Tip of the week 23
How to beat a banger:
People ask me all the time how to beat bangers ( players that have little soft game and only know how to hit hard ). Well i have an excellent drill for you to do to help quicken your reflexes and overcome those bangers.
The person doing the drill stands right at the NVZ. Their practice partner stands just inside the base line. The practice partner bounces the ball on the ground and then hits a medium hard shot low and right at the person standing at the NVZ. The person standing at the NVZ ( who is the one practicing the drill ) now has two options. Hit the ball hard back at the feet of their opponent or angle the ball softly just over the net and at an angle off the court. So the person standing at the NVZ should be standing on the left side of the court. The person hitting hard at the baseline should be right in front of them. You are usually going to default to your back hand as you initially will not have enough time to hold your paddle neutral and decide on forehand or backhand.
So when the ball comes zipping at you low, either hit the ball right back at the feet of your baseline banger or angled off to your right with your backhand.
l A l So person at A is hitting ball hard at practice person X.
l l Person X either hits back at the feet of A or soft cross
l l court to area c.
l c l
l X l
This is probably the best drill you can do to handle bangers. As you get better at it, have the person at A move closer and closer to you so the ball comes quicker and you have less time to react.
All previous tips of the week on last page of website.
This weeks tip will be on the "oh xhit" lob. You are standing at the NVZ and try to do a lob over your opponents head that all you do is succeed in giving them a ball that they are going to easily smash right back at you because it was a terrible lob.
When this happens, too many players try and move backwards. Your best bet in this instance is TO STAND YOUR GROUND. It takes too much time to move back to try and give yourself more time to read the oncoming smash. All you do is give your opponents your feet to smash at now since you are no further back than no man's land. Also the fact that you are still moving backwards when the smash comes means that you are off balance and not "set" to return the smash. In this case you have almost no chance in getting the smash back.
However if you stand your ground. Watch the ball and your opponents paddle. Bend your knees and get low and default to your backhand to get the ball back, you have a MUCH better chance. This sounds like a lot to do in very little time, but you are doing them all in the same time. The first couple of things are self explanatory. Watch the ball and your opponents paddle face so you already have some idea as to where they are going to smash it. Bend your knees so you are not flat footed and can move a step quickly one way or the other. Default to your backhand means you are going to try and return the smash with your backhand.
Why your backhand? Because you are able to cover much more area using your backhand right or left just as a hockey goaly would. Even if the ball comes to your forehand, you can still hit it back by using your backhand. Committing to using your backhand in this instance lets you cover the most amount of ground in the least amount of time.
Another advantage of using this is that you train your brain how to get back a ball that is being smashed at you from a close distance. Really good players have excellent odds of returning this smash because they have seen this smash 10,000 times before and stood their ground and learned from it.
Tip of the week 2
This weeks tip will be on playing your opponent.
Having played against an opponent before is a great advantage to you if you will remember their strengths , weaknesses and playing style.
Some opponents are great at counter hitting. They can take your moderately strong hit to them and redirect it back for a winner. Those players you don't want to hit hard to unless you are hitting down at their feet. You must have much better patience against them.
Some players are great at lobs. You always want to be on your toes and move back quickly to cover this.
Some players never lob so you don't have to worry about the lob from them. Just concentrate on keeping the ball low.
Some players when you are pinned back at the baseline and they are smashing balls back to you there will occasionally do a soft drop just over the net. You have to remember those players that are good at this and be on guard. Other opponents always smash it back, never thinking to do a soft drop. Which player is taking your return, and are you anticipating it?
Some players have extremely accurate serves that can catch you off guard. Are you ready for them.
If you are at the nvz, do you know which of your opponents is the better dinker? That is the player that you DON'T want to dink to. Why get into a dink war with the better dinker?
Some players are great at reaching in and taking your dink as a volley and hitting a killer angle against you for a winner. Are you already moving to that angle when you see this skill in your opponent.
Remember, pickleball is like a chess game. Mental assessment is 50% of the game. The good news is the longer you play, the better your brain gets. Your mind is able to slow the game down as it gets more experience.
Tip of the Week 3
This weeks tip will be on returning very fast serves.
Some players have very effective serves. Usually the first complaint is that they are serving illegally. This may occasionally be true , but not necessarily. Here is a very effective tip to help you return these really fast serves.
I have found that if as this "super server" is getting ready to serve, i concentrate 100% on THE BALL. I cant tell you why this has such a profound effect, but it does. If you fully and completely concentrate on the ball as the server serves it AND as it is coming toward you, the ball DOES seem to slow down and give you extra time to into position and get the serve back.
I know this sounds a little off, but try it next time you are in a match and see if it doesn't actually work.
Tip of the Week 4
Ok, I have talked and talked about the necessity of being able to hit nice dinks. I understand that you personally may be having great success against opponents by banging or lobbing every ball. Again, this is fine at beginner to intermediate level. But what are you going to do when you come against a team that are advanced dinkers, and are quick enough to redirect your hard shots at the net back at your feet, or quick enough to get out of the way of your hard hit ball that is going to go out?
If you ever want to become an advanced player or win at the high intermediate level or above, you better know how to dink.
So lets give some more dinking tips. Lets assume that you are standing within two inches of the NVZ ( where you want to be to win at PB)
1) Always be square to where the ball is coming from. In other words, your shoulders and feet should be facing in the direction of the ball on your opponents side of the net.
