Win More Points by Being Unpredictaball

I encourage players of all levels to play high percentage pickleball. Aggressive, low percentage shots may be fun for some, but other players will get frustrated at the resulting losses.

Pickleball loves consistency, and more points are lost than won. Many more.

High percentage pickleball is frequently described as hitting the right shot in a particular situation time after time. This is partly true, but not entirely. Many players do hit the same shot in a particular situation consistently, but as their opponent, I’m completely relaxed because I know exactly what to expect.

They are predictable. They are safe. And while safe pickleball wins at many levels and is quite fun, the element of surprise is essential at higher levels. Incorporate a hint of danger into your game.

Be unpredictaball.

Leaping for pickleball

Go for difficult shots and be consistent yet flexible (Credit: Chad Ryan)

Yeah, silly word. What do I mean by it?

In every situation there are several high percentage shot options. For me, high percentage means there is over an 80% chance my shot will be in. The 80% shot should be aimed to throw my opponents off more than the 95% shot.

Such a shot might involve hitting the ball near the sideline to throw your opponent off balance or driving a shot hard and low so it’s difficult to return. These shots nearly always occur at the kitchen line, but driving a third shot from the baseline is effective at times. High percentage play is not the same as predictable play.

This element of surprise generates anxiety and tension in opponents. We don’t want our opponents too comfortable or confident! Uncertain players make more errors. I love it when I know a player so well that I can guess the exact shot they’ll hit.

If I don’t know whether a well-placed dink, drive or lob is coming, I tighten up! Don Paschal was famous for this. He would take a backhand volley off his shoelaces at the kitchen and put it in my chest. Sometimes I couldn’t even see the ball till it crested the net.

Don’t use head fakes. They appear odd. Short back swings help you sell one shot and deliver another. Large back swings foretell hard shots. Decide even before your opponent hits the ball that, if the ball arrives where you expect, you’ll deliver a surprise shot.

Pickleball in center court

Hitting balls through the center of the court can slow your opponents (Credit: Chad Ryan)

Stroke or volley the ball using the appropriate mechanics. Avoid wristy shots that are difficult to control. Moving soft kitchen shots from the sideline to the center creates confusion as to which of your opponents will take the ball. An occasional lob might force your opponents to be uncertain about whether to take a step back from the kitchen line.

Keep your opponents guessing where and how hard every ball will come. Bringing a bag of high percentage trick shots to the court might just win you a few points and a few laughs.

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.

 

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!

1st Anniversary of the Pickleball Magazine

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Pickleball Magazine, the first magazine dedicated to America’s fastest-growing sport, was launched in January 2016. Wayne Dollard of Dollard Publishing is responsible for starting the magazine! We are glad to share his story on how this fabulous publication got started. Enjoy!

wayne-dollard

Wayne Dollard, Dollard Publishing

In the 1990s, I was a Color Systems Specialist for Canon. In 1999 I began publishing a national magazine for the sport of Platform Tennis, just for fun. A few years later, I quit my day job and began adding direct-mailed community magazines to my publishing portfolio. By 2015, I had 40 employees and 42 magazines being direct mailed to over 2 million households.

I was introduced to pickleball when I visited family at The Villages, Florida. I have a competitive tennis background and even played a couple years at Penn State. I was also nationally ranked in platform tennis for several years until I was permanently sidelined by a back injury and surgery in 2011. I began playing pickleball socially last year. In my first tournament, I won a few rounds at the US Open 35 Mixed and Men’s 4.5 Doubles. I have since won a few local tournaments.  My wife Lisa and sons Jordan, Brenden and Tyler really enjoy pickleball, so we’ll be putting a court in our backyard this spring.

US Open LogoIn June of 2015, I received phone calls from Terri Graham, Director of the 2016 US Open Pickleball Championship, and Chuck Vietmier, Director of Product Marketing for Gamma Sports, who encouraged me to launch a magazine for pickleball.

