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HOW TO USE A BALL MACHINE PROPERLY
More and more players are buying ball machines and they are a wonderful tool for pickleball players to improve their strokes, to add shots to their games, and to get a good workout. The quality and versatility of the machines have improved, and they are portable. The question is, how do you maximize your time on the ball machine? Remember that practice makes permanent; it does not necessarily make perfect.
First of all, decide on your objective for each session. Break it down into categories: stroke improvement, offensive shots, defensive shots, working on hitting spin, hitting against spin, specific shot selection (example: return of serve), hitting balls (and hitting against balls) that have depth and pace, hitting shots that have little pace, lobbing off of the machine’s shot, returning a machine-lobbed ball with a hard groundstroke, lobbing a lob, etc.
You can add new items to your list by watching the many good videos of the pros online. But, first, start with a basic plan to use the machine properly for stroke improvement. It will give you an anchor, a place to return if you are struggling. I watch players set up the machine to hit forehands, for example, and that is the last thought given before the first ball comes flying out of the machine.
State your objective: “Today, I am going to work on my forehand crosscourt and forehand down the line. I will set the machine to hit the ball deep to the forehand corner at a medium pace so that I can return the line. I will set the machine to hit the ball deep to the forehand corner at a medium pace so that I can return to the center of the court between each stroke. I will not camp out in the corner. I will force myself to take the paddle back as soon as I leave the center of the court so that I am prepared to hit the ball when I get to the corner. As I take my paddle back, I will bend my knees so that I can adjust to the height and pace of the coming ball.
“I will focus on the ball as it comes flying out of the machine and I will track the ball over the net and keep my head down as I watch the ball bounce then make contact with my paddle. I will stay down through the follow-through so that I can quickly return to the center of the court in preparation for the next shot. Each and every shot I hit will be a deliberate stroke placed deep to the opposing forehand corner.”
You should begin by hitting just crossscourts. Then do a round of down-the-line forehands. Wait a second longer to hit the ball down the line but be sure to keep your head down as your body forms a tripod over the shot. Then do a round of alternating crosscourts then down-the-line shots. You can make any combination—for example, two crosscourts, one down the line—to keep yourself fresh when you drill.
This drill is strictly for stroke improvement. Don’t set the machine to hit too hard or too frequently. You want to think of yourself being videoed on every shot for an instructional video. Hold that position. Exaggerate your follow-through. Footwork and fundamentals are the key to stroke improvement. Next, do the same basic drill on your backhand, crosscourt and down the line. Then add hitting down the middle because this shot is so important in pickleball. Then add the ball machine hitting the ball down the middle. In this case, you should practice standing on both the forehand and backhand sides, taking the center shot on both your forehand and your backhand. If you have a partner, you can alternate shots. From both sides you should be able to hit the opponents’ corners and center. Think about taking the angle away from the opponents in pickleball. Most players hit better moving to the ball so try jamming them. Work on that center shot off the ball machine as you work on your fundamentals.
This gets tedious so you need to throw in some fun drills. Work on your offensive game. Start by setting the ball machine to hit crosscourt to your forehand well inside the baseline. You drive the ball down the line, go to the NVZ (No Volley Zone) line, and volley the ball to the backhand corner. Set a target a foot inside the corner. Race back to the baseline and repeat. Then, for the next round, drive to the center, go in and volley to the center. The next round on the machine, drive to the center, volley a forehand, back up, and hit a reset drop to the kitchen.
You are continually moving up and back. You can also hit a forehand, move in slightly, hit a reset, go to the NVZ line, hit a volley, then back up for a reset, back to the baseline and start the sequence all over again. Work on offensive shots from both sides and from the middle. Drive the ball. Put the volleys away. Put out cones for targets. While the reset is not offensive, it does give you time to set up the other offensive shots in the drill.
Next come the defensive drills. Increase the depth, pace, and frequency of the ball machine shots to the point of pushing yourself while still being capable of completing the drills. Aim the ball machine to push you wide, clear off the court. Learn to hit a defensive lob using good stroke production as you lift and carry the ball back into play. Try a topspin lob. Try an easier slice. Aim for that backhand corner. Put targets out so that you can gauge your depth. Focus on keeping the high part of the lob arc over the NVZ line. Stay with the shot so that the ball stays on your paddle as long as possible.
If you are a singles player, you definitely want to learn to hit a high, deep, offensive backhand to push your opponent back. It is a great return of serve shot since your opponent cannot serve and volley. It puts him in a defensive position on the court. Tailor your drills to your style of play. Learn throughout your drilling what you need to spend more time on and what you do well. You need to know the shots you can count on when the match gets close. Drilling helps you know your own game, your strengths, and what shots you can hit with confidence.
