The Pickleball Lab

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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 turn the “return deep” mantra on its head, this week we look at how you can make your game appear to be easy. Also, referee Don Stanley shares his list of most commonrookie ref errors, we feature a great GIF of Scott Moore hitting an epic ATP, and we tell the high-performance players why they need to get gambling. Enjoy!

 

Heads Up!

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Everyone loves a good action shot. But sometimes the cameras are a little too close to the action! Thanks to @propickleball for the video from Vail, Colorado and for all of their awesome footage.

VIDEO: SPICE UP YOUR TRAINING WITH DOUBLE-TOUCH VOLLEYS

Talking Technique: 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Effective coaches work really hard but make it seem effortless.

Effective coaches work really hard but make it seem 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?

It is important for coaches to keep a broad focus so that they can give individual attention while watching the whole group.

It is important for coaches to keep a broad focus so that they can give individual attention while watching the whole group.

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.

 

Scott Moore Showing Some Hustle!

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.

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Referee Don’s Top 10 Rookie Ref Mistakes

Reffing can be a tough — and often thankless — job.

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

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Training Challenge: Angle Creator (Serve)

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Make Them Move!

Hitting a short, angled serve is a great way to pull your opponent off the court. Try to make it cross the sideline.

The serve is an opportunity to gain an advantage by making the returner uncomfortable. One of the best ways to do this is by moving your opponent off the court as they chase down your serve. A wide angle can lead to a poor return you can pounce on.Training Challenge: Touch & Go!

Goal: To make the ball cross the sideline before it crosses the baseline.

Purpose: A good wide serve forces the returner to chase the ball in order to hit it. They are less likely to send a high-quality return if they are running.

Method: Stand in your normal serving position. Send the serve toward the sideline attempting to hit with enough angle that after bouncing, the ball crosses the sideline before it reaches the baseline (note: this requires the serve not be hit deep). Hit at least 25 serves on both the left side and right side and record your results.

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

Adaptations: Make the challenge harder by hitting the serve lower over the net (opponents will have less time to react because of the lower flight path and bounce); Make the challenge easier by standing wider in the court.

Notes: Hitting this serve incurs some risk: hit too wide, the ball is out. Hit too short, the ball lands in the NVZ and is a fault. Therefore, it is important that players develop the skill to hit this serve and to be able to do so under pressure.

Players are encouraged to practice this serve on their own and to attempt to achieve 80% accuracy on a consistent basis from both the left and right sides of the court. Once the serve is successful in a low-risk setting, use this serve occasionally in a game when there is more pressure. See if you can catch your opponents off guard!

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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.

 

High Performance Coaching Tip: Get Gambling

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Being a great player isn’t just about performing when there is nothing on the line — it’s about coming through in the clutch. But while many players train hard, not enough of them practice under pressure. If you want to be someone who rises to the occasion, it is vital that your practice sessions simulate match play as much as possible. That means creating situations where you feel pressure the way you would in a match. So, what can you do? Get gambling!

Next time you are training, find a way to make a bet. This could be a one-sided bet (e.g. “If this return doesn’t land within 3 feet of the baseline, I’ll do 10 pushups”) or it could be one that sees players competing for a prize (e.g. “the losing team buys the post-practice drinks”). Whatever you choose to do, it is important that you feel tournament-like pressure when you are playing. It is only by becoming comfortable in this environment that you’ll be able to perform at your best in it.


Video: In Praise 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. The argument goes something like: “A deep return is good because it means the server will have to hit their third shot from farther back, giving you more time at the net to see and handle the ball. And in singles, this is especially important because you have to cover the whole court by yourself”.

But as you can see in this video, this might be a strategy worth reconsidering. Check out examples from the pros to see how deeper might not always be better.

Before you go…

 
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A lot of balls get hit down the middle of the court and if you want to be able to handle them well, you better have a chat with your partner before you get burned.

Don’t assume everyone agrees that forehand will take the middle. Even if it is rec play or pick-up, it is worth taking 10 seconds and asking: “Hey. How would you like us to handle middle balls?”.

This question should be asked whether you are playing with someone you know well or a stranger. Don’t worry about getting into the finer points of life, just make a general plan so you are both on the same page.

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