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June 3, 2022

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Pickleball with Ken Friedman

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This is the podcast to watch if you ever wanted to play pickleball or enjoying the game now. Ken is the  2021  Pickleball Global USA and World ranking of #1 in men's 60 singles for the entire year. Ken and I talk about starting to play, coming from tennis, tips for gear as well as for offense ad defense games. I asked "What makes pickleball the greatest game ever.

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Disclaimer: Unedited AI Transcription


Larry (00:06):

I'm Larry Barsh And you are listening to specifically for seniors, the podcast. For those of us in the remember when generation

Larry (00:26):

Today's podcast is available, wherever you listen to podcasts and in video and audio on Spotify and on the specifically for seniors, YouTube channel,

Speaker 1 (00:41):

Our guest on specifically for seniors today is Ken Friedman. Ken has competed in the national pickle ball circuit for the past four years in 2021. He won nine consecutive gold medal titles in men's singles in ages 50, 60 and 65 divisions. He also won titles in men's doubles and mixed doubles included in his singles titles are the us open the national indoors and the nationals at Indian Wells. He also held a pickle ball, global USA and world ranking of number one in men's 60 singles for the year 2021. Ken is now a certified pickle ball professional, and is the teaching pro at several local. It's several local communities. Welcome to specifically FAS Ken.

Ken (01:39):

Thanks very much. Nice to be here.

Speaker 1 (01:41):

It's good to have you. I'm going to play a short clip and you can describe it as it's running. Okay. Okay. Let's give it a go.

Speaker 3 (01:55):

The us, this is at the us open last year in Naples, Florida. Basically. It was just a, the last point of the match. My opponent hit a ball down the line. I hit a short return. I guessed where he was gonna hit his next shot and was able to put the next shot away for the winner.

Speaker 1 (02:13):

Oh, congratulations.

Speaker 3 (02:16):

We got a few people watching over there. That was the end of the day. So yeah, that was a good, good win.

Speaker 1 (02:22):

Where was it played?

Speaker 3 (02:24):

That was at the east community tennis in pickleball center in Naples, Florida, where they have 60 designated courts for pickleball.

Speaker 1 (02:38):

A few more than we have in our community here.

Speaker 3 (02:40):

Yeah. Yeah. Well, they've they've actually made it the one of the top picker ball centers in the country where they just added a new pavilion with covered courts and they added a few more quarts and they're looking to build even more quarts. So it's a big facility

Speaker 1 (02:59):

And you got to stand on the platform to receive your medal.

Speaker 3 (03:03):

Yeah. Every tournament has a three step podium where the, the gold medal goes on top and the, the bronze goes to the left and the silver goes to the right

Speaker 1 (03:13):

Pretty usual question. How does it feel to get a gold medal?

Speaker 3 (03:20):

It's well, it's better than loo losing. I'll tell you that you don't wanna stand there on the sidelines, watching everybody else get their medals. So it's a, it's a thrill. You know, having been a, a tennis pro for years and, and, and doing that as a kid pickleball has given me an opportunity to go back and relive my childhood in early teen years and, and in the early twenties. So pickleball has given me that opportunity. It's really a lot of fun

Speaker 1 (03:53):

Any chance we'll see it in the Olympics

Speaker 3 (03:57):

You know, what it's, it is getting to the point where I think it will be, it's being played right now in over 50 countries. And they say you need about 75 or 76 countries for it to, to make it. So I'm anticipating it. It's, it's growing ridiculously how, how popular it's become. So I, I think within the next 12 to 16 years, I definitely will definitely be in, in the Olympics. I'm hoping it was

Speaker 1 (04:21):

<Laugh>. So, so what got you into pickle ball? Was it just get getting a little bit too should we say old to play tennis?

