If you play pickleball and go to any tournaments, we’re sure you’ve seen those great looking “Pickleball Rocks” tee shirts on some of the players or attendees. But who is “Pickleball Rocks” and what’s his story?
Rodney “Rocket” Grubbs is the head of the company and a pretty darned good pickleball player in his own right. We had a chance to sit down with Rodney recently and chat with him.
Q: How did you get so involved with pickleball that you’re not only a player but also a pickleball business owner?
A: In 2009 two snowbird couples in my home town of Brookville, Indiana came back from a winter in The Villages, enthusiastically determined to get their newfound sport of pickleball started in our town. They started playing in a local school gym, but soon were gathering volunteers and doing some fundraising in order to build two brand new pickleball courts in our county park. I had no idea this was going on (somehow it didn’t make it to our local barber shop news), but soon they approached me with “Rodney, you have to come try this.” Well it only took one try. I loved it from the first time I picked up the paddle. This sport was just too good to be true and I was hooked!
Q: Had you been much of a sports enthusiast before this?
Oh, absolutely! I played USTA tennis to the 4.5 level and coached high school tennis for almost 20 years, so I had some racquet sport background. I had also been a high school ping pong champion for three years back in my younger days. I also played a lot of softball, like 150 games a year, for 15 years. So yes, I guess I thrived both on athletics as well as competition.
Q: So how did you transition from being a player to being a pickleball business owner?
A: There’s one more background step before I can answer that question. As soon as I started playing the two founding couples gave me one order. “We built it, now you go get people started playing.” So off I went to start growing the sport of pickleball in Brookville. After a few months of inviting key people to try our silly new sport, I came up with the idea of wearing a t-shirt around town that would attract people’s attention to pickleball.
Q: And we’re guessing it’s here that the name “Pickleball Rocks” comes in?
A: Right! My marketing partner and I were sitting in a room with a whiteboard brainstorming names. I told her I wanted a phrase that would get people excited to ask that age old question, “What is Pickleball?” We boarded several ideas but when I wrote on the board, “Pickleball Rocks”, we both instantly said, “that’s it”. I created an iron on transfer and put it on a cotton shirt that I began wearing everywhere I went.
And it certainly did its job. In no time, people were asking, “so what is pickleball?” But soon players were also asking where I got the shirt, and a business idea was born.
Q: And of course we know that your business has continued to evolve…..
A: Yes, today both my sons, Josh and Zack, have full-time careers in pickleball. Our family travels to over 30 tournaments a year and conducts numerous clinics throughout the country, and always with one mission in mind: Helping Pickleball Grow.
Q: Let’s talk about playing a bit. As an experienced coach and accomplished player who has recently been moved to the 5.0 level (Ed. Note: as a result of tournament wins), what key advice would you give to players looking to continue to improve?
A: One thing that I’ve always concentrated on in coaching both tennis and now pickleball, is to keep your swing very simple. The less the paddle head has to travel before it makes contact with the ball, the easier it is to catch the ball cleanly on the sweet spot and the better your control will be. I teach to keep your paddle almost completely in front of you at all times. Simply line up your paddle with the path of the incoming ball and take a very short swing. If you catch the ball cleanly, you will have no trouble getting the ball to go as deep or as short as you want.
Q: Sounds very workable to us. Got any other tips?
A: I have a saying that I use at all my clinics: “Serve it Deep, Return it Deep, Then Every Shot at Someone’s Feet”. Do all three of those things on a consistent basis and you will be playing winning pickleball.
But to get that consistency, I believe the first thing a player needs to do is shorten down the back swing as far as possible. Then with your newfound swing, practice, practice, practice hitting certain spots on the court.
Q: Just gotta ask one last question on a personal note. We heard that you were a professional musician in your earlier days. Is that true?
A: I admit it, it’s true. In my 20’s I was a professional drummer on the weekends. Did both softball and music for 15 years. Had the fun and privilege of opening for George Jones on the country side and both Steppenwolf (Magic Carpet Ride and Born to be Wild) and Mitch Rider and the Detroit Wheels (Good Golly Miss Molly and Devil With The Blue Dress On) on the rock and roll side.
However….in my early 30s, with a wife and with two young sons (Josh and Zack), I hung up the ball glove and drumsticks. I went on to get a “real” job. (laughs) It’s sorta cool that now my real job is pickleball, isn’t it?