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Paddle Manipulation

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

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Bad Paddle

The Story Behind This Paddle

The paddle you see pictured above was my paddle with which I learned not only more pickleball, but some of the silly moves such as Strange Serve. I learned some additional tricks which I’ll be demonstrating on this website soon. As you might imagine, I dropped it a few times. Or, maybe more than a few times.

At first, it just started to show cracks at the top corners. Then it got worse, as you can see below:

But it still worked fine. People started laughing at my worn paddle, which of course caused me to keep using it. We were all curious to see how bad it might become.

One day, the black plastic edge pnotecter came entirely loose from the top. It was flopping around. Even still, I could use the paddle, except when plastic strip came between the paddle surface and the ball. So, it had to be cut off.

The paddle not only continued to work but in my opinion was even better than original, being quite a bit lighter in weight. Of course, I’d be kicked out of an official tournament with that paddle, but that wasn’t a concern for recreational play.

Now that the edge protecter was gone, the material started to wear away more rapidly from the corners. You’d see little corrugated strips laying on the courts where I had played.

I kept telling people that I’d retire the paddle when it got down to the size of a teaspoon. Even thought it still works fine today, I have in fact retired it. I started to think that if a teammate and I tried for the same shot, there’s a chance I’d scratch my partner’s hand or arm. I would imagine the scratch with that rough material could be quite severe.

Now I’m using a brand new Z5 just like the old one.

I’ve seen many pickleballers who try multiple paddles, spending as much as it takes to get the most recent fashionable product. I continue to use my Z5. I’m certainly not the best player in the world, but I hope this little story lets people know that the quality of the game is far more based on the skill of the player than having the exact right paddle.

As an aside, in the 1970s when bicycle racers all felt they had to shave their legs and wear chamois-lined black wool shorts to be competitive, the fastest racer in New York started showing up with hairy legs and his shorts inside out. He still won most races.

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Worst Pickleball Surface Ever!

worst pickleball surface

Click the image to see the YouTube video

This has to be the worst pickleball surface ever. It appears to be full of cracks, the lines are hard to see, there are distracting patterns, and it even seems to be wet in places, yet at times they are playing a very high-quality game. Next time the sun is in your eyes, it is too windy, the net is too floppy, or anything else is wrong, remember that it’s possible to play a good game even in a situation like this.

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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.

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The Flummoxing Response

The Flummoxing Response

When you are with less-experienced players, one thing you can do that has consistently hilarious results is to hit a ball very high. You need a bit of skill to do this, because until you practice it quite a bit, the ball will tend to go out of bounds way past the baseline. Or, you’ll have it drop so close to the net that the opponents can let it bounce, then slam it back at you.

When you get it right, you’ll find that people have considerable trouble returning it well, if at all. They just can’t make the conversion in their minds about waiting (waiting) for the very vertical bounce, and hitting it horizontally back to you. They’ll often miss the ball entirely, and at other times will hit it remarkably out of bounds.

A good server can also serve very high. Sometimes you’ll see that the very best players, who know there’s no serve the opposition can’t return, will a serve very high. There is a limit to the height at which the height of serve is useful, but the good players will often serve it much higher, just for the fun of seeing how high they can serve.

You don’t generally want to try this outdoors on a windy day unless you are pretty sure you can have it land in the right place. But then, if you do, the problems are compounded for the recipients.

You don’t want to do this indoors unless you are good at getting it as high as possible without hitting the ceiling.

You don’t want to do this on a sunny day, with the sun behind you, because that just wouldn’t be fair, or nice, to the recipients.

And finally, you don’t want to do this with absolute beginners, because unless they are warned, they’ll quite possibly run backward to respond, and fall, resulting in an injury.

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New Terminology

Some New Terminology

picture of bagel

I posted a query about terminology in the forum section of, and got some interesting responses. I don’t know how legitimate or ‘universal’ these terms may be, but thought you’d enjoy them in any case.

Wrong Garage – A serve that goes into wrong service box

Erne Shot – Normally, you can’t be closer than seven feet from the net when hitting a ball unless it has bounced. However, if you have a ball that’s coming well to one side, you can step right up to the net, as long as you are outside the sideline, and hit the ball without it needing to bounce first. Here’s a video.

Pantry – The area outside the sideline near the center line very close to the net, but outside the kitchen. The area where the Erne shot takes place.

Dairy Queen Server – A person who has only a “soft serve”

Tattooed – Getting hit by a fast pickleball.

Glendaled – Got robbed on a call.

Saggy Rag – A portable net.

Bageled – Did not score one point.

Bagel With Cream Cheese – Did not get to serve, and bageled.

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The Heel Kick-Up

For a Much Easier, But Still Impressive Pick-Up, Click Here

This is a way to retrieve balls from the ground that is uncommon and impressive, yet fairly easy to learn.

Lightly trap the ball between your heels. Jump and kick up both feet simultaneously, as if you were trying to kick yourself in the butt. The ball will continue up, over your head, to be easily caught in your hand. This takes a bit of practice. The average pickleball player will probably perfect it in about two weeks of goofing around between plays or off to the side between games.

With a lot of energy, you can learn to kick the ball straight up over your back, over your head, and catch it in front of your body.

Going a step further, if the final destination of the ball is to another player, kick it up, but instead of catching it, hit the ball with your paddle to the other player.