The ball machine can be useful in teaching you how to play with and against the wind and with a crosswind. You can set up the machine with the wind, for example, and you can experiment with hitting the ball higher over the net into the wind. When hitting with the wind, practice staying down so that you maximize your control by not lofting the ball. In a crosswind, learn to hit on the “high” side or upwind, so the ball drifts into the court rather than drifting wide outside.
The ball machine gives you a chance to repeat the same shot, to experiment, to groove and refine, and to push yourself physically. It builds muscle memory. You must have a disciplined practice where you have clear objectives and goals. Be creative and make it fun. Design your drills to suit the number of players and the level of play without compromising on the focus on fundamentals throughout each exercise.
The Need For Speed
OK, let’s be honest. For many of us, pickleball is like a drug. We are “addicted!” Addicted to hitting that little plastic ball, addicted to the sound it makes coming off our paddles, addicted to learning and getting better, addicted to the “social scene” and more! We just can’t help it! However, the “need for speed” in the case of pickleball has quite a different meaning.
Now, of course, we see addiction to pickleball as a good and healthy thing (note: if it becomes unhealthy, you might seek counseling). When people first start playing, they are told about and (mostly) understand the value of dinking. That being said, typically, after one or two dinks, they feel... (wait, wait, here it comes...) the need for speed! Right? Whether the player comes from tennis or badminton, racquetball or squash, the ability (or patience) to dink more than a few shots is not there. The dink is unlike any shot in the above-listed sports so our tolerance to it is low. In response, we trend toward what we do know—SPEED!
In most cases, speed is a good thing. However, in pickleball, the opposite is true. The slower the ball and the more unattackable the dink, the more successful the outcome. While we are seeing more and more speed in the current game, we are primarily seeing it after a player has leveraged his/her dink or third shot to earn a waist/chest-high ball. So how does a player effectively learn how to fight “the urge”?
As with any challenging situation, you must have patience and discipline to develop confidence. Therefore, the best medicine for this addiction is practice!
Many love the “Popcorn” drill. Wait, what? I get to eat popcorn and play pickleball? Not exactly, but this exercise will help satiate your appetite. Stand in the middle of the non-volley zone across the net from your practice partner, who is also in the middle of the non-volley zone; start a dink rally trying to make the shot hit the top of the net and still land in your partner’s NVZ. When this happens, yell, “Popcorn!” Play to 3 or 5 (or whatever number suits you) and switch directions.
Once your dink tolerance is up to 20-30 shots, you will be able to intentionally construct a point and earn that opportunity for SPEED that you so desire!! I look forward to seeing you on the courts—along with all the other addicts!
The Importance of the Dynamic Warmup
Want a leg up over your opponents? Here’s how to do it. The warmup should be the first component of any sports performance training program. It’s imperative to have an effective dynamic, or active, warmup. This will boost body temperature, increase blood flow to the active muscles, activate muscle
groups, stimulate the nervous system, and enhance joint mobility. Performing a dynamic warmup correctly prepares the body for competition, training or practice, while at the same time helping to decrease the potential for injury.
Competitive and professional athletes will warm up and cool down every time they play because it is part of their ingrained, trusted and proven routine. They know the importance of an effective dynamic warmup so they will always make it a priority before beginning any training, practice or competition. Unfortunately, for the amateur athlete, this tends to be the first (or second thing if you count the cooldown) that gets overlooked. We justify not warming up correctly by saying, “I’m running late,” “I don’t want to keep people waiting for me,” “It’s just a rec game,” “I’ll warm up as the game goes along,” “I’ll use the first game as a warmup,” “It’s just for fun”—Do any of these sound familiar?
No matter who we are playing against, whether it’s a rec game, competition, or training, we need to first prepare our body to move effectively so we can play longer, harder and, at the same time, help reduce the risk of injury. The warmer the temperature the easier a time we have “warming up”; the colder the temperature the harder time the body has—so why not give it a helping hand? Besides, it’s the only one we’ve got.
These are the benefits of a dynamic warmup:
1 - A warm body allows for increased range of motion, allowing the body mechanics to move effectively and exert force through movement. 2 - Increased blood flow and oxygen to the muscles aid in enhancing performance by increasing aerobic energy production for prolonged activity. 3 - Your performance is improved through warmup because using functional movements can increase the rate at which you learn skills and help accelerate the rate of training. 4 - Lowering the resistance in the muscles, tendons and ligaments results in an increased range of motion and also helps decrease muscle and joint stiffness. Examples of exercises you can include in your dynamic warmup are: (Perform each exercise for 15-20 seconds.)
