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PICKLEBALL—A Sport for Creative Athletes!

SickTrx is a group of top pro players and ambassadors who have displayed the art of trick shots on the largest competitive stages around the world. Here, Brian Ashworth, Joey Farias, Ben Johns, Vicki Love, Irina Tereschenko and Kyle Yates share and reflect on some of their favorite SickTrx.

What is SickTrx, one might ask. SickTrx is a “pickleball philosophy”—a way of life, if you will—that puts imagination, creativity, fun and mentoring as core values for growing your game and the sport. Becoming a better pickleball player at any level is not just about drilling, discipline, 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, and trying to win at all costs. Pickleball is a unique game that unites and celebrates players of all individual styles, technical and physical skills. We commend all the players who are not afraid to bring some flare to their game and develop additional offensive options through the use of trick shots (or, as we fondly call them, SickTrx).

SickTrx is also a group of friends—top pro players and sport ambassadors—who have gotten pretty good at executing a large number of trick shots on the biggest competitive stages around the world and have a lot of fun sharing their skills with others during rec games, exhibitions, junior parties, and clinics. This article is an exploration and reflection on some of our favorite SickTrx. We hope it brings you joy and inspiration. Namaste.

Irina Tereschenko Top-Ranked Pro and 4-Time Pro Major Champion Team: Paddletek and Jigsaw Health Follow: sicktrx_irina (IG) and Irina Tereschenko (FB)

I am a big fan of the misdirection shots. This category really allows for individual playing styles and player personalities to shine as the options are almost endless: head fake, shoulder fake, inside out slice redirect, no-look flick, drop shot fake, lefty switch—you name it.

Every member of the SickTrx crew adds a different flair to the misdirection shots, and if you watch some of our matches more closely, you can definitely pinpoint the personal favorites! These shots are generally executed from the kitchen area (groundstroke or volley) and are designed to surprise your opponent, push them off balance, and set up the winner with the next shot.

I often disguise a drop shot from the kitchen as a powerful drive—especially when both or one of the opponents are back on the baseline—by taking a huge swing on a high ball but then letting the ball drop and gently placing it into the kitchen with tons of underspin. This is a very effective tactic at all levels if your opponent is not very quick and/or when you are trying to wear them down. Even if the opponent gets to the drop shot, they are very likely to pop the ball up and you are perfectly set up for a slam dunk as they fight to regain balance and re-establish themselves at the kitchen line.

Ben Johns 10-Time Pro Major Champion Team: Franklin Pickleball, Jigsaw Health, Fila Shoes Follow: benjohns_pb (IG) and Ben Johns: Pickleball (FB)

The “Jumping Erne” is my favorite trick shot. It distinguishes itself from a normal Erne shot (walking around the kitchen to stand right up close to the net) in that you can position yourself after your opponent makes contact with the ball by jumping. This makes it a difficult shot to avoid or see coming. If executed correctly, the shot is both effective and versatile. And bonus, it looks really cool!

The Jumping Erne can be played off any shot that gets too close to the sideline. This applies a lot of pressure to your opponent because it effectively shrinks their “safe” portion of the court by a couple of feet. It also has a wealth of placement options due to your contact point. The shot can be hit with a forehand or a backhand. I personally prefer to hit it from the left side with my backhand. Here are some keys to hitting the shot: 1. Jump with the foot that is closer to the sideline, landing on the leg that is closer to the middle of the court. 2. Attempt to time your jump so that your contact point with the ball is as close to the net as possible without going over it. 3. Make sure you turn your wrist DOWN to keep the ball in! You’ll often hit it long if you don’t, because of your close contact point and momentum.

Remember, it’s OK to look silly trying new things! Eventually you’ll start to feel the timing of your jump and when to go for it. Next time you go out to play, give this SickTrx a try!

Kyle Yates 12-Time Pro Major Champion Team: Paddletek, Jigsaw Health, PB1965 Follow: kyleyates.pb (IG), Kyle Yates Pickleball (FB) and Pickleball Vlog (YT)

One of my favorite shots in pickleball is the tweener! I’ve always had an affinity for exciting the crowds. A tweener, when executed in an effective manner, and at the right time, can surely get the spectators on their feet! The creativity involved with this shot is what truly defines it as a SickTrx.

Most of the time, some might consider this shot to be “unnecessarily flashy,” but I say NAY! Sometimes it’s absolutely necessary and an ideal option. As difficult as it may be, I’ve found it to be extremely useful on many occasions. For example, I recall pulling it off in a third set tiebreaker in the semi-finals of the US Open Pro doubles. The packed stadium roared in delight by what they’d witnessed. That crowd energy pushed us on to victory and ultimately the prestigious title.

