Enjoy this short ESPN documentary about our favorite sport:
When should you experiment, and what does that mean?
You should experiment any time you’re not in a competition. The idea is that in casual or recreational matches, you can really work on your dropshots, try to put things as close to diagonal corners as possible, work on the right side passing shot that is so successful when it goes right along the sideline, fool around with poaching, or find the right height for lobs that are unreturnable.
It is this experimentation that will make you a great player faster than anything else.
There are two downsides to experimenting: You won’t look like a good pickleballer to your friends and neighborhood players because you’re frequently missing your shots. Is that important? Maybe not in comparison to more rapidly becoming an accomplished player than everyone else. Plus, when you land that extreme diagonal, or drop one perfectly in the kitchen, you’ll look great then and there.
On the other hand, the pickup or recreational game may not be important to you, but your partner may be really hoping to win. Or, maybe you’re the kind of person who really wants to win every game. Can you give up the immediate games in order to become a better player? That little psychological shift may be harder than you think.
A really great game to experiment with on a recreational court is when your partner isn’t very accomplished, or the players you’re up against are weaker. This is a time to work on your subtler skills rather than slamming every shot.
You may find it’s great fun to return every ball gently, and watch the opposing team slam back every shot they can reach. When you get tired of that, aim for the feet of a player on their non-dominant side, but gently, and watch what happens!
The other downside is that you have to remember to play conservatively, to quit experimenting, when you’re in serious competition.
A couple of years ago, it was said that there were 2 million pickleball players in America, and that the number was expected to grow to 8 million. I think we may have surpassed that number already. Where will it end?
One of the courts I frequently play on is partially covered with shade trees. For many players, seeing the pickleballs in the mottled shade and sun is difficult. This affects some players more than others. Colorblindness may be the issue. It is surprisingly common. (Try the fun little colorblindness test and exercise, and find out whether you are colorblind.)
So, I brought some ‘optic pink’ pickleballs to the courts, and sure enough, some players were able to see them better. However, other players felt they could see the yellow balls we had been using better.
In any case, the pink balls are fun because they are so different.
After lots of hard play, none have cracked yet, a problem that used to frequently plague pickleballs until a few years ago. They do get scuffed. Man, do they get scuffed! As you can see in the picture above, one is brand new, the other has been used for less than ten games.
To my surprise, when you slice and otherwise try spin shots, it seems that the scuffed ones don’t perform any better than the brand new ones.
In all other ways than color, these are exactly like the regular Franklin outdoor pickleballs. They have the same weight, number and size of holes, bounciness, and so on.
The only source I have found for these pickleballs is Ebay .
Low-End Pickleball Paddle Review
I had an opportunity to test some interesting pickleball paddles.
I bought this kit at Target. Containing two paddles and two balls, the price was $19.99!
You would think for that price, you wouldn’t get much. Well, let’s see.
We can start with the two pickleballs. They are actually ordinary Franklin balls, and held up fine in play.
Now, what about those paddles? I mean, $10 each, really! Well, I used both of them for about one game each, and I was actually impressed.
One of the two came in the package with a scratch:
But that’s me just being picky. The scratch had no effect on the performance.
They played fine. The painted wooden surfaces were uniform, meaning if I hit the ball a little away from the center, it still sent the ball where I expected it to go.
I was a bit surprised about the sound they make. Both paddles made a rather loud and high-pitched sort of double ‘bap’ when hitting the ball, as if something is loose inside. Maybe it’s the edge guard rattling.
The paddles are slightly heavy compared to high-end paddles, weighing an estimated 8 ounces (226 grams), although I didn’t actually weight them. Players put a lot of emphasis on lightweight paddles, but the difference is tiny. Heavy paddles actually have an advantage that you can impart more energy for smashes, and long backcourt drives. Perhaps one cannot respond quite as quickly at the kitchen line, but again, the actual difference is tiny.
In short, if you want to suggest affordable paddles for your friends, or have a couple of paddles to loan out, these would be great. If you are a 5.0 player, and are forced to use one of these paddles, you’d probably win as many games as with your $200 paddle.
What do you do when you have only three people?
This situation happens surprisingly often. Perhaps your fourth hasn’t arrived yet, or may not show up at all. So, do you just do warm-up exercises forever?
Instead you might enjoy real three-person competition. Typical three-person pickleball is often called “Australian.”
The most common way to play this game is to start with one person on one side of the net, facing the other two. Often it’s the strongest player against the two weaker players. (Make sure to read on, there is a more equitable and fun version.)
In many ways it’s like ordinary four-person pickleball. The only difference is that the ball has to land in the half of the court occupied by the single player, while that player can place the ball anywhere in the opposing court. This enhances directional control, which is great practice for four-person play.
Just like ordinary 4-person, if the single player wins the rally, s/he then moves to the left side, and serves to the opponents’ left side.
When the serving switches to the two-player side, they serve and play just as normal, with each player serving until a failure occurs, starting with the person on the right.
Just like ordinary pickleball, a ‘failure’ is when a serve is no good, or a rally ends in favor of the opposing person or team, or a player violates a rule.