1 – March or jog in place This starts the body moving, increasing blood flow and oxygen throughout the body—essentially waking the body up. 2 – Squats Squats are extremely effective at activating the big muscle groups in the lower body. Quadriceps and hamstrings are activated and the glutes start firing. Shift hips back. Knees track out over feet, but not past toes. Keep the majority of your body weight in your heels. 3 – Arm scoops with hamstring stretch Stick out your foot with toes flexed up. Shift hips back. Circle opposite arm up to the sky and around, stretching down toward the flexed foot. Circle 4-5 times then switch foot and arm to other side. This exercise works on shoulder mobility and flexibility as well as actively lengthening the hamstring for play. 4 – Chest openers These activate both chest and back muscles. Cross arms in front, then swing to the back, squeezing shoulder blades together. 5 – Lunge with rotation Lunges engage the glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps. By adding the upper body rotation (rotating toward the front leg), flexibility as well as core activation and ankle stabilization come into play.
HOW TO MOVE MORE EFFECTIVELY AT THE NO VOLLEY ZONE LINE
Good players seem to move in sync with one another. They do a tango of sorts at the NVZ line while managing to stay out of each other’s way and still have one person having a clear shot. Lesser players collide. They smack paddles. They hesitate. They apologize.
What is it about moving along the NVZ line that propels good teams to success? Are the positions the same for women’s doubles, men’s doubles, and mixed doubles? Where do you start if you want to move
better at the NVZ line?
First, you need to think about the geometry involved. The shot you
hit enables your opponents to have multiple shots or fewer shots. For example, a crosscourt return gives your opponent the opportunity to hit a deep crosscourt back or a sharp angle crosscourt, as well as a down-the-line shot or a lob. Your partner has to cover at least four options.
Whereas, if you had returned down the middle of the court, your opponent most likely will hit a shot that passes over the center of the net or close to it. Your partner can poach? Think “give an angle, get an angle.” If your angle is weak, your partner will pay the price. So, your chance of moving knowledgeably at the NVZ is much less than if you had eliminated the angles available. You must know and use your geometry.
Next, you need to develop shots that cut down the opponents’ choices. Learn to serve deep down the middle and return deep down the middle. Learn to hit your overheads with good footwork so you can angle the ball away. If the opportunity is there, be able to keep the ball deep and wait for a shorter lob. When you practice, practice shots that have
Now you’re ready to get to the NVZ line and move in tandem with your partner. Let’s begin with women’s doubles and assume that the ability level of each partner is similar. I spoke with Marne Smith, certified IPTPA and PPR pickleball instructor in Franklin, Tennessee, about her body position at the line. She said to “always keep your back straight and your knees bent as this helps you keep the opponent in your line of sight.”
Your primary objective at the NVZ line is to make sure that there is no opening, no easy shot available to your opponents. That means the middle must be covered. You also want to win, so that means there needs to be some poaching going on. But the poach can’t leave half the court open. Most women have decent groundstrokes and can pass you when given an opening. The poach in women’s doubles must be a good one. I view the poach as an aggressive, take-charge shot. Marne added,
“I poach when I know my partner has been pulled out of court or is in trouble getting to the NVZ line.”
Communicate. Tell your partner where you’re going to return the ball. You can also signal with hand motions behind the net woman’s back whether or not she is going to poach and/or cross. Hand signals give you a jump on the play. Sometimes they also unnerve the opponents because they know you’re up to something.
You don’t want your partner to be surprised so the more she knows the better, so you can move in tandem. You must return effectively, and she must move.
Marne always says “Yours” or “Mine” when she is covering the
return of serve, “as it’s usually in the middle and that takes all doubt out of that next shot,” she explained. She also says “Yours” or “Mine” when it’s in the middle of the NVZ. Since she usually plays with her identical twin sister, she does not use hand signals since they have that “wonderful osmosis thing going on.”
Rule #1 is the player closer to the net has priority. The player farther back can see the partner in front. The person returning the ball can see the partner at net. The player closer to the ball has priority. No need to get way out of position in women’s doubles. Consistent volleys win women’s doubles. Deep volleys and good court position at the NVZ are the objective.
