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Hustler’s Approach

The following information is more about amusement than something you’d actually want to do, but then again…

My father-in-law was a pool hustler, the famous Salinas Kid. He once told me that he used to keep his winnings in two pockets. He’d put his one- and five-dollar bills in one pocket, and the tens, twenties and larger denominations in another pocket. More than once, people would chase him out of the pool hall, demanding their money back. He’d reach into the one pocket pulling out a wad of small denomination bills, throw them up in the air, and say, “There’s your money.” As the people scrambled around on the ground grabbing the ones and fives, he’d run to his car and make a clean get-away.

More to the point of pickleball, he’d go into a pool hall smelling of liquor, standing a bit unsteadily, and blow the first several games, losing a few dollars here, and a few more there. Then, as the price per game went up, somehow, he’d end up winning everything.

So, what does this have to with pickleball? This brings to mind a very good solution for when you’re playing doubles, and you have a weaker partner. Normally, every ball will be directed at your partner, and you’ve pretty much got to lose. However, if for the first four or five points of the game you make a total fool of yourself, hitting balls into the net, well past the baseline, or missing the balls altogether, every shot will then be directed at you. That’s when you finish by winning handily!

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Dink, Dink, Bang

Dink, Dink, Bang is a two-person warm-up exercise for doubles players. With each player just behind the kitchen line, start with three dinks. The fourth shot will be a speed up, essentially aiming at your opponent’s chest. The opponent will then try to reset by dinking it back into the kitchen. Since this is five shots altogether, the bang and reset switch back and forth between the players. You can see this illustrated in the first exercise shown in this video:

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Two-Failure Australian

Perhaps you’ve had days when only three players are available. Three-player pickleball is called “Australian.” If anyone knows why it’s called ‘Australian,’ please leave a comment below.

There are several variations of Australian. A common one is for the best player to remain on one side of the court, facing two opponents. The opponents must always return the ball into the half of the court in which the single player is standing. The single player can return the ball anywhere.

The single player will win more rallies because it takes some extra skill to place the ball in only half the court, and because the single player doesn’t have to move very much to cover all necessary territory.

A particularly skilled, energetic or crazy player may choose to cover the entire court.

The single player will typically get only one serve. That means that they can continue serving while winning each rally, but if a rally is lost, it goes to the opponent in the right-hand court. Just like ordinary doubles pickleball, that opponent serves until a rally is lost, then the serve goes to the other opponent. So, to partially make up for the advantage of playing only half-court, the single player gets only the one serve.

If all the players are nearly equal in skill, there might be some resentment if one always opposes the other two. That may happen even if a game is being played to 7 or 11 points before rotating so someone else is the single player.

Therefore another variation is ‘Two-Failure Australian.’ The way that works is that the single player can remain the single player only until s/he has lost two rallies. At that point, everyone rotates clockwise, so someone else gets a chance as the single player. The single player serves every rally.

Most often, score is not kept. If the players do want to keep score, just like doubles pickleball, it is a three-part score. However, the score starts with the single player’s score, then the opponent in the right court (from their perspective), and finally the opponent in the left court. So, score is kept clockwise from the server.

Another variation is even more confusing. That is a four-part score. The single player says their own score first, then the player clockwise (in the right side court), then the player in the left court, and finally ‘one’ or ‘two’ depending on whether s/he has had zero failures, or one failure so far.

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Saying Hello and Goodbye

Maybe it’s just me, but I believe enthusiastically saying “Hello” and “Goodbye” to people as they come and go from recreational pickup games can be very important.

There are pickleball players, especially among the older crew, who have very few friends. Maybe they’ve even lost a spouse. Something as simple as acknowledging them when they come to play pickleball can brighten their days.

It is also important to be careful not to look down on them if they don’t play as well as you, or if they have a personality you don’t like. For instance, there are people with regional accents that I find hard to handle. I want to think these people are stupid, or eccentric in unacceptable ways. However, I’m making an effort to let them be friends. I want them to be people I can admire. So, when I get a chance, I ask them about their families, their careers, whatever interests them. And sure enough, my opinion of them brightens.

