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An Unexpected Time To Practice Serves

We all know how hard it is to stay tuned up with our serves. Most pickleballers will go through a week of serving yips now and then when they just can’t serve accurately to save their lives.

One thing that helps is to practice serves. For instance if you’re the first one on the court, you can grab some pickleballs and try a few serves. If you’re really hardcore, you might go out and work on serves for a half-hour when no one is around.

However, there is an unexpected opportunity to practice serves and it is during live games. No, I’m not talking about actually serving. What I’m talking about is every time the ball has gone out of bounds at the end of a rally and you have to get it and return it to the server on the other side.

If you’re like most, you’ll hit it to that server with an overhand stroke like a tennis serve. What a waste! Instead, serve it to the server. In most cases they won’t even notice that you returned the ball just like a drop or a bounce serve, yet you had one more chance to practice a serve.

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Pickleball Points You Won’t Believe Exist

I believe the first two rallies in the video below are the best. You can skip over the first few seconds of introduction where pickleball is compared to ping pong and tennis – we know all that!

But watch the first singles match! Where did he get that energy? Well, it’s not impossible even if you are of advanced years. We do get used to conserving energy. Instead, the next times you play pickleball, commit yourself to getting behind every ball. Don’t just stand there and hope for the best. Don’t think you can just flex to reach the harder shots. Do some split-stepping. Move! You may find it tiring and hard at first, but with time, moving will be come easy and second-nature to you.

Early in the second rally, an Erne shot is performed as if routine. The rest of the rally is amazing also.

Also notice that at times, both teammates are very close to each other. They both know where the next ball will be aimed by watching their opponents’ body positions. This seems to run counter to the idea that teammates should always be approximately 6 – 8 feet (2 – 2.5 meters) apart.

The rest of the rallies in this video are about speed. It is fun to watch, and not that hard to learn. In warm-ups or general drilling, work on standing at the kitchen line, and rally with your opponent entirely airborne. Slowly bring up the speed and power over the course of weeks.

Don’t forget to wear eye protection.

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Artificial Intelligence Tells a Story

I asked ChatGPT, “Please tell me a 3000-word romance story heavily involving pickleball.”

This is what I got: (By the way, it’s only around 590 words.)

Once upon a time in the quaint town of Pickleton, there lived two individuals whose paths were destined to cross on the vibrant pickleball court. Meet Emily, a spirited young woman with a passion for pickleball that rivaled her love for adventure, and Jack, a charming and athletic man who found solace in the rhythmic bounce of the pickleball on the court.

The story begins one sunny afternoon when Pickleton’s community gathered for their annual pickleball tournament. The air was filled with excitement as players of all ages and skill levels prepared to showcase their talents. Emily, adorned in her lucky pickleball-themed attire, was eager to prove her prowess on the court. Little did she know, Jack, the town’s heartthrob, was equally determined to claim victory.

As the tournament progressed, Emily and Jack found themselves paired against each other in a heated match. The court became a battleground of skill, determination, and subtle glances exchanged between the two competitors. With every swift movement and precise shot, a spark ignited between them, transcending the boundaries of the pickleball court.

Their competitive banter soon evolved into playful teasing, and laughter echoed across the court. Unbeknownst to them, the spectators began to sense a different kind of rivalry blossoming—one that had nothing to do with pickleball rankings but everything to do with matters of the heart.

As the sun dipped below the horizon, casting a warm glow over Pickleton, Emily and Jack found themselves in a tied game. The tension on the court mirrored the unspoken emotions building between them. In a moment of daring spontaneity, Jack suggested a tiebreaker under the stars, transforming the pickleball court into a magical arena of possibilities.

Underneath the twinkling night sky, Emily and Jack’s movements became synchronized, guided by an invisible force that drew them closer with each point scored. The intensity of the game mirrored the growing attraction they felt for each other. It was no longer about winning the tournament; it was about winning each other’s hearts.

As the final point was scored, the crowd erupted into cheers, but Emily and Jack only had eyes for each other. Their shared passion for pickleball had forged a connection that transcended the confines of the court. In that moment, Pickleton witnessed the birth of a love story as timeless as the sport that brought them together.

In the days that followed, Emily and Jack continued to explore the magic of their newfound connection. Pickleball became the backdrop for their blossoming romance, with each match serving as a metaphor for the ebbs and flows of love. They discovered the joy of teamwork, the importance of communication, and the thrill of facing challenges together—lessons learned on the pickleball court that resonated in their hearts.

The town of Pickleton soon became a haven for love, with pickleball enthusiasts from far and wide flocking to witness the enchanting love story that unfolded on its courts. Emily and Jack’s romance became a symbol of the transformative power of passion and connection, proving that sometimes, love can be found in the most unexpected places—like a small town obsessed with pickleball.