If the ball is returned down the middle and no poach takes place, both players on the receiving side should move to the middle of their respective NVZ lines. If the opponents hit the next ball down the middle, the partner on the left side has an easier reach to take the ball on her forehand. Most right-handed players move better to the right even though their backhands might be their better shot. So, you let the player move to her right to cover the center. Both players shift to the side where the ball is hit.
In other words, players form a cone to cover the logical shot. The player closer to the ball can play toes to the NVZ line. The farther player can drop back a couple of feet unless the ball is short, and a short angle is possible. Women’s doubles mean court coverage with lateral movement always bisecting the angle of the ball.
Mixed doubles are more complicated because power is an added factor and the woman is the target. Poaching is essential. The man is positioned toward the center of the court. He has priority on all balls. Priority does not mean he takes them all, it just means priority. The woman is the backup. She must shift along the line to cover the center when he is out of position.
Intimidation is a major factor so the male player must be ready to take chances. Lobbing the woman
can keep him back off the net. Then they must reestablish position at the NVZ. The woman
must make the other man work. A good lob can keep him off that center mark at the NVZ line. Her goal is to volley deep to keep the ball in play and to give her partner time
to poach. And, she must move to allow him full access to overheads. Then she must reestablish her position at the NVZ line.
As long as the man can cover the lobs, the woman
can play close to the NVZ line. If she is getting lobbed to death, she needs to drop back off the line and take the lob away from the opponent. Movement along the NVZ line in mixed requires adjustment in order to keep the man dominant.
Men’s doubles requires speed to the NVZ line and depth of shots when you get there. It’s very important
that the first player to the ball has priority; men’s doubles requires control of the flow of play. Trust is an important element. Because men tend to be taller and have better reach at the net, men’s doubles requires a lot of shot making. They can reach the ball and have the power to hit it hard, but are they in position to cover the next shot? Movement along the NVZ is critical to stay out of
the partner’s way.
A good game to practice lateral movement is playing a game using only the NVZ itself. Serve inside the NVZ and move the ball around like a regular match. Practice covering the center when your partner is moved wide. Shift to maintain coverage of the center. Determine who will hit the center ball so that both players are not leaving the angle shots open. Give an angle, get an angle. Sometimes hitting straight on at the person is more effective because it offers fewer options to them.
Learn to move in tandem so that once you get to the line in a real match, you’re comfortable with the flow of angles, misdirections, and body shots. A second drill for lateral movement is to practice serving, returning down the middle, and require a poach. Or serve, return down the line, and close in a cone shape centered on the ball. Set up patterns that require correct movement to the NVZ line. Players should come in following the line of ball. They should play a full game requiring specific shots. You need to learn your strengths and the consequences of your weaknesses.
Moving laterally should be fluid. It helps some players to point their paddles at the ball as they move into the net, sort of like sighting a rifle. The paddle carries you forward. Once you have arrived at the NVZ line you still need to keep your eyes forward on the ball while you position your body to stay balanced for the stroke or volley.
Good dinkers often look like crabs. They keep low and don’t get their feet crossed. Just because the area to be covered is not large does not mean that you can hesitate.
Know your geometry, communicate, and trust.
BALL SPEED AND REACTION TIME?
Pickleball is fast. Tennis is fast. We know that. Both sports test every fiber of our eye-brain reaction skills. But how do they compare to one another?
First let’s compare the court length. Baseline to baseline in tennis is 78 feet. Pickleball is 44 feet, almost half the distance. How does this affect reaction time? For purposes of comparison, let’s use a ball speed of 40 miles per hour, which is a ball speed commonly achieved by intermediate pickleball and tennis players.
A 40 MPH average-height groundstroke tennis ball travels baseline to baseline in about 2 seconds. Buckle up your seatbelt pickleball players, because pickleball baseline groundstrokes cut your reaction time in half—just one second. That’s not much time when you consider how you have to react to your opponent’s shot, which includes determining the incoming ball’s direction, speed, arc, and spin!
Let’s analyze this further. On each side of the net, one-half second elapses with a groundstroke hit
at 40 MPH. To simplify what this means, pickleball players must use the half second that the ball is still on their opponent’s side of the net to determine the incoming ball’s direction, speed, arc, and spin.
By the time the incoming ball has crossed the net coming your way, you will need to turn in the direction you have to move and start to prepare your paddle. Then, as you move to the ball (note that the ball has not even bounced yet!), you will need to not only position your feet on balance to hit the shot, but you will also need to decide how and where you will hit that same ball back over the net!