Going yet another step further, with practice, you don’t need to carefully position your heels around the ball. As it is rolling to you, you can form a slightly open V between your feet. The ball will come to a stop caught in the V between your heels. All in one smooth move, you kick it up and pass it on, or do whatever you want with it.

Then, if you can do the heel kick-up, you can learn to run toward the ball as it is coming to you, jump to a position where the ball is trapped between your heels, and kick it up, also all in one smooth move. This is dangerous because you can squish the ball if you don’t get it right. Furthermore, I believe there is a risk that you could twist an ankle, so be careful if you practice this technique.

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Three-Ball Juggling

Three-Ball Juggling

In this YouTube clip, I teach pickleball juggling in one minute and 39 seconds. This student ‘got it’ on her fifth try. You can use the same technique to teach it to others, or to learn it yourself. The key concepts:

1.) 3-ball juggling is really just one ball at a time.

2.) Start with the hand that’s holding two balls.

3.) Each ball is thrown to the opposite hand.

4.) In order to make room to catch a ball, throw the ball that’s in that hand right before a ball arrives.

5.) Throw each ball to approximately the same height – just above your eyes. Later, with practice, you’ll be able to juggle with much lower throws.

6.) Some beginners will try to throw two balls at the same time, but every throw should happen in its own slice of time. It’s slower, and smoother than you think.

7.) You might have to try it a hundred times before you get it.

8.) Have fun!

For teaching, I tell the student that I’m going to be gravity, and all they need to do is hold their hands still. I then simulate the process for several throws, as you see in the video, while explaining, “This is really just one ball at a time.”

I usually repeat the demonstration just once, making it clear that the student should start with the hand that’s holding two balls.

I then step aside and let the student practice. Sometimes I offer corrections. The most common corrections are that the student tries to throw all the balls at once, doesn’t throw them high enough or to the opposite hands, or won’t throw the third or sometimes the fourth ball to keep the process going.

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Enjoying Lower Level Play

Enjoying Lower-Level Play

Lower-level players invariably want to play with higher level players so they can improve their game, and see how well they can compete. This often annoys higher level players who have grown used to a game involving standardized (“formal“) first and second shots, and then kitchen rallies. The advanced players don’t like it when the lower-level players poach at incorrect times, can’t get a serve in bounds, try to lob everything, and consistently pop up everything they return, leaving the advanced player to get smashed. The advanced player may even feel unsafe with a beginning partner who is swinging wildly at things coming down the middle, not knowing that ‘forehand takes the shot’ and not responding to “Got it,” or “I go.”

But, there is also joy in playing with the lower-level players. Keeping that in mind will keep your radiator from boiling over when you end up with a lower-level player, or three lower-level players on your court. It will make it so you’ll want to allow them time to play with you, eliminating elitism and hard feelings.

So what is this joy I’m talking about? There are at least eight ways you can enjoy beginner play:

1. It is an easy game. They don’t drop things so perfectly into the kitchen that you have to play defensively. They don’t have winning diagonal shots that put you out of position, and if they do manage to get you out of position, they don’t know how to take advantage of your out-of-positionness. In short, they can’t put anything past you.

2. They so admire the way you play! They are absolutely amazed when you block a hard forehand shot intended for the back court, and drop it ever so lightly into their kitchen. They are amazed when you run behind your partner and easily return a lob. They are flabbergasted when they work so hard to get things past you, and you casually return everything they try.

3. You can work on perfecting some of your technique. For instance, if you are trying to drop balls closer to the net, and have to arc them higher to do so, you don’t have to worry about offensive returns from just behind the NVZ.

4. You can play with things that you wouldn’t do in a high-level game, such as spin serves.

5. You can enjoy running them around. If you’ve got opponents who won’t come to the kitchen, keep sending them balls to one side of their half of the court or another, so they’ll be running as much as tennis players.

6. You don’t have to end rallies offensively. Instead, just keep gently returning everything they blast at you, until they finally make a mistake. You may be surprised at what they return, but of course every return they make will be high and right where you’d like it.

7. It feels nice to offer coaching to those who are willing to accept it, and see them become more successful right away.

8. And lastly, they are so grateful!

Those who are astute may recognize this as paraphrasing a little Ben Franklin essay: On The Choice of a Mistress.

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Strange Serve

Strange Pickleball Serve

It is not necessary to learn this serve to play good pickleball:

However, if it interests you, here are the details:

The paddle and the ball are thrown at the same time.

The ball must be thrown high enough that you have time to spin and catch the paddle.

The paddle is spun two revolutions before it is caught.

You might want to practice a single spin variation of this serve before trying the double-spin version.

You might want to practice simply throwing and catching a paddle with two spins before you add it to the serve.

It is important to remember to hit the ball when the paddle is below your waist. There is a tendency to hit the ball before it falls low enough. This would not be legal, since the ball must be served below the waist and below the wrist.

In the serve I’m demonstrating, I’m also adding a spin to the ball, by swiping the paddle from the outside to the inside of my body, in other words, from right to left. This causes the ball to break to the opponent’s right, and allows for a low, fast service, which can flummox even the best players. Imparting a spin is optional.

There is a possibility that a judge could call this ‘illegal’ due to distraction. I wouldn’t suggest trying to use it to win a tournament. But it is fun just to use it to surprise people.

Have fun!