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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.