Final thoughts? Don’t let anyone tell you that pickleball is an easy sport to play. But don’t let them tell you it is a difficult sport to play either! Compared to tennis, it may be easier to start playing for the average person, but know this—it is definitely a fast game requiring
Joe Dinoffer is a master professional in the USPTA and PTR, has written nine books, produced 22 DVDs, and has appeared on the Tennis Channel. His company, , manufactures training aids for pickleball and tennis, and he shares that experience and passion in this regular column for Pickleball Magazine. He has also produced dozens of pickleball tips for YouTube.
Key Habit of a Highly Effective Pickleball Player
We all have a conscience and we know what’s right and wrong when it comes to emotional displays on the pickleball court.
By James Hackenberg
We’ve all heard it before, right? Probably from our parents, or maybe it’s something we said to our children. I’m writing this article in hopes that someday I can “Do what I say” or “Walk the talk.” In reading this article, maybe you can identify with my situation and make a commitment to change a behavior on the pickleball court.
A little background... I’ve always been a hothead, especially when it came to my performance as an athlete. I can’t stand personal failure. I often base my self-worth on performance, not only in sports, but in all aspects of my life. I’m not proud of it, but in high school while on the tennis team, I made John McEnroe look like a choirboy. Tennis racquets were made of wood back then and they broke very easily.
In my career as a training specialist, I made sure I was fully prepared for my training sessions. I lived in fear I would forget something or look foolish. Even after being retired more than 16 years, I still have dreams that I walk into a training classroom and am not prepared. Fear of failure still haunts me, but there is hope—even for me. I know what to do, and I’ll tell others what to do... now I have to do it!
One of the most rewarding experiences as a corporate trainer was teaching Steven A. Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” My wife will tell you I was at my best behavior while teaching that class. I was actually walking the talk, so I know I can do it again. Writing this article is, hopefully, my first step in getting back to being that person. I could easily modify the title of the course to “7 Habits of Highly Effective Pickleball Players.” Each of the seven habits has something to offer, not only to improve your behavior, but also your game. However, for the purpose of this article I’ll focus on Habit 1: Be Proactive.
You might think that being proactive means don’t procrastinate, or plan ahead, but in this case being proactive means to avoid being reactive. You’ve heard about the Stimulus/Response studies done with Pavlov’s dog. Well, unfortunately, some of us react just like Pavlov’s dog when we make an unforced error on the pickleball court. Stimulus: Make an Error. Response: Anger in various forms. But we’re not conditioned animals. Humans have something Covey calls “The 4 Human Endowments.” By tapping into these 4 Human Endowments we create a small gap between the stimulus and our response to the stimulus. These endowments are:
4. Independent Will
In other words, as humans, we have the ability to assess the situation and make a choice on how we’re going to react. It doesn’t have to be an immediate stimulus/response. In simpler terms, it’s the old adage of “count to 10 before you act.” So how do these 4 Human Endowments look on the pickleball court?
You and your partner are in a tough match. You’ve just made another unforced error and are ready to really let loose—or react. Self-awareness means you can still look at the big picture: Is this life or death? Are you getting some exercise and competition? Are people watching you? There are probably four or five more questions to help you put it all in perspective.
Now, imagine what it will be like if you blow up and lose your temper. If you cuss, throw your paddle or scream at yourself, what’s the probable result? Technical Warning or Technical Foul? Look like a fool in front of people watching? Upset your partner? On the flip side, imagine taking the shot in stride, knowing you can’t replay it. You can only reset and focus on the next point. Imagine even making a little joke to calm yourself down— anything other than the negative reaction you normally display.
We all have a conscience and we all know what’s right or wrong when it comes to emotional displays on the pickleball court. A brief second to tap into our conscience will help us make the right choice, which is independent will.
Here is where we make the final decision on how we will react to the stimulus of our unforced error. We have the freedom to choose our response to anything that happens to us. So, a little unforced error on the pickleball court should be something very easy to deal with, even for a hothead like me. This article is as much a therapy session for me—“Hi, I’m Jim and I’m a hothead”—as it is meant for you. So, if I see you get upset on the court and try to help you calm down, let it go, relax and refocus. I hope I don’t end up saying, “Do as I say, not as I do!” Hopefully I’ll be walking the talk. •
4 Game Changers You Need to Know
You probably know that in the summer of 1965 pickleball was invented on Bainbridge Island, off the coast of Seattle, Washington. Today, pickleball continues to be the fastest growing sport in the world and is loved by millions and millions of players throughout the world.
