Are Pickleball Beginners “Owed” Time with Stronger Players?

The debate is one that’s been raging in the sport for years: Should high level picklers “play down” with other members of their club?

The simplest answer is, “If they want to,” but with a bit of digging many different opinions come to light. Some feel that “open” play is just that, and believe it should be an opportunity to play the game and have fun heedless of skill divides. With this mindset, open play is an opportunity for picklers to mix things up rather than always sticking to their own.

Some clubs or communities have open play scheduled for a set period of time followed by rank-specific games at others. This allows high level players to choose whether they want to mingle among the intermediate crowd or stay with their peers, largely eliminating the feeling that they’re being “forced” to play with those outside their bracket. Unfortunately there aren’t always enough players or court availability to make this happen, which can lead to both parties feeling wronged.

Pickleball Station Class

An easy way to learn from the pros without taking time away from their open play is to invest in a class, like ours at Pickleball Station!

The best way to handle this situation uses qualities popular across the sport: respect and communication. It helps newer players feel included when pros generously take the time to play down, but they also shouldn’t be expected to constantly lower the playing field for the sake of others.

If a 4.5/5.0 says, “No, not right now,” because they have a competition coming up, haven’t had much opportunity to play with their peers or simply don’t feel like it that day, they shouldn’t be penalized. Newer players are not entitled to play with higher skill opponents unless they’re taking part in a class, and should be able to accept “no” gracefully.

In addition to this, it’s not even beneficial for average players to hit above their weight all the time. Does the pickler in question actually have the ability to “read” the game and determine areas they can improve, watch their opponent’s techniques and apply them, and focus on skill acquisition? Or are they just going to end up frustrated when they get beat, unable to understand where their own weaknesses lie?

Unless a player has the ability and awareness to pick these things out, playing above one’s skill just becomes an exercise in frustration. Playing someone of the same rank would’ve provided more fun, opportunity for improvement and reasonable challenge.

Green Valley Pickleball

A game at the Green Valley Pickleball courts

The Green Valley Pickleball Club in Arizona has a unique and organized way of addressing this topic by using monitors that show players if they’re in the wrong group. Each player is moved up or down depending on their performance. When someone wants to jump up a level, they must set up a ratings session and play with three picklers in their goal bracket, earning a total score of at least 21 points to progress.

This means that picklers can compete with opponents of a +- 0.5 skill level. It’s a small enough gap to avoid frustrating high level players while being reasonable enough to give the lower level player a proper challenge (without getting trounced).

How does your club handle skill imbalances? Do you prefer skill-specific brackets or enjoy the fluidity and community that open play provides? Share your thoughts in the comments.

The Overlooked Importance of Breathing

For most of us breathing comes naturally.

But in some physical pursuits whether stretching, running, weight lifting or giving birth, our breathing instincts may differ from what is best. We actually hold our breath when we ought to exhale or inhale.

Top athletes, unlike me, recognize the importance of deliberate breathing particularly in the midst of a strenuous exertion. Since pickleball is a sport which requires both relaxation and exertion, deliberate breathing may be helpful.

Breathing woman

Credit: sankarwaits

One particular friend grunts every time he hits a ball, and sometimes even when he doesn’t hit a ball! Grunting always involves exhaling. Monica Seles and Jimmy Conners were famous for their grunting.

So if you find yourself holding your breath during a point, trying grunting every time you hit the ball. If you can do so quietly, all the better. And if your partner is getting all the balls, don’t forget to breathe anyway.

I would love to hear other comments on how breathing affects your pickleball game!

Seeing the Net as the Third Opponent

I was watching FIFA World Cup soccer with my wife, Paula, a few months ago. So many goal opportunities are lost when shooters sail balls over the goalposts. Great for field goals in American football. Not so much in European football.

When a shooter resolves to strike within the goalposts and force the goalie to make a save, good things happen. The same is true in pickleball when players resolve to keep the ball over the net and in play.

Pickleball nets

Nets can cause just as much trouble as opponents! (Credit: John Beagle)

When you and your partner resolve to hit every ball over the net and force your opponents to hit a winner, good things happen! Not every time, but more often than we think.

It may be helpful to think of the net as your third opponent. Do I subconsciously hit balls into the net rather than let my opponents hit a winner?  I play routinely with Nick Williams and notice that he can play entire games without hitting a ball into the net.

Pickleball is such a simple game. I decided yesterday to hit every ball over the net. It helped, but I sure failed a lot.

I would love to hear your thoughts on techniques to keep balls in play.