2) Always keep bent knees and slightly bent waist. You don't want to be bobbing up and down. Bobbing up and down will make you pop the ball up. If you don't have the strength to stay at this position for ten or more dinks, it is ok to put your non paddle hand on your non paddle side just above your knee for support.
3) Hit with your arm, NOT your wrist. Keep your elbow and paddle out in front of you. Take the ball out in front of you.
4) Always try and shuffle your feet a little between shots. You don't want to stay planted and do an extended reach if you dont have to.
5) Don't cross step unless you absolutely have to. It takes too much time to get back into a good position.
6) Always try and stay within 6 inches of the NVZ and take the ball on the fly without letting it bounce when possible.
Practice , practice , practice. Watch videos of top advanced players. The dink shot is one shot that you cannot be without at the advanced levels.
Tip of the Week 5
As you are playing make sure that you are ALWAYS facing the ball while you are awaiting the shot from your opponents. Your feet and shoulders should be SQUARE to the ball. This is true whether or not you are waiting for a dink, a ground stroke or a smash from your opponents.
If the ball is on the opponents right side of the court, that is the direction your feet and shoulders should be facing. Same if the ball is on the left side of the court. Dont get caught up or be lazy and just always be facing straight ahead.
Tip of the Week 6
Lets say that you and your partner are up at the net. Your opponents are stuck at or near the base line. You and your partner are hitting smashes at your opponents. One thing that you need to remember is that it is MUCH better to smash the ball as deep as possible even if you take a little pace off the ball to do this. This is opposed to smashing the ball really hard , but it is hitting the court ten feet or so in front of the opponents. When you smash the ball way in front of your opponents, the ball now is much easier for them to return because it will bounce nice and high by the time it gets to them.
As opposed to hitting with a little less pace, but it will be within a foot or less of their feet. Now with this better smash , it will be much harder for your opponents to do a decent return.
So try and remember, deep near your opponents feet with a little less pace is much preferred to hitting the ball 110% ( which means less control ) way in front of your opponents.
Tip of the Week 7
This weeks tip is on equipment, specifically paddles. Here in Florida, in the winter we play in 30 degree to 60 degree weather. In the summer we play in 80 to 97 degree weather with LOTS of hot sun beating on the ball.
In the winter time, our balls are nice and crisp when cold and POP off the paddle with little help. In the summer heat and sun, the balls tend to get soft and are much harder to generate a high rate of speed.
The past month i personally noticed that it was becoming much harder for me to hit winners on my serve. Usually it is not uncommon for my serve to win at least one outright winner per game ( receiver is not able to return the ball ). And smashes at the net were very difficult to overpower my highly skilled opponents.
Today , realizing these things, I remembered to switch back to my summer paddle. This summer paddle hits the ball much harder ( thus less control ) than my lighter , older winter paddle. But i need this extra power on the soft summer ball. Control is great, but when the opportunity arises, you need the power to win the point.
I had 4 outright winners in one game today on my serve with the summer paddle.
Newer paddles, heavier paddles, composite paddles ( as opposed to light hitting graphite paddles ) and paddles that have had the Jim Carroll upgrade are all good choices for the soft summer ball. I personally like to use a lighter paddle, however my summer paddle has the Jim Carroll upgrade. He takes an older paddle and applies a tough smooth coating to the surface. He can also put college info or grandkid photos on the paddle with this coating. It does NOT provide any trampoline effect which is against usapa rules, however it does give it a little more pop as it is a nice hard surface. And adds a little weight which also gives extra pop.
So a slow light winter paddle will give you about the same power and control in the winter as a heavier more powerful paddle in the summer.
Tip of the Week 8
We have another video this week to watch. It is myself ( in yellow ) partnered with Brian Staub ( who took fourth place in 2012 Nationals Mens Open Division when he partnered with Phil Bagley). We are playing against the team of Rob ( in the hat ) and Matt Staub ( Brians son ). Rob and Matt are practicing for this years Nationals.
There are a couple of things i want you to notice. First off I am the weakest player amongst the four. I am a weak 5.0, Matt and Rob are good 5.0 and Brian is a top 5.0. Being the weakest player on the court , partnered with the strongest player, my role is just to keep the ball low and in play. My opponents are VERY HIGHLY skilled. It is not good odds for me to hit winners against them unless i have a very high ball. So i just try and keep the ball low and in play and let my much better partner go for the winners. This good strategy is not what i see locally in open play. When intermediate players come to play against advanced players, the intermediate players seem to want to "proof" themselves by going for a lot of winners. Not a good strategy when you are hitting against much better opponents.
What you will see is the soft game that i preach so much about. When you get on the court with this high level of opponents, you HAVE TO KEEP THE BALL LOW. You just cant give your opponents a ball that is high because they are very skilled at putting it away. Notice that everyone has really good patience. We have confidence that we can hit dink after dink.
Notice that we try very hard to keep our opponents back. If they are back, hitting up to the kitchen and we have to hit it with a backhand, even if it is a little high, we just keep hitting it DEEP until our opponents get it high to our forehand or they just hit it into the net.
Notice the touch control you see when a opponent hits a hard ball , we have the abliity to do a couple of things with this ball hit hard at us. Either hit it back hard or take the pace off it and drop it in the kitchen. The same thing if we get get caught in no mans land and they hit at our feet, we just drop it back soft into the kitchen and work our way up to the NVZ.