BUT DID YOU KNOW… several times throughout the history of the game, pickleball could have died. There was little activity, no one spreading the word and the fun—poof—it could have been gone, just like that. Here are four big Game Changers that kept our sport alive:
#1: 1975 Full-Page Newspaper Story in The National Observer
“What sports needs is a great leveler, a game in which victory doesn’t favor the player who is fastest, tallest, brawniest, youngest or even the most athletic. Stifle the snickering. Pickleball isn’t funny. It’s fun.” The article explains how to get a starter set for pickleball at home. The newspaper article even touches on “The Proper Uniform,” which teasingly says, “Women should wear tennis shoes, orange body suit, puffy polka-dot hat, and dark glasses. Men should wear tennis shoes and cut-offs.” So funny!
Founder Barney McCallum did share with us, “If you had to point to one thing (that promoted pickleball
beyond our area), that article was it!” And we can just picture Barney explaining the women’s uniform with his mischievous smile.
#2: Trade Shows
In conjunction with 1972’s passing of Title IX (gender equality in education and athletics), which had to be implemented by 1978, pickleball was presented at sporting trade shows trying to share what the game was and how organizations could order the equipment. This led to having a booth at several yearly trade shows including School & Education, Parks & Recreation, and campgrounds.
#3: The Composite Paddle
Arlen Paranto invented and produced the first composite pickleball paddle in the early 1980s. The paddle was made from scrap material from Boeing Aircraft, where he worked. He also crafted and invented an edge guard (which is still used today) to protect the core and layers of the paddle from delamination. No more wood paddles! These new composite paddles were much lighter and easier to maneuver, and created new buzz about the game.
#4: Sid Williams and the USAPA
Sid Williams ran many, and the only, tournaments in the 1980s, giving pickleballers the competition they craved. He founded the first USAPA in March 1984 in Tacoma, Washington, which stood for United States Amateur Pickleball Association. His persistence and dedication laid the foundation for today’s tournaments and USAPA, which recently updated its name to Sid Williams USA Pickleball.
Now you can have peace of mind like us, knowing how our favorite sport survived and that it’s alive and well—and will live forever.
Excerpts from the book “History of Pickleball – More Than 50 Years of Fun!” where these game changers, and more, are explained in depth, including the whole story of our wonderful
How To Play Your Best Pickleball!
Let’s face it, pickleball has arrived and is here to stay. It’s no longer merely considered a game— it’s become a competitive sport, with prize money for Pro divisions increasing year by year. As with most sports, it requires certain attributes to be successful. In addition to drilling and practicing your pickleball skills, mobility, stability, functional movement, strength, power and agility are necessary physical requirements for any athlete to perform at a high level. But where do you start when you’re not sure how to improve your physical attributes?
Mobility is the foundation of all movement, and should be at the top of the list when starting to work on improving your physical capabilities.
Once adequate mobility has been achieved, it’s important to develop stability in order to control our body while performing athletic movements. With stability and mobility established, you can start training functional movements, which include various basic movements such as a squat or more advanced pickleball-specific movements such as side steps, lunges, shuffle steps, etc.
Once you have developed proper mobility, and flexibility, stability, and can perform functional movements, it’s time to start adding strength training. At this point, we know the body can perform all necessary movements, and therefore loading the body with weight training has a decreased risk for injury. Finally, the last step is to develop power, which is the ability to exert a maximal amount of force in the shortest time possible, therefore leading to more explosive movements, and improving performance over time.
Step 1: Mobility
This is the foundation of all athletic prowess (beyond talent and skill). It is the base of our pyramid and should not be overlooked. Can someone perform well without good mobility? In the short term, possibly, but down the line, a lack of mobility is bound to lead to injuries. Mobility (and flexibility) are the most basic requirement of athletic performance, as it enables our body to move efficiently while maintaining its structure and integrity with athletic movements. Skipping this step in your training would be a vital mistake as adding strength training and power development on top of a poor mobility baseline is a recipe for disaster, and ultimately has been shown to lead to injury. Consulting a movement specialist (no matter what your level of play) such as a Physical Therapist who can help identify impairments is a great first step if you are unsure of how to develop adequate mobility.
Step 2 & 3: Stability and Functional Movement
Once Mobility has been established/restored, it’s important to develop stability around your joint in order to decrease your injury risk while performing athletic movements. In addition, improving/perfecting basic functional movements is key to ensure we are prepared for all the different movements required in pickleball. Functional movements include squats, lunges, hopping, jumping, balancing, etc. A good thing to incorporate in your training is something called Multiplanar Training. This is often overlooked as people focus solely on the necessary skills required for their sport. However, adding this in your training will greatly improve your performance. There are three planes of motion and Pickleball movements occur in each of them simultaneously.
