Toes to the Kitchen Line!

Warren Buffet advises investors to buy low and sell high, while Kenny Rogers says you need to know when to hold and when to fold. In pickleball, you must know when to hit soft and when to strike!

Most beginning picklers prefer taking balls after the bounce rather than volleying (hitting the ball in the air before it bounces). They back up rather than advancing to take balls in the air. Great pickleball players love to volley and are adept at moving forward to hit winners. So get your toes to the line and own that kitchen!

Pickleball at the highest level is always won and lost at the kitchen line. No pros have succeeded with a baseline strategy.

Hitting from the base line

Unless you’re staying back for the serve, get to the kitchen line! (Credit: Michael D. Martin)

Do you prefer to wait for a bounce rather than smacking balls in the air? First, this requires a lot more energy. Second, it exposes your feet to your opponents. Third, taking a ball after it bounces gives your opponents much more time to react. Fourth, striking a ball before it bounces allows more offensive shots that may surprise your opponents.

For many of us, volleying is not as instinctive or safe as ground strokes. The wrist action involved, especially for low balls, can be awkward and inconsistent. Try punching the ball with a firm wrist. Bend your knees if possible so your line of sight is closer to the ball and net level.

Punching a pickleball

Good “punching” technique (Credit: Ron B)

Either punch the ball back deep to force your opponents to stay back, or block the ball with almost no forward motion to drop the ball just over the net. This latter shot can be extremely effective, especially with us less mobile players! Drill with a partner and just focus on punching balls back.

Another volley method is using topspin as in table tennis. Keep your body square to the net and the paddle perpendicular to the ground while using a sweeping forehand or backhand motion from your elbow upward. Keep the stroke compact. How much wrist you use depends on your comfort level, but start with a firm wrist.

Pickleball at the net

Playing at the net (Credit: Michael D. Martin)

Tennis has evolved away from a serve and volley game to a baseline game. With some notable exception, many tennis players prefer hitting pickle balls after they bounce rather than volleying. Ping pong players never volley. In the highest level of pickleball, most winning shots are volleys, not ground strokes.

Hitting volleys requires that you get to the kitchen line and own it! Don’t back away unless lobbed. Love taking balls before they bounce. Learn to wine and dine at the kitchen line!

It Takes a Thousand Hours

Malcolm Gladwell convinced us that 10,000 hours of practice leads to greatness. Do the math. Many of us don’t have 10,000 hours of pickleball left! That’s twenty hours per week for ten years. Plus, while my skills are improving, my body seems to be declining… slowly, I hope.

Clock

Credit: Kylesteed

But one thousand hours is a reasonable goal. I have probably logged about 1,000 hours.

My pickleball journey is a long series of plateaus. Advancements came quickly at first, than much more slowly. But my comfort level with the soft game and in nearly all other aspects of this quirky sport is high after 1,000 hours of play.

Hitting third shots and kitchen dinks, for example, simply takes practice for most of us. Doing this in a competitive situation where there is some pressure might accelerate the learning curve.

Notebook

Keep track of progress! (Credit: CeresB)

Start logging your hours and see whether you agree that, at the 1,000 hour mark, you have reached a level of pickleball play that is quite enjoyable. Hey, that’s still a lot of pickleball!

In doing so, you may find you’ve also reached a new fitness level and developed a few new friends.

Comments?

 

Raise Your Floor… Not Your Ceiling

Sorry, no HGTV tips here. Just PickleballSpeak!

Ever had one of those days on the court where nothing feels right, nothing goes right and the weakest player in your community is smiling because he or she just collected their first win from you and will never, ever let you forget?

Pickleball winners

Pickleball winners (Credit: Michael D. Martin)

First, if there is any joy in winning, why not give a little joy? Second, we’ve all been there. But some players, whether in recreational or tournament play, are able to perform well no matter the opponents, ball, venue, wind, temperature or emotional state. They have raised their floor to a level of consistency that gets past those first rounds of tournament play until the muscle and mind are in sync and performing.

My wife and I showed up late to the beautiful Freedom Park courts in Palm Desert a couple days ago just after I took two silvers in Marcin Rozpedski’s tournament. We planned to just drill slowly that morning, but within a few minutes we were facing some outstanding players who were feeling great and banging away. One even had my Selkirk Omni 31P XO paddle (I love getting beat by someone with my paddle)!

Anyway, in order to prevail, we really had to focus and play well with almost no warm up! I was afraid that I would have to donate my trophies to the club otherwise!

