Paddle Manipulation

In this video, you’ll see pickleball paddle manipulation. I make it look simple because I’ve done it a thousand times. You can do it a thousand times too. It makes good use of your time between games while you’re waiting for other players to use the court. This exercise has a valid purpose. It will help with your hand-eye coordination, and with your instinctive feel for how you are holding the paddle in your hand. That’s very important for accurate shots.

For best results, do this on grass or a soft surface, because dropping your paddle on a hard surface once or twice will work out fine, but after a while, it will break down.

If you watch the video carefully, you’ll see that most of what I’m doing is based on two spins per toss.

To start, just flip the paddle from hand to hand with a single spin. It is important to use both hands right from the beginning, otherwise you’ll always have trouble with the non-dominant hand.

When you’re good at single spins, work on doubles. One of the things that may come naturally to you is to make sure the paddle spins flat. By that, I mean, it shouldn’t rotate on its axis while it is in the air, but should remain in a vertical orientation. If it rotates, or becomes horizontal, it will catch in the air and become unpredictable. Looking carefully at the video, you’ll see I actually had trouble with that during the first couple of tosses.

Everything else such as bouncing it off your feet, transverse throws, under the leg, behind the back, and the head balance are easily accomplished after you master the double spins. Quite possibly you’ll learn some things I didn’t demonstrate. Then you can teach me.

Have fun! – Jeff

Body Language Down the Middle

Body Language Down the Middle

Sometimes you and your partner have to respond to a ball coming right between the two of you. If you are both right or left-handed, you still might not be able to respond properly, if the ball is slightly offset, or if it is coming just too fast. Normally, you are supposed to talk, like “Mine,” or “You Go.” But there may not be enough time, or for various reasons verbal communication won’t work. There is another response. This response I’m about to disclose is somewhat automatic among good players. They may not even know they’re doing it.

So what am I talking about? Body language. If you expect your partner to get the ball, you back off a bit. You may stand ready, in case your partner doesn’t get the ball, but you make it a point, showing all the body language you can, to back off, or give your partner space.

On the other hand, you may notice your partner backing off. The minute you recognize that, the ball is all yours.

All this body language can be quite subtle, but can work better than actual words.

Avoiding the Tendency to Smash

Avoiding the Tendency to Smash

You so often see people trying to smash an overhand from just behind the non-volley line and then blast the ball into the net, that you might think a different strategy is in order. You’re right!

This is one of the harder things to learn in pickleball, yet it is one of the simplest strategies: Don’t try to finish the rally with a hard shot unless you have a clear opportunity. You’ll come out way ahead if you simply rally the ball back to your opponents until you have a guaranteed put-away. That’s why you see players in top competitions patiently rallying softly back and forth in the kitchen for long periods of time. Unless they have a sure shot, they know it is better to wait for their opponents to make mistakes.

Along the same lines, you’re generally better off not driving a hard forehand at your opponents when everyone is at the kitchen. This can work well when you’re at 4.0-level play, because your opponents will not have the experience to react quickly. However, if you try a hard-driven ball at high-level players, it will simply come back to you even harder and faster. Or, a very experienced player may return your blast very softly, reducing the play back down to a mellow kitchen rally.

The Run-Through Poach

The Run-Through Poach

Every now and then you see a situation in which a high ball is coming to your partner, but your partner isn’t ready, being too far back. If you are right-handed, this is usually when you are on the left side of the court. In less experienced play, this can happen at any time. In higher-level play this most often happens when a shot, generally the third shot, is expected to land in the kitchen, but is accidentally too high or too long. The ball can be coming way to your right so it is almost going to land on a sideline. In fact, your response will be more spectacular the closer to the sideline it is. You run all the way across the court, smashing it hard back to your opponents, and then because of your momentum, you continue, running past the right sideline. You will not be able to return in time to defend this shot, so it needs to be a kill shot. Anything less definitive will cause you embarrassment, so don’t take the chance unless you know you’ve got a winner. If your partner is particularly aware, s/he will yell ‘switch,’ and run to cover the side of the court you have just abandoned, in case your ‘kill’ shot comes back. This does require awareness of your partner’s movement (or lack of movement) to avoid a dangerous collision.

Getting Behind the Ball

Getting Behind the Ball

Many shots are missed because the player didn’t get behind the ball. That means taking the extra energy necessary to step into the ball’s path so your body is aligned to have the best control for a return shot. This is especially important with diagonal dinking in the kitchen. Even though you will have to quickly return to a neutral position, you’ll have much better control if you step to where you need to be.