Notice that Matt and Rob usually hit the serve return to my partner Brian instead of to me. They do this because when i hit the third shot, Brian likes to come up to the net and poach. He does this several times when they give me the third shot. Again, they are not doing this because I am a better third shot hitter, they are doing it because if they make brian hit the third shot, he cant come up and poach and overpower them.
You see a lot of CONTROL in this match. You learn control by starting to play the soft game. Hitting balls soft into the kitchen no matter how the ball is hit to you or where you are on the court. If you have a very good soft game, you can play competitively against ANY players in the world. You may not win, but you will be competitive.
This is classic good pickleball.
Deep serve return
Third shot soft into the kitchen
Dink dink dink until someone makes a mistake
Tip of the Week 9
This weeks tip will be on playing your opponents.
This is more for competition play rather than rec play, but you can practice it at rec play also. Lets consider the first scenario where one of your opponents is much better than the other opponent. IF YOUR MAIN concern is to win the match, you will want to hit to the weaker player all other things being equal.
IF YOU WANT TO IMPROVE YOUR GAME, hit to the better player. This is what we locals all decided to do when Tim Nelson comes to play with us each year. What is the sense of being on the court with the best player in the world , if you dont play balls to him? Just a waste of everyones time!!!!!
This weeks tip is a little different. You have an assignment. Watch the following video. It is last weeks Tournament Of Champions in Utah. It was an invite only event which gave out $18000 in prize money.
Pickleball Tip of Week #10
Ok, so lets continue on from last weeks tip about the soft game.
A really good rule of thumb is that if you have to hit up on the ball, hit it soft into the kitchen. If you are able to hit down on the ball it is ok to try and hit it hard.
The best way to practice the soft game is what my wife anita and i do one evening a week. We go to Laurel Manor and spend 30 minutes practicing dinking straight across and diagonally. Then we both stand at the kitchen line. Anita hits the ball at my feet, and i dink it into the kitchen and take one step back. SHE STAYS AT THE NVZ, HUGGING THE LINE. She now hits it a little deeper as i am now back a little further and i drop it into the kitchen and take another step back. This continues until i am standing at the baseline. If she hits it too deep, i just practice dropping it into the kitchen as a volley. Then we swap places and i am practicing hitting to her feet, and she is practicing hitting it soft into the kitchen from the NVZ all the way back to the baseline.
Choosing how to hit a shot is 50% of PB. You MUST play smart. I am amazed when i am out and about and watching an intermediate player on the court with advanced players. ALL THE INTERMEDIATE PLAYER WANTS TO DO IS HIT WINNERS. Most advanced players could care less if you can hit winners. We want you to NOT MAKE MISTAKES. What worked for the 3.5 player against other intermediate players is a death wish against 4.5 players. They try and hit the ball hard from low to high and the advanced players just redirect it back for a winner. I see this time and time again and the 3.5 player just cannot get away from this poor mentality.
Not making mistakes ( hitting balls hard when you should be hitting them soft, going for winners down the line and hitting them out, popping the ball up too high ) is even more critical when you are the weak link on the court. When Tim Nelson was here and i played as his partner against two other top west coast pros, i got 75% of the balls hit to me. My job here ( being the weak link ) is to just get the ball back low and not make any mistakes. I am going to have to take too big of a chance to hit a winner against this caliber of players. My job is to keep it low and in play and let Tim ( the MUCH better player ) hit the winners. This should be your philosophy, if you are the weak player on the court. But, it usually turns out just the opposite. The weak player wants to prove he/she belongs and wants to prove it by hitting winners. This is a death wish for you and your partner.
Words to live by.........KEEP THE BALL LOW AND IN PLAY, DON'T TAKE SO MANY UNFORCED ERRORS
Pickleball Tip of Week #10
Todays tip is more on the soft game.
There are several reasons why players use the soft game. The most important one is that as you get better, you play against better players. As you play against better players, it is critical that you do NOT give your opponent a ball that they can do anything with. This usually means hitting a ball soft into the kitchen area. This ball is soft and or low and bounces in the kitchen so that your opponent cannot do much else with it other than dink it back to you. If they were to try and smack this ball, it is so close to the net that it will either go out long or hit the net. Now it becomes a war of who is the best dinker.
Your average banger ( a player that likes to hit the ball hard and end the point now ) does not like the dink ( soft ) game. They DONT want to have to dink the ball. The soft game takes control and patience, two qualities most bangers do not have. If you and your partner are good at the soft game and are willing to both use it, you will generally beat the bangers because you can MAKE them play the soft game. The first time you hit the ball soft into the kitchen, they can't bang the ball. Understand that the banger WANTS you to get into a banging battle with them so it can become a battle of who is the best banger. When you start dinking the ball it becomes a battle of who is the best dinker and then YOU have the advantage.
So, how do you get the bangers into the soft game? If you are the serving team, just hit the third shot, soft into the kitchen, and the soft game is started. If you are the receiving team it is a little more difficult. The key now is to make sure that the serve return that you are going to hit does one of the following:
1)Goes to the backhand of your banger opponent. Very few bangers can bang as well with their backhand.
2) Goes to the weaker of the bangers so they are not quite as able to overpower you.