Depending on the relative strength of the single player, s/he may be allowed one or two failures.
Because of the difficulty of placing the ball in the smaller half-court, with all else being equal, the single player will win most games, even if s/he is only allowed one failure when serving.
Since there is no centerline in the kitchen, sometimes judging whether a ball landed in the proper half is difficult. You just have to depend on the recipient’s judgment in such cases.
If the single player plays a ball that’s coming to the wrong half, and loses the rally, that’s considered a fault.
Three-person games are generally played to seven points, then everyone rotates one position clockwise. A new game begins, with one of the players from the side that had two players becoming the new single player.
One somewhat rare variation is more fun overall. In this variation, The single player is allowed two failures, and keeps track only of his or her own score. Then everyone rotates one position. This way, it isn’t one against two so much as each competing for themselves. This way, in a short period of time, everyone gets to play every position.
The reason two failures are allowed instead of just one is to prevent rotating too often, which is more work than fun.
Finally, in any variation, if one of the three people is an especially strong player, that person may opt to play the full court, against the two other players, meaning they can place the ball anywhere that would be legal in ordinary 4-person pickleball.
The variation in which everyone rotates after two failures doesn’t yet have a name so far as your author knows. Do you have any ideas for a name? Leave a comment below, and what you come up with may become the name that everyone in the world will use.
21 Reasons To Like Pickleball
This list assumes outdoor doubles pickleball, but many of these findings apply to indoor and singles play as well.
It’s a full-body exercise, involving upper body stretching, a bit of running, and quick-twitch movements. The best part is you may not realize you’re exercising.
Unlike many other sports or forms of exercise, the likelihood of injury is less.
Most pickleballers don’t take themselves too seriously. You’ll have many opportunities for amusement and laughter.
You can take pride in being in the vanguard of a relatively new sport.
Much like speed-dating, you may find yourself in the company of someone new, with whom you must cooperate right away.
You have a new skill that you can proudly introduce to family, friends and co-workers.
Once you get to the level where you participate in kitchen rallies, it teaches patience.
This shows people of a great age that one is never too old to learn something now.
You get enough sunshine to manufacture some vitamin D.
For players of advanced years, you get to enjoy the company of others in your age range.
Pickleball develops fast reaction times. In doubles, you also expand your peripheral vision ability in keeping track of the position of your partner. The speed of pickleball kitchen rallies and the necessity of solid focus makes safer motorists of us all.
This sport imparts a ‘can-do’ attitude that overflows into other activities. For instance if you have to learn another language, or want to master a particularly difficult piece of music, you may subconsciously say, “Hey, if I can learn pickleball, this is going to be easy.”
Don’t underestimate the time between games on busy courts. Instead of being upset because you don’t get as much playing time, know that real magic can happen in between-game communication.
Pickleball teaches humility as one slowly learns how the three-part scoring works, and to stay out of the kitchen when hitting balls that haven’t bounced.
For instance, it is a great place for networking. Let’s say you are a gigging musician. Pretty soon, a large new group of people will meet you, like you, and hire you for their events.
For those who might otherwise be lonely, pickleball is the perfect solution. After playing with the same people for a while, deep friendships develop naturally.
What better way to meet people of the opposite sex if that is your desire?
Pickleball develops social skills. You might think that the older players would have learned everything they need to know by now. Being an older player myself, I can guarantee there’s still more to be learned.
You develop the skill of playing with people who you might normally not get a long. For instance Republicans and Democrats can enjoy the game together.
Pickleball is a great sport for children. The lightweight ball is harmless, the court is small, the kids learn cooperation and coping skills.
Unlike some sports, it doesn’t matter if the player is tall, short, light or heavy. All body types can be equally competitive.
And, it’s so much fun!
Please leave a comment below if you can think of other reasons to like pickleball.
I have found that the majority of pickleball players prefer outdoor play. There are advantages to outdoor play:
- You get sunshine which creates vitamin D in your body.
- You usually get clean, fresh air.
- You can see and be seen by others.
- During the daytime, things are generally brighter than with indoor lighting.
- Most communities have more outdoor courts than indoor courts, which can be crowded.
- You can hear more clearly than in in a building with all its echos.
- The playing surface is often more consistent than indoor wooden, cork, tile or plastic surfaces.
On the other hand, your author, and many others, prefer indoor play. Here’s why:
- You don’t have to contend with windy days.
- The lighting is generally uniform. The sun won’t get in your eyes.
- If you happen to fall, the floor is more forgiving than a cement or concrete surface.
- Those with sore knees, hips, or plantar fasciitis find the slightly softer surface more comfortable.
- The temperature is comfortable and consistent.
- The facility may provide public locker and shower facilities.
Outdoor pickleballs generally have smaller holes than indoor balls. The theory is that since outdoor players have to contend with wind, the bigger holes would be more problematic.
Outdoor players will more typically use lots of balls while they play. The participants will keep extras in their pockets, rather than retrieving a ball after each rally. They can ignore the balls that have rolled to the edges of the court.
Many indoor players don’t have that advantage. If they lose a ball, it is likely to bother the people on the next court over. So, they’ll use one ball, and retrieve it quickly.
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
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.