Telltale Signs of Character

In one of the more fascinating podcast interviews I’ve ever had, Trinity squash coach Paul Assaiante said that, over the span of his 30+ years of coaching, he learned one lesson above all others when recruiting talent. Of course, he sought technical and physical abilities. But the key ingredient, he divulged, was the athlete’s character. For example, when the chips are down, how resilient are you? How far will you push yourself? Do you have grit to deal with hardship? The way I see it, the challenge is balancing competitivity with an ethical principle. Are you out to win at all costs? The classic statement is that the ends justify the means. However, if the end is merely only about you winning, it belies — or undercuts — the notion of team. Padel is not just a team sport (99% played as doubles), it’s a social sport. What sort of character do you bring to the padel game?

Good signs

I’m always curious to see how someone’s true personality can shine through on a padel court. Is there a relationship between how they are on the court and who they are off it? Given that padel is a relatively new sport for most, I also wonder to what extent people respect the heritage of the sport. Like all sports, you kind of hope that everyone can be a good sport. I have maintained that there are five (unofficial) rules to padel:

  1. Have fun
  2. Try not to get injured
  3. Try to play well
  4. Try to win (in that order)
  5. And don’t forget to have a beer together (providing it’s after noon)

In this regard, I have a number of players with whom it’s a sheer delight to play… every time. The quality of the game counts for sure, but the spirit in which the game is played is important to me. There are some players, I’m always grateful to play with them. They are the sort of individuals who self call their own balls out. They’re fine to have a do-over if the decision is too close to call. They’re always encouraging you as their partner, even when you’ve goofed (What, me? you ask!). They’re quick to identify a good shot hit by an opponent. Last but not least, they smile. These are the good vibes. But there are a whole other variety with whom to deal.

Bad signs

I regularly see older players (e.g. over 50 years old) who seem to attach too much importance to the outcome of winning. These are the types of players who scream out (sometimes with an expletive), even — and most despairingly — when their opponents have made a great shot that they fail to return. Further, in a friendly game, where nothing is on the line, they think nothing of fridging out the better opponent. They are also likely to wish to blame their partner for losing or think that they themselves deserve all the credit for winning. These players don’t have an inch of grace. The only time they will smile is when they’ve hit a good shot… or won. Moreover, I’ve noticed (but it’s not scientific) that they will often leave their kit on top of the bench courtside, taking away space to sit (check the photo to the right). Outside of their poor behaviour, I wonder how sorry their lives must be that their fortune or happiness should rely on winning a silly game of padel?

What type of character / player are you?

The truth is that we are all subject to changes in mood, depending on the conditions, with whom we’re playing, and/or what’s happened before. I know one thing that gets my gander is being fridged out and I can become passive/aggressive in showing my distaste for such treatment. No one is perfect. As a good pro friend of mine said to me, knowing to deal with the fridge is (a) a backhanded compliment; and (b) something you just have to learn to deal with. We all need to work on something!

Anyway, inspired by some of the play I saw over the weekend while playing in a tournament with my stalwart partner, Jack, in Bristol, I thought I’d come up with a set of characteristics that are more less specific for people playing padel. As I brainstormed the different styles or personalities, it became clear that one can have multiple styles, even during a single game. Most of these characteristics have positive and negative elements. Is there a correlation, do you believe, between your on-court persona and the one off the court?


