Hit the Ball Where You Want it to Go
By Rick Norris
Seems simple enough, yet many exclaim "I just want to hit it!" or " I just want it to go over and in!". While that may be a first step (perhaps), we can't stop there if we want to play more competitively or even just more effectively.
Hitting the ball where you want it to go means we must CHOOSE/PLAN rather than react. This is a good step toward formulating a strategy beyond 'just over and in'. IF we choose a target, our brain has a chance to get more involved. IF we choose a target in a moment of quiet before having to perform, our brain has the opportunity to say, "Hey, that's a lousy idea...do something different" or "Yes, good idea, let's go with that!". CHOOSING/PLANNING creates the possibility for reflection and that’s a good thing.
Use the ‘Quiet’ Times
The two easiest times of "quiet" are before serving and before returning serve. If we don't approach those two shots with a good idea of our intended target, we are wasting an opportunity to formulate a strategy and implement it. Each time I serve, I'm nearly in full control of my efforts (within the constraints of the rules and external forces such as sun, wind speed and direction, etc.). I should certainly take advantage of this quiet time to pick a serve to the forehand, backhand, deep, short, angle, into the body, etc..
Even if I do want to 'just get it over and in', I can plan my serve, possibly a relatively high trajectory that lands deep(ish) in the backcourt away from the sidelines. As I have success doing that (or missing slightly one way or another), I should be building confidence in my ability to adjust and hit different and more effective serves. For goodness sake, don't just hit the ball and let IT choose where to go!
Give Your Brain a Chance to Talk
The service return is perhaps the second quietest time available to me and I shouldn't waste it. I may not know exactly where my opponent will hit the serve, but I can still play the odds by deciding what my best return off the forehand would be...or the most effective backhand return...or reminding myself to look out for that tricky serve my opponent employs from time to time. If all I do is plan what forehand and backhand returns I'll use, I'm likely covering the majority of serves that might come at me. Again, I have a quiet moment for my brain to say, "Good idea!" or "Boo, hiss, that'll get you creamed; do something else". Again, I don't want to just hit the ball and leave it to fate.
When Pickleball Is Like Trekking Through the Snow
There is an age-old story about setting goals and keeping them in sight. It's about a trio who were trying to figure out the best way to get across a snow-covered field in the most efficient manner. One fellow looked down at his feet and put one in front of the other until he reached the other side. However, when he looked back, he saw he had veered off course by just a few degrees with each step, causing him to take a much longer, curving path across the field.
The second trekker chose to pick a spot a few steps ahead and walk there, then pick a spot a few more steps ahead and walk there until he reached the other side of the field. When he looked back, he saw a zig zag pattern in the snow that meant he walked a much greater distance as each segment of his travels went off line ever so slightly.
The third in the group decided to pick a spot on the other side of the field and walk toward it, never letting herself lose sight of his intended target. As you might guess, she walked the straightest path toward the goal and the other side of the field.
We must train ourselves to be like the third walker in the story...picking a goal/target before leaving/hitting and keep that goal in mind. Effective shots don't result from the one step process of just hitting the ball, nor can I be very effective if I segment my strokes into tiny components like backswing, contact point, follow through with no regard to the final product. The best results will come from having a goal/target in mind and then doing what is necessary to "hit" that target!
As we implement a target strategy more effectively, we can more easily formulate strategies and build our confidence from attaining certain goals. We can build and build along a path that will lead us straight to our target. Now, go hit the ball where you want it to go!