Speaker 3 (04:32):

No. Cause I still play tennis. What happened was I actually moved up here and, and my wife said oh, look at those miniature tennis courts. And I went over and looked at 'em and, and saw it and saw some people over there. And they looked like they were having a lot of fun and, and it was a whiffle ball and a paddle. I said, well, I think I can do that. And went over the courts and started playing and really fell in love with the sport and saw that it was a very social sport and you meet a lot of people through it. And there's you can really go anywhere in the country and get into a game where unlike tennis, where you have to have a, a a game already set up at a, at a club or whatever, pick a ball's totally opposite. You can go to any park any club and put your paddle in and, and get into a game. And if it's a bad game you're done in 10 minutes, 15 minutes, you get off and you get into a new game and you meet a lot of people. So it's and then the tournament started a couple years ago and decided okay, this sounds like fun. Let's start traveling a little bit. So that's, that's where I've been.

Speaker 1 (05:35):

Okay. I'm gonna ask you for your advice for someone just starting to play pickleball, how do you make a choice between the various rackets shoes? What are shoes? Whatever.

Speaker 3 (05:49):

Okay. Well, the first thing is you, the shoes are really important. You always wanna wear cord shoes. You never wanna wear running shoes or, or walking shoes because the, the bottom of the shoes are a little bit different on qu shoes. So that's number one priority. And that's a safety issue. The number two thing is with the paddle. It's really, there's so many different paddles. When I first started playing, there were like four or five different paddle companies. Now there's hundreds, and everybody is coming out with the new gimmick. This is a paddle I'm under contract with Adidas. So I have to show their, their panel. There every everyone's coming out with new materials every year. What you have to do is you have to find one that really feels good in your hand. There's so many different companies and each one, some have shorter handles, some have longer handles.

Speaker 3 (06:31):

Some people hit two handed back hands. The weight of the paddles are a little bit different, the size of grips, a little bit different. So you really just have to find something that's really comfortable in your hand and, and, and experiment and play with a lot of different paddles. A lot of the companies now are, are offering the the idea that you can call up in order three or four paddles from them. You try 'em out, you see which one you like, you send the other ones back. So it's their, the companies are making it much easier to to order and, and use paddles.

Speaker 1 (07:02):

And there are two different size faces on the paddles as well.

Speaker 3 (07:07):

Well, the, the panels, the, the legality is that a panel cannot be any more than 24 inches of length than width. So they all have to go by those standards. This particular paddle is 16 inches wide long and eight inches wide. So it's 24 inches. You know, it, it is just the, the length of the paddles are pretty much the same. Again, you just have to find something that really feels good and experiment, play with a lot of your friends paddles and see what feels good as everybody wants. The newest thing. There's the, the new technology is carbon fiber, some put grid on the paddle and they test every, when you're in a tournament, they look at your paddle, they test every paddle before you're allowed to go on the court to make sure that there's no advantage that you're getting over somebody else. So they all have to be approved by the pickleball association.

Speaker 1 (07:57):

How so? So the way to make a choice is by playing with it,

Speaker 3 (08:01):

Correct? Yeah. You just have to find it again. There's so many different weights on 'em, there's a lightweight, there's a mid-weight you just have to find something that feels really comfortable in your hand, cuz again, everybody's comp every company's grip is a little bit different. The length of the grips are a little bit different. You just have to find something that really, that you like and feels comfortable in your hand and go out and hit with it because again, the different surfaces do create different types of, of ball movement. Some have are known for power paddles. If they're a little bit heavier, the lighter paddles are more for spin. So again, if you just have to find something that feels good and, and to, to go around your game cause everybody's game is a little bit different. Some, some are power players, some are very soft players. Some we, we call ding players, there's there's blasters and there's they're bangers or DERs there's the, the ones who like to hit the ball hard and the who like to hit the ball soft and just move the ball around quite a bit.

Speaker 1 (08:59):

So I imagine over time you get quite a collection of different paddles.

Speaker 3 (09:03):

Well, you, you actually do you, you know, you start with something and then you, you usually upgrade cuz paddles can go anywhere from, you know, $50 up to the newest one just came out with $330. So there's all different price range as well. So

Speaker 1 (09:18):

For somebody coming from tennis, what's the difference aside from the court size between pickle ball and tennis.

