Working with almost exclusively beginners, I’ve found everyone wants to win, but almost no one goes out with a plan.
Obviously, most are not tournament players and all the games are among friends, in what everyone would consider “rec play.” But oddly enough, despite the play not being serious, the players are seriously confused when things don’t go their way.
You don’t need to be overly detailed to have fun with your friends, but if you want to get better and win games, there are a few simple things you can do today that will turn into immediate positive results. Here are a few that don’t require anything but a bit of thinking. Come on, you can do that.
Serve it Deep and Return it Deep
Seems simple enough, right? Well, if you’re a beginner or an advanced beginner, this should be your gameplan. It doesn’t mean it will happen every time, but if you’re wanting to get better, master the first and second shot of the rally.
The deeper you serve the ball means the receiver will have a harder time returning it deep, meaning your third shot options will open up. You can go to drive the ball. You can pick out a corner dink. You have choices.
Meanwhile, a deep return gives you more time to move up while keeping the other team back, potentially turning the receiving team into the team in better position to win the rally.
Concentrate on these two shots and your pickleball life gets a lot easier and you’ll see your success increase, too.
Hit it to the Person at the Back
If you’re ready to make the leap from beginner to the next level, it’s time to start recognizing where your opponents are. Often times beginners don’t move up. Often times beginners get stuck on the baseline or even have one player at the NVZ and the other somewhere else on the court.
When you see that happening, you need to act on it. Don’t hit the ball at the person established at the front, pick on the person at the back. You don’t have to smash the ball. You don’t have to do anything special. Just keep the player who is back, back. Life’s too hard hitting drives and drops over and over from 20-plus feet back and more. Eventually you’ll wear them down or they’ll make a mistake, So if you see a player up and a player back, keep it simple and hit it toward the player who is back.
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Grip Pressure should mean Less Pressure
You’ve returned the serve and you’ve moved up to the NVZ line and then the rally starts. You’re getting deeper and deeper into the point and you’re making shot after shot until your opponent speeds up and “bodies” you with a drive from 14 feet away. The drive rockets off your paddle, out of bounds and onto the next court. That’s a loser. Point for the serving team.
You weren’t out of position. Your paddle was in the appropriate spot. You did everything right, right? Well, maybe.
Check your grip. Are you holding the paddle like a grudge, so tight that you’ll never let it go? Probably. When you hold the paddle too tightly, your opponent’s shot shoots off your paddle into places unknown and certainly out of bounds.
Most beginners hold the paddle too tight. Think of it like holding an ice cream cone – tight enough to keep it from dropping but loose enough that you don’t crush it. Think about it on a 1-10 scale with 10 being the tightest. Your grip shouldn’t be any tighter than a three.
Now those hotshots come off your paddle softer and slower and all the force of those bangs come back with a whimper. It’s an easy fix and not only will it help you put the ball back over in a better position, it will lead to more relaxation on your part. No need to grip too tight. Breathe and relax.
See, even without watching a video, without grinding over drills and practice, you can easily do these three things. Pick one of them to work on for your next outing, work on it, then add another skill the next time. Before long, you’ll be playing better pickleball.
Andrew Gilman is the pickleball teaching pro at the Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club