One guy really rubbed me the wrong way. Just looking at him bothered me. Then we got to talking, and I found out he and I had been in the same business several years ago. Suddenly, he felt like a good friend.

What about unskilled players? It is so easy to look down on someone who swings and misses, or pops every ball. I believe I should still congratulate them when they make a good shot, even if it was just lucky. To see them smile with pride really makes my own day!

Avoid criticism. It can just devastate people, especially shy ones, if you tell them that their backhand is no good, or that they always serve too short, or they’ve got to quit popping the ball. Just let it be. They’ll learn eventually. It is not your job to coach them, unless they ask for it.

Finally, we need to take into account the sexual component. It is possible to acknowledge someone who starts to find you attractive. If a relationship with that person is not something you want, you do have to keep up your guard and let him or her know that you’re married, uninterested, etc, as soon as you see trouble brewing, and yet be careful not to deflate them too much. You still want them to feel accepted and happy.

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High To Low

Yet another over-simplification in pickleball is you always want to hit balls from high to low. Or, more specifically, you never want to give a ball high enough to the opposition that they can smash it back, or even just control it well. So, you want to keep your balls low as they cross the net, and ultimately land at your opponent’s feet. Generally that means follow the rule, ‘if they’re back, keep them back,’ but if they are at the kitchen, you really want your shots to land at their feet. Let them be the ones to high shots to you!

There are some exceptions to the rule. Lobs have to go high enough that the opponents can’t reach them, but not so high that they have time to run to the baseline and return them.

Serves and return of serves can be high and floppy, as long as they land close to the baseline.

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Why I Announce the Shots

In billiards, you’ll see players call their shots, meaning they tell you want the intend before they do it. For instance, “Six ball in corner pocket.”

Sometimes I’ll call my shots in recreational pickleball. When serving, I’ll say something like “Centerline, deep,” Or just as the opponents are serving, I might say, “Backspin, short.” Then I’ll try to return short with backspin, just like I said.

Why would I do this? It certainly isn’t a winning strategy. Why would I warn the opponents in advance of what they should get ready for?

It’s not about winning. What I’m doing has three related purposes.

1. If I manage to do what I said, it makes me look like a very good player. Better than I really am, of course.

2. If I make a mistake, such as serving the ball way out of bounds, or hitting the net, it reduces the embarrassment. That’s because everyone knows I was experimenting, not just randomly mishitting.

3. It forces me to focus on an experiment, which will hopefully eventually improve my game. Rather than just hitting the ball in my usual way, I must now attempt to fulfill the announcement.

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The One Great Simplification

If you only keep one thing in mind in all of the pickleball you play, it’s ‘keep everything low.’ If you pop a ball high above the net, you, or your partner are going to be in a bad situation.

There are exceptions. Serves and returns of serve can be high and floppy, as long as they land deep, near the base line.

Lobs give you time to reset, to get back to the kitchen.

However, if any shot after the second one, which has to bounce before it can be returned, is high, expect trouble. This is even more true if the high shot lands behind the kitchen line.

So how do you keep every shot low? Practice is the main thing. Additional techniques that will help are to stay calm, and get low. Bend your knees. I’m not sure of all the dynamics, but when you get low, your accuracy improves tremendously.

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Compensating for a Weak Partner

I asked ChatGPT, “What are some techniques to compensate for a weak partner in pickleball?”

I was surprised by the answer I received. What are your thoughts? Which of these are valid? Which are not? What could be added?

“Compensating for a weaker partner in pickleball can be approached in several ways, emphasizing teamwork, strategy, and support. Here are some techniques to consider:

“Communication: Constant communication is key. Encourage your partner, provide feedback, and suggest strategies during the game. Clear and supportive communication can improve performance and confidence.