3) Go deep on the return. It is very hard to overpower you if the banger has to hit the ball back at you from the baseline. It just takes too much time for the ball to travel that distance. You should be waiting at the NVZ for this return and try and hit it back to the baseline area again. It is hard for a banger to hit three good shots from the baseline in a row. They will get frustrated with each shot that comes back to them and each time they'll try and hit it harder and lower. After a couple of shots they will hit it in the net or out long. After you get better, you will develop a drop shot with you standing at the NVZ with them banging away at the baseline. This is a SOMETIME effective shot as now they dont know if you will return it back at their feet or drop it soft into the kitchen. The problem with dropping it soft into the kitchen is that it brings your opponents up to the net. It depends on your opponent as to which way you might want to proceed. Again the key is to get the serve return DEEP to them. If you get it shallow, into no mans land, they will be able to overpower you.
I hear lots of comments from beginner and especially intermediate players that they're not interested in that soft game crap. Look at EVERY top 5.0 player and see how many of them do not readily adopt the soft game. Players have to realize that pickleball is all about ADAPTING. What you win with at the intermediate level will NOT let you win at the advanced level. A banger standing at the baseline trying to overpower two advanced players that are standing at the NVZ is not a good situation for the banger. Intermediate players that are bangers quickly get frustrated when they play against advanced players. What was winning for them before is now a liability.
We in the Villages are lucky because EVERY advanced instructor here all know the absolute importance of the soft game. We teach it, we stress it, we play it. 90% of the players across the country have never seen or heard of the soft game. Pickleball at the higher levels is all about controlled aggression. You must know when to hit hard and when to hit soft. You must be a SMART player above everything else.
How to learn and practice the soft game and how to be a smart player will be next weeks topic.
Pickleball Tip of Week 11
Todays tip will be on what to do if you hit a ball that hits the net and dribbles over onto your opponents side of the net. When this is the case, one of your opponents need to enter deep into the NVZ and attempt to get the ball back over the net onto your side. Usually they will do this straight back across into your NVZ. When they do this your goal is to go right back at the player that entered into the kitchen hitting the ball into their chest area. You DONT have to hit it hard at them. Since they entered the NVZ, they must get BOTH feet out of the kitchen AND ONTO THE COURT SURFACE before they can volley the ball. That is why you are trying to hit it back at their chest area so that they HAVE to take the shot as a volley. They usually are going to violate the NVZ if they try and hit the ball at all.
If you watch this scenerio in open play you will notice that 80% of the time the player does NOT go back at the opponent who entered the NVZ. They hit back to their partner. Thus they loose a great opportunity for and easy point. Again you are not trying to injure your opponent , just trying to make sure they have to volley the ball and thus violate the kitchen.
I can not tell everyone how much fun i had when the west coast players where here. I got to play numerous games with them. I want to give a big thank you to the three host families that housed these top players. Anita and i hosted Tim and Don. What a treat. Tim is by far and away the most polite , intelligent, easy to get along with 23 year old i have ever seen. Both these players have very healthy diets and each year that Tim has stayed with us, we have adopted more of his eating habits.
Everyone that is leaving us to venture north, have a safe and fun summer.
I have been able to post onto youtube three videos from the Pro event. The first is a compilation of the four games with Tim and Billy VS Phil and Brian. This video has the best action, but is NOT in HD so it is a little grainy. The second two videos are their first game in its full length. They are both in HD .
Tip of the Week 12
Print off this email and follow along as you watch the video.
What i want everyone to see most this week is the half volley Tim Nelson ( young man in Red and Black shirt and in my opinion the best pickleball player in the world)
does at both the return of serve and the third shot. He is half volleying or short hopping the ball.
What this does is two things. It gets him up to the net way quick and throws off the timing of his opponents because he is getting the ball back so quickly.
So understand that Tim and his partner Billy Jacobson ( who happens to be deaf) won the winners bracket and have probably been sitting for several hours waiting for Lavon Majors and Mike Gates to work their way thru the losers bracket. Hence see how many UNFORCED ERRORS Tim and Billy make early in the first game. They are down 1-5 and smartly take a time out to try and stop the momentum and get their game together.
You will see a LOT of advanced strategies in this match. You will see that on most points, the servers partner and the receivers partner are moving back and forth as the serve is made. Tim wants to play most of the points on the left side of the court. This gives him more room to poach with his forehand and cover more of the court. Their opponents are moving back and forth based on their own strategies and to try and get in the heads of Tim and Billy.
At 8:25 you will see Tim fake swing at the ball as Billy is actually hitting it. So early in the first game, Tim and Billy make the most unforced errors. In the middle of the first BOTH teams are making unforced errors and in the end of the first game, Lavon and Mike are making most of the unforced errors. At 8-3-2 Tim is behind and starts the short hop or half volleys that i am talking about.
In the second game, again Tim and Billy make a lot of unforced errors. At 4-0-1 Tim and Billy again take a time out to try and change the momentum. They go down 0-5, but pull it together and Gates and Majors start making lots of unforced errors and Tim and Billy run out the match with 11 straight points.
Notice the ball catch Tim makes at 22:20 !!!!
Notice what we call the "Erne" poach that Tim does at 27:20. You will see that for about 5 seconds before Tim makes this incredible shot, he is wanting to do it. Unfortunately if you watch it a few times you will see that he does foot fault , but he does it so quickly and from out of nowhere, that the ref does not catch it.
Notice the incredible "misdirection" shot that Tim does at 32:53. A misdirection shot is where you are intentionally telling your opponents one thing with your body/head/hand positioning but then hit it the entirely different way.