Speaker 3 (09:26):

Well, in, in tennis, you, you have much longer stride strokes in pickleball. You trying to shorten your strokes a little bit, cuz again, you're using a whiffle ball in tennis, the, the tennis ball collapses on your strings. So you, you can move the ball around by, by making the ball collapse and, and your strings between the felt on the ball and the, and the strings makes the ball compressed pick a ball that doesn't happen. You're using a hard plastic ball, which is this, which is, has 40 holes in it. And then you have a hard plastic paddle. So when you hit the ball, it just takes off. So you have to really shorten your swing a little bit. The court sense, you know, usually tennis players usually have a very good court sense of, of where to be, but unlike tennis, you can't go right up to the net. You have to stand seven feet behind the net unless the ball bounces in what's called the non valley zone. So as far as the the technique, there's a little bit more net play in, in, in picker ball than there is in, in tennis. Because the idea is to get all four players up to the net and that's when you start, what's called ding the real soft shots until you get an opening and that's when you try and put the ball away.

Speaker 1 (10:44):

But in that non volley area, the ball has to bounce. You can't,

Speaker 3 (10:50):

The ball has to bounce the ball. You're allowed to go in that non vol zone when the ball bounces, however, you have to reset your feet and get back out of the non volley zone. Cuz if they hit a ball at you and you hit it on the fly, then you lose the rally or the point. So you have to be out of that, that at seven feet, it's 20, 20 feet wide by seven feet. Deep,

Speaker 1 (11:12):

The court's surface is different in pickle ball than tennis as well

Speaker 3 (11:20):

Is really not. The, the courts are making now they're, they're made out of basically two things they're made out of concrete or they're made out of asphalt tennis, court's the same thing. Usually it's it's asphalt and then they put a, an acrylic pain over the top of it. It, it the place where we live, we actually have what's called a a cushion court, which is an asphalt cord that also has five layers of rubberized paint. And then also has three coats of acrylic paint. And what that does is it softens the bounce a bit, but it makes it much easier on your feet and your legs. So when you're talking about a 55 and over community, it's much easier on your legs and your knees because it, it is cushion. So it gives you a little bit of a give. But it's a very expensive surface to put down. So most places don't do it. But most the courts now are, are asphalt. Tennis courts are made out clay. They're made out of asphalt. They're made out of hard, true, which is a a crushed gravel. Some people try to play pickle, a ball on, on hard. True. It's very difficult cuz the ball just doesn't bounce up as high, but for the most part, most courts are asphalt or, or concrete.

Speaker 1 (12:33):

Okay. Can you offer listeners some tips on improving one's offensive game?

Speaker 3 (12:43):

Yeah, the, the, the thing about pickleball is, is that if you start off the game and you get the right mechanics and you hold the paddle properly you're gonna be able to play the ball the, the game relatively quickly. The thing about pick a ball is if you do some of the things that you're not supposed to do of, of holding the paddle incorrectly, it leads to other problems that, that down the road are gonna make it very difficult to be an offensive player. Tennis players usually have a pretty good ability to, to go right over, to pick a ball and, and pick it up very quickly. And usually they have what's called a loop forehand so they can drive the ball. Most pick ball players have a short back swing and a short follow through. It's a little bit harder to get as much power.

Speaker 3 (13:30):

But the mechanics of tennis and pickle ball are pretty much the same. And if you bend your knees and, and you follow through properly, the ball's gonna go pretty quickly and pick a ball. You wanna rely on the other person's ability to hit the ball hard and you use their power against them. So it it's, it's, it's a cat and mouse game. When you're playing pickle ball, there's a lot of hard hitting. And then you try and soften that up a little bit. But again, you're using a whiffle ball, so it doesn't go like a tennis ball at 120 miles an hour. So it's a little bit different

Speaker 1 (14:03):

And tips on defense

Speaker 3 (14:07):