And so, Emily and Jack’s love story became a legend in Pickleton, whispered from one pickleball court to another, a tale of romance written in the language of swift volleys and gentle caresses of the pickleball paddle. The town continued to host pickleball tournaments, not just for the love of the sport but in celebration of the enduring love story that had put Pickleton on the map as the pickleball capital of romance.

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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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Why Good Pickleballers Eat This Way

Don’t you hate it when someone dies on the courts? Even worse, if you, or any other player, is lethargic, moving slowly, thinking unclearly, and just not playing to their potential.

So what’s the answer?

It turns out simple changes in diet can make a big difference.

Let’s use me, your author, as an example. When I was in my teens, I seldom had energy, but when I did, it was too much energy and I was crazy. The rest of the time I challenged my friends to do things because I simply didn’t have the springiness, the enthusiasm to do things myself. Sometimes I’d even become dizzy and have to sit down for a while.

I would have thought there was something wrong with me, but it was like that for some of my friends also. In my twenties I came across some information that I entirely ignored for a while.

The idea was that by eliminating sugar and cutting down on starch, a person might have more energy and consistent energy for hours at a time. That’s just bullcrap right?

My wife convinced me to try this stupid idea. So to appease her, I give it a legitimate trial. I gave up soda entirely. I quit eating candy bars when I needed a quick pick-me-up. I started eating yukky salad and generally nutritious foods rather than baked goods. I didn’t like it. This food wasn’t as comfortable, yummy and quickly and easily digestible. But for her, I stuck it out for a week even thought nothing good came of it.

Oddly at the end of the week, the salads weren’t really that bad. To my surprise, I didn’t miss the soda one bit. I started taking an interest in tea.

Now, here’s where it really gets weird: after being convinced to stick it out another week, I was able to do things that required energy. I could ride my bike longer distances, no problem. Pickleball would still be years into my future, but suddenly tennis, hiking and even soccer were easier. I was shocked to discover that two hours of strenuous exercise could go by, and I was still doing fine.

Then too, and I don’t know if I can talk about this here: I was no longer having occasional bouts of constipation. Sometimes I’d even have a strong intestinal ache from time to time due to poor digestion. That’s all gone now, and has never come back.

As a result, for several years, I ate better.

Scientific studies have shown that this low-sugar diet is also helpful in preventing many dreadful diseases.

But by my early 50s, I had slipped part-way back to my old habits. Oh sure, I was eating less meat and focusing mostly on organic foods for long-term health, but my blood pressure was getting out of control. It was running around 150 over 100, and sometimes even like 170 over 105. Normal is 120 over 80. The doctor wanted me to take pills. I looked over the long list of side effects and didn’t like it, but what could I do?

Well, my wife knew what to do. She literally yelled at me when I tried to fill my prescription. She said to try cutting out all sugar and reduce carbs.

It took only two weeks to get my blood pressure back to where it was averaging around 130 over 90. Months later it was even better than that and sometimes even lower than average. I don’t know if everyone would have such spectacular and instant results, but I figure it’s worth a try, right?

In coaching, I tell people to get low, to move quickly, split-stepping and getting behind the ball. But maybe they can’t. They just don’t have the energy. I hope this info helps!

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Ten Trick Serves

In this video I demonstrate ten trick serves. Several of these are easy to learn. Some are silly, some are quite competitive.

1. Two flips of the paddle. This may be the most difficult serve to accomplish. Start by practicing these steps:

a. Flip the paddle with just one revolution and catch it by the handle. Work on keeping the paddle vertical when you flip it. Otherwise, the surface of the paddle will be affected by the air and wobble, making it difficult to catch. You’ll probably want to practice on a soft surface, so you don’t end up with something like this:

b. Once one spin becomes easy, learn to flip it for two revolutions.

c. With your non-dominant hand, throw a pickleball in the air at the exact same time you flip the paddle. At first, you probably won’t be able to catch the ball as you focus on flipping the paddle. To start, you can simply let the ball fall. The objective is to throw the ball at the exact same time as you throw the paddle.

d. Work on throwing the ball high enough that you can focus on catching the paddle before you catch the ball.

e. Hit the ball with the paddle.

f. Make a point of hitting the ball when the paddle is below your waist and below your wrist so it is a legal volley serve. In fact, I’m not sure the serve I’m showing in the video is actually legal.

2. Bounce the ball three (or more) times on the edge of the paddle before serving. The only hard part is bouncing the ball in a controlled manner. Once you master that, the rest is easy. Bouncing a ball on the edge of the paddle is good for eye-hand coordination in general, and will make you a better kitchen rally player. As in the previous serve, it is best to let the ball fall far enough that you can hit it below your waist and below your wrist to keep it legal. Notice that this may not be legal even if done ‘right.’ In competition, an opponent or referee could call it a distraction.