So in conclusion, my main goal is for you to see what i am talking about with learning the soft game, limiting unforced errors and TRY OUT THIS SHORT HOP return of serve and third shot that you see Tim doing. When you do it on the return of serve, you want to hit it as deep as possible. When you do it on the third shot you want to drop it soft into the kitchen. Try it , You will be AMAZED at how much quicker this gets you up to the NVZ.
Pickleball Tip of Week 13
This week we will discuss communication and not taking your partners ball.
Almost every time the ball comes back to my partner and i to hit the THIRD shot, i will say mine or yours. This is one of the best and easiest times to communicate with your partner. How many times has the ball come down the center with you both standing at the baseline and you either let the ball just go between you or you are late in hitting the ball and do a terrible third shot. You have plenty of time to call this one out as the ball is traveling from baseline to baseline.
Next, when the ball is down the middle and you are in the middle of a point you should call out whos ball if there is even a chance of indecision.
Next , if your partner calls the ball as theirs , YOU better not take it unless you hit a winner. If i call the ball mine and move to hit it and my partner takes it, 99% of the time i will now be OUT of position and we will loose the point.
Lastly on lobs, or balls hit hard at your team. I hate playing with a partner, and i go back for a lob and my partner does not verbalize if it is good or bad. I am moving back , watching the ball and my partner is just standing there with an excellent view to see if the ball is going to be in or not and whether or not i should hit it or let it go out. So everytime my partner should say , "good", "NO", or "bounce it" if they are not sure. It takes all the decision away from me so i can concentrate on hitting a good return as opposed to thinking whether or not i should hit the ball
Tip of the Week 9
Now lets say both your opponents are advanced players, so fairly equal in overall skill levels. However every player has strengths and weaknesses. I consider myself a very good dinker. But if my opponents are Deb Harrison and player XXXXX , I will probably chose to get into a dink battle with player XXXX as i know that Deb also excels at the dink game. Why would i want to play to my opponents strengths? ( unless again i am just looking to improve my game and not win points). However if i am going to hit a nice high lob and can chose to hit it over Deb's head or her six foot two, 200 pound partners head, i will probably choose Deb's five foot zero head to try and go over. Again, i am trying NOT to play into my opponents strengths.
This weeks tip is again on dinking the ball.
First off when you are up at the NVZ dinking the ball, DON'T bounce up and down. Stay down as much as you are able. Keep bent at your knees and slightly at the waist . If this is too tiring, it is ok to place your non paddle hand just above your knee for support.
If you dink and then come upright, you have to go back down again when you hit the next dink. When you go down to dink and then stand upright, you have much less control and are prone to pop the ball up. The less movement of your body the better. However it is not a bad idea to move your feet a little bit on every shot. I see many players that over reach for a shot instead of moving their feet to where they should be. Over reaching gives you less control.
So to summarize, when you are up at the net dinking, stay in the low, bent knee position as long as possible. Don't bob up and down. But do move your feet on each shot.
Tip of the week 14
Ok, so let me first of expand on hitting to certain partners that we started last time.
One thing that i saw out at Nationals in Az. is that if both partners are of equal strength, in tournaments some teams will just pick one opponent and hit every thing to that player. This does a couple of things. It put a LOT of pressure on the player getting all the balls, and it makes the player getting NO balls on edge and that player may start to try and poach when is not appropriate.
We are half way thru the first year of tips, so now would be a good time to go back to basics.
There are three things that i say every player MUST put maximum priority on:
1) GET TO THE NET Except in instances where you are going to have a ball hit hard at you, you should be up at the net. This is where the game is won. Anytime you are up at the net and your opponents are back, you are at the advantage. When you and your partner are stuck at the baseline, you are ALWAYS looking for the ball that you can hit soft into the kitchen to get you both up to the net. And when you are at the net with your opponents back, you want to try and KEEP your opponents back by hitting the ball deep at their feet.
2) LEARN THE SOFT GAME The soft game is what is able to get you up to the net when you are back. And it lets you compete against advanced players. What works for you at begginer and intermediate play will not let you win against advanced players. When you play against better players, it is imperative that you make your advanced opponents hit UP on the ball. This usually means you must be able to dink into the kitchen.
3) KEEP ERRORS TO A MINIMUM I often talk about the playing characteristics of different player levels:
Beginner players.......... just want to get the ball back over the net.
Intermediate players...just want to hit winners( but end up making LOTS of errors
Advanced players....Place most emphasis on NOT MAKING MISTAKES. By not making mistakes i mean not hitting the ball out or into the net and not popping the ball up for their opponents to kill. Yes, advanced players want to hit a winner, but they realize that not making an error is more important than hitting a winner. I want my partner to be a SMART player. That means making the correct decisions on which type of shot to hit.
Remember, MOST points are not won by hitting a great shot, they are lost by making a mistake.
Pickleball Tip of Week 15
I am emphasizing this tip so you can observe what i am saying when the pros are here playing on April 21st. Pickleball is all about CONTROL. In order to be able to hit the ball with the most control you must use AMS.
A....Anticipate. You should be able to anticipate where your opponents are going to hit the ball back to you. You do most of this subconsciously, and part of it consciously. Watch your opponents paddle, remember how they've hit back in the past, know where would be the best place for them to hit it back. Use this knowledge to know ahead of time where you should expect the ball.
