I'm a title. Click here to edit me.
Diagnosing Your Dink Height
A coach is a wonderful tool to use in your
development. What's more important,
however, is your own awareness of your
game. Being aware of what is causing your
errors is critical in being able to address issues on the fly,
and therefore in making you a better tournament player.
Here we are going to be specifically talking about your
dinks, but many of the same concepts can be applied
to drives, serves, and returns. We'll also be using the
forehand dink for most examples, but the principles will
apply to the backhand also.
HITTING TOO HIGH
Are your dinks floating a little too high? The
primary cause of this is when the ball is allowed to get
behind you. The original wrist position that would
keep the ball at an effective height above the net has
been compromised. As the ball starts traveling behind
your body, you have needed to create more loft with the
paddle which can very easily have the effect of lifting
the ball higher than intended.
Another reason some players hit their dinks too high
is their grip. If you are using the continental grip or
even further toward the eastern backhand, then your
forehand dink will have the potential to be hit with far
too much loft. This grip requires a lot of wrist flexibility
to adjust the paddle angle or a slicing technique that
effectively keeps the ball low.
HITTING TOO LOW
If your dinks are so low that net errors are a regular
occurrence for you, then it's certainly time to make a
change. The number-one reason most people dink into
the net is their body height. I know, I know…I've said
it all before: bend your knees, get low, you never have
to get low if you're always low, and so on and so forth.
Seriously, though!! Think about what happens when a
player stands tall with a regular grip, something between
continental and eastern forehand. The paddle has little
to no chance to get under the contact point to lift up on
the ball. The result is that the paddle comes in at a very
low trajectory, and as such, so does the ball.
Another reason for hitting the ball too low, much like
in the first diagnosis, is your grip. If your forehand grip
is toward eastern or beyond, then the paddle face will
have a very tough time being open enough to lift the
ball well. Using these kinds of grips effectively requires
If your dinks can be both too high and too low, then you have the dreaded
either having incredibly long arms or having a very low
body height, both of which will give the paddle ample
opportunity to brush up from underneath the ball.
THE TWO-WAY MISS
If your dinks can be both too high and too low, then
you have the dreaded two-way miss. The chief culprit
of this crime against the kitchen is unfortunately
a combination of things.
First, you are more than likely standing too tall during
your stroke, and as such your wrist needs to quickly
hinge in order to open the paddle face enough to get the
ball over the net. The problem with this is timing. It takes
world-class timing or blind luck to be able to flip your
wrist and get the appropriate ball flight consistently. If
you contact the ball a fraction early, then it will come off
high, and if you contact late it will be in the net.
The other factor that is often at play is grip pressure or
lack thereof. Your job is to find the minimum amount
of pressure required to keep complete control of the
paddle. If the force of the oncoming shot can be enough
to dislodge your hold of the paddle, then grip pressure is
certainly an issue, and you will need to start doing some
There are certainly some other factors that might be
influencing your dink height, but with this foundational
guide you'll be well on your way to making the necessary
changes to be a more effective dinker.
High-Percentage Shots: What They Are And Why You Need To Hit Them
Players grumble about a "low-percentage shot" then they turn around and go for it again on the very next point! What is the lure of those crazy angles, powerful drives, net skimmers, baseline painters, needle threaders, and more? Players make one screamer, and they forget the other nine they bollixed going for the screamer.
Good players play percentage pickleball. But knowing what a high-percentage shot is for you is not so easy. It depends on geometry, your skill set, the skills of your opponents, the surface, the conditions, and the age of the players. For example, a lob is a low-percentage shot in pro men's doubles or against Florida's former NBA player Rick Barry, but it is a very effective shot in 75 mixed. This article will deal in generalizations, but you can adapt your assessment by using charting.
I always charted my tennis team players so they knew factually, not instinctively, what shots they could count on when the match got tight.
Start by charting your serves. Are you more accurate on one side than the other? Can you serve consistently deep? A high-percentage serve would be to serve over the center of the net on the crosscourt because there is greater distance and, therefore, less chance of hitting long. But that gives the opponent an angle, and on the right side of the court you are hitting to the opponent's forehand. Higher level players may choose to hit more down the center of the court, taking a chance on hitting long but not giving the opponent a chance to attack. Pay attention to your percentages, not the rush you get when you rip one down the center for an ace.
Know your own capabilities. You are in control of choosing higher percentages.
Same for returns. High and deep to the center is safe and strategic. Introduce higher percentage footwork here. Your return gives you time to get to the NVZ line. It is not just the shot you hit; it is also the position you assume. Go for a high-percentage position--and in pickleball that usually means forward to command the net. A high-percentage shot with a low-percentage position is an opportunity lost.
In the course of play, crosscourt groundstrokes are usually the higher percentage shot because of geometry (greater distance and court area, lower net), So, should you stack and force the opponents to hit down the line? Answering that question is where charting comes in very handy. Do you win more points stacking and forcing the opponent to hit to a specific place on the court? Or are you slow in reestablishing your own positions? It is all about your percentage of success.
