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:
1. Self-Awareness 2. Imagination 3. Conscience 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?
Self-Awareness 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.
Imagination 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.
Conscience 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.
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. •
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 sport.
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. •
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. •
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.
Red Zone 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.
Yellow Zone 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.
Green Zone 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! •
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.
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.”
During this awkward time we’re living in, pickleball pros and other passionate players around the world have participated in some good “new-fashioned” fun.
Some of you created videos and tutorials on how- to’s and what-to’s and did at-home interviews. And of course, we hope you’ve seen some of the awesome virtual video rallies that several pros, youth, brands, and international friends have done—so cool!
Players have creatively built courts at home, practiced drills, stayed fit and healthy (or maybe that’s still on your to-do list), and created at-home challenges for themselves and others, all to connect with the pickleball community near and far.
Some states luckily never closed their pickleball courts, and players there continued with round robins, charity events and even tournaments. Sadly, this has not been our reality.
What have we been doing in California as the changing closed/not closed/closed courts have been happening? Together we have enjoyed a lot of skinny singles. And I mean a lot! We meet up at a friend’s private court (thank goodness we have some connections—and friends!) and we battle against each other for hours. We both love this drill (only this drill!). When we play, we often reminisce about the many years we competed against each other in numerous Open Singles finals at both Nationals and Tournament of Champions.
Other pros and players whose local courts were closed also had to get creative. Here is a small sample of how some of our addicted pickleball player friends have continued to get their “fix” while social distancing.
• Michael, from Ottawa, Ontario, shared with us that his ball machine is getting him through these tough times with drilling 1 to 2 hours a day. • Ilana, from Kingston, Ontario, chalked and taped out a court on her street and helped spread the love by writing this on her homemade court: “Pickleball…(silly name BUT… best game ever!) Google it.” • Another Ontario friend, Vic, from St. Thomas, said she’s happy to get invited to play on a friend’s private court and included “Long Live Pickleball!” • Wayne is a pickleball instructor from Sarnia, Ontario, who created a dink station in the garage and attempted to practice with his wife. The teacher learned a few lessons about his lovely wife—she uses every opportunity to attack, and her line calls are terrible! He doesn’t think their dink skills have improved, but they are having fun and many laughs.
The pros, thanks to help from Simone Jardim and the Eddie & Webby podcast, held virtual men’s and women’s Easter Bowl tournaments—one-on-one competition using various pickleball “skills.” Be sure to check them out, especially if you want to see the silly events they competed in—like Alex using a skillet to hit volleys against an ironing board. Wonder who won that round? Find these funny “Easter Bowl Challenges” on Simone’s YouTube channel.
Even businesses have gotten involved—a recent New York Times article asked, “Is Pickleball the Perfect Pandemic Pastime?” Naturally, we say YES.
And Margaritaville’s chief marketing officer, Tamara Baldanza Dekker, shared, “As we’re going through this together and trying to find things to do as a family or small group, it’s a perfect sport to take up.” Tamara also noted that Margaritaville has pickleball courts in each of its locations. Smart business decision!
We hope you are finding creative ways to continue your pickleball and, if not, we are glad we could share some ideas. Take care and see you on the courts … Soon!
Pickleball courts are opening up again for many of us, with restrictions and precautions—limited number of courts, limit on the number of players per court, sanitizing equipment, etc. As pickleball addicts, we don’t care—we’re just jonesing to hear the sweet sound of our paddle hitting that plastic pickleball. Now to reality. How do we come back from quarantine—a time stuck indoors with limited exercise, comply with restrictions and still play the sport we love? Here are some tips and drills so you can come back slowly and comply with whatever the restrictions are in your area.
1.Warming up is more important than ever. As pickleball players, we typically hit a couple of dinks, a couple of 3rds, maybe a few serves and returns, and we are ready to go. Even though your brain may say this kind of warm-up is OK, your body will suffer later. Before you play, make sure you elevate your heart rate with some sort of dynamic warm-up such as marching or jogging in place, butt kicks, touching your right hand or elbow to your left knee and vice versa (either in place or walking forward), and even skipping. Do this for at least five minutes—many of you will be surprised how winded you feel, but it’s OK, you have been off the court for a while. 2. Hydrate before you play. It’s probably been a while since most of us did any sweating on a pickleball court, so it’s really important to drink plenty of fluids at least a couple of hours before you play— even if it’s still cool outside where you are. 3. If you’re playing outside, wear sunscreen and remember to reapply every 2-3 hours. What about court restrictions? Many facilities are only allowing the same group of four to play on a court and some areas are only allowing singles. If you don’t like playing singles, even skinny singles, here’s a good drill that can be used either at the baseline or nonvolley zone. 1. Corner to Corner—players stand at the baseline on opposite sides of the net and hit either crosscourt or down the line. Players attempt to have a continuous rally where neither player can hit the same shot twice. For example, Player 1 cannot hit 2 forehands in a row. The purpose of this drill is to be able to accurately place groundstrokes/returns of serve.
