Partners are important if you want to play the game well. Both in pickle ball and in life. This idea reflects the insight of Jim Johnson. He has lived a varied life and is currently pursuing, as he puts it, “three different careers.” He has been a realtor since 1986, is a certified tennis professional and head tennis coach at Ypsilanti Lincoln High School, and is also a material transport courier at St. Joe’s Hospital where he is responsible for getting drugs and various medical supplies to their proper destinations.
Jim grew up in Adrian, Michigan where his parents still reside. After graduating high school in 1976, he attended Michigan State University where he barely missed winning a slot on the varsity tennis team after losing the finals of a freshman tournament. He ended up leaving MSU, earned a degree in business at Sienna Heights University in 1982, and then got his professional tennis certificate at the USPTA in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Over the next three years he worked as an instructor at tennis clubs in Nebraska and North Carolina and, later as head coach at Sienna Heights University and Adrian High School.
Although Jim worked 10 years for General Motors in Adrian, he really maintained “a life in tennis.” He has taught people of all ages and abilities. Since he began playing pickle ball just three and a half years ago he has won several medals, including two bronze and one gold in our MLM tournaments. Jim says he is now interested in coaching pickle ball, should the opportunity ever arise. He is currently in the running for a job at Huron High School as a para-pro or special education assistant with the hope that it might lead to coaching tennis. He says when you are working with beginning players as he was at Adrian and now at Lincoln, “you’re teaching more fundamentals rather than coaching. But, at Huron, where there has been a long-established tennis program, there would be an opportunity to do some real coaching.”
Jim says he enjoys playing competitive pickle ball, but concedes “I feel I haven’t taken the time to give back to this game. I have a passion for the idea of teaching people to play pickle ball, but I also like to play to win. While it’s important to play with everybody, this means having the patience to play with less skilled players which can be frustrating – because you don’t want to sit too long.” But Jim says “I don’t want people to misperceive me. I want to be liked, I’m a happy-go-lucky guy, but I’m afraid some people mistake my humor (wit) the wrong way. Sometimes I’m just out there having fun, doing some crazy stuff. It helps me enjoy the game.”
So the next time you get paired up with Jim, let him know that he should get serious and do his best because you are an aspiring competitive player. Or you might just go along with his his wit. He’d like that too. He really does want you to like him. Just know that he is a genuinely good guy who comes across in different ways at different times and that he means no harm or offense. Haven’t we all been there at times?
Jim’s advice to beginning players is to first decide whether they are just out there to have some fun or out there to be competitive. As he says, four people who just want to have fun playing can have some great matches. But, if the truly competitive and the “fun players” get mixed together it can be a frustrating experience for everyone. Jim feels that if you are playing to be competitive you should “take it slow and learn the different facets of the game because there are so many things – the serve, the lob, the drop shot, the net play.” He says, watch good players. And he says “athletic ability is a big factor – coordination, foot movement, getting to the right spot to accept the ball, knowing when to charge the net, and learning to mesh with your partner.” He says, ” I love the strategy part. It’s all about finesse. If you have a partner who may not be as good, you know they are going to play that partner. So then you get into the mind frame. You think, are we out here just having fun or trying to win? Is it a social setting or a tournament? But it’s all about communication with your partner, no matter what. You have to cover each other and know how your partner plays, know what to expect.”
Jim’s says the first thing on his bucket list is “finding a compatible partner to spend the rest of my life with, preferably someone who enjoys sports and playing pickle ball.” Dating, he says, “is a more remote thing at a certain age. It can be problematical. It can be lonely out there, and I’m not one to just be alone. It’s fun to do things together.” He also says he’d like to play in the nationals in Naples, Florida.
So, yes, the “right partner” is important – in pickle ball and in life.” Imagine, learning about how your partner does things, working together, communicating – on and off the court. A good plan? Hmmm.
Jim Johnson is 59 years old.
P.S. Thanks to Ted Oslin for correcting my spelling of Meri Lou Murray’s name. I appreciate it. I think it evolved from Mary Lou Smith to Mary Lou Murray before I heard from Ted. My editor has been terminated.