As the Niagara-on-the-Lake Pickleball Club continues to grow in both number and skill level, president John Hindle is adamant that player development needs to be a priority.
To that end, club pro Adam Eatock invited 2023 Canadian National Pickleball gold medalist Mark Cleminson to the NOTL Community Centre last weekend for four special skills clinics geared toward the club’s best players.
Hindle explains that as the club’s players continue to get better at their sport and compete at tournaments across the province, it’s imperative that the local organization support their growth.
“These are our players at the top end of the club,” Hindle said Saturday, “our 3.5, 4.0 and 4.5 players (pickleball rankings) getting some coaching from top-end professional players. Mark has some interesting techniques that have brought him success and he’s teaching those today.”
The 48 slots for the sessions filled up quickly. Enrolment was limited to 12 players per session so that Cleminson and Eatock could provide personal instruction to each participant during the two hour time slots.
One participant, Ken Dobson, has been playing pickleball for a number of years. As he has moved into competition the last two years or so, he’s come up against people who hit the ball a lot harder and faster, who use strategy that he says is “off the charts”.
“They’ve gotten a lot faster and I’ve gotten a lot older,” Dobson laughed. “I have a bit of a bad wrist so I’ve been using a two-handed backhand. Mark showed me some techniques that will help me get a little bit better at that than I have been.”
That two-handed backhand is one of the shots that Cleminson is known for.
“When you get shots outside of your body, to the left of your backhand,” explained Cleminson, “you lack a lot of power when the ball is coming fast on you. When you’re able to get the second hand on it you can suddenly get your body behind the shot. It gives you overall control and consistency.”
The 30-year-old former hockey goalie started playing pickleball about eight years ago, playing in his first tournament in 2018.
“There’s a lot that transfers over from being a goalie to playing pickleball,” Cleminson told The Local. “The quick reflexes, and the use of the blocker. I find that position, the way you use the blocker, it’s really useful in pickleball.”
Cleminson has won both gold and silver at the Canadian Nationals and was drafted fourteenth overall to the Canadian National Pickleball League’s Southwestern Ontario Brewers, the same team that NOTL Club member Reese George plays for. He and his partner Jeff Elwood have ranked at the top in the league in men’s doubles.
Cleminson, a Tecumseh, Ontario native, was impressed with the NOTL members who took part in the Saturday afternoon session.
“They were very fast learners,” said Cleminson, “very open to learning. They were very receptive to the two-handed shots. A few years ago very few people were doing those shots, so it’s cool to see them catch on.”
Hindle expects the club to hold more sessions like the ones last weekend some time in the near future.
“We aim for our club to be full service,” Hindle said. “After a little while, some of our recreational players move to the competitive side. They want something more challenging and enriching. This fulfills a promise that we will take them as high as they want to go, and it helps to draw some younger players to move into the sport as well.”