M....Movement. You should move to the spot that you Anticipate the ball will be coming back to you. If you are able to do this, you will be sitting there waiting and be able to do a
S.....Smooth stroke to return the ball. Generally a nice smooth and SHORT backswing is best. The more compact the shot the better.
Using this method of anticipating, moving to the return spot, and smoothly stroking the ball back gives you ultimate control on the return. When the Pros are here you will see that they are rarely out of position. They are not usually hurried on their strokes. And generally give a nice smooth stroke return.
The opposite of this is what you want to AVOID. That is Not being ready for where the ball is going to come back , moving too late to get to the ball, and quickly "poking" at the ball instead of doing a smooth return stroke.
Pickleball Tip of Week 16
Today we will discuss the three cardinal rules of PB.
1) Get to the net. Yes i can hear everyone saying we all know this. But not everyone does know it and / or do it. This is especially hard for beginner players or ex tennis players. You need to play PB at the NVZ about 3 inches behind the line. Only enough behind it so you dont violate it. Enough said on this.
2) Limit unforced errors. We discussed this in the second of this series. Enough said.
3) Learn the soft game. This is where we will spend most of our discussion. You need to learn to dink the ball while standing at the kitchen and you must be able to consistently hit the ball from the base line, softly into the NVZ ( this is usually most critical on the third shot ). The third shot is the most important shot of the game. It's what sets up the rest of the point. If the serving team hits a nice soft third shot into the NVZ from the baseline, the serving team is now able to follow that soft shot up to the NVZ and are on an equal footing with their opponents (both teams at the NVZ).
Understand that what works well at beginner and intermediate level does not work at the higher levels. Banging ( hitting the ball very hard ) from the baseline, generally, is not an overpowering or good shot to use at the advanced levels. Your two advanced opponents, are ready at the NVZ, waiting for you to bang the ball from the baseline,which will usually translate into you losing the point.
You need to have a total array of shots in your arsenal. If you are lobbing or banging the ball instead of hitting soft shots into the NVZ, you will only progress so far. We are lucky that every instructor in The Villages stresses learning the soft game. Hence, the Villages' players are generally a leg up on their competition who aren't experienced in playing the soft game.
We will also be fortunate to see the soft game at its extremes when we witness the Pros playing in the April Exhibition. Pickelball is all about CONTROL. Controlling your shots, and thus controlling your opponents.
One of the main reasons top players play the soft game is that it gives them the ability to hit shots in which their opponents can't hurt you with their return shots.
Your best way to learn the soft game ( dinking and hitting shots softly into the kitchen from anywhere on the court ) is to get a practice partner and go out on the courts by yourselves and practice the soft game.
Pickleball Tip of Week 17
This weeks tip will be on training to improve your game. Many won't like this tip, as it involves work :).
There is no place in the world that offers the free ongoing education that we offer in The Villages. Everyone is aware of beginner 101 , 102 and 103. Then there is an advanced beginner clinic that players can attend. You have Deb Harrison's free Advanced Skills Practice session at Miona courts every friday at 10:00am. Sign ups begin one week ahead of time.
Coach Mo's free clinic is taught at Churchill on Mondays and you have my free Strategies clinic taught the first Wednesday of the month which is held at the Miona courts at 10:00am with sign up beginning one week beforehand.
Space is always limited but everyone should try and attend each of these clinics, at least once. Playing games is fun, but probably less than 5% of players actually practice with one or more players to improve their skills. My wife and i try to practice once or twice a week in the evening, spending 30 minutes working on our soft shots. Try and find another partner or several people and PRACTICE. That is the best way to improve. Maybe not the most fun, but the best.
The second thing i do to improve my game is watch the best players in the world and try to emulate them. Two weeks ago i gave a link to the 2010 Mens Nationals finals , just the last game. This week i will include the link to watch the entire match. Understand that this match is over an hour in running time. It is probably the best match i have ever seen and certainly the closest. Understand that both teams started that day at 8:00am and this match finally finishes approximately 11 hours later. Both teams have match point. Three of these four players are coming to our April Exhibition. Here is the link...............................
I have personally watched this entire match around 50 times in the two plus years it has been out.
Alright now get out there and practice.
Tip of the Week 18
This weeks tip is moving from baseline to NVZ after 3rd shot.
Deciding how to move up depends alot on your partners abilities. If i get stuck with a banger as my partner and he/she is going to hit the third shot, i dont even consider moving up to the NVZ as he bangs the third shot from the baseline. Against great opponents, any movement up to the net now is a death wish. Great players will redirect my partners bang back at our feet if we are closer than the baseline. And the other downfall of banging the third shot from the baseline is that now , since we cant immediately come up to the net, we are susceptible to our opponents hitting a drop shot with us both back. Now staying back with a banger hitting the third shot does NOT apply if the banger is banging the third shot from "No mans land". He is close enough now, that he may be able to overpower our opponents who are standing at the net.
If i am lucky enough to be partnered with a great touch player who usually hits the third shot nicely into the opponents NVZ, i move up fairly quickly as my partner hits her third shot with the confidence that it wont get us killed.
If i play with a on again off again partner who sometimes hits a good third shot into the kitchen and sometimes gets it too high, i now have to think more. ( This is the application that requires the most decisions ). As i see the SERVE RETURN coming to my partner who is standing at the baseline ready to hit the third shot, i take about two steps into the court while i am watching closely how well my partner hits the third shot. If she hits a nice one that will drop into the kitchen i scoot QUICKLY up to the net. If my partner hits the ball too high which will allow our opponents to crack it back at our feet, i immediately recognize this and STOP ( about four or five feet into the court ) and split step and default to my backhand and get ready to a speedster coming my way.
