Sometimes PCI members like to tell us about their experiences with our program:
What I Really Learned from Getting Certified
by Anonymous [PCI agreed not to publish the author’s name to maintain his professional standing]
As I sat down to write my monthly newsletter and coaching schedule for my local club, there it sat in my inbox...a competitor. As I opened up the email I felt an immediate sense of insecurity, panic and concern for my coaching business. For the first time in my pickleball coaching career, someone was threatening to take a piece of “my” pie. As I read through the email, I noticed that the sales pitch was based on his recent certification from a major pickleball coaching organization. This only added to my sense of insecurity. As I researched more and more, I found others rushing to get certified and felt the pressure of adding this legitimacy to my lessons. The certification “gold rush” was on…
Before day’s end I went to the organization’s website and registered for the nearest certification workshop, some 8 hours away. As the workshop date neared, I had already encountered multiple clients asking why I wasn’t certified and my new competitor was. He began to market himself as the “certified” coach in our community. As I picked his brain about the workshop, he gave vague details and questioned some of the fundamentals I taught. I recall having a discussion about how he would teach such fundamentals. In this discussion he showed me the “correct” way to teach a drop. I was instantly confused as to why a drop would be taught in such a way? I assumed he was incorrect and the workshop would bring me up to speed.
Excitement peaked as my wife and I packed the car and made the 8 hour trip to our workshop destination. The day started off great with a fabulous meal and even better conversations with other eager workshop participants. They had flown in from all over the country to participate in the workshop with the hopes of becoming certified. Some, like me had many lessons under their belt, while others were hoping to learn how to coach pickleball for the first time in their life. I was certainly skeptical of these participants ability to pass such a certification. As a public school educator myself, I was concerned for the workshop’s ability to differentiate.
Finally the time had come, my pickleball coaching enlightenment was about to ensue. The workshop began with a lengthy, and I mean lengthy, review of the instructors history and qualifications. After that introduction, we went through the text that had been written for the course. Instead of the actual fundamentals we went over the organization's goals, purpose and intent. All of this made pretty good sense to me at this point. We talked about how this manual would be used, aside from the 2 pages that were missing. Both of which I don’t recall receiving after the workshop. As I became more and more disinterested in the conversation, I poured into the manual. I couldn’t believe how brief, limited and narrowly focused the lessons were. The methodology was too simple and finite. As a customer I would want more out of a lesson. Certainly more than one shot or technique. While I didn’t disagree with everything in the manual, I began to feel uncomfortable with the rigidness of the curriculum. See, what I love about teaching is the ability to adapt and meet the needs of my students. I felt like this program determined their needs and made sure to teach to them regardless of unique differences. This feeling would only increase on day two as we took part in the on court session of certification.
I spent the night wondering what was wrong with me for feeling this way. Have I been teaching wrong? Playing wrong? Is there really only one way to introduce pickleball? I knew that no one method works for all and the morning would give me the opportunity to demonstrate my abilities. I spent the rest of my evening watching videos of the best players and analyzing their fundamentals. I did not see one top player playing the way the manual taught. Even the players endorsing the program!
The session began with the instructor teaching the dink. The dink built up to a drop shot and a serve. We spent time on volleys as well. Each of these strokes was considered a lesson and revolved around an almost awkwardly slow pacing that in my opinion was not student friendly. The fundamentals themselves didn’t match up with how I play, teach and have observed the best. Visually scanning the room, I was not alone in this uncomfortable setting. When we were given the opportunity to “teach” the skills and lessons, a lot of questions arose. Many wanted to differentiate, or stray from the manual. This was not allowed and the regurgitation was mandatory. When some of the best players at the clinic were struggling to execute the strokes in the way they were being taught, they resorted to their own ways. Essentially we were teaching and demonstrating two different things.It was apparent who was a teacher at heart and who wasn’t. WIthout question, there were instructors that should not have passed the certification that day. They struggled to teach the skills and certainly were unable to feed the ball or demonstrate themselves. If I were representing the organization I would have been uncomfortable with them going out and using their certification. This was one of the final straws that told me all I needed to know about this certification program. The intent of the workshop was as much to generate income and marketing for the organization as it was to actually improve the quality of pickleball itself. In order to advance, more money and time would need to be committed from the newly certified individuals. With my experience I didn’t feel there was any way the value could be there.
Driving home, my wife was curious as to how I felt about the experience. I explained that I have never felt more empowered to differentiate and believe in my skills. I felt terrible that we had spent all the money and time to get certified but if anything was gained, it was that I learned what differentiated me from any coach who teaches with this program. The ability to meet the needs of my students, admit when I am wrong, challenge the status quo and be willing to change are what makes coaching fun and quite frankly, coaching!
I never did advertise myself as certified and honestly I don’t think most of my clients even know I am. Since the workshop, I’ve continued to work with more and more students. I’ve used the amazing free online resources that are out there to critically think about this great sport. Some I use and many I don’t. What is important for coaches is the ability to filter what will work for you and your students. Disclaimer, I have paid for Pickleball Coaching International since, and use it quite frequently. The PCI program didn’t require me to pass a test (other than proving I’m not a robot), and it certainly allows me the freedom to be me and use what I need when my students need it.
At the end of the day it was never about me versus the coach in my inbox. It was about meeting the needs of my students and doing what it takes to constantly be improving. No program works for all coaches and certainly not for all students. Multiple coaches can thrive in a community and no program is going to outweigh great coaching. Do your research, determine what is valuable to you, and look to improve yourself. If that means getting certified, do it. If not, then don’t. For me, I’ll leave my certification at home and keep showing up to the court with what got me there: the obsessive, constant desire to learn and teach.