4 Methods for Dealing with the Smug Lobber

One of the primary reasons tennis players migrate to pickleball is to avoid rotator cuff injuries related to the overhead smash. Additionally, lobbing in pickleball is relatively difficult compared to tennis because the court is so much smaller. So players with fantastic overhead smashes may not see a lot of lobs.

Pickleball overhead

Credit: Chad Ryan

While there are several effective strategies to counter the banger, there are fewer effective strategies to contend with the smug lobber. Have a shorter and less mobile player with a weak overhead smash get lobbed over and over again. Or lobbed and then dinked in turn repeatedly until they are exhausted.

Sort of a cat and mouse game. There is very little the exhausted player can do to erase the smug smile off the Cheshire Cat. Here are four options for dealing with the smug lobber:

1) Learn to leap like Michael Jordan and crash an overhead smoking into the corner. For some of us, this option is not viable. We have a hard time getting our shoelaces off the floor and we lack upper body strength.

2) Finish the game, tap paddles and never walk back in the court with that player on the opposite side again. This is not a bad idea for those of us whose frustrations mount when lobbed repeatedly. This is a better option then getting a concealed carry permit!

Overhead smash

Credit: Chad Ryan

3) The third option is to bear with it and simply hit overhead smashes back to the center line and try to endure. It may help to stand a couple feet behind the kitchen line to be better prepared for a lob. A corollary to this option is initiating the lob yourself. Unfortunately, most lobbers happen to have great overhead smashes and do so with glee.

4) Ask the lobber to desist. Not in the existential sense, but to simply stop lobbing. Tell him or her that it’s simply not fun.

Regardless of what route you take, don’t get discouraged. Pickleball is often a game of out-thinking and outlasting your opponent. Eventually the lobber may lose their cool, make a mistake or get tired of their own game. Wait for your opening to strike or work on sending those balls flying toward the baseline.

In the meantime, if you want to play pickleball that’s less a war of attrition, there’s nothing wrong with that either! Play the game that’s the most fun for you.

Introducing the ProKennex Kinetic Pro Speed Pickleball Paddle

Introducing the ProKennex Kinetic Pro Speed Pickleball Paddle,
the First Paddle Designed To Prevent Arm Injuries

As the sport of pickleball grows, the number of players suffering from “pickleball elbow” and related arm injuries is also on the rise. We hear from many players looking for equipment that will help alleviate and prevent injuries to the arm. Finally, there is a paddle designed specifically to do just that, the Kinetic Pro Speed pickleball paddle just introduced by ProKennex Pickleball.

Kinetic Energy System

A leading science and design company well known in the tennis and racquetball worlds for their innovative injury-prevention product designs, ProKennex has been immersed in racquet sports since the 1970s. Their Kinetic Energy technology was thoughtfully developed specifically to prevent arm and elbow injuries. Utilizing a highly sensitive timing system with internal tungsten-filled chambers that reduce vibration and focus energy more efficiently, the ProKennex Kinetic Energy technology protects players from harmful impact forces and creates the most efficient energy transfer from paddle to ball.  The micro-tungsten beads are embedded in the paddle’s perimeter, absorbing impact vibration before it has a chance to travel from the paddle up your arm and into the soft tissues in your joints.

Steve Dawson, USAPA Nationals and US OPEN medalist, attributes the ProKennex Kinetic Energy system to saving his tennis career over 30 years ago, enabling him to become a Big 8 Collegiate champion, and successfully play and coach full time since graduating college.  As a young adult, Steve developed almost career ending elbow injuries, and after a switch to the ProKennex Kinetic racquets, he restarted his career, going on to a set of great collegiate championship performances, and a long, professional teaching career.  He swears by the technology, and is a living testament to its effectiveness.

Reduced Shock and Vibration

An independent study conducted by MIT Labs found that the ProKennex Kinetic Energy system delivers impressive improvement in shock reduction and dampening characteristics, creating a 43% reduction in vibration and a 20% reduction in shock, which the team at ProKennex believes can result in less damage to the arm. Shock and vibration are greatly reduced within the paddle, before traveling up your arm.

Preferred By Pros

Jennifer Dawson, 2018 USOPEN

Jennifer Dawson, 2018 US OPEN 4X Medalist with the Kinetic Pro Speed Pickleball Paddle

Pickleball Pros Jennifer Dawson, Steve Dawson and their son Callan Dawson have partnered with ProKennex to develop the Kinetic Pro Speed paddle, and all three of these powerhouse pickleball players now play exclusively with the Pro Speed.