Padel character descriptions

  1. RETOOLING – Perhaps “retooling” is a code word for beginner. You typically have come to padel from another sport (e.g. tennis or squash) and, while some shots are comfortable, you’re in need of retooling. For some, this process can take a while, even forever. It’s not uncommon here to stubbornly stick to the shots you like or know how to do. The question is: to what extent you are interested (or able) to rewire and learn new shots. [The most typical example is the tennis player who won’t let the ball go by to hit the wall.] If you’re retooling, you need to be serious about it! Take the example of Luis Estrada, a former tennis pro, who spent a whole year losing matches because he needed to retool and make the wall his friend. He’s now number one in the US.
  2. FOX – You love to deceive. The typical Fox comes from squash and has the deftness of hand to change the path of the ball at the last minute. espcially off the back wall. The best sort of Fox is someone who knows how to get their feet and body into such a postion as to be able to hit the ball any way, anywhere they want. On the down side, the Fox might be tempted to play the crafty shot rather than the simpler shot down the middle or a basic lob. If you’re a Fox, it’s tactically useful to show that you have regular shots as well, otherwise you could find yourself being outfoxed! Also, when the Fox’s touch isn’t up to snuff, best to go back to the basics.
  3. OVER the TOP COMPETITIVE (OTC) – You’re all about winning. That’s all that counts. The good news is you’re likely to put in a maximum effort. However, being too zealous isn’t always a winning strategy. Padel is a game that requires patience and a degree of cunning. Because you want to win so badly, you may be too hasty or uncontrolled. For example, you might cry out in anger or frustration when you lose a point. I say that showing your anger on court is showing a sign of weakness. And you’d be better have a willing partner. There’s NOTHING wrong with being competitive, but unless you have your house riding on the outcome, it is not just useful to rein in your zeal, it’s more sportsmanlike.
  4. RETRIEVER – You’re happiest at the back of the court, playing off the wall. As we say in padel, the wall’s your friend. On the down side, you may forget to advance to the net (and leave your partner stranded at times). As a Retriever, as the quality of your opponents rise, you’ll want to develop a repertoire of shots that can help you retake the net. For the Retriever, the transition to the net with the right lob or a well-weighted chiquita will be vital not to just get stuck at the back of the court.
  5. LOBSTER – You love to lob… including the sky-bound lob when not contained indoors. In a regular game, lobs can be >30% of the shots you make from the back court. The lob is my former coach Gabo’s favourite shot. If you’re playing against a very strong player (who can hit the ball out of the court, i.e. por 3), those lobs had better be very good. Other than resetting the point, good lobs also offer the opportunity to take the net. The down side of the Lobster is that the game can become quite boring if everyone just lobs over one another all the time. But, hey-ho, sometimes, that’s what it takes. As a Lobster develops, you’ll surely want to add a chiquita (a shot that drops down just over the net) into your repertoire.
  6. HOT & COLD – You’re the type of player who plays in streaks. When you’re hot, everything goes. But when you’re cold, even a normal shot becomes challenging. It may be a question of preparation or concentration. For example, have you left your travails off the court where they should be (and you’re not checking your phone every time you change sides?). When you’re in a cold patch, the key is to figure out how you’re going to dig yourself out of it. Like in life, how you manage your ‘down’ times will very much define your outcomes. With your partner (and/or coach if you happen to have one on hand!), you should discuss what’s going on. Naturally, it’s up to you, but my approach is to re-focus on the basics: split step, eyes on the ball and make simple shots.
  7. RUSH HOUR – You’re always in a hurry… especially to get to the net. Sometimes, that’s a great plan. Other times, you can get caught out of position. As a Rush Hour player, you’re probably quite hyper which means you might get anxious with shots, especially if they are coming over the wall or side netting. The good news is that you’re likely to move your feet a lot and are happy to run after the ball. However, as you advance, you’ll want to develop some patience. For example, rather than rush the net every time you hit a lob, wait behind and see what the opponents come up with. When you’ve lobbed over them and they go back for a bajada off the back wall, on occasion, rather than go for the bloqueo (block) at the net, you can choose to sit back and fetch the ball off the back wall, in an attacking position.
  8. SMACKER – You love to hit the ball hard, especially when there’s an overhead lob that goes begging. You may even enjoy smacking the ball from behind the service line. But, woe betide the smacker who can’t smash it well enough. As my cousin Nallé engrained into me: it’s better to be unhappy with your unforced errors than happy at the winners you make. As a Smacker develops, you’ll want to figure out how to vary your overhead shots. There are at least six different ways to play an overhead: la vibora, la bandeja, el rulo, el amago, el remate, and el gancho. Use this link to go to a page of definitions and translations of padel shots and terms in Spanish.

So which character(s) are you? I think of myself as a D-G-B. If you know me, do you agree? What about you and your style of game? Maybe some of these characteristics fit better some other players you know? What other types of player profiles are missing? Do these character traits spill over into your everyday personality or not?

Over to you!

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