Who should serve first? Should the better server serve first or do you want the stronger player receiving the return down the center? Or both? Maybe it is not so much about the serve as it is about the control of the center. If your partner is left- handed, you may want that player to serve first in order to have both forehands down the middle. That would give you a higher percentage position. And it would give you the opportunity to hit higher percentage shots down the middle because you would not be having to break the angle of the return that will probably come back down the middle to you.
Where does the safest third shot drop go? More angle, more time, more court to hit in makes the third shot angle drop a safer geometric option. That means better footwork on the part of the person hitting the third shot drop. Just because you are hitting the ball softly does not mean that you can cheat on using good footwork to get into good position. For better players, good footwork also provides a bit of disguise; players should set up to hit an angle or a center drop or a drive. For a change-up, you can go for a screamer down the line. Then play percentages as often as possible after you have kept the opponent honest at the net and guessing your next shot.
Volleying? The highest percentage shot means not breaking the angle of the ball. If the ball comes crosscourt, the safest shot is hitting back deep crosscourt. The paddle meets the ball head-on. The same principle applies if you receive a ball head-on down the line. Go back down the line. But, if you want to change the direction of the ball, you now have to use good footwork to play in a high-percentage position If you choose to hit the lower percentage volley, i.e., breaking the angle of the path of the ball, you must have an opening or at least better court position to make it worthwhile. Chart your volleys.
Can you redirect a crosscourt volley down the line 80% of the time? That may be a good ball machine drill worth charting.
What about overheads? These are perhaps the most overplayed shots resulting from delusions of grandeur.
They seem so easy, but in pickleball, placement usually trumps pace. Your opponent can run down an overhead because the court is small. So, where is the safest placement shot, the highest percentage shot? Down the middle is the safest if you have good court position because the opponent's next shot should come without much angle and now their court is open for the put-away angle. If not, keep going down the middle because you have control of the higher percentage shots and the superior court position.
Patience. Placement. Position. Percentages.
Playing percentage pickleball is not so cut-and-dried because there are so many factors. You cannot control all of them, but you can control your own shot selection. Eyes wide open. Chart yourself regularly. Accept the results and work on your weaknesses. Be mindful of geometry. Be that player who is unpredictable to others, but solid in your own skin.
To Seak, Or Not To Seek, An Unfair Advantage
Tasked with identifying behaviors of good sportsmanship in a succinct document, the USAP Sportsmanship Committee was constrained from citing every pet-peeve scenario underlying the guidelines in its "USA Pickleball Sportsmanship Guide." Fortunately, vour faithful Pickleball Curmudgeon (a committee member) faces no such constraint.
Facebook's "Pickleball Forum" is a great place to discover which of the committee's behavioral guidelines require further elaboration. Take the following post and selected comments (which have been edited for brevity or clarity). The scenario it describes inspired over 45 comments in the first hour after posting and was the primary impetus behind the inclusion of this guideline: "Claim a replay only if a hinder affects your team's ability to play the ball." To wit:
Post: "A ball rolled on the court AFTER our opponent hit a lob. His partner immediately called *Ball on. and then the lobbed ball landed OUT. I say it's our point. His partner says. 'Replay. Who's right?"
Comments: "Obvious replay." "The call was made before lob landed out." "If Ball on court' is called before play ends, nothing that happens thereafter is relevant." "Saved by the bell."
These players (and the dozens of others who posted similar comments) are under the misconception that the duty to exhibit good sportsmanship ends the moment someone hollers, "Ball on!" Under Rule 8.C. the partner's "ball on" call (which he was perfectly entitled to make) constituted a hinder, and the ball became dead at the moment of the call. Whether a replay was in order, however, depends on whether the hinder was "valid."
Under Rule 3.A.15 a hinder is valid only if it "impacted the player's ability to make a play on the ball." Since both rules anticipate a referee determining the validity of the hinder, in rec play we must rely on the integrity of our opponents to honestly say whether the hinder impacted them.
It was up to the lobber in this case (not his partner) to either claim a replay, or to concede the point by saying something like, "That ball didn't affect me." Since he did neither, and since his opponents obviously believed he was not impacted, they should have asked if he was- and his answer should have settled the matter without further discussion.
Comments: "I would simply ask the lobber if he saw the ball on court prior to his shot, and if so, whether it bothered him.* "If I had hit the lob before the distraction and it went out, I would not claim a replay. I lost the rally. It's simply fair." "Poor sportsmanship if it didn't affect the point." Bravo! These folks (and the few others who posted similar comments) grasp the sportsmanship aspect of the situation, i.e., that claiming a replay for an invalid hinder equates to seeking an unfair advantage.
Comment: "I once claimed a replay during an intense tournament match when a player hit a beautiful smash, and, before it bounced twice, a ball entered our court. Not the most ethical call by any means, but karma always catches up. Not a proud moment."
Tell it, brother! Practicing good sportsmanship is not always easy in the heat of the moment. but the more you do it, the more natural it becomes. Give it a try-and remember, good behavior is in your court.
How Important Are Dinks?
