“How can you be so calm on the court?” It became a worn-out phrase from pickle ball student Mike Lee of EagleVail.
“Thank you for standing up to Zen on the court,” a partner complimented him at a recent tournament.
“So, that was the inspiration for this book,” he wrote in the preface to Zen and the Art of Pickleball, which he published in August and sells on Amazon. The text is more than an esoteric approach to the sports psychology of pickle ball. A gentle quick read contains many of the key principles for success in athletics and life – all in a 48-page, pocket-sized guide.
“I hope readers will come up with a new approach to their game: a Zen style of playing with calm focus, reducing anxiety and stress, focusing on having fun rather than winning every game and focusing on making the game enjoyable for both partners and opponents, regardless of the end result,” he said. .
Also, perhaps some readers will see that the Zen position on the playing field can also be the Zen position for the rest of their lives; that we can all be happier and healthier if we ‘let it flow’.
In a sense, no one might be more willing to write such a book.
Find his swing
Lee’s father abandoned his family when Mike was five years old. His mother, who was afraid of open spaces, did not drive or work.
He described Lee “grown up on care and food vouchers,” adding that he himself wasn’t an athlete he grew up with.
His mother had “searched for comfort in religion and found an education called the ‘Infinite Path’ when he was about 10 years old.
He explained to me that “this teaching uses meditation to go inward to find the God or spirit that is within each one of us.”
“The Infinite Order combines Eastern mysticism with Western teachings. Its principles are that all religious teachings have common roots, and each has a human mystic who taught basic spiritual principles.”
He explains to me that through meditation, “we become closer to that spirit and let that spirit flow from within us, enriching our lives and the lives of others.”
Lee breathes his own sports theology into the pages of his first book. He mentioned being generous with self-management and positive in communicating with your partner and putting the game into context.
“In the grand scheme of things,” he writes, “this little game on this little planet has no consequences.” While he might have a hard time telling Stephen A. Smith and his ESPN co-hosts who barked for hours with each other over a small, no-nonsense theatrical call to the college offensive coordinator in the second quarter, Lee takes his readers on a path that invites, encouraging and ultimately exciting — regardless Regardless of your sports background (or the sport of your choice).
“You can still leave the court a winner knowing you tried your best in every shot,” he writes, summarizing a definition of success that anyone who is curious about what they are capable of and ready to pursue can follow.
Lee’s athletic journey began in the late 1960s at Pasadena High School, where he played tennis.
“I wasn’t an athlete when I was young,” he admitted.
“Actually, I was the chubby little kid who was finally chosen for school football matches. Then my uncle taught me tennis and I played on my high school team.”
Although he considered himself “not a great athlete,” Lee “gained a glimpse of how meditation affected my physical and mental aptitude in sports and academics.”
He received a full academic scholarship at the University of California, graduating in 1973 with a degree in biology. For the next four years, he was a high school math and science teacher and tennis coach. After that, he spent four years at the Vic Braden Tennis Academy in Southern California, before moving to EagleVail in 1981. He worked for four years teaching skiing in the winter and tennis in the summer, meeting his wife Denise (who lived in the Valley) since 1978 ), on a ski trip in 1985.
In the dedication to his book, he wrote: “To my wife Dennis and my sons Dylan and Connor, who taught me patience in the face of adversity.” Two others who have received the dedication are Lee’s mother, Dorothy and his dog Koa, “who taught me to be kinder.”
The Koa, a border collie/Australian cattle/beagle mix, came into Lee’s life 18 months ago from a shelter in Glenwood Springs. The friendly dog accompanies me on long walks and runs on the beach when Mike and Dennis are in Mexico, where they spend April, June, October and November. To surf and stand on the paddle board.
“If I go into the water to surf or swim, Koa is sitting on the beach waiting for me to come back,” he told me.
“He’s a very spiritual dog and it’s very calming to be around.”
In the mid-1980s, Lee decided to earn a master’s degree in computer science from San Diego State. His thesis on an “expert system for teaching jumping” was highlighted during the 1988 NBC Olympic broadcast. From 1989 to 2002, he was the co-owner of Peak Performance Technologies, which developed systems for 3D modeling of athletes. He moved to work in the US Olympic Committee’s Sports Science Division from 2002-2009, using computer video systems to improve athletes’ performance.
He then held video analysis jobs with elite athletes at Red Bull and Panasonic, installing video analysis systems for MLB and LED screens for sports venues. In 2018, he moved to work at Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy, where he teaches math and science, while coaching Vail skiing during the winter and pickle ball in the summer.
Lee’s blend of analytic and scientific discipline and spiritual sense of flow is reflected in the pages of his book. In discussing anxiety and decisions, he outlines systematic step-by-step processes for playing without errors. Surprisingly, he compares those thoughts to a near-paradoxical concept of a “state of flow,” in which all decisions are made instantly, unconsciously, and confidently.
He writes: “This is zen pickle.” “No tension, no rushing actions, no worries.”
For those familiar with the sports psychology literature, Lee’s descriptions of engagement, communication, a “state of flow,” and imagination are reminiscent of Dr. Terry Orlick’s In Pursuit of Excellence, an introductory book on mental training. However, any reader can recognize the tension between process and product.
Putting pen to paper
He told me, “Partners and opponents often commented on how calm I am on the baseball stadium.”
“I find this sense of calm too easy for me and wonder how others can’t. So, I thought I would put some of my Zen behaviors on paper to help others achieve this feeling of calm.”
It surprised me how easily words came to him. It only took him a few hours to write his manuscript. He reached out to a New York publisher he had coached earlier in the summer but received no response, so he investigated the self-publishing.
“Amazon makes it easy to upload a manuscript for both the hard copy and electronic version of the Kindle,” he explained, adding that Amazon also takes care of printing and paying royalties each month. He told me his proceeds would benefit Eagle Valley Behavioral Health. He narrated an audio version due to be released soon as well.
“The hardest part I haven’t dealt with yet is the promotion and marketing,” he said. My book is available on amazon.
“The cost of placing ads in Blackball posts can run into the thousands of dollars.”
Regarding future work, Lee said he’s working on an autobiography, “but maybe my children will only read it when I’m gone; not for publication.”
As a surfer, think of the title, “Life is a Wave.”
“Ocean waves, gravitational waves, electromagnetic waves, light waves, sound waves, subatomic particle waves – I have an inner feeling that this spirit I’m talking about creates all waves and it creates all life and matter,” he assumed.
And that all life and matter are divided into different forms of waves. Thus, life is a wave.”
He told me that he was “not religious” but that he believed in a “universal spirit that is alive and present in all creation and is the basis of all creativity.”
“Taking advantage of this spirit and this creativity allows us to perform better in athletic endeavors, or as a writer, illustrator, creator or software developer – whatever our endeavors in life,” he commented.
“As we meditate, we tap into the spirit within and let it flow into the world as love, kindness, and creation.”