Pickleball jump

One way to raise your floor is to jump off of it! (Credit: Chad Ryan)

My floor is often too low, but here are a couple things I think about to try and raise my floor:

1. Find your rhythm by watching the spinning ball. Which way is it spinning? Did I see the blur of my paddle hit the ball? Don’t be distracted by opponents or your partner. There is only a ball and a beat. Feet dancing. Back, bounce, swing. How many balls can I return in a row without mistakes?

2. Be consistent rather than banging away. Bangers often have low floors because balls either go long or in the net. Give every ball a life by hitting over the net and in. Make your opponents beat you with extraordinary shots. Then smile and congratulate them.

3. Warm up for at least 45 minutes prior to an important first match. Get relaxed. Hit at least ten great third shots in a row. I smile at players who spend lots of time and money going to tournaments and then warm up for only ten minutes prior to their first match when they know that their peak performance normally doesn’t occur till after an hour or two of play—and that they can sustain that level for many hours.

Finger on paddle

Player showing proper finger-on-paddle-face form (Credit: Baliboa Racquet)

4. Grab your paddle more firmly with your finger on the face. This can reduce the wrist action required in strokes. Wrist action in pickleball is tricky because players cannot “grab” the ball with topspin as in tennis or ping pong. Striking the ball more squarely with a firm wrist improves consistency.

5. Drill, baby, drill. Spend less of your time playing games, and more time drilling with a partner.

Some players have very high ceilings and very low floors… and they find it difficult to attract great partners. Players with lower ceilings but much higher floors attract great partners. Being a top club or tournament player demands consistently strong performance through ten to twenty games.

I would love to hear other thoughts or tips from players on raising their floor level of play.

 

The Future of Power Pickleball: Will the Bangers Win?

We veterans love the soft game with its long rallies. The USAPA does its part by making rule changes to preserve the soft game and protect the nature of pickleball to keep us happy. Instructors remind frustrated students who want to wail on wiffle balls that consistency and patience are rewarded.

Many young people along with tennis and racquetball players put down their paddles because they find the soft game so dreadful. So far, no player has been able to achieve a 5.0 rating without some level of mastery of the soft game.

Dinking

Dinking slow and steady (Credit: Michael D. Martin)

And all the while, uninformed spectators find the 50-stroke rallies confusing and boring…

Why don’t they just hit a winner and finish the point? 

But perhaps the spectators are not so wrong.

Last night I played with a 25-year-old college tennis stud that got me rethinking where pickleball might go. He hit the ball so hard and low that put away volleys were unthinkable.

Just try to block the ball back,” I told myself. These young tennis players love Morgan Evans’ longer Signature Paddle by Selkirk. And like Morgan, they’re hitting with amazing speed and topspin.

A ball hit very hard within an inch or two of the net with topspin might land near the kitchen line.

Makes it tough to volley, even with my larger Omni 31P Paddle! With a bit of practice and focus, it’s not so hard to hit a ball within a few inches of the net. Hey, the net is only about 22 feet away and waist height!

Slamming

Can you defend against slams? (Credit: Chad Ryan)

So I predict that, at the highest level of play, doubles rallies will get shorter rather than longer in the coming years.

Much shorter. More like singles.

Serves and returns will not simply be preliminaries but will become more aggressive shots that are vital to the outcome of the point. Just as there is one setter in volleyball, expect that one partner will hit every third shot while the other partner (who happens to be of basketball proportions) performs the spiking role to pounce on a popped up volley.

Tactics may involve the forward player acting as a decoy or even blocking the opponents’ visibility to the ball until the last moment. Volleyers on both sides will frequently leap or straddle the kitchen corner to put away shots near the sidelines. Most points will involve the ball hitting the floor only twice—the service and return.

Then, watch out!

Pickleball and basketball

Will pickleball requirements become more similar to basketball’s? (Credit: Baliboa Racquet)

I’m not saying there will be no place for soft shots, but I can imagine the soft shots punctuating aggressive play. Even now, a barely perceptible trend is emerging where attackers, not the defenders, are more likely to win the point.

A lot of this might depend on whether the injection-molded ball (Onix Pure 2) or a rotationally-molded ball (DuraFast 40) prevails in top play. But my theories on which ball encourages the power game are still in process.

Okay, I’m probably wrong about all this. I hope I’m wrong and rallies get even longer. But the sport is going somewhere, and younger athletes than me will define that path.

Then again, perhaps the USAPA will dictate a nerf ball!

These blogs make wild speculations so easy and forgivable. What matters much more than my opinion?  Your opinion. Please blast away!

 

Pickleball Calm

Few sports demand the abrupt transitions between calm and intensity so common in pickleball. I played doubles recently with one of the finest athletes over 50-years-old whom I’ve ever met. In his first game, he played completely relaxed yet raised his intensity and focus perfectly at critical moments. He played flawlessly.

