Because of YouTube, it is possible to watch many of today’s top pickleball players while sitting in the comfort of your home. Before the advent of this technology, players from places like Seattle and Florida had a big advantage because of their advanced shot selection and techniques they were using. Now players from all across the world can check out top play and learn from the best. This has dramatically improved the level of play in recent years. Granted, we are also getting higher levels of younger athletes involved in pickleball, but without implementing the correct strategies and mechanics, the level of play would not have improved so quickly.
In this article, I am going to offer my point of view on when, and when not, to copy the pros. Remember, these top pickleball players are very gifted and may possess skills that the average player should not attempt. Just as the average golfer should not be swinging his club like Bubba Watson or the average tennis player shouldn’t try to play her game like Serena Williams.
I first met Wes Gabrielsen during his early days in pickleball. I had the wonderful opportunity of playing a lot with him and also partnering with him in a few pickleball tournaments. Wes stood out right away in the world of pickleball, not only because of his skills and athleticism but also his unorthodox way of approaching the game. Right away I told him to quit hitting third shot dinks as the ball was rising. I also told him to quit hitting extreme spin and stop hitting so many backhands.
Well, Wes did listen to me on many aspects of the game, but he totally disregarded these suggestions and, as it turned out, these are some of the special things that make Wes one of today’s top players. So, unless you are one of those gifted players, I think this article will help you decide on the things you should emulate and the things you should just admire from pro players like Wes.
Have you ever noticed that the top players seem to have a lot of time when hitting the ball? That is because they move to the spot they need to be as soon as possible. They have also already turned their body and their paddle, ready to swing forward. You can never be prepared too soon!
GOOD READY POSITION
When their opponent is hitting the ball, they have stopped moving and they have their weight on the balls of their feet ready to move quickly in any direction.
MOVING TOGETHER WITH YOUR PARTNER
This is something that all good teams do. Watch Jennifer Lucore and Alex Hamner and you will see what I am talking about. These champions played many years together as a tennis team before turning to pickleball and they know how to keep the spacing between them just right. They move up to the kitchen together and they move side to side together.
SIMPLE AND EFFICIENT MECHANICS
Another reason the top players make the game look so easy is that they are using very efficient mechanics. Usually, the top players have fewer moving parts. Their paddle face stays toward their target for a longer period of time and the angle of their paddle also remains constant through impact. Notice how well the pros can block a hard-hit ball just by using a small blocking motion.
COME INTO EVERY MATCH WITH A GAME PLAN
I assure you that every top team goes into every match with an agreed upon game plan. Much of this game plan will be determined by the strengths and weaknesses they have assessed in their opponents. Now if this game plan is not working, that is a good time to call a time-out and make a new game plan.
COMMUNICATION WITH PARTNER
You will rarely see a ball go down the middle between a top doubles team. Partly this is because they know that the forehand player should hit it, and the other reason is communication. You will oftentimes hear good teams yelling “Yours,” “Mine,” “Switch!”
USING PROBABILITY TO YOUR FAVOR
The top players have great shot selection based on probability. Notice how often the top players choose to hit a dink on the third shot. They know that most of the time this is the best way for them to work up to the no-volley line. You will seldom see a top player lob from behind the baseline or try to hit winners down the line. They avoid those types of shots and wait for the opportunity to hit the ball down at their opponents’ feet, a good chance to pop a ball right at them, or they just keep dinking until the other team makes an error.
POSITIVE AND ENCOURAGING TO YOUR PARTNER
Just by simply doing this and showing a trust in your partner can be worth a couple of points each game. Also, you don’t want to get the reputation of being negative to your partner or you may have trouble getting future partners.