Q&A with the Johns Brothers: The World's Top-Ranked Pickleball Pros
Not too far from Pickleballerz in Chantilly, Va is Gaithersburg, Md, the hometown of the world’s top-ranked pickleball players Collin and Ben Johns. On Saturday, October 17, they’ll find themselves back in familiar places: in the DMV region and on the pickleball courts. That’s right! The Johns brothers are hosting intermediate and advanced clinics and exhibitions at Pickleballerz. Before they come to share their pickleball tips and techniques, get to know more about their path and success in one of the fastest-growing sports in America.
Q: What about pickleball got you hooked on learning and playing the sport more? Ben (B): Pickleball is a combination of sports like tennis and table tennis, both of which I played and enjoy a lot. So playing something “in between” them intrigued me. Additionally, I was able to experiment when playing and find new things to practice and improve on from day to day, which made it a lot of fun.
Collin (C): I actually was not sold on pickleball right away. I looked down on it while I was still playing pro tennis and it was not until I stopped playing tennis that I gave pickleball another chance. I liked it as I played more and more largely because of the touch and reflex exchanges that also make table tennis so fun. Also having more room for creativity by adding new unique shots has made pickleball fulfilling.
Q: At what point did you know that you wanted to play pickleball at a professional level?
B: I discovered pickleball in spring of 2016, and played my first “professional tournament” two months later. However, I didn’t take it seriously or think of it as more than just a game I enjoyed playing until around a year later when I had a breakthrough at the 2017 US Open. From there I knew I wanted to keep playing while I was in school and see where it led me.
C: I began playing at the professional level almost immediately because of a couple natural advantages. I came from playing professional tennis for five years prior to pickleball, and had a brother who could advise me, who was already at the height of the sport. This put me in the rather unique position of transitioning to the pro level right away. The racquet skills tennis gave me combined with Ben’s coaching allowed me to enter the professional division without ever playing at a lower skill level. Of course that is a rare exception and I still had to put in a significant amount of practice and gain experience before competing among the very top.
Q: What’s one playing tip that you learned earlier in your career that you implement still into every match? B: Positivity. Both with yourself and with your partner. I realized early on in playing that negativity never helped my partners, and rarely helped myself. So I’ve always made an effort to be positive on the court knowing that it gives me and my partner the best chance of winning. It’s difficult to do and I’m far from perfect at it, but it’s a good thing to strive for.
C: Patience. This is something that goes hand and hand with my personality which certainly helps on a pickleball court. Because of the dimensions of the court and the equipment used, it is critical to success to hit the right shot at the right time. The length of a pickleball court is rather short relative to the height of the net, as well as being played with a plastic ball that takes little spin and has a low bounce. Also add in the kitchen rule and that you play with a short paddle with little friction on it and you quickly recognize how important patience is. It is something I appreciated very early on and still implement in my game today.
Q: With Collin being ranked #4 in the world and Ben at #1, what advice would you give to someone just starting to play pickleball? B: Practice with intent. By that I mean that whenever you go out and play, you should have a goal. Something specific to work on and get better at. Of course you should always go out with a goal of enjoying yourself as after all it is just a game. But to me one of the most gratifying parts of any sport is improvement. And the best way to do that is practice with a purpose.
C: Learn the fundamentals. I am a huge proponent of players learning how to hit the right shot at the right time from the get-go. You will improve your game dramatically long term by attempting to take the fundamentally sound shot instead of the shot that most often wins you the point initially. Just because it works at one level does not mean it will work at the next level. Ingrain the right habits early on and you will thank yourself later.
Q: You’ll be offering additional advice at the Pickleballerz clinic on Saturday, October 17 to intermediate and advanced players. What can the pickleball community expect to learn? B: At any instructional session what I try to do is open student’s minds to things they haven’t heard before or help them to understand what is missing in their games. A lot of this will be technical information about shots and form that simply allows them to be more consistent, fundamentally sound players. Other information will be strategic, involving more mental capacity and choices. My main goal is to provide students with valuable information that stretches their understanding of pickleball, to give them enough of it to always have specific things they should practice, and ultimately help them become better players.
C: Again, fundamentals. What to hit from any given position on the court and the technical execution needed to hit it properly. Also, answering questions that students have is important for them gaining a comprehensive understanding of the game. Whether it is technical, strategic, or just how to practice more effectively, we will go in depth on all of it for players of all levels.
Q: Beyond this clinic, what are some exciting things, either personally or professionally, coming up for you this year?
B: The biggest tournament for us this year will be the PPA Championships in Las Vegas October 22-25. I’m really looking forward to it as it should be an incredible event with all the best players.
C: In a normal year, the biggest event coming up would be the National Championships at Indian Wells in November which we would have been playing in together. Unfortunately, that tournament was canceled like many this year. We have been spending the extra time working on an online instructional academy where we can share our knowledge with students around the country. We are excited to say it will be released by the end of 2020.
Thanks so much to Ben and Collin for sitting down and chatting with us. Pickleballerz is looking forward to hosting both of them at our upcoming pro clinic October 17!
Interested in getting to know more about the Johns Brothers and pickleball? Sign up for the October 17 clinic and learn more about the sport from the pros themselves. The event runs all day long, with your choice of either attending a 3-hour session in the morning or later in the afternoon. Within the 3 hours, you’ll participate in a hands-on clinic, play an exhibition match, and have a meet and greet and autograph signing with the Johns brothers. Don’t miss out on the opportunity! Spots are limited, so sign up today by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.