Pickleball reach

You’ve got to keep your calm under pressure! (Credit: Michael D. Martin)

In the second or third game, after making a few mistakes, he begin to tighten up. As he tightened, the calm and relaxation disappeared, and he compensated by raising his intensity throughout every point. Mistakes flowed. Frustration mounted. And at the end of several games, he was both exhausted and discouraged.

Pickleball calm is essential in this quirky little sport. This is unnatural for many tennis players and other athletes. But at the present stage of this emerging sport, it is mandatory… and fun. I simply wouldn’t last during long kitchen rallies with prolonged intensity, happy feet and bent knees.

Bent knees

Don’t play with bent knees all the time (Credit: Michael D. Martin)

Some of the finest players, like Aspen Kern and Mike Gates, almost appear lazy. They are relaxed but keenly focused.

No need to keep your knees bent throughout every point. Stand up, stay alert, and watch the ball come off your opponent’s paddle. Think of each point as a long dance which could be sustained for minutes.

Meditating

Get into a meditative state (Credit: Tina Sbrigato)

And breathe!

Huntsman Pickleball Golds Won in Registration

Like many, I stayed up till midnight on Tuesday to register for the Huntsman World Senior Games. It was a competition in its own right, and some walked away winners.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of them.

Huntsman World Senior Games

A note: I have nothing but respect for the wonderful people running the Games, and this is no reflection on them. I just had to take a moment to lament a missed opportunity and share my tale of woe!

The Huntsman Games provided detailed instructions on how to register for pickleball. It was my opportunity to get into the world’s largest multi-sport event for 50+ athletes, and with them celebrating a 30th anniversary no less, I wanted to be prepared.

Beginning months before the deadline, I studied the “how to register for pickleball” formula with engineering precision—hey, I am an engineer!

But alas. I’m no software engineer, and that night I found my technical skills lacking.

I sat on the couch for hours past bedtime watching World Tennis, thinking I was as prepared as Djokavic when he trounced the 47th player in the world.

Woman watching TV

Not so patiently waiting (Credit: Eric Driggers)

My mental list checked out: Both partners identified. Both partners had Huntsman accounts and athlete numbers. My USAPA membership number was active and ready. Credit card prepared. Even my lodgings were booked.

When the Athlete Registration countdown screen flashed to zero, I took off. Enter, enter enter!

By 12:02, after hitting the enter screen many times, I was ushered onto the sacred registration screen. I had completed the registration entries for all four pickleball events. The only difficulty I had was entering my skill rating. The screen would not accept my entry for about 20 seconds.

With every entry filled, I hit the “Continue Registration” button at 12:03. I clicked it again. And again.

After 5-10 minutes and countless clicks, I was rewarded with the next screen. But something seemed off. I owed $199 for 12 events? No time to question it, just pay!

I entered my credit card number and its expiration date. The date worked, but I could only enter four digits for the number.

Who has a four-digit credit card!?

Frustrated

Why me? Why now? (Credit: rumolay)

The instructions required payment for registration, so I backed up and started from the beginning. I tried entering only men’s doubles, even though the instructions explicitly said to list all partners and events on the registration screen.

Enter! Yet I still couldn’t submit my credit card number.

I got an email at 12:10 saying I was waitlisted for men’s doubles. Back on the registration screen, all events were full except singles.

I frantically tried to register just for singles, but six attempts later, I’d found no success. As soon as singles showed full I tried my luck one more time for the road, but was again told I was waitlisted.

I may have won in the Grand Canyon State Games four days ago with Larry Moon, but I lost big time Tuesday night.

If only my technical prowess was up to snuff!

Sad baby

My mood today (Credit: Donnie Ray Jones)

Maybe somebody was able to game the system, or maybe I gamed myself. (It wouldn’t be the first time.)

Anyone else miss out and want to commiserate?

Meet The Pros: Scott Lennan

Meet The Pros – Scott Lennan

Scott Lennan is a force to be reckoned with on the pickleball court, according to our own Brian Ashworth. He also has an interesting “habit” for keeping his attention on the game: He sings! Enjoy!