2. Hydrate before you play. It’s probably been a while since most of us did any sweating on a pickleball court, so it’s really important to drink plenty of fluids at least a couple of hours before you play— even if it’s still cool outside where you are. 3. If you’re playing outside, wear sunscreen and remember to reapply every 2-3 hours. What about court restrictions? Many facilities are only allowing the same group of four to play on a court and some areas are only allowing singles. If you don’t like playing singles, even skinny singles, here’s a good drill that can be used either at the baseline or nonvolley zone.
1. Corner to Corner—players stand at the baseline on opposite sides of the net and hit either crosscourt or down the line. Players attempt to have a continuous rally where neither player can hit the same shot twice. For example, Player 1 cannot hit 2 forehands in a row. The purpose of this drill is to be able to accurately place groundstrokes/returns of serve.
2. Corner to Corner—players stand at the non-volley zone line on opposite sides of the net and hit either crosscourt or straight ahead. This is the same drill, except the goal is for the players to consistently move the dink around the court.
3. Corner to Corner variation—players must hit 2 forehands then 1 backhand and may take advantage of any attackable balls. Follow the restrictions, stay safe, be well, and most of all—have fun! •
Most people who have played pickleball for more than about 30 seconds know what a dink is. After all, it’s one of the most commonly used terms out on the court. Additionally, a large majority of players have a pretty good idea of how to dink and many times where to dink. But I wonder how many players thoroughly understand why you want to dink the ball.
When I teach lessons or conduct clinics, I’ll often ask what the purpose of a dink is. Invariably, I get a broad spectrum of responses. I’ve also received lots of blank stares! It’s clear many players, even very good ones, don’t know the reasons for dinking. But they have been told it’s a good idea, so they do it.
As with other athletic endeavors, each skill you perform should be done with intention and purpose. Dinking is no exception.
While there may be many variables involved with dinking, if we boil it all down to its roots, we are left with two primary purposes of a dink. What are they?
First, you want to try to keep the ball out of your opponent’s strike zone. You want to keep the ball low over the net which means the ball bounces low. A low bounce means your opponent cannot attack the ball. You take away any advantage the opponent might gain from a ball sitting up higher in their strike zone. Hitting the ball up higher puts the ball in your opponent’s strike zone (read, “power zone”) and allows them an opportunity to gain an advantage or to attack the ball. Keeping the ball down lower and closer to the net denies them this opportunity.
Second, you want to dink in a way to make your opponent uncomfortable. Don’t be content simply to bump the ball back right to the middle of your opponent’s stance. You must intentionally change the pace, spin, depth, or direction of the ball in order to cause your opponent to hit more difficult shots. They may make an error; however, this is not necessarily the goal. The goal is to pressure them to the point where they put a ball up into your strike zone. You then gain an advantage and have an opportunity to hurt them or attack the ball yourself. This may require you to adjust the pace or depth or width of your dink.
The bottom line is you must be intentional about what you are doing with your dinks. Hit them with a purpose!
Keep in mind, not all dinks are created equal. Your goal should not be to merely get the ball in- you can do better. At the same time, your goal should not be to hit winners too frequently- that is too risky. Your goal, i.e. your top two primary purposes, should be to keep the ball out of your opponents strike zone. This way they lack an opportunity to hurt you. You simultaneously ought to seek to make them uncomfortable so they will eventually put a ball up into your strike zone. Then you can use that as an opportunity to hurt them.
Deny your opponent opportunities. Create opportunities for yourself. Those are the two primary purposes of a dink.
Do you ever find the ball passing through openings between you and your partner? You’re not alone. This is a common problem in pickleball—especially at intermediate levels.
Keep these tips in mind to improve your court position—you’ll cover more ground and close those gaps.
Don’t be reactive In a basic sense, everyone moves to the ball. When the ball comes toward us, we quickly move toward it. Then, one of three things happen—we hit a good shot, we hit a bad shot, or we might not be able to get to the ball at all. This is called being “reactive.”
Be proactive When you or your partner hit the ball, you should move to a more desired court position. After you move, you might still have to react to hit the ball, but it will be much closer to you than if you hadn’t made a proactive move. By being in the correct position, you may even force your opponents to try to make a more difficult shot. Being proactive and moving toward the ball as it approaches should be your goal on nearly every shot.