The frontal plane bisects the body into front and back halves. Movements in this plane include sidestepping and bending sideways, as when someone hits a dink wide to you.
The transverse plane divides the body to create upper and lower halves and generally refers to motion that rotates or pivots, such as with serving, overheads, forehands, backhands, and sudden changes of direction.
The sagittal plane bisects the body into two halves (left and right) and motion in this plane includes running forward, backward, and bending forward (or backward). Of the three planes, the transverse plane poses the greatest challenges to balance and dynamic stability and most lower extremity injuries occur during transverse plane movements. However, the majority of traditional strength and conditioning exercises occur in the sagittal plane. Typical exercises include bicep curls, chest press, push-ups, running, and cycling (all sagittal plane movements). By training exclusively in the sagittal plane it’s impossible to effectively prepare a pickleball player for all movements of the game.
Step 4 & 5: Strength and Power
Strength and Power can be developed after Steps 1-3, and also need to be trained in multiple planes of motion. To learn drills and exercises encompassing multiplanar training, visit for more information and video demonstrations. •
The Science of Spin
Spin can be a powerful weapon. It can complicate your opponent’s decision-making, occasionally causing confusion and even earning you some extra free points.
If a sport is played using a ball, there’s spin; baseball pitchers throw curve balls, football quarterbacks spin passes, and table tennis players put spin on nearly every shot.
Spinning pickleballs can curve in the air, skid on the ground, and fly off the opponent’s paddle in unexpected directions, yet most recreational players never intentionally add this element to their game. Pickleball instructors tend to avoid talking about spin entirely, treating it as a distraction from the important fundamentals of the game. But spin can be a powerful weapon, especially in serves and returns. It can complicate your opponent’s decision-making, occasionally causing confusion and even earning you some extra free points.
What is spin, exactly? Most people think of it as something simple—either a ball has spin or it doesn’t. But there are three different types of spin, and each affects the behavior of the ball differently:
1.Topspin and backspin – when the ball rotates forward (topspin) or backward (backspin). The most common topspin shots in pickleball are the serve and the roll shot at the NVZ line. To add topspin, brush the paddle upward against the ball. It will sink more quickly than a no-spin ball. When it hits the ground, it will skid forward. And when the opponent hits it, the ball will go high and deep. To add backspin, turn your body sideways, chop diagonally downward, and hit the ball “on the chin,” striking it just below the centerline. Give it enough backspin and your opponent might return it into the net. Be careful though. Backspin balls tend to float, so if you hit one too hard, it will keep going right past the baseline and out of bounds!
2.Sidespin – where the ball rotates around a vertical axis running from the top of the ball to the bottom. Drag the paddle across the ball from right to left, and it will rotate clockwise and curve right. Drag the paddle the other way and the ball will curve left. Although sidespin affects the ball’s flight and how it comes off the opponent’s paddle, it has no effect whatsoever on how the ball bounces, because the ball is spinning like a top and there is no rotation at the point where it contacts the ground. If you’re receiving a sidespin shot, watch which direction your opponent’s paddle moves, because that’s the direction that the ball will tend to go if you ignore the spin. To compensate, either aim in the opposite direction (easy), or put your own counter-spin on the ball (tricky!).
3.Cork spin (or rifling) – Rare and often overlooked, the axis of rotation for this spin runs directly from you to your opponent. Think of a football quarterback throwing a nice spiraling pass. In football it doesn’t matter much which direction the ball spins, but it matters a lot in pickleball because even though cork spin doesn’t affect the flight of the ball or its behavior coming off the opponent’s paddle, it has a huge effect if the ball hits the ground. The bottom surface of the ball is spinning rapidly to the right or left, so the ball will skid hard to the side. It’s impossible to hit a ball with pure cork spin because you must impart some forward speed to the ball. So, cork spin can only be used in combination with other spin, typically with sidespin.
To combine cork spin and sidespin in a serve return, wait for when a serve is hit wide to your forehand (right-handed player). Step into the ball, extend your right arm out, then draw the paddle back down at a 45-degree angle to the net, striking the ball low and on the right side. (If the ball were a human head, you’d be hitting it on the jawbone on your right side.) The ball will curve to your right, and then when it hits the ground the cork spin will cause it to skid even farther to the right, making for a difficult adjustment for the server. The same shot can be hit on the backhand side by striking the left “jawbone” of the ball.