Remember as you get more advanced and practice more and more the touch game, you are always looking for a ball that is smashed at you that you while you are stuck at the baseline that can still be hit softly back into the kitchen with no pace. This is the shot that takes you from a disadvantage situation (the baseline ) to a neutral one ( at the NVZ). .
So again............In a perfect world, this is how it should work. I see the serve return coming to my partner who is going to hit a nice soft shot into the kitchen. As soon as i see she hits a good one, i scoot up QUICKLY to the NVZ and she comes up quickly also , following her shot up.
Tip of the Week 19
I have received four different inquires about snacks and what tops players pack for long tournament days... So here are some healthy ideas I've gathered along the way:
Many say that protein helps repair damaged muscles and tissues and by choosing omega-3-rich protein sources you'll help counter inflammation that can build up in tendons, joints and tissues after a hard game of pickleball. While protein powders and energy bars seem like the easiest choice to snack on after play, there are several more wholesome protein picks that are just as quick and easy.
Traditional hummus is made with chickpeas, olive oil, tahini, garlic and spices. Packed with fiber, protein, vitamins and heart-healthy fat, hummus can be enjoyed on the go in small packs bought at the grocery store, or you can make your own. Dip pita chips or raw veggies in hummus to boost your carb, fiber and antioxidant intake.
Now packed in convenient pouches, tuna fish can be tossed in your bag before you dash out to the court. The packs come in various flavors, so you can enjoy a wholesome protein source straight out of the bag while also reaping the benefits of this anti-inflammatory omega-3 source.
Protein-packed nuts are one of my favorites. Best picks include raw or lightly salted almonds, walnuts, peanuts and pistachios. To get your nut and chocolate fix try Costco's trail mix with those m&ms.
You can find bags of single-serve edamame in grocery stores now, or simply fill a cup of shelled or unshelled pods in a re-sealable bag. Roasted soy nuts also offer a crunchy, low-maintenance snack when hunger strikes.
Nonfat plain Greek yogurt is also good because in just a single serving you can get about 20g of protein. The single-serve packs are great for an easy, on-the-go snack. Adding fresh berries and even some high-fiber cereal makes it that much better.
And, don't forget chocolate milk.
Keep the fuel in your body and the fire in your play :-)
Tip of the Week 20
Today lets talk about THINKING.
If you just want to go out and be in the fresh air and get some exercise, there is no need to think and have a game plan and adjust that game plan as the match progresses. But if you want to IMPROVE and win more games it takes more work, expecially brain work.
I once saw Timothy Nelson put in writing that the ONLY difference between a 4.5 and a 5.0 is how they think. I would say that 60% of skill comes from thinking and the rest comes from ability to hit shots. To put it another way, it is more important to know which shot to hit, than it is to have the physical ability to hit a great shot.
Thinking starts before the game. I am mentally thinking what my opponents skills are. What they do well and what they do not as well. If someone is extremely agile and tall, lobbing is not a good shot to hit against them. If they have super quick hands then i know that if i am going to try and overpower them, i better be hitting down at their feet. If they are a great dinker, maybe dinking to their partner or in the middle is the best option. I am trying to put the odds in my favor as to which kind of shot will give me the best reward.
Shot One. I am serving. I am trying to decide where is the best serve to hit. Maybe go for their backhand. If they are giving me a lot of room to hit to their backhand, they usually WANT me to serve to their backhand. If they like to crush my serve back, maybe I will try and hit a serve short, just past the NVZ. Many times they will come running up to the net and still try and hit it hard and it will go out long. Ninety five percent of the time i want to make sure above all else that the serve is deep though.
Shot Two. I return serve. I am thinking BEFORE they serve where i want to hit the serve return. Down the middle and hope they fight over it. Is one player giving me a chance to hit to their backhand , even though their backhand is weak. Does one player have a hard time hitting the third shot so i want to go to them. Is one player slow on their feet, so if i hit my return to them, it is hard for them to come up to the net afterwards. Ninety five percent of the time i want to make sure the return of serve is deep though.
Third shot. Most important shot in PB. Ninety percent of the time this is soft into the kitchen. Do i want to hit this shot soft into the middle and hope they fight over it? Do i want to go to my right side to that players backhand as most players are not as good with their backhand.
The first three shots are the easiest to think ahead of time as to what type of shot you will do. After that you still want to try and hit shots that take advantage of your opponents weaknesses.
I am a firm believer that if you have two equally skilled right handed players together, the player on the left takes balls down the middle as that is the forehand. If i am playing with a much better partner ( Phil Bagley, Tim Nelson, Brian Staub, etc) against two top players, my only goal is to keep the ball low and in play. I let them poach as much as they want . I am always looking out of the corner of their eye to see if they are coming over to take "MY Shot". I have no ego problem letting the much better player take as many shots as they want. This is just smart PB>
Try and use your brain power, not just your athletic abilities as your brain is more important.
Tip of the Week 21
Todays tip will be on stroking NOT pokeing the ball.
Many of my tips come from my observations while playing or more likely while sitting on the bench watching others play. I was lucky enough to play a couple of games this morning with National Doubles Champion..... Brian Staub. After playing with him as my partner i took a break and watched from the side lines.
