the pickleball lab
Welcome to another edition of The Pickleball Lab. As usual, we try to bring you a smorgasbord of exciting pickleball videos, thoughts, images and ideas. This week we have a simple training game that is so fun it’ll get you dancing if you win it (really, watch), an opinion piece about whether better players should play down to be nice, analysis of a potentially illegal serve, some electric action from France and one of our favourite features: What’s on Mark’s Phone? Enjoy!
Play: Exploding Pyramids
Test your control with this simple game that is way more fun than it should be! Each player sets up a target (the taller and less stable the better) at 3/4 court. Players rally from the baseline and must let the ball bounce on their side of the court before hitting it back.
The goal is to ‘explode’ your partner’s ‘pyramid’ before they get yours. This is a great way to test your groundstroke/return of serve precision to see if you can control the distance and direction of your shot. Click the video below to watch it in action!
Opinion: No. We Weren’t All Once Beginners
By Mark Renneson
One of the most lively — and frequent — conversations on the pickleball internet centres on the duty/obligation/enjoyment/burden for players of different skill levels to play together. Most commonly, it is a question of stronger players hitting the court with their less skilled counterparts.
It doesn’t take long for these exchanges to follow particular patterns of argument. Someone who obviously identifies as a “stronger player” says something like: “Look. I just want to have fun. And that’s a lot harder to do if the game is imbalanced. I want a competitive game”.
The responses are predictable: “It’s a social game — be social”. “You can use this game to work on your weaknesses”. “You should give back by helping people to improve”. And then there is the inevitable: “Hey. Get over yourself. We were all beginners once”.
While technically true — everyone did, in fact, play pickleball for the first time — there is a mistaken assumption built into statement: that all players begin from the same place; that everyone starts on equal footing and that the players who are now quite adept would be more accommodating if they would just recall the old days when they too would swing at the ball and miss the ball, have no backhand to speak of, struggle to move around the court and frequently forget about the two-bounce rule.
If good players could just remember how hard pickleball was for them in the early days, this argument goes, perhaps they would be more empathetic and willing to play down.
But the truth is that it isn’t an even playing field — or gym floor. As with most other aspects of life, we don’t all start from the same place. When Tyson McGuffin, Lucy Kovalova, Simone Jardim, Matt Wright, Joey Farias, Leigh and Anna Leigh Waters, Catherine Parenteau and most of the other top players in our sport came to pickleball, they were beginning pickleball — but they weren’t beginners.
All of these players come from elite tennis backgrounds. Incidentally, they are also all incredibly generous with their time and I have witnessed each one be happy to play with people of all levels. By the time they hit their first pickleball, they had all already spent tens of thousands of hours judging spherical objects flying their direction, running to these objects and then smacking them back over a net.
They had developed the reception skills needed to read speed and spin, they had learned how to drive a backhand, play a drop shot and hit an overhead smash. While they still needed to learn how to play pickleball — it is, of course, a different sport than tennis — they came to the game already possessing a set of skills that put them leaps and bounds beyond most new players.
So, what do we do with inter-level play? I think many of the arguments have some merit. Yes, it is good for the community as a whole when people mix. Yes, we can learn from each other and stronger players can indeed work on elements of their games that need attention. We can have fun spending time with someone even if we are of different skill levels. All of these things may be true. What I am advocating for, however, is that we hold off on the “we were all beginners once'“ narrative. It is a false argument and one that undervalues — if not outright disregards — the role played by past experience, effort and commitment.
We all began playing pickleball — but we weren’t all beginners.
This serve is not illegal
Not too long ago we met Jane. She told us about some heat she had been getting from a few club members about her serve. They claimed that it was illegal — that she wasn’t following the three rules related to serving technique.
So when we shot some video — with her permission but not her knowledge since people tend to change their behaviour when they know they are being filmed — we were eager to see what all the fuss was about.
Here’s Jane’s full serve. Let’s look at different parts of it to see if she’s breaking any rules.
In this clip we see what could be a cause for concern. Jane prepares her paddle pretty high, almost the same height as the ball. And especially since she is not a very tall woman, the near chest-heigh backswing can raise flags for some people, since contact needs to be below waist height. Add to this the fact that her initial forward swing is downward, and you’ve got a scenario that many people will (incorrectly) identify as illegal.
As you see here, after her initial downward swing Jane moves the paddle forward and up. The paddle is moving on an upward trajectory — or “upward arc” as the rules call it. In this clip, she waits until nearly the last possible moment to get the paddle going upward, but she does it and that’s what matters. The paddle was moving on an upward arc — albeit barely — by the time she touches the ball.
Janes’ followthrough is a little unusual. She has an aggressive roll of the paddle face after contact, flipping the paddle over. This doesn’t really help her serve and is more pronounced than it needs to be (this excess paddle movement can contribute to the confusion) but that doesn’t make it illegal. No part of the paddle is above her wrist at impact, the paddle is moving upward and she makes contact below her bellybutton.
What’s On Mark’s Phone?
PRO pickleball Presents…
Our friends at Pro Pickleball (check them out on Facebook) shoot some really great live video. And when you shoot as much as they do, every once in a while you’ll see something really neat. This clip comes from the 2019 French Open.
Thank a referee. It is quick, easy and costs you nothing. If you are playing in a match that has a referee, be sure to thank them afterward — even if you lose. Reffing is tough and with the increased need for officials, tournaments and organizers often need to draw in otherwise reluctant people to fill the role. So if you are playing a reffed match be courteous and try to be patient; and be sure to thank them once you’re all wrapped up.