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 find 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.
Hover on any of the pics below to see the analysis.
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!
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 High Percentage Play of the Pros
By Mark Renneson
People often wonder what the difference is between advanced pickleball players and elite ones. Sometimes this line of question is simply out of curiosity, but in other instances it is because the player asking the question is looking for ways to make the leap to the next level.
While highlight-reel worthy shots are certainly nice to hit, it is the steadiness and consistency that I would argue most clearly defines the different skills groups. And this is no more clear than when players hit third shot drops. The reliability of hitting a decent drop is so important at the highest levels. If you don’t, you lose the rally and that means losing the serve and opportunity to score points.Not good.
So, what to do? One solution — and it is a good one — is to get out there and improve your drop. Make your movement better. I’m prove your impact point. Figure out that whole apex thing. But another way of improving your consistency — and I would argue more efficient and effective way to spend your time — is to be smarter about the choices you make when hitting the drop. As you’ll see in this video, good drops aren’t only about technical skill — they’re also about good decision-making.
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)
For the 4.0s
If you are playing at the 4.0 level or beyond, you should have a pretty reliable third shot drop. It doesn’t mean you need to use it all the time, just that it should be in your bag of tricks and something that — when called upon — you can hit effectively at least 70% of the time.
But that’s not what this post is about…you know you need a steady drop. This post is about making sure that your response to a good drop is equally high-quality.
If you want to move beyond 4.0, it is critical that you can respond tactically to a good third shot drop. Too often we encounter players who try to do more with the ball than is reasonable. In the same way you should acknowledge when a friend you are debating makes a good argument, you should recognize when an opponent hits a good drop. And the way to do that is by playing a solid fourth shot dink.
In the same way you wouldn’t drive a car always stepping on the gas, you shouldn’t always be trying to attack. If the drop is indeed good, you’re going to need something soft. If you try to do too much too soon, a savvy opponent will watch the ball sail long — or slam it down your throat (see above). Future editions of The Lab will feature the fourth shot with more depth, but for now, just make sure you’re not trying to do too much with not enough to work with.
One more thing…
The pre-match warm-up is your chance to make sure all the shots you are going to need are sharp and ready to go.
Make sure you give yourself the best chance for success by hitting all the shots you think you are going to need. This means drops and drives, volleys and smashes, serves, returns, dinks and flicks. Of course, you should hit these on both the forehand and backhand sides.
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