What If You Can’t Drop The Third Shot Into the Kitchen?

What If You Can’t Drop The Third Shot Into the Kitchen?

No doubt you’ve heard that the best pickleball action depends on dropping the third shot into the kitchen. But what if you can’t reliably drop that third shot into the kitchen? What are your options?

One of the best is to drive the ball hard and low across the net. Against top players this will seldom work because they’ll just slam it back even harder, quite possibly right at your feet, or at an impossible angle. But among average players, this is probably your best bet. If you are a tennis player, or have skill at low, fast shots, you can try putting long shots close to the sidelines. Most players will struggle with this, especially when you place a ball along the edge of the court away from the opponent’s strong hand, forcing a backhand or switch-handed return.

Another good place to put your fast low shot is right between the two players. They will often flub this return because of indecision as to who should return it.

Lobs are another possibility, but can be hard to place. Too close to the net and you’ll eat a monstrous return. Too far back, and it will probably land out of bounds. Too low, and it will be slammed back. Too high, and the opponents will have time to run back and return it. However, many beginners and even intermediate players misjudge the timing on lobs and fail to return them.

Have fun! – Jeff

Why Would a Pickleballer Do This?

An Unexpected Pickleball Exercise

If you’ve never tried it, you may find bouncing a ball off the edge of your paddle is easier than you thought. It’s not like that for everyone. Some people have to practice quite a bit. For all of us, whether natural at it or not, this can be quite valuable.

The reason is that it teaches several skills that are at the heart of our favorite sport.

1. It teaches you to follow the ball right to the paddle. Many people strike blindly at the ball, while looking at the opposing court, the net, or something distant. If one’s shots too often go wild, then following the ball all the way to impact with the paddle is a good habit to learn.

On the other hand, it is also important with some shots more than others, to see to the best of your ability where your opponents are, and hit to their feet, slightly to their left side, and so on. I, personally, tend to hit a lot of shots blind, meaning I don’t watch the ball all the way to impact, but instead, look to where I’m putting the ball. To complicate things further, misdirection with the eyes and body can be a valuable tactic. Glance where you want the ball to go, but then pretend to look somewhere else to throw your opponents off balance.

2. Many players have random shots because their paddle isn’t at the right angle in their hand. I have talked about this elsewhere in One cure is the Thumb Guide Grip. Another is to become absolutely familiar with the angle of the paddle in your hand. This edge bouncing exercise does that nicely.

3. It builds your reaction time. When you get in a popcorn war, you’ll want to react as fast as possible, as fast as you’ll learn to react when you’re bouncing the ball off the edge of your paddle, it goes sideways, and you manage to correct it on the next bounce.

4. It makes new opponents worry that you are better than you really are, or that you are so confident that they don’t have a chance. This last point is a bit of a stretch, but in any case, you’ll enjoy filling your idle time with activities like edge bouncing while players are rounding up balls between rallies or when waiting for everyone to show up on the court to start a game.

Please feel free to experiment with higher bounces, lower bounces, switching from hand to hand, rolling the ball over the edge, under the leg or behind the back bouncing – just anything you can think of.

Another Reason Lobs Are Mostly Defensive Shots

As I’ve mentioned previously, I like to reserve lobs for defense. If you try lobbing over your opponents’ heads when they are at the kitchen line, it may work, and can certainly embarrass the opponents, but usually does not work out. If the lob is too low, it will be smashed back at you. If too high, they have time to run backward to return it. The biggest problem is controlling the lob so it doesn’t go too far back, but far back enough. Whereas it can be an offensive move to break up a long kitchen rally, it is mostly best to reserve it for defense.

That defense is oddly enough, a response to a lob. One of the best ways to respond to a lob is to lob it back, giving you time to return to the kitchen line.

There is one more reason that lobbing is not a good offensive move, and that is because unless your partner expects it, your partner may be at the kitchen line where s/he might get killed by a smashed return. Generally, pickleball follows the convention of a long deep serve, a long deep return, and then a dropshot into the kitchen. After that, the rally stays soft and in the kitchen until someone makes a mistake. Lobbing out of that scenario seems to make sense, but not if your partner isn’t ready for the return.

Have fun! – Jeff

The First One to Escalate is the Loser

The First One to Escalate is the Loser

In general, the first person to try a hard fast shot during a kitchen rally is likely to be the loser. Therefore, when you find yourself a kitchen rally, don’t be the first one to escalate it into something faster unless you are very sure you have a winning shot.