Welcome to “The Approach”, The Crop Circle’s new Question & Answer series with some of the Spikeball community’s most talented players, interesting individuals, and exciting celebs. We’ll do our best to cover stories that define the greatness of Spikeball, tips on how to take your backyard or tournament game to the next level, and most importantly, deep dives into the lives and personalities of the amazing people within this community. We’ll start with Skyler Boles, some call him the man who invented the laser pass to fake spike to drop shot, most just call him a National Champion.
Skyler Boles makes up half of the newly crowned National Spikeball Championship team Chico Spikeball. Michael Wald is Spikeball Inc.’s newest employee. Despite being a dream job for Michael, having 4 colleagues who happen to be 4 of the best players alive have humbled Michael's feelings about his Spikeball game. Recently, Michael caught up with Skyler at Spikeball HQ in Chicago to talk about what it’s like to be a National Champion, Spikeball’s most important skills, and how his colleague Michael can grow his game to the point that he won’t make fun of it anymore.
Michael Wald: Before we dive in, how does it feel to be the National Champion Skyler?
Skyler Boles: Uhh…it feels pretty amazing (laughs).
I never thought I would be the best at anything, let alone a sport that I love to play. It feels incredible and motivates me to stay on top.
MW: Does it make you more confident going into next season that you’re simply the best?
SB: Yeah. I’m always confident, but everyone is getting so much better. After winning Nationals, they’re now gunning for us (Chico Spikeball) and that will just continue to motivate me to improve, get better, and work on my game moving forward.
MW: I’ve watched you (Chico Spikeball) play several times, and it honestly looks like a different game - you guys are playing chess while we are all playing checkers - why is that?
SB: I really don’t think it’s rocket science. Of course we have team chemistry and skills, but a lot of that came from repetition. It’s all about repetition.
MW: Just get those 10,000 hours in, eh?
SB: It’s just like any other sport. In basketball it’s about getting to the gym before everyone else and working on every aspect of your shot and game. In tennis, you need to hit a million strokes to get them down to the point that they become second nature. With Spikeball it is all about touches. Sounds simple, but it is true.
MW: I mean, the kid simply needs his touches.
SB: Exactly (Laughs). Getting your touches in while your moving, or walking, or just sitting, and really getting a feel for the ball and how it comes off of your hand in a variety different situations is the key. Overall ball control is the most overlooked part of Spikeball. People realize it is important, sure, but with how good players across the country have gotten, it’s become a game of inches. The people that are great at touch and control just have so much room for technical and strategic success over someone with only adequate touch.
MW: True. But, it’s not just control. You didn’t get to where you are in the sport by just having good control.
SB: Sure, but the foundation for success is control. Without control you can’t have amazing team chemistry, or court awareness, or options from point to point. Getting out of “jams”, finding unconventional ways to win points, and simply being consistent is all built upon control and more specifically, ambidexterity and touch.
MW: Well said. One thing I see a lot in newcomers or players who need to get better offensively, is hitting with the wrong angles or on top of the ball and not using the 360 degrees of the net because of it.
SB: It’s funny because Spikeballers like myself tend to laugh when we see that. It is probably the number 1 most frustrating/funny thing when watching Spikeball - I see people hitting it at waist level or shoulder level and I just think to myself that with just a few minor tweaks (hitting it lower and swifter) these people could improve their games exponentially. The lower the ball gets to the net, the harder it is to miss!
MW: Hey man, be easy. I used to be one of those players you would laugh at!
SB: Used to?
MW: (Laughs). Well played.
So you’re saying they just lack the proper basic techniques to gain simple advantages, right?
The first mistake all people make is how they pass off the serve. Say your passing to your teammate off of the serve; most people tend to focus on hitting it right at their partner. You’ll see them hit to their partner’s to their dominant hand so that in two shots they can finish it off with a spike.
MW: What’s wrong with that - seems like the logical play.
SB: Don’t get me wrong, that can be a great play. But, there’s no deception and there’s no guessing game by the defense because they can just read it. If you know the other team is always going to hit it to a certain side or hit on exactly 3 shots, you become predictable.
MW: I guess at the lower levels, people do seem to start all of the points off with direct passes to their partners.
SB: By hitting it right at your partner or your partner’s strong hand you are making your partner hit a spike that they honestly shouldn’t hit or, if they choose to pass, it has to be a perfect pass to make the point work on 3 hits. A lot of times when you make that first pass, you see a new player just standing waiting for them to spike it and they’re off balance not in a position to finish a potential set. That first key mistake has a waterfall effect to the rest of the point.
MW: What you’re outlining is a very formulaic way to play. How would (do) you start your points off the serve?
SB: This cannot be understated. When you are receiving serves, that first pass is never right at your teammate, you want to give it a little bit of height so that they have time to react while aiming it at the net or across the net. This isn’t basketball, there is no goaltending and you want to hit the ball within the net’s airspace. This way, your partner will have the option to hit it on 2 or pass it to you.
MW: Is that what those little fake Spikes are that you do on seemingly every hit?
SB: Yes. If your first pass off the serve is to the nets airspace or across the net (instead of right at your partner) you have exponentially more options. You can hit with either hand to finish on two, or you can pass back to your partner in a multitude of ways. Deception and having the option to hit on 2 or 3 is the name of the game.
MW: You gave me that tip a little while back and the game becomes completely different and more advanced once you start playing with more creativity and deception like you’re saying.
SB: Once you build the foundation for your gameplay you are able to build on other the other aspects like: agility/reaction on defense, intelligence on anticipation, ambidexterity around the net, and touch on offense.
MW: Is that where all of Chico’s creativity comes from?SB: When you have the fundamentals down, you can find a partner to work with to the point that you are anticipating each other’s decisions and actions. Creativity comes from the individual, but successful creativity also comes from the trust with your partner that they’ll be able to react to that creativity.