scott-lennan-action2

Can you list for us your major wins so we can correctly introduce you to our readers?
2016 USAPA Nationals VIII Men’s Doubles 55+ with Jim Hackenberg – Gold
2016 USAPA Nationals VIII Mixed Doubles 55+ with Roxanne Pierce – Gold
2016 USAPA Nationals VIII Senior Mixed Open Doubles with Roxanne Pierce – Bronze
2016 Huntsman World Senior Games Men’s Doubles 55-59 A with Jim Hackenberg – Gold
2016 Huntsman World Senior Games Mixed Doubles 55-59 A with Roxanne Pierce – Gold
2016 Huntsman World Senior Games Men’s Doubles 5.0: 50+ with Jim Hackenberg – Gold
2016 Fall Brawl Mixed Doubles 50+ / 5.0 with Roxanne Pierce – Bronze
2016 USAPA Southwest Regional Men’s Doubles Skill/Age 5.0: 19+ with Jim Hackenberg – Silver
2016 USAPA Southwest Regional Mixed Doubles Skill/Age 5.0: 50+ with Yvonne Hackenberg – Silver
2015 USAPA Nationals VII Men’s Doubles 55+ with Jim Hackenberg- Gold
2015 USAPA Nationals VII Mixed Doubles 55+ with Roxanne Pierce – Silver
2015 USAPA West Regional Men’s Doubles Skill/Age 5.0: 50+ with Doug Koch – Silver
2015 USAPA West Regional Mixed Doubles Skill/Age 5.0: 50+ with Roxanne Pierce – Gold
2014 USAPA Nationals VI Men’s Doubles 35+ with Tony Tollenaar – Bronze
2014 USAPA Nationals VI Mixed Doubles 55+ with Roxanne Pierce – Gold
2014 USAPA Nationals VI Senior Open Men’s Doubles with David Redding – Silver
2013 USAPA Nationals V Men’s Doubles 50+ with Jim Hackenberg – Gold
2013 USAPA Nationals V Mixed Doubles 50+ with Roxanne Pierce – Gold

pop-xl-pickleball-paddleWhat paddle do you play with and why?
I’ve been playing with the POP Aluminum XL Paddle for three years. It gives me tremendous power and spin as well as a long reach.

What’s your pickleball story? How were you introduced to pickleball?
I saw employees playing pickleball at work. They let me play and I loved it immediately. 

What’s your preference – playing indoor or outdoor?
Outdoor! All of the medals listed are outdoor tournaments. I love the Dura 40 Ball.

2016 Fall Brawl St. George, UT! Gold - Gigi LeMaster/Tyler Sheffield, Silver - Scott Clayson/Laura Ogden Fenton Kovanda, Bronze - Roxanne Pierce/Scott Lennan

2016 Fall Brawl St. George, UT! Gold – Gigi LeMaster/Tyler Sheffield, Silver – Scott Clayson/Laura Ogden Fenton Kovanda, Bronze – Roxanne Pierce/Scott Lennan

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?
I like doubles better than singles. There’s more strategy in doubles and it’s not as physically demanding as singles.

scott-lennan-action-1What’s your favorite place to play? Why?
I like to play at Redmond Community Center and at Palm Creek in Casa Grande, AZ. There are 32 individual dedicated courts. It doesn’t get any better than that.

What’s your secret sauce? Any tips for players?

  1. Change the pace on most of your shots. Hit different speed serves, volleys and ground strokes. If you’re predictable you will have a difficult time winning. Also play with great partners like I have! 
  2. Play against better players if you want to improve. Take your beatings. Learn from them.
  3. Practice dinking and third shots. Any team can be beaten by keeping the ball low. Also, have lots of patience.
scott-lennan-at-huntsman-2014_01

Scott Lennan at 2014 Huntsman World Senior Games

What’s your day job?
I test and repair ultrasound systems for Philips Healthcare.

How many hours a week do you play? How do you make time to play?
Approximately 10 hours a week. I play after work and on the weekends.

Any lucky rituals before a big tournament?
While I’m playing, I sing parts of songs to keep my brain from thinking about shots to hit. I’ve practiced enough before the tournament and know what shots to hit and when.

Do you have any pickleball goals you’d like to share?
To win a gold medal at the US Open in 2017.

2016 Huntsman Senior Games - Gold: Roxanne Pierce/Scott Lennan Mixed Doubles 55-59, Gold: Jim Hackenberg/Yvonne Hackenberg - Mixed Doubles 65-69, Bronze: Ron Chang/Bonnie Williams - Mixed Doubles 50-54

2016 Huntsman Senior Games – Gold: Roxanne Pierce/Scott Lennan Mixed Doubles 55-59, Gold: Jim Hackenberg/Yvonne Hackenberg – Mixed Doubles 65-69, Bronze: Ron Chang/Bonnie Williams – Mixed Doubles 50-54

Anything else you’d like to share about your experience being one of the best pickleball players in the world?
Find someone that will practice with you. Don’t just get the ball over. Have a purpose for every shot. Develop an overhead shot. This will keep your opponents from lobbing every shot. Work on your game if you want to be on the podium. Watch teaching videos by Joe Baker, Mark Renneson and Deb Harrison.