3. The next serve is totally legitimate. As you may know, with a bounce serve, you can use any kind of stroke you wish. In this case, I’m scrubbing the paddle up over the top of the ball at a 45 degree angle, to project forehand topspin. This is actually the same as an ordinary forehand topspin passing shot, but presented as a serve.

4. Notice the ridiculous bounce you can achieve with an extreme backspin serve such as demonstrated in the video. This is a little tricky to learn. The idea is to become very extreme. Notice my silly body position, and the degree to which I attempt to exaggerate the backspin. When totally successful, the ball bounces so weirdly that beginning and intermediate players can’t return it.

5. I don’t think there’s any point in a super-high lob serve, but they are fun. What’s even more fun is watching beginners get their timing wrong, often totally missing the ball as it bounces over their heads. There’s really no trick to practicing these. Just keep trying until you can bash them really high, yet they still land in the court.

6. Next we have a juggling serve. This is definitely the hardest one to master.

a. Learn three-ball juggling. You can find an easy way to learn right here: Three Ball Juggling.

b. Substitute the paddle for one of the balls. Notice that the paddle is thrown with a single spin from hand to hand. Work on keeping the paddle vertical so it doesn’t wobble in mid-air, making it hard to catch. If you haven’t already, you may want to practice this without the juggling at first. You may want to practice everything having to do with throwing a paddle over a soft surface. The single vertical spin is optional. You can throw it for two or more spins, you can throw it in a transverse plane, the sky is the limit.

c. Once you can juggle a paddle and two balls, throwing one ball high and serving it is not difficult. Again, to keep it legal, it is best to let the ball fall enough that it is below your wrist and below your waist.

Something else I did not demonstrate in this video is a variation where bouncing a ball off the edge of the paddle and juggling are combined, so for every toss of the paddle, a ball is bounced off the paddle’s edge before or during the next throw.

7. There’s no limit to what you can get away with in bounce serves. In the video, I’m serving with a forehand stroke while kneeling. It has no function other than goofiness.

78. Something totally legal that I didn’t remember to capture on the video is a double-bounce serve. The official USAPA pickleball rules specifically state that the ball can bounce as many times as you like. So, try dropping the ball, but letting it bounce twice before you hit it. This is surprisingly easy to accomplish.

8. Next you’ll see a volley serve in which I demonstrate rather extreme topspin. The paddle is scrubbing over the top of the ball with the face at a 45 degree angle. You can practice this serve until it is very fast. The ball clears the net by inches, and bounces deep toward the baseline in a way that’s difficult to achieve in any other kind of serve. Most beginning and many intermediate players cannot return this serve. Even top players can be put a little out of rhythm which will throw off their whole rally.

I used to believe there was no serve a top player couldn’t return easily. Therefore you’ll see a lot of the best players serving high and floppy. That seems to as well as anything more aggressive, as long as the ball bounces close to the baseline. That’s what I believed until I came across a 5.0 player who was serving with these low fast hard topspin serves. It may or may not work for you, but is a worthy experiment. Keep in mind the response to a low aggressive serve may be a very fast return, which your partner may not be able to handle in doubles, or which may even trouble you in singles.

9. The windmill is another serve that doesn’t have any place in serious pickleball, but makes people laugh. Interestingly, it results in a backspin with a bounce that may flummox many players. The only suggestion I have for this serve is to make it big. Use a huge grand gesture, not some half-way small circles of the paddle. Since it’s a clown move, do it like a clown!

10. I’m hesitant to include the backward under the legs serve because it is rather disrespectful. I was once accused of making fun of my opponents when using this serve. Well, I guess I was 🙂 As you can see in the video I didn’t get it right. It’s not hard to learn. It’s just that I haven’t practiced it.

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Longest Rally

Your author was very proud of having rallied for 235 hits with Robert Thomas a trainer of pickleball referees. It turns out that was nothing compared to an official Guinness record set by identical twin brothers Angelo and Ettore Rossetti. Their rally was much longer. How long, you ask? Was it

a) 517 hits?

b) 2024 hits?

c) 2037 hits?

d) none of the above?

OK, here you go: On October 10, 2021, in a continuous rally lasting 6 hours and 11 minutes, they hit the ball back and forth… Are you ready for this? 16,046 times.

They also established a record in 2008, since broken, for longest tennis rally, which consisted entirely of volleys, lasting 25,955 hits. At that point, one of the brothers, and we don’t know if it was Ettore or Angelo, hit the net.

The picture above was taken shortly after their 15,000th hit.

Don’t believe it’s possible? You can watch the whole six hours and eleven minutes here:

Your author left this running in the background for a while and found the sound soothing, almost hypnotic.

If you were tasked with breaking a world record like this, what would you do?