shared much of the same style McGuffin possesses.
“Trying to find a partner is so difficult, especially for a newbie coming in. Chris put us in contact and we had a lot in common: he was new, I was new; he played super aggressive, I played the same way. We had the same game style, so it’s been meshing and getting better ever since. We played Chris Miller all last year and he kicked our butts, and this year it’s been back and forth and pretty even. And we’ve learned a lot—you’ll get good advice from the competition. I’m actually loving doubles now because I kind of know how to play.”
Together, McGuffin and Goebel are making names for themselves in the Pacific Northwest as one of the top doubles teams in the region, and one of the top 10 teams in the country. They’re competing in all of the larger national tournaments and placing in the top five wherever they go, and just being a match away from bronze on several occasions, like the US Open.
“Our doubles games have gotten tremendously better,” McGuffin said. “We’ve gone from super aggressive to drill- ing a lot and understanding how to dink. With all the drill- ing, we’re headed in the right direction. We’re probably still a little too quick to be aggressive against the better teams, so we need to discipline ourselves to dial it back and wait a little more. But overall, we’ve done really well.”
And, as a Selkirk-sponsored tennis pro, McGuffin was quick to add that the new style of play he’s learned from pickleball has translated well for him back on the regular tennis court, dispelling the myth that pickleball ruins your tennis game.
“I feel like my hands in tennis have definitely sped up with how fast the ball’s moving in pickleball. It definitely improves hand reactions, and speed,” he said. “Once in awhile, I’ll fling a little too much on tennis volleys now, but that’s easy to correct. The hand speed, mobility at the net, being quick overall, and being on my toes have all gotten better thanks to pickleball. If you’re playing balanced tennis and pickleball, it can only add to your game.”