“Cover the Court: Be ready to cover more ground. As the stronger player, anticipate shots that your partner might not reach and be prepared to cover those areas to maintain court coverage.

“Play to Their Strengths: Identify your partner’s strengths and try to set up opportunities that allow them to use those strengths effectively. If they have a good forehand or backhand shot, work to set them up for those shots.

“Encourage Confidence: Boost your partner’s confidence by showing support and highlighting their successes. This positivity can help them relax and perform better.

“Strategic Positioning: Adjust your positioning on the court to compensate for your partner’s weaknesses. For instance, if they struggle with overhead shots, position yourself closer to the net to cover lobs.

“Control the Pace: Try to control the pace of the game. Slow down the game when needed to give your partner more time to react and respond.

“Adapt Your Game: Adapt your playing style to complement your partner’s strengths and weaknesses. This might involve being more defensive, focusing on consistency, or altering your usual strategy.

“Focus on Defense: Place more emphasis on solid defense. A strong defensive game can offset weaknesses and provide opportunities to counter-attack.

“Stay Positive and Patient: Maintain a positive attitude and display patience. Remember, everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and a positive attitude can significantly impact performance.

“Practice Together: Regular practice sessions focusing on specific skills and strategies can help improve your partner’s game and overall teamwork.

“Remember, pickleball is a team sport, and supporting your partner is essential. Encouraging, communicating, and adapting your play style can significantly impact your game as a team.”

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Socratic Method

I am starting to use the method described below throughout so you can learn new pickleball tips, tricks and techniques. Some will take practice. Others you can implement as soon as you see them. All you need to do is click the Random button on any page to get started.

Having coached about two dozen players this summer with a new method, I discovered a system that is without a doubt the fastest way for people to improve their games. I call it “Socratic Pickleball,” or “Socratic Analytical Pickleball.”

It works like this: Four players of approximately equal skill level, or three players and a coach play games that are ordinary doubles pickleball. However, we stop between many of the rallies to discuss strategies.

I haven’t yet tried it, but I believe this would work well for two singles players, or a singles player and a coach as well.

The players are encouraged to interact. It doesn’t always have to be advice handed down from on high from the coach. As rallies are discussed, many interesting notions come up, many of which are presented in ways that are more memorable than just watching videos, or having the coach say ‘do this,’ or ‘do that.’

The player who is reluctant to come to the kitchen quickly learns to do so. The player who has never tried a long shot with forehand topspin learns how it’s done. The player who has gone into a serving slump (‘the yips’) learns ways to quickly over come the problem. The experienced player who is trying to answer many deep shots with backspin learns why that may not be a good idea, players learn the difference between a defensive lob and an offensive lob, and much more!

This can be done without a coach. Any four players can get together and critique at the end of rallies. Even without the coach, a lot of improvement will come to these players.

Did I say critique? It is important not to load up anyone with too much advice, especially negative advice. It is a rare human who could handle someone telling them “For the thousandth time, I’m telling you you’ve got to come to the kitchen!” without feeling resentful. In ideal Socratic pickleball, it is better to say something like, “Your backcourt play is so good, maybe you should see what you can do when you come more quickly to the kitchen,” or “I find I can cut off more angles at the kitchen.”

So go out there and try Socratic pickleball, and let me know how it works for you.

The Socratic method is attributed to the philosopher Socrates, who it is said would often ask questions, then offer his students to debate the relevant issues.

I’m planning to say much more about this. I’m planning to incorporate some Socratic methods into this very website. I’ve registered the name Do you think I should change from to that?

If you’re lucky enough to live in Marin County, California, check out Marin News, I may have an opening for you, and you may be surprised by my winter price.

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Criticism, Praise and Pickleball

It has been studied and documented that we hear thirty-two items of criticism for each item of praise! It starts when we are babies, ” Ooooh, your diapers stink!” or ” Can’t you keep out of trouble for even one minute?” Sure, we may not have known what the words meant, but even Continue reading Criticism, Praise and Pickleball