The Pickleball Lab


Watching great athletes can be a thing of beauty. Their balance, co-ordination, speed and agility can combine to make what they are doing apear effortless. In this edition of The Pickleball Lab, we look at some of the ways that experts make their work look easy.

Whether it is Abbie Brooks hitting a super-smooth modern serve, coaches who behave like ducks (trust us, this will make sense soon), or players who volley like a dream, this week we look at how you can make your game appear to be easy. Also, referee Don Stanley’s shares his ist of most common rule misconceptions and we feature a great GIF of Scott Moore hitting an epic ATP.


Video: Spice Up Your Training with Double-Touch Volleys

Technique Breakdown: The Shape of the Modern Serve

Featuring Abbie Brooks

The serve is increasingly becoming an offensive tool in modern pickleball. It is an opportunity to start the point with an advantage through, spin, speed, directional control or all three. While the goal isn’t typically to win the point outright — although it certainly is nice when that happens — the opening shot of a rally is a great chance to make your opponents work hard to hit a solid return. Hover over the images below to see how Abbie Brooks hits her nice first shot.

Effective servers in the modern game use technique that allows them to hit hard, with control, while following all serving rules. See the images below for a technical breakdown of Abbie Brooks’ awesome serve.

The sideways body position will make it easy to rotate through the serve, thus generating power. This is similar to other sports that involve ball striking: golf, baseball, hockey. Notice the minimal, relaxed movement of the left hand. The ball rests easily in the fingers.

A gentle ball release (not throw) makes timing the serve easier. And by releasing the ball at waist height, the player guarantees that she will follow the rule of making contact below her waist.

The left hip initiates the rotation as the paddle ‘lags’ behind. The separation of the hips and arm movement produces tension in the core which, when released, allows for easy power. Notice how stable the paddle face is through contact.

A forward impact point is critical to a solid serve. The paddle accelerates through contact and the relaxed upward followthrough is the result of very little muscle tension as well as a low-to-high swing path.

Why Good PB Coaches Are Like Ducks

By Mark Renneson

Have you ever thought about how deceiving ducks are? Imagine you are standing on the edge of a pond, watching a family of ducks swimming back and forth as they look for food — perhaps bread crumbs thrown from an admirer. You will notice how graceful the ducks are; how effortlessly they appear to glide across the surface of the water. It really is quite beautiful.

Now imagine you are watching the same ducks but you are doing so from below the surface. You will have a very different perspective of what’s going on, won’t you? You will see incessant paddling from the ducks, their feet in constant motion. You will discover that it takes incredible effort from the duck in order for it to appear effortless.

The same principle is true with excellent coaching. To an outside observer, the coach will appear relaxed, calm and composed. She will have command of the group and seem to see everything that is going on. It will appear like she is doing very little yet somehow is doing her job very well. You may call her ‘gifted’ or ‘a natural’ for the ease with which she (appears) to do her job. The reality, however, is that it takes considerable effort to make things look so easy. Here are some of the many things that will be going on in her head:

  • Are my players doing the activity properly?

  • if not, why not?

  • Are there any safety hazards?

  • What time is it? How is my pacing?

  • Is this activity too easy for them? Is it too hard? How can I modify it for optimal challenge?

  • Are there any mis-matched levels I need to adjust for? Do I change their partners or change their tasks in order to compensate? I do I leave it?

  • What do I do with the odd numbers — should I play in to make it even? Should I have one person sit out (if so, how will I rotate them in)? Should I form a group of three (if so, how do I have to modify the activity)?

  • Am I giving an equal amount of feedback and attention to everyone?

  • This person is doing something kind of weird. Is it important enough for me to interrupt and make an intervention — but that means stopping his partner’s practice session — or is it minor enough to let it go for now?

  • Three people ahve just walked in to watch this lesson. They haven’t paid. Should I talk to them (but take my attention away from the group) or let it be?

  • How successful is the group as a whole? Should we move on or keep doing what we are doing??

  • What time is it?

In my experience, these questions (and more) are constantly circulating inside the minds of coaches. In addition, the instructor must also be coaching her players, giving them feedback and encouragement. Like perpetual duck-paddling, coaches are always watching, thinking, observing and questioning.

Of course, as an outside observer you wouldn’t know that. What you would see is a calm, relaxed yet focused teacher who is fully engaged with her group but not in an overwhelming way. And just like any skill, the ability to run through this litany of questions while simultaneously being engaged and in control, is something that develops over time and with practice.

When I first began my coaching career I was not very good at both fulfilling my responsibilities and being calm. It always felt overwhelming and I’m sure it looked that way to. But that’s ok. Two decades later and with tens of thousands of hours of teaching under my belt, things have become a little easier. The incessant paddling remains the same, but the ability to do it without stress has improved.

I encourage new and developing coaches to remember that when you look at a coach you really admire — one who makes coaching look so easy — and think that you could never be like that, remember that they’re kicking their legs just as fast as you are — they’re just a bit better at disguising it.

Elite players don’t quit when the ball touches the net. Check out how Scott Moore reacts to the change in direction when his opponents’ ball kisses the net cord and gets sent out wide.

Elite players don’t quit when the ball touches the net. Check out how Scott Moore reacts to the change in direction when his opponents’ ball kisses the net cord and gets sent out wide.


Rule Expert?

Think you know a lot about rules?

Don Stanley is one of pickleball’s finest officials and here’s his list of the most common mistakes people make.


Training Challenge: Touch & Go!

More often then not, when a person plays a bad dink it is related to them being poorly positioned to hit it. Your opponents will try to wear you down so that you end up reaching for the ball rather than being well set up. This challenge pushes you to be a great mover.

Goal: To develop great lateral agility and endurance. Maintain a rally as long as you can.

Touch & Go! is a great way to get a workout and to develop your soft game. Adjust the challenge through the type of ball you send to your training partner.

Touch & Go! is a great way to get a workout and to develop your soft game. Adjust the challenge through the type of ball you send to your training partner.

Method: Stand on one half of the court at the NVZ while facing a training partner on the other side of the net. Begin a co-operative dinking rally but with a twist: after hitting each dink, shuffle quickly to either the centreline or the sideline — whichever is farther away!

Equipment: A partner and a ball.

Adaptations: Make the challenge more interesting and physically demanding by making the dinks lower and nearer the sides of the box. Make it easier by dinking to the centre of the box and with more height since it will buy you and your partner time.

Notes: Be sure to use appropriate caution with this challenge. Know your limits when it comes to vigorous movement.

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