Defense. The thing about defense is in pick a ball. You want, you wanna, you wanna soften your hands. It's, it's like a golfer on the putting green. You want, you wanna have soft hands. The harder you hold the paddle, the harder the ball's gonna go. So when you're playing a defensive game, you wanna loosen the pedal. So if you're holding the paddle at, like, if you're holding it like a death grip at number 10, the ball's gonna take off on you. So you wanna move your hand down to like the gripping at like to a four or five where, where you you're holding it, but it's barely in your hand. And the idea is that if with soft hands, when the ball hits the ball, your paddle, the soft hands takes the speed off of the ball so that you can, you can not hit as hard. So pretty much you know, if you wanna hit hard, you hold the pedal a little tighter. If you wanna hit softer, you, you grip the pedal a little softer

Speaker 1 (14:56):

And pickle ball has been billed as a more accessible and less intense game than tennis, but injuries still happen.

Speaker 3 (15:07):

Yeah. Injuries happen because again, a lot of people don't know how to run properly and, and pick a ball. There is a lot of movement going forward and backward. And the tendency is sometimes to get people if they don't go back properly, they tend to get their feet tangled and, and then they fall. Again, one of the things is you, you, you need good mechanics and, and how to run. A good instructor will be able to provide that for you. If you just go out there and you just start swinging and, and don't know what you're doing, there is a possibility of getting hurt tennis. Again is, is more of a, a bigger court. So you have more area to run, pick a ball. You're usually playing doubles, except I, I like to play singles, but you're playing with another partner. So sometimes, you know, if you, if you don't call your shot if a ball goes down the middle and you both go to swing at it, there's always a possibility you're gonna get hit. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen. You hear more about Achilles and, and you know, just some bruises that you fall on your knee, or, you know, but most injuries are, are, are really just because of bad footwork. You trip over your shoes.

Speaker 1 (16:18):

Okay. One really important question. What makes pickle ball the greatest game ever?

Speaker 3 (16:28):

I think that what what's people have found is that because it is such a social game you know, you could go over the courts and within 30, 40 minutes, you could meet 20 people that you never knew before. And it's strictly because you come off the court and you go into another game or you, you go to the park with a player and you get, say, you guys wanna play and you get into game with them and it's a good game and you keep playing. And then they invite a couple people over. And all of a sudden you have six to eight, 12 people that are out there playing, and it's, it's just become such a social game. When you go to these tournaments. Everybody knows everybody. I was just up in New York at the U S T a center where they converted all the tennis courts to pickleball courts.

Speaker 3 (17:12):

And there's, there were hundreds of people that I've met over the last year or so from tournaments cuz we travel all over the country playing one week here in California, the next week here in Alabama, next week you could be in Atlanta, then you're in New York. So you are just meeting all kinds of people and everybody is very nice and very cordial and wishes you good luck. And you know, it's a small group of people because there's so many different age groups. So the people that play in the thirties, the forties, the fifties, the sixties, they all know everybody and you end up, you know, becoming very good friends. You go out for dinner you hang out, it's, it's a party. It's that's what they, they televise it as and advertise as the biggest party on earth at the us open, there was in Naples about three weeks ago, there were probably 10,000 spectators and there were 2200 entries. So a lot of people playing

Speaker 1 (18:07):

And it's down at the high school level now too,

Speaker 3 (18:10):

Right there. A lot of the the companies are donating equipment and paddles and balls and nets and they're, they're bringing it into the high schools now. So as an activity, they're even starting to bring it into the prisms. They're just moving it everywhere. It's become very popular and, and as people get older, they find that, Hey, this is a great activity, cuz you don't have to be in the best shape to play in a, in a decent game. There's so many different levels of players, you know, from beginners to, to advanced players and everybody gets a rating, whether it be a one, five or a two or a two, five. So you, you kind of congregate towards the level that you're at and you can go anywhere, any park in the country now where there's courts and they're converting tennis courts to pickleball courts cuz you can get four, 10, you can get four pickleball courts outta one tennis court.

