As you know, pickleball is an unpredictable sport. One day, you can be on the top of the world, and the next, without explanation, you can’t do anything right. Much of the reason is because the sport is very fast, and the way the ball bounces off the paddle makes control more random than with other sports, such as tennis, where the ball is in better contact for a longer time with the strings of the racket.
But what seems completely unaccountable is getting into a serving slump. It will happen to many players, sometimes two or more times. You can’t seem to get a serve to simply land in the legal area of the court, and the harder you try, the worse it gets. Left untreated, the problem will resolve itself, but usually takes a couple of weeks. In the meantime, the simple act of serving the ball accurately becomes pretty much impossible. Strangely, the other pickleball skills – backcourt returns, dinking, all that, still work just fine.
Developing a serving problem in pickleball is similar to something called the ‘yips’ in other sports including tennis. That’s defined as a temporary loss of fine motor skills. In pickleball, it seems to more affect serves, while the rest of our game remains stable.
You can fix a serving problem instantly. Here’s how:
As you are preparing to serve. Look at the place where you’d like the ball to arrive. Generally, that’ll be back toward the baseline. Decide if you want it to go to the receiver’s forehand, backhand, or right in the middle. It won’t matter if your ball doesn’t go exactly where you had planned, but it is important to pick a place and take a moment to imagine the ball landing there.
Now, change your focus to the ball. As you serve, continue to look at nothing except the ball. Watch your paddle hit the ball.
I have seen players correct their problem the very first time they look at the ball’s destination, then watch themselves hit the ball.
When a player who likes drop serves is suffering this problem, the ball is usually hit out of the hand. In other words, the ball isn’t dropped to the paddle as the paddle swings upward. Or, more specifically, the ball is dropped only a couple of inches. Instead, hold the ball up higher, and drop it at least twelve inches (30 cm) to the paddle. In most cases, this is all it takes to rectify the problem instantly. In more severe cases, you can try dropping the ball from an even higher distance.
Sometimes, after a few successful serves, the problem returns. To head that off at the pass, make it a point to remember to look at your planned destination, then watch nothing but the ball every time you serve.
People in a slump usually try fixing their service problem by changing their technique. They’ll experiment with a different stance, a different stroke, but most of all, they’ll try simpler, less powerful serves. Don’t do that! Do not try to serve differently than you always have. If you have been serving powerfully, keep serving powerfully in the same way. Otherwise, you’ve just burdened yourself with having to learn a new technique in addition to dealing with a slump.
The rest is psychological. Know that it is just a slump, the kind everyone encounters at one time or another, and you’ll get over it.