Paddle Partners – The Ultimate Quest Part One

by Michael Cochrane and Scott Estes

When a paddle friend recently asked me how many different paddle partners have I had throughout my playing career, my reply was, ‘I’ll get back to you on that.’

The ambiguous answer is, lots (over 45 – I have the list), but what does it really matter? They are all true friends and family that make playing platform tennis enjoyable, and that is the reason we all play this game. If you are not playing with one of your best friends, you may be playing for the wrong reasons. There are a few amazing teams that have been together for many years (DeRose-LuBow, Goodspeed-Mansager, Caldwell-Cordish, Rothschild-Schmitt to name a few) and it’s that longevity that often courts success. Many players will often play with many different in a search for that ‘one’ partner that we can experience the most success with. However, we are not playing this game for the millions of dollars in prize money (at least I’m not), so having fun is a top priority. If you’re not having fun, then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the partnership. I have done that many times trying to find that perfect partnership that would allow us to compete at the highest level, and possibly for one of those elusive and coveted National Championships. It is the ultimate quest for many of the games’ top players. Many factors come into play when searching for that perfect partnership and friendship plays a big part of the success of the tandem. As it turns out, I had found the partner that enabled us to play at the top of the game – Scott Estes Jr. In fact, we were able to obtain a #1 ranking for over 2 straight years while winning 10 of the top ranked national tournaments including a National Championship in 2007 (our inaugural year) while reaching quarterfinals and semifinals in others. We look to analyze the teams in each tournament, and though a team may be comprised of two of the best players in the game, they may not ultimately materialize into the team that we think ‘looks good on paper’. This means that when you hear of two top players playing together, we expect them be very successful together, but in the end for whatever reasons, the team ends up falling short of their goals. This happens often in our game, and so it becomes necessary to experiment with partnerships to determine if the team can materialize into a top team.

Scott became the leader of our team with his vast knowledge of, not only the game, but our opponents. Scott was able to capitalize on our strengths’, while minimizing exposure to our weaknesses. After 2007, Scott and I seemed to struggle in the National Championships against teams that we otherwise dominate throughout the regular season. This became troubling since we would play the whole paddle season at the highest level, only to fall short when it mattered most, at the Nationals. When we took a step back, we seemed to doubt our existence as the dominant team that we had become over the years. We agreed to experiment with other options to see, if indeed, there was a better partnership out there. There wasn’t. We both partnered up with some of the most talented players in the game; Michael Stulac, Brian Uihlein, Jared Palmer, Scott Mansager, Dane Schmidgall, Mark Johnson, Wade Martin, Jerry Albrikes, Brian O’Connor, Mark Parsons, (shout outs) Scott Crabtree and Andy Ward. None turned out to be “the partnership”. We both have had some mixed results but realize that perhaps we played our best when partnered together. We are hoping to bring that magic back and we are excited for the upcoming 2013-2014 season.

Stay tuned for Part Two, my partner’s view on the subject.