We all know that touch shots, or "dinks" as they are called in pickleball, are a big part of the sport. But what percentage of all shots are dinks? The answer determines how we may want to warm up, what we emphasize in practice sessions, and how much we need to prepare ourselves mentally for playing these soft controlled balls, both in terms of receiving dinks and hitting them back!
For those of you who have played tennis, the art of "bumping" is used in drop shots and returning hard- hit balls. But, how many drop shots would you hit in a set of tennis? Maybe a few at most! In pickleball, the frequency of this "bumping" skill makes it essential and it is used in almost every point over two shots in length that you will ever play!
To get the statistical answer about what percentage of all shots in pickleball are dinks or bumps, we tallied what types of shots are hit in a range of competitive pickleball matches with various levels of play in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles. The results may surprise you.
The average percentage of dinks from matches we charted was a total of 40-45% of all shots hit! What does this tell us?
1. Ball control is an essential skill to improve in pickleball.
2. Hitting hard in pickleball may look exciting, but control, placement, and consistency are more valuable skills!
3. This is a major reason why pickleball balances out physical gender differences very well (i.e., that men tend to be physically stronger than women, and women can be more patient!).
4. Practicing touch shots more than one-third of your practice time will pay off big-time in competition.
Think of dinks this way: You are driving a car. It is not enough to be able to drive on the highway. You need to be able to drive slowly on side streets as well!
Here are six questions to test your pickleball prowess. Remember, a great deal depends on the skill, age and size of the player, as well as outdoor conditions.
1. The receiver in blue has a very strong forehand but a weak backhand. He stands near the corner to protect his weak backhand. Where should Kitty serve?
The server should serve down the center of the court near the center tick (not the center of the service court) to the receiver’s forehand. This will prevent the receiver from being able to hit an angle with his strong forehand. It will also expose his weakness for your next shot to his backhand. It will force him to hit his weaker shot on the run. You assume he will run around his backhand, so you hit to his strength to expose his weakness.
2. The referee, on the right, has tossed the coin for mixed doubles in a strong headwind blowing north to south the length of the court. You win the toss. Do you choose to serve or receive, or do you choose the side?
This is so individual. Under normal weather conditions, choosing the serve gives you a chance to get on the scoreboard right off the bat. Some players think you should choose to receive to give you time to get your act together since only one person gets to serve. I suggest getting your act together before you walk on the court and be ready to play. If conditions are such that the wind is a major player, then choose the side. Which side? Guys tend to want to hit into the wind because they can hit out full bore. This scenario is mixed doubles. I would choose to hit with the wind in order to take charge of play as soon as possible. The wind may change. You need to remember that junk shots are more effective in the wind than nice deep, clean hits. Let the wind be your partner rather than fight to overcome it.
3. These men’s doubles players have good mobility all around. Both players on the far side are at the NVZ line. Vic is a banger. Where should he hit this ball?
Vic is going down the middle. He is able to step into the ball and power it down the middle. However, Roland (on the right) needs to be ready for a drop volley. Vic could diversify his game by hitting a drop and closing in since both he and his partner move well. But a solid down-the-middle shot does not give much angle for the opponents to work with, and it might set up a high shot for Vic to take advantage of as he moves in to take control at the net. This could be a Shake and Bake play.
4. Kitty has served the ball to Mike (in blue). The dominant player on the court is Bart, Kitty’s partner in red. There is money on this match. Where should Mike return this serve?
In order to keep Bart back on the baseline as long as possible, Mike should return the ball deep to Bart, preferably deep to Bart’s backhand. If Mike returns deep to Kitty, Bart will immediately get to the NVZ line and begin to control play. Mike could even lift the ball high and deep to give himself more time to get to the NVZ line and force Bart to generate his own pace on the ball. If the ball bounces high to Bart’s backhand, he will either have to step around and take it on his forehand or hit a less powerful shoulder-high backhand. Either way, Bart’s position is far less dominant than it would have been if Mike had returned the ball to Kitty, who would have had a crosscourt forehand. Because you cannot serve and volley in pickleball, it allows you to trap a dominant player.
5. Bart is not wearing a hat, but Vic is. Do you think a hat or visor makes the dink more deceptive?
Bart says he watches the ball. Vic says he watches the paddle face. I think I watch the eyes so I find a visor more deceptive. A visor or cap is illegal in table tennis. I think it is an advantage to wear a visor because it keeps the opponent from
6. Christy is left-handed, so she and Mike each have their forehands down the middle in Mixed Doubles when Christy is on the even side. The ball is coming down the middle of the court. Who has priority?
ANSWER The player who is closer to the net has priority. In this case, it is Christy. Her footwork is established while Mike is still moving forward. One could argue that Mike is the more powerful player, but pickleball is more about timing, placement, and court position than about power. Christy is prepared so she has priority. Mike should back her up if he feels she might defer. It is always good to verbally communicate on every questionable situation: “Yours,” “Mine,” etc. Practicing regularly with your partner should lead to an understanding of both priority and backup. Both players should shift depending on the placement of the ball and both players’ court positions.
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, www.OnCourtOffCourt.com, 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