Picture this: Your opponent has just hit a timely, well-struck lob over your or your partner’s head. You have no time to make a decision, and surely cannot jump high enough to immediately take the ball in the air. In a nanosecond, you swivel around to see the ball a half-court’s length away, and traveling quickly. Instinct kicks in and you make a beeline toward the ball as it bounces deep near the baseline. At this point, you can either call it out or run full speed, gain ground and catch up to the plastic ball as it reaches its apex, and begins to descend once again. You’ve got no time to concoct a plan. Once you reach the ball, you have no time, nor room, to move around the ball to take a normal swing; the ball is already between your legs. The only play is to simply keep your speed, and run right through/over the ball, and play it back right between your spread, galloping legs.

This delicate maneuver is not for the faint of heart, nor well-endowed. Simply getting the ball back over the net this way is a feat in itself… 25-30 feet away, full sprint away from the net, striking the ball between the legs, backward, and yet still dropping it perfectly, gently, over the net and safely into the kitchen. At this point, with the poise of a rocket surgeon, you must turn around and immediately return to battle and finish the point. It is SickTrx like this that really get my adrenaline pumping and reignites my passion for this great sport!

Vicki Love 0-Time “Pro” Major Champion Team: No affiliations Follow: Not applicable (Seriously, how am I part of this team?)

Any member of this team would be among the first to say that you should not be taking any pickleball skill advice from me. My playing style is…uniquely scrappy, and should not be replicated (unless you also thrive in chaos).

With that caveat, I’d have to agree with Irina that my favorite SickTrx shot is misdirection. For example, if you are in a cross-court dink battle and notice, using your peripheral vision, the player straight across from you is slowly moving toward the center of the court, then hide a last-second flick of the wrist (or push) to redirect the ball toward the body of the opponent in front of you or down the line. Hitting that player by surprise or “burning them down the line” is a potential way of keeping them accountable for protecting their side of the court and line.

Besides misdirection, I personally think that one of the best “shots” to master in an effort of elevating your game is not a shot at all. It’s simply being comfortable with letting out balls go.

Brian Ashworth
Winner of Numerous Silver Medals All Over the Globe and Founder of SickTrx Team: Pro-Lite
My favorite shot would probably be the drop-to-a-knee smash return. To execute this sorcery, first you need a well-placed pop-up to your opponent’s paddle hand and preferably close to the kitchen. Once you have executed this, you drop to your knee and get your paddle low. I do this because we have all been drilled to hit our opponent’s feet, so I place my paddle essentially where my feet would be. When your opponent smashes the ball, try your hardest not to smirk. Let your paddle hit the ball and let their force bring it back to them. Now is the time to chuckle but also stand back up. I promise you, no shot feels as satisfying as this one.

Joey Farias
Top Pickleball Pro Bronze Medal Specialist Team: Gearbox, Jigsaw Health, Tyrol Shoes, Black Ice Follow: jfariaspickleball on both Instagram and Facebook

The offhand flick is one of my favorite SickTrx shots. It’s a good way to add even more deception to your game, especially up at the kitchen by using your non-dominant hand to attack. I enjoy using it when I am dinking cross court for a while and faking my normal backhand dink while switching the paddle to my left hand and flicking the ball up the line to keep my opponent off guard.

The offhand flick should be used at the kitchen line due to most players’ lack of power with their non-dominant hand. From the kitchen line, deception can really affect the player, and not much power is needed if the shot is executed correctly. When trying to execute this shot, timing and accuracy are everything. You must pick the right time when your opponent either least expects it or has not seen it coming before. Accuracy is needed with this shot because you are trying to either hit your opponent’s weak spots, or keeping it away from their power side. Be careful trying this shot all the time, as players will start anticipating the attack.

Go home and enjoy trying to add this new SickTrx to your arsenal and keep bringing your own flare to pickleball.

SickTrx started with a group of young adult pickleball players who shared a common goal and vision for pickleball. They wanted to elevate the strategy and pace of the game by regularly incorporating SickTrx shots into competitive games. The idea is that by increasing the speed, unpredictability, and athleticism required to compete at the highest professional levels, this would increase the visibility, interest in, and passion for the sport from junior and younger athletes.

SickTrx has evolved from there with the aspiration that everyone can and should embrace the development of their own style and creation of their own SickTrx shots. We can all contribute to elevating the game of pickleball for all ages, levels and sexes by learning from one another’s creativity and pushing back on historical-based constraints that suggest there are only a few correct ways to play pickleball properly.

The SickTrx team is continually impressed and encouraged by the progress of the game, the increasing entrance of incredibly talented new players, and the heightened level and depth of competition. Keep trying different shots. Keep exploring your personal capabilities. Keep having fun in the creative process. And find that SickTrx style and shot that personalizes your game and separates you from the norm. Most importantly, when you successfully hit your SickTrx shot, shout “SickTrx” loud and proud.

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