The Pickleball Lab


Welcome to another edition of The Pickleball Lab. This week we’ve got a juicy selection of videos, articles, drills and more! Work on your co-ordiantion skills in Juggling with a Partner. Develop a unique serve in our Training Challenge. See how Brian Ashworth plays defence like a hockey goalie. And get a play-by-play analysis showing one of the more common mistakes we fid from intermediate pickleball players.


Training Time: Juggling with a Partner

Video Analysis: Getting in Trouble and Staying in Trouble

One of the things that intermediate players have trouble with is, well, getting out of trouble. It can often feel like you’re pushing a rock up a hill when your opponents establish their position at the net and keep pounding away at you. In this edition of video analysis we look at different moments in this point and unpack what happened, why it happened and what the players could do differently next time to get out of this jam.

Hove on any of the pics below to see the analysis.

One thing that strong players are good at is taking advantage of their opportunities to score. While beginning and novice players will have multiple chances to put away the ball, as players advance they will have fewer of these chances. Failing to convert that opportunity is how points can quickly slip away. See the images below for shot-by-shot analysis.

Using a conventional ‘bowling’ serve, the player in green appears to use her serve merely to start the point. This makes it more likely a difficult, deep return will be sent. Her late set-up leads to a third shot that is high and without clear purpose.

The player on the far side fails to cause trouble with this volley. The women play two good neutralizing drops , which gives them a relatively safe opportunity to move forward. Note that both drops were crosscourt, which makes successful dropping more likely.

The woman in green’s forehand volley does not cause trouble for her opponents. The problem is exacerbated by misreading the return volley as she is unsure whether to take the ball in the air or off the bounce. This indecisiveness causes her to panic and play a lob which gets smashed. This is an example of how a missed opportunity (her first volley) can come back to haunt you.

Like a snowball rolling down a hill, a bad situation gets worse. While she does a good job to get the smash back in play (the is helped by backing up when she realized she was in trouble), the woman in greeen is merely reacting to the ball being hit at her, not looking to play a defensive shot. This is commoon for intermediate players — they are trying to survive.

In this case, learning to take speed off the ball and to play a drop would have relieved the pressure. Using the larger crosscourt target may have helped.

Video: Why Don’t We Dink?

A common complaint from novice and intermediate players is that “there isn’t enough dinking”. People lament the fact that unlike the pros, the games that they play in resemble a kock-em-down-drag-em-out fight more than the chess game some people would prefer pickleball to be. Want to know why there is so little dinking at the 2.5 - 40 levels? Watch the video below to find out.

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 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!

Gold Star Defence

You don’t win a pickleball point because you look good or are ‘playing properly’. You win because you get the ball in play once more than your opponents. Below is an awesome example of creative playing from one of pickleball’s best defenders — Brian Ashworth. Once he pops up the ball he anticipates that the reply will be fast and low. Ashworth does his best impression of a hockey goalie taking up space. Three cheers for thinking outside the box!


Video: The Value of the Short Return

Conventional wisdom has it that like in doubles, it is smart when playing singles to hit the return of serve deep. But as you can see in this video, this might be a strategy worth reconsidering. Check out examples from the pros about how deeper might not always be better.

Training Challenge: Dominant Deep Serves (Lob)


A deep serve makes it harder for returners to establish themselves at the non-volley zone. At a minimum it means they have farther to move in order to get there. And hitting deep with a high, slow serve can disrupt the returner’s timing as well as get them to overthink their shot.

Goal: To be able to hit high, slow serves that land within 5ft of the baseline.

Purpose: To develop a consistent serve that makes it difficult for the returner to do what they want with the ball.

Method: Place a pylon or other object 5ft from the baseline on both the odd and even courts. From the opposite baseline, serve a high, slow ball and attempt to land it between the pylon and baseline. Hit 10 serves from each court and record how many land in the target area.


Equipment: A basket of balls or a partner who will send the ball back after it is served. Pylons or other objects.

Adaptations: Make the challenge harder by placing the pylon closer to the baseline. Make it easier by moving it farther from the baseline. Make the challenge harder by hitting the serve higher.

Notes: While this serve isn’t going to ‘blow anyone off the court’, the height, depth and potential change in rhythm from your regular serve can make it tricky for opponents. Be aware of wind conditions when using this serve.

Dominant Deep Serves (Lob)

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