I did further research on the sport, and had positive discussions with Justin Maloof, the Executive Director of the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA).  Justin gave me the statistics that made this venture all the more attractive: 2.5 million players worldwide, USAPA membership growth from 4,071 to over 10,000 in 3 years and a similar rate of growth in places to play listed on the USAPA website. usapa

Justin and I brainstormed content features and the first Pickleball Magazine was published in January last year. The USAPA does not have an ownership interest in the magazine, but we offer them free content and they email the magazine to their 10,000+ player membership. The USAPA has been very helpful in getting Pickleball Magazine started.

Now, just 14 months after launching, we email each issue of the magazine to over 100,000 people, as well as sending print copies in the mail to 5,000 people. We also distribute the magazine to over 200 Barnes and Noble locations. Both the digital and print subscriptions for Pickleball Magazine are growing every day. We imagine Pickleball Magazine will continue to grow in popularity for many years to come.

Thank you Wayne for giving us your story on how the first Pickleball Magazine got it’s start. You’ve done a great job with this publication and we look forward to all of your future issues!

If you are interested in subscribing to Pickleball Magazine, here is some great information for you:

  • Pickleball Magazine is published six times per year.
  • Each issue runs around 60 – 70 pages and contains 20 or more feature articles.
  • Each issue contains four to six great instructional articles with detailed recommendations for drills, strategy, and skills development.

Click here to subscribe to Pickleball Magazine

3 Real Ways Pickleball Can Build Character

Many of us grew up hearing, “Sports build character.” However, studies have concluded the opposite is true. Winning satisfies like a good steak. Character satisfies like Don Paschal’s kale salad. Like my dear friend Vegen says: “Sport doesn’t build character; it reveals character.”

I learn more about a person in one hour on the court than in enjoying a dozen meals together. I also learn about myself.

Victory sign

Winning’s not everything, but… it sure is fun! (Credit: Petr and Bara Ruzicka)

Why does winning still matter to me at 55-years-old? What longing is fulfilled through another medal or through winning a game at any level? Does 5.0 status make me a better person?  I certainly hope not. Some days I wish I was back at 4.5 level competing for golds with my good friend Ken Crocker.

I am still discovering that a good reputation is more valuable than a drawer full of medals. Don Paschal’s kale salad does satisfy. Consider three tips for gaining pickleball perspective on court.

Great pickleball shots

Concentrate on making good shots and a good game will follow (Credit: Chad Ryan)

1. Compete by making great shots. After all, that is all I control. Be satisfied by playing well and losing.  Congratulate opponents when they make better shots. Losing implies I had the opportunity to be on the court with better players.

2. Be the most complementary of partners. Pickleball is a social activity which begs for laughter and smiles. Fun banter and big smiles compensate for many poor shots.

Pickleball victory

We can all stand to be gracious in both victory and defeat (Credit: Chad Ryan)

3. I love to be around people who can pursue a goal with great intensity and discipline but are content regardless of the outcome. Perhaps there are moments where I can be that person on a pickleball court.

In life as in sports, I have benefited more from my losses than my wins. I think I will make a kale salad for lunch.

Kale salad

Delicious kale salad (Credit: Brandom Dimcheff)

What tips might you have on how to gain pickleball perspective?

– Glen Peterson

Pickleball: A Contact Sport?

Knocked down pickler

You’re not likely to get knocked down by a pickleball, but it doesn’t feel good to get hit! (Image credit: Chad Ryan)

Pickleball: A Contact Sport?

By: Glen Peterson

David McCallum from Pickleball Inc. and I were having lunch at Ray’s Boathouse in Seattle the other day when he mentioned that, shortly after Pickleball was invented, the kitchen line was moved back six inches to prevent Dick Brown, an outstanding football player who was 6′ 4″ tall, from being able to volley nearly every ball from the kitchen line. With his long arms, Dick could nearly touch the net with his paddle!

court diagramThat seemingly arbitrary decision to depart from badminton court lines and move opposing players another foot apart (from 13 to 14 feet) implies to me that the early framers of this sport understood the subtleties of how pickleball play would evolve.

Some of us prefer sports that don’t favor taller athletes. I am convinced this is one reason baseball has remained so popular. Smaller hitters have smaller strike zones.

