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Alumni Tennis Coach Turns Pickleball Pro | Chapman Newsroom

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When Matthew Mead ’20 graduated from Chapman, his future looked pretty uncertain. Due to the ongoing pandemic lockdowns, the environmental science and policy major and student athlete found a lot of time on his hands. Fortunately, outdoor sports were still an option and Mead, who played on Chapman’s tennis team while an undergraduate and is currently the team’s assistant coach, turned to his athletics background to find relief from daily worries. But instead of reaching for a racket, he reached for a paddle – a pickleball paddle, that is. 

Pickleball is a fun sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong. Though it has been around for decades, it has seen a surge in popularity among people of all ages in recent years, largely because it is accessible, easy to learn and it encourages social interaction.

“Pickleball was outside, so I could practice and play while everything else was controlled or closed,” said Mead, who started practicing pickleball with his sisters on the street or at the park. Once the courts started opening to the public, there was no turning back. 

Before long, Mead had turned his pandemic pastime into a career, competing as a professional on the Pro Pickleball Association and Association of Pickleball Players tours, traveling nearly full time while balancing his job as the assistant tennis coach at Chapman and other coaching jobs in Orange County.

Since going pro, Mead has competed with the best in the world, and has played at most of the pro tournaments in the U.S. He has ranked as high as 35 in singles, 38 in mixed doubles and in the top 50 in men’s doubles in the pickleball world. 

“Success for me has been doing what I love for the past four years and sticking with it,” said Mead. ”Hopefully I will continue to achieve my goals and keep working at being a better person, pickleball pro and a coach.”

Here’s more from Matthew about his pickleball experience as well as his time at Chapman. 

Transitioning from tennis to pickleball can be quite a shift. What similarities and differences do you find between the two sports, and how did your background in tennis influence your pickleball game? 

Transitioning from tennis to pickleball wasn’t too bad at first, especially for singles because I could move around the court pretty well and my groundstrokes from tennis are similar to my drives in pickleball. 

Once I started playing doubles, I really had to start training and drilling because pickleball volleys are different from tennis volleys, so I had to make adjustments. My backhand was my best shot in tennis and in pickleball my backhand is still my best shot because I didn’t change much from tennis to pickleball. 

All of the other aspects of my pickleball game are slightly altered from tennis, because there are different strategies in pickleball that make it a different game than tennis. 

What do you attribute your success to, and what are some of the challenges you’ve faced along the way?

I’d say I attribute my success to my family and support system. Even though I have talent and am a good athlete, I wouldn’t be anywhere without their support, trusting me to travel the country playing these tournaments. Even though I am the one out there, I couldn’t do this without them – and also my sponsors, Thomas James Homes, Selkirk and Pb Sox.

What are your long-term goals within the world of pickleball and coaching? Are there any specific milestones or achievements you’re aiming for in the coming years?

My goals in the pickleball world are to keep improving with each tournament, and to keep progressing whether it be physically, mentally or both. Pickleball is a very mental sport, as is tennis, so I definitely don’t want to stop getting better – when I do I’ll probably stop competing. A specific achievement is to be in the top 30 in mixed doubles, singles and doubles by the end of this year and to get deeper in the tournaments as the year goes on.

My coaching goals are to one day be a head coach of tennis at a university or, if pickleball keeps getting bigger, maybe a collegiate pickleball coach. 

How did Chapman prepare you for life? Any skills or lessons that have stuck with you?

Chapman prepared me for life outside school by helping me with time management and scheduling, and realizing there’s a career for everyone even if it wasn’t meant to be for me to work in my major, environmental science. I’m on a path and I’m happy to be where I am now. 

Do you have a favorite Chapman memory?

One of my favorite Chapman memories was beating the number three doubles teams in the country with my good friend Charlie Werman! I’ll never forget that match because we played lights out and our opponents were shocked.

Who was the most influential person for you at Chapman and why?

The most influential person for me at Chapman happened to be two people. It was my two roommates from my sophomore year who were upperclassmen on the tennis team when I was a freshman and sophomore. Charlie and Josh are not only two of my best friends, they are just kind, humble, smart and generous people. I was having a rough time freshman year with some roommate trouble and they basically took me in and told me they were looking for a roommate for the next year – I’ll forever be grateful to them for turning my Chapman experience around.

As someone who has found success pursuing your passions, what advice would you give to students and recent graduates who are looking to carve out their own paths in sports?

As long as you have the support of your friends, family and yourself, you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. If you’re determined enough to make something out of a sport, and you believe you’re good enough, I would go for it. There’s always time later for a day job if your sports career doesn’t work – you have your degree and now you can put it into good use. 

I don’t believe there’s any harm in taking a few years to do what you love instead of going straight to a desk job. Obviously, you have to have talent and be good enough, but at least you can say you tried. Rather than wondering if you missed out 20 years later, I would recommend my experience to everyone I know.

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