Speaker 3 (19:01):

So it's, it's becoming to the, the point where you can go anywhere in the country now in the hotels, even the cruise ships. Now I mentioned it to a friend of mine that was one of the higher ups of the cruise industry. And I said, you need to convert your basketball court to pickleball courts. And she said, what's pickle ball. And I said, go watch it on YouTube. And I got a call from her two weeks later that they were putting pickleball on all their cruise ships. So now you go on cruise ships and you can play, you take your paddle with you there. So it's international, it's, it's everywhere

Speaker 1 (19:35):

You, I, I, I assume you recommend lessons for people. Yes,

Speaker 3 (19:42):

I, I, I do, because again, it's very easy to get in some bad habits and once you get in bad habits, it's, they're hard to break. And again, some people play with come over from tennis and they use what's called a Western grip and, and pick a ball that's that, that grip just doesn't work very, very well. So you have to change your, your, the way you hold the paddle. And again, it's a much smaller grip, so it's a and a smaller piece of equipment. So you have to be able to, to adapt. So lessons are really important to, especially when you start, cuz you don't wanna get in bad habits. They're really tough to break. And some people just are adamant. They don't wanna switch, but their games when they do switch and they do make a change in their grip, they find that they, they get much better, much quicker.

Speaker 1 (20:32):

You're a pro are you available for lessons?

Speaker 3 (20:36):

Yeah, I'm currently teaching at one of the facilities I teach at, I, I teach at some private facilities that are that don't let outsiders come into, but I am currently the pro at Boca bridges and they've allowed me to teach outside people. So I have quite a few of my old, old clients that were teaching that come over there and some of the parks were allowing you to teach, but now they've, they've kind of stopped doing that because you were taking up the course of people being able to play on. So really you need to be able to go to a, a private facility. So you know Valencia Cove we, we had a pro here for years. He left they're trying to get another one here. I teach at Valencia reserve. I teach at Valencia point. I teach at Venetian Isles. I teach at Stonebridge country club, but my main place of lessons is Bo bridges.

Speaker 1 (21:34):

Do you have gear for sale as well?

Speaker 3 (21:36):

Yeah. Bo bridges has it, but usually what happens is that I, I usually let people try a couple different paddles that I have access to. And I, I, I mean, I can get paddles for people, but I kind of tell 'em to go to you can go on the internet in order directly from the companies and, and they give you the warranties and the guarantees and everything. So you're better off going with the, with going direct.

Speaker 1 (22:01):

Okay. What didn't we talk about in pickle ball?

Speaker 3 (22:07):

We didn't talk about the balls. The balls are different. There's, there's indoor balls and there's outdoor balls. The indoor balls is usually a softer material and it has only 26 holes in them. And the holes are a little bit bigger. The indoor cord facilities play on different types of surfaces. So they, they, they use a softer ball and the courts that they use now on indoors are either a wood floor, like a basketball floor, or they use painted concrete very difficult to play on. And usually you get a lot of glare. The outdoor ball is usually has, which is like, this has 40 holes in it. And it's made out of a much harder plastic and there's different types of balls. This, this happens to be what's called a Frank, the X 40. So again, X 40 is the 40 holes.

Speaker 3 (22:54):

There's another ball. That's a little bit harder than this. That's called a dura 40 that's a little bit harder. And then they have another ball that's a little bit softer. That's, it's called an Onyx and that ball is, is more cushiony. So it's a better ball to if you're a beginner, cuz it doesn't bounce as fast. And it is, it's better to be able to, to learn with that, that ball than this ball. This, this is the ball that they use in tournaments. Franklin usually donates the balls to the tournament. So they, so that way they sell 'em. But every tournament is allowed to use the ball that of their choice. So it's basically of, it becomes a money issue. Again, who's going to donate or give them the best price for the balls. 

Speaker 1 (23:40):

Yeah. So when, when you're practicing for a tournament, getting ready for a tournament, you have to practice, I assume, with the ball that they a tournament.

