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A reluctant pickleball champion

By on June 22, 2020 in Uncategorized with 0 Comments
Tyson McGuffin, the youngest of seven of a Chelan sports family, is now ranked among the five top pickleball players in the world.

Ex-Chelan resident once said: ‘There’s no way I’m going to play that rinky-dink, backyard sport’

By Sebastian Moraga

Eighteen years later, Tyson McGuffin still remembers. 

He was 12, and with his family’s athletic talent coursing through his veins, he used to sneak into the tennis courts of Darnell’s Resort in his old hometown of Chelan, and paddle a pickleball around, until the owner or the security staff would boot him out.

The years that followed brought state appearances in wrestling and state titles in tennis, always representing the Chelan Goats.

Now at 30, Tyson is writing another chapter in his sporting logbook, one that has him coming back to his hometown as host of an athletic camp next year, as part of his continued efforts to spread the gospel of his new passion: Pickleball. Where? At Darnell’s.

“The owner still remembers me as a 12-year-old trying to sneak in,” Tyson said.

Tyson, now living in Idaho, travels the nation competing as a professional pickleball player, having achieved extraordinary heights. He’s ranked among the five top pickleball players in the world. 

Quite the feat for a guy who once felt way out of his element with a pickleball paddle in his hand.

About five years ago, Tyson was working as a tennis pro in Yakima, and one of his clients blew out his shoulder and took up pickleball instead. Tyson says the man, then in his mid-60s bugged him nonstop to join him.

“I was pretty consistent with my answer, ‘There’s no way I’m going to play that rinky-dink, backyard sport.’ Six months later, he relented and tried pickleball at an aging YMCA court with occupants to match. 

“Average age was like mid-60,” Tyson remembered. “I really didn’t like it off the bat, mostly because I was getting my (rear end) kicked by older folks.”

He learned the game and kept playing, first in doubles, then in singles, then in a singles tournament, then winning a tournament in Coeur d’Alene, then turning pro six months later. 

He finished second in his first pro tourney. By then, he was well on his way to falling in love with the sport and trading in his tennis rackets for carbon fiber paddles and the fuzz of the tennis balls for the plastic of the pickleballs.

“The biggest hook for me was I still had the competitive fire to compete in tennis but I wasn’t getting the results that I wanted,” he said. “Having a whole new outlook in a different sport and knowing I could get better, and having success early on helped catapult me through the rankings.” 

The average tennis player takes about a year or two in finding his or her footing in pickleball. The fact that it took Tyson much less also helped with the transition. He hasn’t picked up a tennis racket since, he said.

Played in a court smaller than a tennis court, pickleball allows for a more social atmosphere than tennis. Etiquette has a smaller role in pickleball than in tennis, and it has little to none of the “catty, cliquish” feel that sometimes surrounds tennis events, he said.

His tennis friends “fully disowned me” when he switched to pickleball, he says. In a bit of cosmic payback, a lot of those tennis pals are now playing pickleball, too.

“They are very appreciative that I introduced them to the sport, but it took a couple of years to get ’em over the hump,” he said with a laugh. 

As a man who has learned and taught both, Tyson says his sport is easier to pick up and get into than tennis, as well. And since the players are closer together, it’s a little easier to talk a little trash, too.

“It’s catered to all demographics and all ages and all levels,” he said. “And it’s super embracing of beginners.”

A player learning tennis could take months in experiencing his first rally, the term used for a string of back-and-forth shots between two players. A pickleball player could have one during his or her first day.

“The learning curve is much quicker, and from a coaching standpoint, it’s much more satisfying for me to do,” he said.

Tyson went from tennis to pickleball and found much to enjoy.

Pickleball is growing thanks to an influx of racket-sports players who are making the switch from their old sport into pickleball. Ping-pong players, racquetball players, and of course tennis players have crossed over to “the dark side” as Tyson puts it. 

Places like Naples, Fla., Phoenix, Ariz., and Palm Springs, Calif., have become pickleball hubs. Not coincidentally, all three cities serve as home for legions of retirees.

Asked if pickleball would ever be an Olympics sport, Tyson said a lot has to happen with different countries needing their own organizations and homegrown players.

In the meantime, Tyson has plenty to look forward to, Olympics or not. 

He continues growing his customer base, with his own line of pickleball camps, TM Pickleball; he continues expanding his know-how of the game by playing in tournaments all over the U.S., continues spreading the word about pickleball by hosting his own podcast, and expanding his family, with his wife expecting their third child. 

“I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing if she wasn’t as patient and as awesome,” he said of his wife. “I wake up every day and I tell myself how lucky I am.”

Looking back, the former state tennis champion and standout wrestler relishes the path he took, even with all the twists and turns.

“The man that I am today has been kind of carved through my background,” he said, “Being the youngest of seven and coming from a wrestling family, it’s definitely made me who I am.”

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