7 Things You Can Do to Play Better Pickleball -- Fast!
Some people think that it takes a long time to improve your PB game. And while things like a significant grip change, improving your co-ordination or dropping 15 pounds so you move quicker around the court are major undertakings, there are lots of things you can doing today that will boost your game immediately.
1. Identify the Target Player. Before you even hit a ball, ask yourself (and your partner) "who should we pick on"? And while it might be 'nice' to isolate the weaker player, if you want to be a tough opponent then it is crucial. Pro Tip: While this strategy is great for competitive situations, use it cautiously if you are playing recreational games where people might not take kindly to keeping the ball away from the stronger player.
2. Get Your Returns Deep. Many people hit their return of serve thoughtlessly. And if the ball lands short (i.e. it allows the serving team move forward to get your shot) then you are vulnerable against a good drive from your opponents. Try to pin your the servers behind the baseline with your return -- it will make your life at the net a lot easier.
3. Be Ready to Move. Pickleball is an athletic sport yet many people stand around like they are in line at the grocery store. The sooner you accept that you will need to RUN the more likely you'll be able to get balls back in play. And while we can't all run like the pros, we can all have the desire to chase down every ball.
4. Serve Smart (Part 1). If you are like most people, you'd prefer to hit the third shot with a forehand. When serving stand as close to your backhand corner as possible (i.e if you're a righty, stand near the sideline when serving from the left side and near the T when serving from the right side). This will almost guarantee that a return of serve hit back to you gives you the forehand you want.
5. Serve Smart (Part 2). Your serve is a great opportunity to cause trouble for your opponents. Whether you do it by serving deep, making them move, aiming for a weakness or just plain hitting it hard, a challenging serve makes it more likely the return is less tough for you. There is some risk, of course, but I think you'll find with a little practice, it's worth it.
6. Don't Just 'Sorta' Get to the NVZ. Most people know that it is smart to move forward after retuning serve. It is a chance to take away your opponents' time. But many players move forward in a haphazard way and don't get as near to the kitchen as they could. If you want to be a threat at the net, get right up there before your opponents hit the third shot! Pro Tip: If you are nervous at the net or don't have great volleys, see tip #2.
7. Talk. Don't wait until you lose a point before you and your partner discuss how you want to handle middle balls. Whether you go with "forehand takes it" or some other plan, take 5 seconds at the start of a game (yes, even rec games) and say "Hey. How do you want to handle middle balls?". The quick chat will mean clarity when your opponents hit down the centre of the court.
Mark Renneson is the Founder and Head Coach at Third Shot Sports. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org