At last month’s 2018 US OPEN Pickleball Championships, Jennifer won Gold in the Women’s Senior Pro Doubles and Silver in Women’s Senior Pro Singles playing with the Kinetic Pro Speed. Steve, a long time “survivor” of tennis elbow through his 35+ years of playing and coaching high-level tennis and pickleball, appreciates the same injury-reduction benefits of the ProKennex Pro Speed Pickleball Paddle that caused him to select the ProKennex Kinetic Energy technology as his preferred tennis racquet design.

Fast and Maneuverable with Exceptional Shot Performance

Engineered for maximum maneuverability with wind-resistant edgeless construction and thin core technology, the Kinetic Pro Speed paddle is lightning fast, nimble and responsive. The unparalleled tip speed improves quickness and reflex enhancement. The Kinetic Energy shock absorbing system helps players experience greater touch, feel and control, improving confidence and success at the net.

What Do Our Pro Testers Think?

Our staff has tested the paddle extensively here on the courts at Pickleball Central, and in many ways this paddle defies traditional categorizations.  It is without question the highest performance edgeless paddle we’ve ever tested, with a large, consistent sweet spot.  Most edgeless paddles we’ve tested don’t provide good shot feel the closer you get to the edge, but the Pro Speed maintains a solid feel out towards the edge similar to paddles that use a traditional edge guard.  We theorize that its integrated carbon fiber flush fit perimeter (which is super durable) gives the paddle stability at the edges that many prior edgeless paddles lack.

Jennifer Dawson with her ProKennex Pro Speed Paddle

Jennifer Dawson with her  Kinetic Pro Speed Paddle

It features a unique core and face build-up combining 7 layers of polymer, carbon fiber, and hybrid composites for a paddle that delivers tons of power with a large consistent playing sweet spot.  Weighing in at around 8.0 ounces, the paddle itself does a lot of the work, reducing the swing energy you need to use to power a ball over the net.  In warm, or outdoor windy conditions, or in situations with a softer playing ball (like the Onix), this paddle excels at giving you power without needing to swing super hard. It does this without giving up a soft touch – in fact, the feel of the ball on the paddle is unique because you feel less vibration in the paddle, and as such the sound and hand feel is less “noisy”, with a more confidence inspiring “solid” feel.

Don’t wait to be injured, prevent it before it happens with the Kinetic Pro Speed, the revolutionary new pickleball paddle that leverages nearly thirty years of injury-prevention design expertise. Learn more about the Kinetic Pro Speed on our website.

Staying Safe While Playing Pickleball

People often view pickleball as “tennis lite” due to the small court size, slower ball and manageable paddle sizes. While it’s true that pickleball is easier on the body compared to tennis and most other racquet sports, it’s dangerous to presume that you can’t get injured at all playing the game.

As with any sport, there are risks involved. Thankfully these problems can be minimized with proper precautions and self care. Here are a few ways to ensure you stay safe so you can continue playing pickleball for a long time:

Don’t rush for shots

You know how volleyball players will throw themselves into dramatic dives to return the ball? Don’t do that!

Skinned knees, smacked elbows and possibly even broken bones are not worth saving a single point. While it’s understandable that you might be tempted to leap for a ball that’s just out of range, you don’t want to put off play for weeks on end because you pushed yourself too far.

Let the ball go instead of doing lasting damage to your body.

Volleyball dive

Don’t run backwards during lobs

Similar to the point above, too many players end up scuttling backwards when they see a high shot and end up tripping over themselves.

Take a moment to fully twist your hips to the side and let your feet point in the direction you’re moving. You can keep your eye on the ball, but if you feel yourself losing balance, take a moment to reacquaint yourself with your position on the court.

Avoid pickleball elbow

In many cases, prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to pickleball elbow. Choose a paddle that’s the right weight for you so you don’t strain your tendons, and don’t play so much that you put undue stress on your body.

Properly warming up, stretching, wearing braces and adding some weight lifting into your exercise routine can also help prep yourself for play.

Elbow brace

Wear the right shoes

We recommend using a good tennis or volleyball shoe for pickleball depending on whether you’re playing outdoors or indoors.

Make sure you’re not wearing anything with slippery soles so you don’t lose your balance on the court, nor anything too “grippy” so that you don’t trip over yourself during faster movements.

Pay attention to your body

If you’re feeling tired, winded, dizzy or simply drained, give yourself a break! Pickleball games tend to be short and your partner and opponents will likely appreciate the rest period as well. Your health comes before play.

You may think it could never happen to you, but some players have experienced heart attacks after playing pickleball, and you should be wary of the warning signs. Pay attention for pressure in the chest, shortness of breath, lightheadedness and pain along the arms, back, neck and jaw.

