July 31, 2020
A Serious Conversation About Drilling
By Alice Tym
Is drilling an integral part of improving your game? Yes, but only if you drill properly and with a purpose. Practice does not make perfect; it makes permanent. Hitting 100 serves a day is an excellent goal if you are working on pace, height, depth, accuracy, spin and variation. If you’re mindlessly thumping 100 balls, you are reinforcing a mindless serve. You need to be serious and structure your drills. Bringing a notebook to practice is a good idea to help you analyze the efficacy of your practice.
Here are a few ideas for you to use to improve your approach to drilling.
One Hundred Serves a Day Practicing by Yourself
You work on concentration and repetition. Pick up the ball with a measured pace and plant your feet the same distance apart on each serve. Do your routine of bouncing the ball once or twice in your own rhythm. No rushing 100 serves to get out there and play. Maintain an even pace. Decide where you plan to hit the ball. Breathe. Watch the ball as you strike it. Keep your head down throughout the swing so that you don’t shank the ball. Maintaining your head down will keep the flight of the ball lower. Be totally in that moment for all 100 serves.
You need to bring six cones, two for the wide corners, two for the center, and two for the short, wide serves. All of them should be placed a foot inside the lines. Keep track of your success so that you know what serve to work on and which serve you can count on when the score is close or when you are tight. Serve 20 balls in succession to each cone, 120 serves. Know your percentages.
It’s pace day. Hit each serve using your legs. Rip that ball like Tyson McGuffin. Body forward and into the ball. 100 deep, heavy rockets.
A key component of serving is variation. Cones are back and you serve one ball at each cone then reverse direction and repeat. Keep your feet stable so you don’t telegraph the direction of the serve. Move that ball around seamlessly.
Time to spin. Try to hit 50 topspin serves. Most people think that topspin is hit with your hand rolling and your arm coming up. Topspin is hit with your legs. Down deep and forward into the ball is the key. The legs keep the serve consistent and give it authority. Then hit 50 slice serves. It is not a hack or a chop; it is a smooth, forward slice. Slice like you are peeling an orange, all the way around that orange.
Time to change pace. Hit lob serves, soft serves, hard serves, and 3/4 pace serves. Be conscious of how you can vary the serve with the same motion. Don’t telegraph your variations.
Practice your best serves in your Sunday clothes. This is who you are and what you are building your game around. Strut your stuff.
Now that was just a service drill all by yourself! Let’s move on to a basic groundstroke drill done correctly. The drill sounds easy—forehand cross courts. But the key components are not so easy, yet they are what will lead you to a higher level.
Start at the center tick so you have to move wide to every ball. Don’t cheat wide so that you don’t have to move. Return to the tick after every stroke. This is imperative.
Focus on early preparation. Take your paddle back as soon as your opponent strikes the ball and you realize the trajectory of the ball.
Bisect the angle of the ball as you move. Don’t run along the baseline. Move forward and bisect the angle so that you are headed toward the net. Sloppy, lazy players wait and get trapped back at the baseline.
Bend your knees and stay down so you hit a “heavy” ball with some authority. If you stand up, the ball will pop up. You will be a sitting duck on the next shot.
Work on your depth. Good depth gives you time to get to the net and gain better court position. It also traps your opponent back at the baseline.
If you get a short ball, hit it and approach the net. Work on your approach shot while hitting cross courts. Force your practice partner to work on his depth.
Work on your follow-through. Your paddle should be out in front as you finish. It helps to bring you forward into the ready position for the volley. Your paddle should point to the spot where you are aiming the ball. A good follow-through will give you accuracy. Extend as you finish.
When you start the sequence, begin by hitting the ball deep. Even the start is practice! It’s all about fundamentals. Footwork is the secret of groundstrokes. It’s not about hitting 100 forehands in a row. It’s about mindful practice so that you acquire correct muscle memory.
This same regimen can be used to drill backhand cross courts and both down the line forehands and backhands (remember to start at the tick in the center).
A good lob/overhead drill using the half court either cross court or down the line would emphasize the following components:
The person hitting overheads turns sideways as soon as he detects a lob. Immediately. In doing so, he takes his paddle up and back into position. This should be done as he takes his first step.
A scissor step is used to go backward on balance.
His position is somewhat like an archer as he tracks the ball in the air. Shoulders up. It helps to point at the ball with your non-paddle hand.
Work on light footwork and staying balanced at all times.
Power comes from the back leg pushing up and into the ball via your hips and shoulders.
Use cones for targets. Accuracy is more important than power.
Practice reaching as high as possible to take the ball. It will help you achieve greater angles as well as keep the opponent from getting set.
Practice hitting deep overheads to the center and to the corners.
Most importantly, move in after each overhead. Do not sit back and admire your shot. Your mantra is, “The ball will always come back and it will come back to the logical opening.”
Practice consistency. You are in a commanding position at the net. There is no need to overplay the overhead. Keep track. Were you able to hit your 100 overheads in the court or did they go wide? Deep? Can you hit as well cross court from the right court as well as you can from the left court? That way you know what to work on the next time.
These are simple drills. You can make them much more complex, but focus on the fundamental components. Consistency, accuracy and placement are all part of drilling properly so that you can transfer them into match play. Push yourself to isolate specific components of the game so that you can improve. Really watch the ball. Really stay down as you stroke the ball. Really meet the volley out in front and really reach for the overhead. Then you will have good muscle memory and be able to self-diagnose in a match. You will know what shots you have confidence in and be able to use them at the proper time. Drilling helps you eliminate those low-percentage shots that let you down. Drilling is not glamorous. It simply gives you the building blocks to become a better player. •
Alice Tym was ranked 13th in the world for tennis in the ‘60s. She’s been named USPTA Coach of the Year and is a USPTA Master Professional. As a 4.5 pickleball player, she won gold in Huntsman, NSGA Nationals, US Open, and USA Pickleball events around the country. Alice is an IPTPA member, SSIPA founding board member, Bainbridge Cup Originator and gold medalist in Spain, Italy, and Germany.