Brian is one of the sports TOP players. He also has a text book swing at the ball. For those of you that havent watched it ....go to ....
....... and watch the mens open doubles finals from last month. Notice how Brian and ALL the top players are very relaxed and smooth in their stokes. They anticipate where and how their opponents will be hitting the ball. They move to that point and get their paddle back early and smoothly without rushing... hit the ball.
This is in contrast to what i see lower level players doing...which is NOT anticipating, NOT moving to where the ball will be coming to and NOT swinging smoothly and without rushing the shot. These lower level players seem to wait until the last moment and then POKE at the ball which gives them MUCH less control on the shot.
If you want to improve and play like a top player, then you want to do the things that the top players do. You should spend time each week watching videos of top players doing what they do best. Great PB.
Tip of the Week 22
Last week we went over the serve in detail. Today we will discuss the serve return in depth.
The number one important thing in the serve return is to get it DEEP. It is more important to get it deep, than it is to get it back hard or to the backhand or anything else. People ask me all the time......How do i handle bangers. Well this is where you start. It is very hard for even a good banger to be able to hit the ball hard and low enough to overpower you at the net if they have to hit their shot from the baseline. The same is NOT true if they can whack the ball at you from mid court.
Secondly, if bangers are overpowering you, you have to do one of two things with the serve return. Either hit it to the bangers backhand....or hit it to the banger that is the weaker banger. In either case, you still have to get it deep. What i mean by deep is within three feet of the baseline. Again, you cant let a banger hit the third shot with their forehand from mid court.
Now if your opponents banging their third shot is not an issue for you.....Here are the options (still wanting to hit it deep ). Go right down the middle a little closer to the opponent standing to the left side (start service box ) . This assumes that both players are right handed. What you are doing is going down the middle on the serve return, but going closer to the opponent that would have to hit it with a backhand. You are trying to establish confusion. It is closer to the backhand player, but the middle is usually taken by the forehand player so each may think the other is taking it.
Next if i am playing against opponents and one of them is really a strong poacher, i want to hit the return to the poacher. In the video i sent out a couple of months ago with me playing with Brian against Brians son and Rob Elliot, they usually hit the serve return to Brian. Why???? Because Brian is an excellent poacher. If they hit the return to me, Brian can come up and hurt them with a poach. If they hit the return to Brian, he has to stay back and let the ball bounce due to the two bounce rule, so he can't come up immediately and poach. So there are instances that you want to play the better player.
ONE THING I SEE OVER AND OVER IS THE SERVE RETURNER NOT MAKING A GREAT ENOUGH EFFORT TO GET TO THE NET AFTER THEY HIT THE SERVE RETURN. I cannot stress how important this is. When you are standing there waiting for the serve to come to you, you need to be thinking two things
follow your return up to the net. Move up immediately.
Here is the second day ( only two games ) of when some of the best PB players were here at Miona practicing against each other.
They are Phil Bagley and Matt Staub vs Kyle Yates and Rob Elliot
THIS IS HOW YOU SHOULD STRIVE TO PLAY. See how hesitant they are to come out of the soft game unless they have a really good chance of hitting a winner. The defense of your opponent is such that if you go for a winner and dont hit a winner, you may very well loose the point.. They realize this and that is why they wait and wait for a really good opportunity.
Also the first day of each month the USAPA sends out a news letter to all members. This month was a really good tip from Wesley Gabrielsen, one of the top 5.0 players. Here is a reprint of that tip.................
Tips from a Pro...
Tennis to Pickleball – Easing the Transition
By Wesley Gabrielsen
The past few years I have found myself in a group of former competitive tennis players that has caught the pickleball bug. This extremely social, fun and competitive sport has lured me in and now I can't get enough of it!
Although there are many skills and strategies that can be carried over from tennis to pickleball, making a successful transition to competitive pickleball requires some additional skills and tactics. First and foremost, a tremendous amount of patience is required in order to be a winning pickleball player. Whether you are hitting overhead smashes, lobs, drop shots, ground strokes or volleys, it is likely that they will come back more often than they do in tennis. Learning how to be patient and set yourself up strategically is the key to success. Rallies in pickleball doubles often are reminiscent of long singles points in tennis. Patience and the will to succeed are a great first step in the transition.
In addition to being patient, learning how to hit a soft "dink" shot while engaged in a soft-shot rally is another key to success in pickleball doubles. I will never forget my first tournament, the 2011 Oregon State Games; after seeing my opponents’ warm-up I was confident that I could blast them off the court with my hard ground strokes. Needless to say, shortly after our opponents began dinking, the match quickly ended in a 21-7 loss for my partner and me. Ultimately, despite a person's ability to generate spin and power and use it effectively in tennis, those skills will only take you so far in pickleball, as I learned from that match.
Learning to dink is the one skill that a player needs to master when transitioning from competitive tennis to any level of pickleball. There are many ways to improve this skill: watch other players dink, question them about their technique, watch pickleball videos on YouTube (there are thousands), and most importantly, PRACTICE those dinks! I have found that using a variety of drills to practice dinking has made a significant improvement in my dinking prowess, and has led to more victories for my partners and me. Ultimately, if you are making the transition to pickleball and want to be competitive as soon as possible, master the dink. Most importantly, have fun, because this is a great game! Happy pickling, and as a dear pickleball friend of mine from Oregon says, “Play some Good Pickle!”
Additional tips at Pickleballstuff.com.