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    From Corporate Career To Pickleball Player

    Erik Lange Goes All In With Pro Pickleball

    Erik Lange first picked up pickleball in 2017 when he was introduced to the sport while working as a sales professional for HEAD. Now, he’s decided to leave the company’s Regional Sales Manager position to pursue the sport as a full-time career.

    leland orfield

    By Leland Orfield – 05/17/2023

    In his recent blog post announcing his commitment to pro pickleball, Lange says it best: “I’m not your typical professional athlete, but then again, pickleball is not your typical professional sport.”

    How does one transition from working a corporate job to playing professional pickleball in the PPA and MLP? We had the opportunity to meet with Erik and discuss the factors that made this life-changing decision.

    Starting His Pickleball Career

    Lange played tennis for most of his life, so transitioning to pickleball was a seamless move for him. After playing the game recreationally, he quickly decided to jump into the tournament scene.

    “I think the first tournament I played was a combined 4.5-5.0 division and ended up winning with my partner who was a more seasoned player. I saw that it had some upside and decided that I’d start playing a little bit more and in some of the higher level tournaments just to see how I’d do … So, I just started playing in a local group and realized I could compete. Then, I started playing in some regional tournaments, one thing led to another, and I started to actually travel for pickleball to play in pro tournaments.”

    While starting his pickleball career, Lange also had to continue his full-time profession in sales with HEAD while taking care of his wife and kids. When asked about the time he spent evaluating the risks involved with committing to pro pickleball, Lange said it was a difficult decision; but he feels confident in pickleball’s current growth and trajectory, and that this opportunity could propel him further into the game he loves.

    “It was a huge decision for me personally. I’m 42 years old, I’ve got a wife, we’ve been married for over 20 years; I’ve got two kids, a 15-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son. So, maybe for somebody that’s younger, in their early twenties and just graduated from college, there’s not as much at risk. For me, I’ve got a career and things established so there’s some definite risk there. That being said, I love the sport, and I wanted to chase my passion.”

    Lange’s passion for the game has pushed him to earn medals at some of the nation’s biggest tournaments, including the US Open and USAP National Championships. He actively plays on the PPA Tour and is also a player for an MLP Premier Level team: the St. Louis Shock.

    Pro Partnerships

    Lange recently partnered with fellow Shock teammate Jay Devilliers in men’s doubles on the PPA Tour. The two put on a show at the recent Newport Beach Doubles Shootout tournament, playing incredibly well in the main draw together. Lange attributes their on-court success to the chemistry they’ve built playing together in both leagues.

    “When we’re on the court together, I want him to play like the superstar that he is. Be aggressive, be confident: I think that’s when we as a team are playing our best. I think we have a great partnership; I really enjoy sharing the court with him and I think he feels the same way. I couldn’t ask for a more enjoyable experience playing some men’s doubles with Jay.”

    Lange’s got several different partnerships lined up for some exciting upcoming tournaments. At this weekend’s PPA Atlanta Open, Lange will partner with DJ Young in men’s doubles and pickleball’s rising star, Judit Castillo, in mixed doubles. In San Clemente, he’ll be partnering with AJ Koller and Mary Brascia, who he previously played with at the Arizona Grand Slam back in February.

    Lange was able to meet up with DJ Young and get some practice in ahead of their upcoming tournament together. Lange’s transition to playing pickleball full-time will allow him more opportunities like this, as he’ll be able to dedicate much more time to his training routine.

    Erik Lange’s Top 3 Routine Changes As A Full-Time Pro

    Freeing up more time to pursue a career in pickleball sounds like a lot of fun, and it definitely is. However, Lange explained that he now will be dedicating that new free time to improving his overall wellness through consistent training and being more conscious about taking care of his body.

    Here’s his breakdown of the top 3 changes he’s planning on implementing in his routine moving forward:

    1. Practice time on the court. Dedicating myself to the drilling and to the rec play. Carefully designed rec play.”
    2. Focusing on healthy eating choices and diet. That’s something where if you’re disciplined and you stick to what your plan is, you can make some quick changes and it’s much easier on your body. Your body is super important if you plan on playing a professional sport.”
    3. Off-court work. Stretching, body weight exercises, cardio to some extent. Really dedicating time to eat healthy and train both on and off the court will allow me to get better and play to the best of my abilities.”

    When it comes to drilling, Lange is a big believer in kitchen work—being up at the kitchen line with a training partner and drilling cross-court forehand, cross-court backhand, and up the line. 

    He emphasizes many of his reps in the shorter part of the court because he believes everyone who plays at the highest level moves to the kitchen line. Maximizing your potential at the line will maximize your potential to win.

     

    “Don’t skip any steps. Because a lot of time, you’ll find people jump into a situation where they’re not competitive, maybe to a 5.0-level tournament, as they haven’t gone through the process of learning how to dink 100 times in a row and not miss. These are things you have to overcome, because at the highest level you have to have all of these skills. As long as you’re going through the checks and balances on your way to entering a professional tournament, then you can feel confident that your training and prep are there.”

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    Erik Lange and St. Louis Shock teammate Jay Devilliers celebrate a point during an MLP match.

    Lange Looking Forward

    Lange explained that the exponential growth he’s seen within the MLP and PPA strengthened his faith in what the future of pro pickleball holds. The financial opportunities for players to make a living playing the game are presented in various ways through the connections they make on tour. 

    Whether that be in the form of brand sponsorships, teaching, or prize money, Lange says that more and more players will be able to make a pro pickleball career their reality. He recognizes the risks within his decision; still, he believes that the pro organizations have been great about listening to player feedback and making adjustments as the sport continues to grow at the pro level.

    “Some people might decide that sticking with a 9-5 job with a pension, retirement, and insurance; those are all helpful things too. I can see the other side, but I also know how exciting this sport is and the life that I want to lead is connected to that path. For me, it was a pretty easy choice. I really appreciate my family’s support of my decision to go full-time into pickleball, they’ve been great about supporting whatever it is that I want to do.”

    Upon making his recent “all-in” announcement, Lange was met with an outpouring of support from fans and fellow pro players. When asked about what makes pickleball so special, Erik replied: “The people.”

    “I have met a thousand new people, maybe two thousand new people, since I started playing pickleball in 2017, and I’m on a first-name basis with most of these people. They would not be a part of my life had I not started playing. The connections that you make around a sport that’s truly enjoyable are amazing and really help to make everyone’s life more enjoyable.”