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What Tennis and Table Tennis Players Need to Understand

I recently attended the World Championships in Punta Gorda, Flordia, with two of my former Yale tennis players. It was their first tournament and I had a chance to observe their metamorphoses from tennis to pickleball. One player had never played; the other had hit a few times. They won bronze. A few more warm-up matches and they would have taken gold.

Tennis players and table tennis players all have court sense and understand how important it is to have good, efficient strokes. They’re able to make the scoring adjustment and the adaptation to double elimination. Double elimination requires preparation of food and drink for a long day and a change in mentality to “it’s never over until it is really, finally, over.” But there’s another fundamental between pickleball and tennis and table tennis that players need to understand, learn to play, and make the mental adjustment to their game plans. That is the reset.

Both tennis and table tennis points are like chess moves. In tennis, you serve a slice wide to elicit a short return and an open court so that you can hit deep to the far corner in hopes of taking the net with the opponent out of position and scrambling, throwing up a lob that you put away with an overhead. Or, in doubles, straight serve and volley.

In table tennis, players put hellacious spin on their serves and attack a popped up return. In both sports, points build on moves that result in a crescendo. The point is concluded after a well-thought-out strategy.

Not so in pickleball. Players have a strategy, but the serve is not dominant as it is in tennis and table tennis, The court is smaller than tennis. The ball is slower than in tennis or table tennis. Then there is the reset. You hit a “putaway” and the opposition takes pace off of your putaway and gets you into a dink game. Cat and mouse. Back and forth. You see an opening and smack it. Then someone hits a soft ball and you are back in the dink game. In tennis and table tennis, you put the ball away. In pickleball, you reset. Patience. Change of pace. Soft shots.

Tennis and table tennis players who take up pickleball have to learn when and how to reset. They have to learn to mentally adapt to the frustration. It is an attitude. You need the skill to be able to take pace off the ball and the shots to keep in the game. It is not just shot making; it is defusing the opponents’ shots as well. Most of all, you need the mindset to start over and over. Your great shot may come back. Suddenly you are in a dink game. Patience. Reset.

My players learned quickly. They worked on touch and placement. Most of all they worked on turning frustration into the delight of maneuvering their opponents out of position and finally ending the point. That is the difference in pickleball. Placement. Patience. Persistence. And, maybe a little more patience.