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Keeping Yourself Honest as You Improve at Pickleball

by Adam Forziati on

It's one thing to rate yourself in pickleball (here's how to do it), but it's quite another to be sure about your skills and how you can add some values to that rating number.

Be honest: have you ever exaggerated your rating in your mind? Have you ever thought that one maneuver was performed more expertly than it was? Have you ever thought you could be ready to move up a level?

If you answered 'yes' to any of those questions, congratulations: you're not delusional. We've all done this. Admission is the first step to pickleball recovery.

What I'm saying is that improving at pickleball requires some amount of objectivity, which can be tough to find without buddying up to a higher-level player or paying for a coach.

I've been on a mission to push out of my 3.5 slump into 4.0 territory, and even though I play in many different locations with many different players, I still have a hard time analyzing precisely what I need to change to get there.

So, when the shot tracking app Unforced Pickleball offered to show me how to use the app for more specific insights into my pickleball game, I couldn't refuse.

Making your pickleball improvement journey more objective

The Unforced Pickleball app can be used in two primary ways:

  • A free version, which allows you to track your shots manually by watching a live match, using your Apple Watch, or viewing a recorded match.
  • A paid option allows users to submit video of their match to be analyzed by a real person at Unforced HQ.

I'll talk about the unpaid option which utilizes my smartwatch next time.

For now, I want to stress how valuable it was for someone else to review my games and show me key examples of my strengths and weaknesses as a player.

I just set my phone's camera facing the court, hit record, and played as many games as I could until I played one I felt was particularly worthy of examination.

Then I uploaded it to the app, and for less than $15, I gained access to both automatic clips cut and advanced stat tracking. You can pay less if you just want clips or the stat tracking...or, again, you can enter all that information about each shot manually for free.

Here's how the resulting data looked after I uploaded my match:

Different views of the Unforced Pickleball app

The Overview menu showed me the overall progression of points made during a game, throughout the points in the game. Me and my teammate's line color is orange – as you can see, it wasn't our best game.

But the experience wasn't all for naught.

Even if I didn't perform at my best, the Breakdown menu on the right showed me where I went wrong and compared my performance across all possible areas of improvement (seriously, you could keep scrolling through that menu for a long time, seeing every possible performance metric).

It seems my drives were really back-and-forth this game. I won four points on drives but also lost four on them.

Then, in the middle, there's the section to review clips generated by Unforced. This is one of the coolest functions of the app, not only because it gives you a shareable, demonstrable example of something you did right or wrong, but also because of the little comments which contextualize the clips.

"GREAT reset mid point to set up winner," "good calibration after net shot," etc. all helped me to actually see my strengths and weakness play out in digestible examples.

Most important: Player Impact score

One of the most important features of the Unforced Pickleball app is the Player Impact metric.

Real Clear stats says this is the single best metric for tracking your performance and improvement as a pickleball player because it measures your direct impact on the scoreboard.

Player Impact is a single metric of all the times a rally is won as a result of a player's winning shot OR lost as a result of that player's error.

If someone's Player Impact is +3, that means they won three more rallies than they lost due to unforced errors. Every rally, only one player's score will go up or down.

"In order to score points and win pickleball games, you have to win rallies," they said.

"In order to win rallies, you need to make enough balls until your opponent makes an unforced error OR impose your will by hitting a rally-winning shot (Winner or Error Forced)."

"Player Impact attributes each rally to the player responsible for its result. That's what makes it the single best statistic for individual player performance in a doubles pickleball game." – Real Clear Stats

Of course, there many skills which need to be practiced in order to become a great pickleball player. But the scoring system itself doesn't actually measure your improvement.

Since scoring/winning rallies is the object of the game, Player Impact involves simply measuring each player's direct impact on the score when they are involved in the conclusion of a rally.

"Over a large sample size, the players with the higher impact also turn out to be the most skilled and highest ranked players—because they win significantly more rallies than they lose to unforced errors," Real Clear Stats says.

To learn more about Unforced Pickleball and your Player Impact score, click here.

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