My friend Scott Lennan once commented that very tall players who can volley every ball from the kitchen line will someday dominate pickleball. Unfortunately, I agree. But with one caveat: because they are also larger targets, they had better be cat-like quick!

More and more, pickleball is becoming a contact sport. Hitting an opponent is a winning shot … and often brings a psychological advantage. Taller, larger opponents make bigger targets. In 5.0 tournament play, the notion that hitting an opponent with a ball is unprofessional is gone.

While most of us still apologize for hitting an opponent with a hard shot toward at the body, this happens often. I would never aim for a person’s head, but I confess that in highly competitive tournament play I would place a shot directly at a the body. Are you offended or angry? Please understand that I am referring to 5.0 tournament play. Tim Nelson popped me with a hard shot in the neck a few days ago; it stung a bit; it was a great shot.

Ken Crocker and I experimented by playing a half court game one-on-one at the kitchen line and rewarding two points every time one of us hit the other player. We discovered it was too easy to hit the opponent. Of course I don’t dodge so well now as when I was in my teens!

Pickleball may become more and more like fencing or dodge ball where hitting opponents with the ball is far more common and a vital tactic in high level play. In many high level games today, several points are won or lost either because a person was hit or because they had to hit an otherwise out ball that would have hit them. Personally I love it. It favors smaller players. And it adds an element of fun just like hitting around the post.

How to avoid being hit? First, at most levels of play, you can simply ask aggressive players not to target your body. Second, bend your knees at the kitchen line to become a smaller target and be prepared to duck. And third, when you see your opponent wind up, play dodge ball!

Don’t be afraid of getting hit. It may sting for a moment. Congratulate your opponent on a well placed shot. And then get them back!  Incidentally, this is an example of where the softer Onix Pure I Outdoor ball will be preferred because it hurts less.

This is a sensitive topic for some who feel hitting an opponent is unsportsmanlike. If you strongly disagree – or agree – please comment!

Warm-Up Drills to Accelerate Peak Performance

Warm Up Drills to Accelerate Peak Performance

 By Glen Peterson

While some players can pick up a paddle and perform well with very little warm up, most of begin feeling comfortable after at least a couple games. Great pickleball requires rhythm and fluid coordination of the entire body, especially for effective third shots and blazing kitchen exchanges. Warming up muscles to perfect this rhythm takes time. If you are like me, you perform best after an hour or more of uninterrupted play. It takes that long for me to get into a zone where body and mind cooperate. This is the stage of relaxed focus between being awkward and fatigued. Alas, sometimes my legs give out before I ever enter the zone! And once in a while the only zone I enter is the non-volley zone with my two big feet!

Unfortunately for many of us who compete in tournaments, our critical matches arrive with little or no notice after hours of inactivity. I have spent hours on an airplane, passed a sleepless night in a hotel, then tried to compete with some of the best players in the nation at seven in the morning with ten minutes of warm-up. I try to convince myself that I am having fun and not working!

So necessity is the mother of invention!  I have discovered some techniques for maintaining the state of being in the zone for big matches without wearing myself out? Please consider these three suggestions:

  1. Play competitive half court singles with your partner for at least fifteen minutes just prior to your match. Keep score. By playing singles, you are hitting every ball rather than half the balls. Using the half court, either diagonal or straight up, simulates doubles. Keeping score gets you focused.

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  1. After your first match, never sit for more than ten minutes. If you are in a tournament, between games find an open court and play fun, relaxed pickleball. Don’t push yourself. Laugh a lot. If no court is available, just hit balls back and forth with a partner.

Brian Ashworth in action2

  1. Whether with or without a net, before each match, bang balls back and forth with your partner. Try to hit one another with the ball. Stand less than ten feet apart. This is a good way to put a sharp edge on your reaction time and get your blood circulating. Getting popped a few times in the chest with an outdoor ball always wakes me up.

If you are a recreational player and consider this topic irrelevant, sorry!  But you may just find yourself a bit stiff from sitting and find one of these tips helpful in preparing for a particular pickleball opponent.