Leave some of the court open To recap, if the ball is on the left side of the court, one player covers the line and the other partner covers the middle. But who is covering the right side of the court? We’re able to leave the right side (about a third of the court) open. If our opponents hit the ball to that side of the court, they can either hit it hard or soft. If they hit the ball hard, it will go out. If your opponents hit a good cross-court dink to the right side of the court, my partner will be able to take one or two steps over and easily get to the ball—as it will be traveling slowly.
When the backhand is the better shot Assuming you’re both right-handed players, when you and your partner hit the ball to the left side of the court, the person on the left will cover the line and the person on the right will cover the middle. This means that the person on the right will be covering the middle with his/her backhand. The person on the left will need to be focused on the line and stand quite close to it, as that will be his/her backhand.
More reach with forehand vs. backhand Stand facing the net and put your paddle in your right hand. Move the paddle to the left side of your body like you’re hitting a backhand. Think about how far you can reach. Now move your paddle into your left hand and see how much farther your paddle will reach. You have much more reach with a forehand than you do with the backhand. Keep this in mind when you’re deciding where to stand on the court. If you’re covering the line on the left side, hold your paddle out like you were going to hit a backhand. If you can reach the balls that are coming down the line, you’re standing in the right place. If you’re on the right side of the court and covering the line, reach out with your forehand. On this side you’ll be able to stand a little farther away from the sideline and still reach the balls that come down the line.
Keep this in mind when the balls are coming between you and your partner as well. The person who is on the right side of the court has less reach (backhand), so the person on the left will be able to reach more than halfway to his/her partner (see diagram 1). If you both put your paddles in your playing hand and reach out toward each other like you’re going to hit a ball, you’ll be able to check that you’re standing a good distance apart. The tips of your paddles should reach but not cross.
Taking your partner’s shot It’s extremely common for the wrong player to hit the ball. One frequent error is when a ball comes above the net halfway between you and your partner, and the player on the right hits the ball with his/her backhand. The player on the left would have had a much better shot with a forehand. Taking your partner’s shot can also leave you and/or your partner out of position.
When your partner gets moved off the court It’s important to pay attention to where your partner is on the court. If your opponents hit a great shot and your partner ends up off the side of the court, you’ll have to keep following the ball over toward your partner and cover more of the center of the court.
Playing with a lefty If you’re playing with a lefty, the only thing that changes is the distance between you and your partner. You have a lot more reach on your forehand side than you do with your backhand. When you’re playing with a lefty, you’ll either have both of your forehands in the middle or both of your backhands. When you both have your forehands in the middle, you’ll probably find it quite easy to get the balls in the middle as you have a lot more reach. You may be able to stand a little farther apart. When both of your backhands are in the middle, you have a lot less reach so you’ll want to pinch in closer together to avoid balls passing you down the middle.
When your partner doesn’t move After you learn how to move correctly on the court, it can become frustrating if your partner does not understand this strategy. There are a few things you can do—explain the moving philosophy and give him/her this article, deal with it, or find a new partner!
Communication Finally, communication is key. It’s important to talk to your partner, especially when the balls are hit down the middle of your team. This starts with the third shot and continues until the point ends. Be sure to say “me” or “you” as soon as you see the ball heading down the middle so that you and your partner can remain on the same page when executing all shots.
Tim Connor retired from a 33-year law enforcement career at the rank of Commander with the Farmington Hills, Michigan, Police Department. He received extensive training as a firearms instructor and in firearms range operation. As Bureau Commander, his duties included overseeing the department’s officer training and firearms training programs. For six years subsequent to that he served as supervisor of the U.S. government’s Investigative Support and Deconfliction Center, located in Detroit. There he coordinated the narcotics intelligence processing and enforcement efforts of federal, state, local and military personnel throughout Michigan. He continues to support the center on a contingent basis.
Retiring with his wife Diane to warm and sunny Tennessee, he’s been playing pickleball for about three years. His home pickleball court is the Fairfield Glade Racquet Center located at Fairfield Glade/Crossville, Tennessee.
In this article, Tim explains how combat shooting and pickleball are alike. You’ll be surprised by some of the similarities!
Basics Successfully defending yourself in a gunfight is mostly about training, repetition and developing near-instinctual muscle and mental memory; in other words, preparation.
Success on the court is also mostly about these same elements of preparation.