Communicate with other players

Especially if you’re playing doubles, make sure you’re calling “mine” or “yours” and have an established method for determining who goes after what ball. Talking to your partner will help you avoid accidental collisions, which can be as minor as a smacked hand or as dramatic as running into each other during a lob.

Don’t be afraid to talk with your opponents, either. This can be particularly relevant if you’re playing against more aggressive players who use tagging (hitting the ball into the body) to score points. This is an accepted part of the game, but casual games don’t need to be held to the same standards as those in tournaments.

Pickleball is safer than many sports, but you should still be cautious and ensure proper care of your body. Are there any unfortunate situations you could have avoided with a bit more awareness?

 

Pickleball Drills for Beginners to Pros

The beauty of pickleball is that people can start playing at any skill level. However, the specifics of the games are nuanced.

This is what creates the need for different skill levels in pickleball tournaments. With the right mindset and enough dedication to your practice, the sky is the limit in terms of realizing your full potential.

One of the keys to becoming a great pickleball athlete is practice. While nothing rivals on-the-court experience against another player, it’s important to take some time on your own to hone the fundamentals you’ve already learned. The best way to do this is through pickleball drills.

Drills are a great way to figure out what your weaknesses are on the court and work out those kinks accordingly. Through repetition, drills drill (who would have thought?) consistently good habits into your repertoire.

If you’re looking to step up your game, here’s a list of some of the best instructors to follow and some insights on what they have to offer.

Sarah Ansboury

With a 2015 National Open Doubles Championship along with a 2016 Open Doubles and Mixed Championships under her belt, Sarah Ansboury knows the ins and outs when it comes to the sport of pickleball.

In the drill below, Sarah addresses one of the most important moves on the pickleball court—the dink:

What’s so useful about this video is that Sarah doesn’t only explain how to dink, but illustrates where you might be going wrong. This video is ideal for beginners, but also valuable for those looking to hone such a significant skill.

Joe Baker

While pros have firsthand knowledge of the intricacies of a sport, sometimes spectators can offer a fresh viewpoint. After all, with an objective point of view and a keen eye for detail, spectators can become great teachers in turn. Case in point, Joe Baker, who specializes not only in pickleball strategies, but golf and ballroom dancing.

In the video below, Joe shares backboard wall drills for pickleball:

What’s so convenient about backboard wall drills is that they allow you 7 to 10 times more opportunity to hit the pickleball than you would have in a typical doubles game. The only way to get better at pickleball is to hit the pickleball more. Participating in backboard wall drills will help you find your form, create consistency and give you valuable court-time experience.

CJ Johnson

When you’re looking to better yourself on the pickleball court, look no further than a website called Betterpickleball.com. Run by CJ Johnson, as the name suggests, they strive to make you better at pickleball!

As CJ explains in the video below, “If you step onto a pickleball court, you know that being a little bit faster you will have a bit of an advantage of the other team.” The drill in the video will help you with hand-eye coordination and improve your reaction time:

What’s interesting about this video is that this drill doesn’t happen only the court. It begins with a simple eye test using a magazine. This is an effective drill for strengthening your focus. From there, CJ takes you onto the court to apply what you learned. This video is a fun way to break up the monotony of typical drills.

Primetime Pickleball

Ready for the Primetime? Primetime Pickleball was founded by two 5.0 rated IPTPA certified pickleball coaches, Nicole Havlicek and Jordan Briones. With such high placements, it’s obvious that these two have honed their skills.

In the video below, the twosome work with U.S. Open and National Champion, Marcin Rozpedski in helping you find your sweet spot on the pickleball court:

This is a unique drill as Marcin holds the paddle like a pencil while using the round edge of the paddle bottom to hit the pickleball. Doing this will help your eyes get used to tracking the ball. Creating such pinpoint precision on a small surface will lead into the follow-up with a much larger target zone of a properly held paddle. There you will find your sweet spot!

Deb Harrison

Deb Harrison, or Picklepong Deb, was awarded Pickleball Athlete of the Decade, having won 15 gold medals over a 10 year period at the Florida State Senior Games. With a decade’s worth of experience, Picklepong Deb has been kind of enough to share her knowledge with pickleball enthusiasts via her YouTube videos.

In the one below, Picklepong Deb teaches about footwork and walks you through a drill that involves simulating play. It’s fun because it allows you to use your imagination and let loose a little:

What makes this drill so effective is that Deb breaks down the art of footwork and offers real insight into the steps. It’s also an intense workout that can help you get some cardio in. Lastly, since you’re not really playing, you don’t need to be on the court to practice!

These drills will give you plenty of new concepts and techniques to work with so that you can improve your play outside of games. Are there any videos that have been of use to you in the past? Share them with us!