Speaker 3 (23:52):

Yeah. Most of, most of the tournaments use either the dur ball or the Franklin X 40. And, and they don't use the Onyx ball. The, they pick a ball leagues in Palm beach county use the OnX ball because again, it's an over 55 league. And so it's a little bit slower and for people so that the, the, all, most of the leagues use the, this softer OnX ball.

Speaker 1 (24:22):

Ken, this has been great. I, I learned a lot, I'm not a pickle ball player. I used to play tennis. But this has been really terrific.

Speaker 3 (24:34):

Okay. Well, you know, again, and most of the tennis players that come over fall in love with it, it's a very addicting sport and people that have never played a sport go out for the first time and say, you know what? This is really fun. And they laugh and they have a good time. And you know, now, now what's happening is people are bringing food over. So you, you play and then you have an event afterwards and you raffle off some prizes and, and it's become it's become a great sport for over 55 and over, which is when it really started at. And because it was invented by some guys in Washington, where they actually had a bad mid net and a couple wooden paddles in the whiffle ball. And they decided to, to just see what they keep their kids occupied while they were on vacation.

Speaker 3 (25:19):

And it's evolved into over 5 million people playing now and it's become a big, big, big business. But it's, it's the average age now is it is gone down to 42 years old. So you go to these tournaments and you're seeing these young kids playing that are the number one woman player in the world is, is from Delray beach. Her name is Anna Lee waters. She's 15 years old. She's a beast on the court. And they're seeing a lot of young people playing now that were either ex tennis pros and couldn't make it on the pro tennis circuit and are switching over. And you're gonna see a lot more college tennis players switching over to, to play. And it's become a game for youngsters as well as old people. So it's a, it's a great sport. I invite anybody that hasn't tried it to go out and, and do it cuz it's, you'll have a lot of fun and meet a lot of great people and, and give you an activity that you get some great cardio you sweat a little bit and you have a good time. So it's a great sport.

Speaker 1 (26:18):

Hey Ken, thanks for coming on. It's been terrific.

Speaker 3 (26:22):

My pleasure.

Speaker 1 (26:23):

Hope to meet you in person sometime

Speaker 3 (26:25):

One of these days, and maybe we'll see you on the pickleball course.

Speaker 1 (26:27):

Take care. You never can tell. Okay. Thanks Ken. Alrighty,

Speaker 3 (26:31):

Bye. Bye. Bye.

Speaker 1 (26:35):

If you found this podcast interesting, fun or helpful, we'd appreciate it. If you tell your friends and family and click on the follow or subscribe button, wherever you listen to podcasts until next time, I'm Larry Barch and you've been listening to specifically for seniors years.

Ken FriedmanProfile Photo

Ken Friedman

Ken was born and raised in Cleveland Ohio, He was a highly ranked jr. tennis
player competing on the National Jr tennis circuit throughout his teen years. He
attended the University of Hawaii on a four year tennis scholarship. He then
played on the professional tennis circuit for several years.

Ken was a certified USPTA tennis professional and accepted the Head pro job atthe Park East Racquet Club where he stayed until 1981. Ken moved his family down to Florida to join a childhood friend and started a restaurant chain called the Beverly Hills Cafés. He operated the restaurants until 2020 when he retired.

Ken has competed on the National Pickleball circuit for the past 4 years. In 2021 he won 9 consecutive gold medal titles in men's singles in ages 50, 60 and 65 divisions. He also won titles in Men's doubles and Mixed doubles. Included in those singles titles are The US Open, The National Indoors and The Nationals at Indian Wells. In 2021 Ken held the Pickleball Global USA and World ranking of #1 in men's 60 singles for the entire year.

Ken has now turned his attention to teaching and coaching and is a certified Pickleball Professional by The Pickleball Registry. He is currently the Teaching pro at Boca Bridges. Valencia Reserve and Valencia Pointe He is sponsored by Adidas as well as The Kitchen Dink for all his equipment and clothing.