Position In tactical situations, such as felony vehicle stops or other high-risk felony arrests, police officers attempt to minimize the inherent danger by preselecting the location and methods to be used for the take-down, thereby providing them the position of advantage. Oftentimes, however, where the confrontation occurs is determined by the bad guy. Officers are trained to move to cover (which provides impenetrable protection) and concealment (which provides a smaller visible target) if circumstances allow; the tactical advantage then (and the probability of victory) shifts back in the officer’s favor. If obtaining an optimal shooting position is not possible, they dig in and defend against the threat where they stand. When forced to fight from a position of disadvantage, a well-trained officer can utilize the other elements of solid tactical combat shooting to prevail.
In a pickleball battle, clearly, if you can hold the kitchen line, you have the tactical position of advantage. If pulled off the kitchen line and unable to get back to it to field the next shot, you must defend from elsewhere on the court, a position of disadvantage. In such cases I stop wherever I am on the court before the ball hits my opponent’s paddle. This allows me to establish a good foundation, stance and paddle position. Most importantly, I settle myself, stop all motion, eyeball how my opponent is setting up the shot, and get ready to defend myself. From this position of readiness, it is relatively easy to move forward, back or laterally to deal with whatever comes over the net.
Stance A solid standing combat shooting stance is vital. Officers are trained to take a position with feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. The posture is in a lower, crouched position. A very slight forward lean places the majority of the officer’s weight on the balls of the feet, but not so much as to pull the heels off the ground. The officer is thus better able to compensate for firearm kickback, and it allows multiple rounds to be fired on target rapidly and accurately. This stance and position facilitates weight to be quickly shifted laterally to move left or right to exit the position of disadvantage when possible.
A stance similar to a combat shooting position is applicable here also. Feet beyond shoulder width apart provides a stable, anchored foundation from which to mount your defense. A lower, forward-leaning, crouched position has several advantages: it provides a smaller target in case your opponent is considering drilling the ball quickly into your body; you can more easily reach laterally to cover the majority of your court responsibilities without moving your feet (not preferable, but sometimes necessary); it provides a lower sight line, thereby a better perspective on the incoming ball, given your opponent is likely going to place the shot as low as possible over the net; and it allows for quicker weight transfer, facilitating your move to the kitchen line after launching your return shot.
Arm Position Law enforcement has seen the evolution of several combat shooting arm positions, an element vital to placing rounds on target: both arms straight out and elbows locked, one elbow bent, both elbows bent, etc. The preferred arm position is usually tied to the chosen shooting body position: “bladed” so as to present a thinner side target to the bad guy; or a straight-on confrontation, the preferred method of defense for nature’s animals; face and confront your aggressor. In combat shooting situations, the arms and pistol are usually held slightly below eye level, such that an officer maintains a line of sight over the top of the pistol, a technique known as “target-focused shooting” or simply “point and shoot.” Training in this technique results in target acquisition and muzzle aiming to become instinctual, requiring little conscious direction from the officer. Target-focused shooting is favored in close-quarters, rapid-fire situations where the use of the pistol’s iron sights is of less value. This allows the officer to keep a clear view of the incoming threat and maintain a good awareness of his/her weapon's muzzle position.
Arm and paddle position are equally important in pickleball. Arm position finishes off the assumed wide, stable, crouched, low profile, slight forward-leaning stance. Arms held forward, away from the body, shoulder width apart and below eye level, provide good preparation and defense. A stance with the paddle held down at your side is of little benefit and makes you an easy target, much the same as an officer being at a tactical disadvantage approaching a dangerous person with his/her gun at the side, pointed to the ground. Arms and paddle forward and below eye level provide a clear sight line of the incoming ball and allows for continuous monitoring for proper paddle position. It also allows you to take the shot while the paddle is out in front of you, the preferred position from which to hit the ball. The paddle should be at a comfortable angle with the back side facing the incoming ball. This provides for easy lateral movement and a quick punch shot return when the proper ball is offered up. This arm position also facilitates the exchange of the paddle between the strong and weak hands, avoiding awkward and low-percentage backhand shots, when time allows for the hand exchange to be completed.
Grip Police officers grip their pistols firmly, with a force similar to holding a hammer while striking a nail. A weak grip, coupled with a floppy hand/wrist is known as “limp wristing.” This often induces a mechanical malfunction and stoppage of the pistol (a jam), and allows the pistol’s recoil to significantly impact shot accuracy. Conversely, a strong grip and wrist/hand alignment facilitates rapid-fire, accurate placement of shots.
A firm paddle grip provides similar advantages. It provides the stable backstop to fend off and redirect hard incoming shots. It is also the foundation that imparts to your shots power and pop, and increased placement accuracy. A ball strike can cause a paddle that is too loosely held to rotate in the hand, resulting in mishits (duds), low power and loss of accuracy. Note that having a looser grip is good for dinking, when you have control over the speed and placement of the ball.