Remember, be careful with spin. It can give you an advantage, especially over a naive opponent, but it also adds risk. If you want to use spin in a competitive situation, make sure you are in a position of strength, and only use spin shots that you have practiced and that you can use with confidence. •
When to Attack
What is your favorite shot in pickleball? It’s the SLAM, the TAG, the FINISH—basically any ball that you can attack, right? How many times do you SLAM a ball that you thought was attackable and it winds up in the bottom of the net?
One of the biggest struggles when coaching pickleball players of all levels is to help easily identify which balls to attack, which to reset and which to dink. An easy visualization that every player can relate to is using the traffic light analogy by correlating the body to a visual traffic light.
If the contact point of the ball is below the mid-thigh, return the shot with a dink or a reset ball. As a player, if you are receiving a ball that has a downward trajectory, the best reply is a dink or a reset. Think SLOW and dink when the contact point is low.
If the contact point of the ball is between the upper thigh and the bottom of the rib cage, the player can start to experiment with attacking and resetting the ball. The trajectory of the ball in the yellow zone is typically not an extreme angle and allows for players to BANG or SLAM away. Players must stay in control of the shot and recognize when to reset the ball when out of control. Take CAUTION because the yellow zone has several shot options.
If the contact point of the ball is above the ribs, SWING away and have fun. The trajectory of the receiving ball travels from high to low allowing aggressive shots to FINISH the point. The light is GREEN so go for it and keep your opponents on the defensive. Now, when playing a match, think of the lights and you’ll know when to attack! •
A Serious Conversation About Drilling
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 Monday 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.
Saturday 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.
1. 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.
2. Focus on early preparation. Take your paddle back as soon as your opponent strikes the ball and you realize the trajectory of the ball.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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:
1. 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. 2. A scissor step is used to go backward on balance. 3. 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. 4. Work on light footwork and staying balanced at all times. 5. Power comes from the back leg pushing up and into the ball via your hips and shoulders. 6. Use cones for targets. Accuracy is more important than power. 7. 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. 8. Practice hitting deep overheads to the center and to the corners. 9. 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.” 10. 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.
‘In My Defense’
As a student of the game of pickleball, I’ve attended numerous boot camps and clinics, taken private lessons, and watched nearly every instructional video on YouTube (you know, the ones posted by Scott Moore, Pickle Pong Deb, Jason Brinoes, Sarah Ansboury, Daniel Moore, Simone Jardim, Coach Dave, Rusty, Tony, and, well, you get the idea). I desperately want to improve my pickleball game, but as an athlete of only modest natural talents, improvement comes at a maddeningly slow pace.
I also wish to see gradual improvement in the level of play in my local community because I assume most other players also wish to get better (which I realize is not a universal mindset) and, more selfishly, because playing against better competition will make me a better player.
Being a student of technique and strategy, I often notice simple things other players could do to improve their game. Sometimes these players are more talented than I am, but believing that a rising tide lifts all boats, I frequently ask for permission to speak anyway.
After a recent game, I asked my partner if I could share an observation I thought might improve his game. He said yes, so I told him I noticed that whenever he was forced to run from the back line for a ball in the kitchen, he always lobbed, which resulted in our having the ball crammed down our throats every time.
I mentioned the strategic principle “When in trouble, dink cross-court,” and explained the rationales for doing so (i.e., that it would make the ball un-attackable, would give him more room for error, and would give him more time to get back in position before the opponents hit the ball again). His reply: “Well, in my defense, most people would have never gotten to those balls.” I remained silent, but thought to myself: “What’s that got to do with anything? And why on Earth would you feel the need to ‘defend’ yourself?”
I know from 40+ years of playing competitive volleyball that some people hate being coached by other players. I’m just not one of them. If a teammate sees me falling into a bad habit during a game, like not dropping my inside shoulder when I pass a ball that’s off axis, I want them to tell me so I can make an adjustment, and I thank them for doing so. Unfortunately for me, I sometimes ignore the fact that not everyone thinks like I do.
In a recent match, my partner kept stepping into the court after serving, and the opponents kept returning deep, forcing her to back up. After plopping her thirdshot drop short of the net for about the sixth time, I said, “You’re stepping into the court after your serve and they are pushing you back. It’s hard to make a good shot when you are moving backward.”
She replied, “I know what I’m doing,” and let me know that she didn’t appreciate my comment. I later apologized for not asking permission to speak—but found myself wondering how any of us, myself included, can ever hope to improve if we practice making the same mistakes over and over.
If you ever play with me, know that my motto is: “If you see something, say something.” Even if I think you are wrong, I will simply say, “Thank you.”