January 23, 2023
Drills for Dudes
By Alice Tym
Ya gotta love guys. They want to hit hard. They are not complicated so their pickleball drills are just plain fun. Of course, you have to build in some placement, footwork, anticipation, and technique along with hitting the snot out of the ball.
Guys need fundamentals since they want to drive the ball. No need for an extended backswing. Guys are strong enough to hit without a big swing and since they do hit hard, they have to be ready for the ball to come back sooner. Shorten that backswing. This is pickleball, not tennis. Footwork is the building block of power. If the feet are not set, the placement will suffer. A hard ball to the wrong place is a sooner loser.
So, here is the drill. Two players start with deep crosscourt forehands using good footwork, short backswings, extended follow-throughs. Then one player stays hitting crosscourt while the other goes down the line. Do not make each other run so far that one cannot get back to the center. This applies especially to the guy hitting crosscourt; this is a drill, so you want to make each ball playable. No impossible angles—just smooth, well-placed deep shots. Exhale on your follow-throughs. Pretend you are both being videotaped.
Now pick up the pace. Dial it up until you begin making errors. It is fun to hit hard, but now your technique is breaking down. Know your limits. It is a simple drill, but controlling the pace and depth gets you into a reliable rhythm. You are in the groove, in the zone. Many players do not know what their personal best rhythm really is. You need to know it to establish your rhythm in a match.
Now reverse the drill so that the other person goes down the line. Then reverse the corner and start the process on the backhand side. Be able to be consistent to both corners when hitting crosscourt or down the line.
DIALING UP YOUR SERVE AND RETURN
Work on varying your serve. You need a serve with real pace. Rip it by using your legs. There is a reason you have glutes. Your drill partner needs to tell you where he will return the ball. You serve to the backhand on the right side. He returns to your forehand. You go down the line to his backhand. He rips it down the line to your forehand.
If you can add two players, you serve to the right court, he returns down the line and comes in. Now you need to practice a short drop and play out the point. If your drop is long (behind the NVZ line), you lose the point, but you still play out the point. In this drill you rip the serve and the return. But you must be able to place the ball. If you cannot place it where you call it in advance, you are serving too hard. Learn your limits.
Player A serves, B returns. A either drops or hits the third shot, and B’s partner must poach the next shot, the fourth shot. A is working on a deep serve in hopes of setting up a weak return. B is working on a deep return in hopes of setting up a weak third shot, or at least a third shot that gives his partner plenty of time to set up. Now the A team must decide if the third shot should be a drop or a drive, knowing that the B player must poach.
The most important part of this drill is training the poacher to watch the ball come off the opponent’s paddle. He must anticipate where the ball is going and how hard the opponent is going to hit the ball. The poacher must learn how far he can extend, how deep he needs to hit his volley, whether he should break the angle of the ball to hit an angle himself, and whether he has a solid backhand and forehand volley, so he knows what skill to practice, and sometimes he needs to learn “What was I thinking?”
This is an anticipation drill. Get ready, get set, and go for it. In this drill you only get a point if you poach and win the point. Play to 11, win by 2.
Drill by playing games starting at 9-10. Team A is serving, and the score is 9-10. The team that ends up winning that game gets one point. Then Team B starts the next game serving at 9-10. The team that wins that game gets one point. You play to 21 points, win by 2. In other words, one point for each game, but each game begins at 9-10.
You need a reliable serve and a strategy to keep the ball in play, no unforced errors. Make the opponents win the point. Concentrate. When you get to 10-10 if it is your serve, don’t get relieved and sloppy. The purpose of this drill is learning to play key points. You may want to be a big gun, but can you win the close one by banging? On the other hand, can you play close points and be a “closer”? You need to be able to be consistent as well as able to hit the right shot when the opportunity arises. Pressure on every point.
This drill also teaches you not to change a winning game. If you are winning on consistency, why change and become a big hitter just because the score is close? You are not going to a fire. This is the time to double down on watching the ball, moving your feet, and using good technique. If you find that you are losing this drill on a regular basis, you need to analyze your rhythm. The team that sets the rhythm usually wins the match. Back to the technique drill and polishing your ability to control the tempo. This drill helps you become a closer, not a loser.
Both male and female players are pushing the game forward with innovative play. New styles, new shots, new strategies are right around the corner. Drills need to be adaptive. Work hard on your strengths. Spend the first 15-20 minutes working on your weaknesses, then bear down and push yourself on drills that cement your strengths.
If you want to drive harder, get down lower and use your legs more. If you want to hit sharper angles, take your paddle back sooner. If you want to hit deeper, extend your follow-through. If you are striving for accuracy, keep your head down and watch the ball closer. You can focus on any one of these during any one of the above drills.
Remember to build your game around your personal strengths. The young pros are playing “their” game. You should play “your” game but keep raising your level. Use these drills to find your strengths and gain the confidence to use them in a match. •
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.