Sunday, September 15, 2013

Pickleball Tip of Week #26

Hey all,
I have been up north the last couple of weeks. No PB for me :(.

This weeks tip will be on being unpredictable. Lets take one example. Before Timothy Nelson taught me the misdirect shot ( which we will discuss at a later date ) when ever i had an easy overhead smash while standing at the NVZ and my opponents were also at the NVZ here is how i would hit that overhead ( or easy smash ). The first one, i would usually hit it down the line.  The second time it would happen , I would also hit it down the line. Now my opponents have probably sensed a pattern on my overhead smashes. That is what i am hoping for.

So now the third time i get the chance to hit this shot , I will go down the middle. I do this because a smart team will remember how i hit the first two and be looking for the same. And since now i hit the third one differently , it will have an even higher likelihood of being a winner. 

Timothy Nelson also taught me that the only difference between a 4.5 player and a 5.0 player is NOT how good you can hit the ball. But it is how the player thinks. His shot selection. His ability to confuse and keep his opponents off balance so that they are not able to do the same to you.
So the next time you are on the courts, try and think about your shot selection. Be unpredictable. Try and confuse your opponents.

On a side note, as i have said before, very little of what i teach, did i come up with or invent. Most of what i teach is just copied from talking with and observing top players. I still constantly watch PB videos on youtube. Unfortunately most of the best videos are my own so i dont get to see as much variety as i would like. However i would recommend you also watch youtube videos from the world pickleball federation......wpfadmin is the youtube address or those put out by Tim Nelson.......his youtube addresses are either Timothy Nelson or Pickleballstars.

I watch at least an hour of TOP video a week. Many  matches i have watched so many times, i know who wins each point.
jeff shank

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Pickleball Tip Of Week #25

This weeks tip is another tip on dinking the ball.

First off when you are up at the NVZ dinking the ball, DONT  bounce up and down. Stay down as much as you are able. Keep bent at your knees and slightly at the waist . If this is too tiring, it is ok to place your non paddle hand just above your knee for support.

If you dink and then come upright, you have to go back down again when you hit the next dink. When you go down to dink and then stand upright, you have much less control and are prone to pop the ball up. The less movement of your body the better. However it is not a bad idea to move your feet a little bit on every shot. I see many players that over reach for a shot instead of moving their feet to where they should be. Over reaching gives you less control.

So to summarize, when you are up at the net dinking, stay in the low, bent knee  position as long as possible. Dont bob up and down. But DO move your feet on each shot.

jeff shank

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Pickleball Tip of Week #24

Hey All,
This weeks tip is moving from baseline to NVZ after 3rd shot.

Deciding how to move up depends alot on your partners abilities. If i get stuck with a banger as my partner and he/she is going to hit the third shot, i dont even consider moving up to the NVZ as he bangs the third shot from the baseline.  Against great opponents, any movement up to the net now is a death wish. Great players will redirect my partners bang back at our feet if we are closer than the baseline. And the other downfall of banging the third shot from the baseline is that now , since we cant immediately come up to the net, we are susceptible to our opponents hitting a drop shot with us both back. Now staying back with a banger hitting the third shot does NOT apply if the banger is banging the third shot from "No mans land". He is close enough  now, that he may be able to overpower our opponents who are standing at the net. 

If i am lucky enough to be partnered with a great touch player who usually hits the third shot nicely into the opponents NVZ, i move up fairly quickly as my partner hits her third shot with the confidence that it wont get us killed.

If i play with a on again off again partner who sometimes hits a good third shot into the kitchen and sometimes gets it too high, i now have to think more. ( This is the application that requires the most decisions ). As i see the SERVE RETURN coming to my partner who is standing at the baseline ready to hit the third shot, i take about two steps into the court while i am watching closely how well my partner hits the third shot. If she hits a nice one that will drop into the kitchen i scoot QUICKLY up to the net. If my partner hits the ball too high which will allow our opponents to crack it back at our feet, i immediately recognize this and STOP ( about four or five feet into the court ) and split step and default to my backhand and get ready to a speedster coming my way.

Remember as you get more advanced and practice more and more the touch game, you are always looking for a ball that is smashed at you that you while you are stuck at the baseline that can still be hit softly back into the kitchen with no pace. This is the shot that takes you from a disadvantage situation (the baseline ) to a neutral one ( at the NVZ). .

So again............In a perfect world, this is how it should work. I see the serve return coming to my partner who is going to hit a nice soft shot into the kitchen. As soon as i see she hits a good one, i scoot up QUICKLY to the NVZ and she comes up quickly also , following her shot up.

jeff shank

Friday, August 16, 2013

Pickleball Tip of Week 23

Alright Gang,
This weeks tip is a little about the drop shot when your opponents are back at the baseline.

There are some players that actually like to stay back at the baseline and just keep lobbing the ball high to two opponents standing at the NVZ. NOT a great strategy. A good way to make them pay for this poor strategy is the soft drop shot into the kitchen instead of continuously hitting hard shots back.

The lobbers usually can handle your decent smashes straight back at them. And if that is all you are going to do, you could loose the point. So you have to NOT be predictable. If you never hit anything different back at them, they KNOW each time you smash it back at them, and they can get ready  for it.

Hence comes the soft drop shot. WAIT until you have a shot that you can take LOW. While standing right up to the NVZ with a short lob coming your way, you MUST wait for one that is fairly low. You want to disguise the shot by taking your normal backswing you have been using while smashing the balls back at their feet. However this time, at the last minute do your forward swing slow and drop the ball soft into the kitchen. Preferable on the side of the SLOWER opponent. They now have to bust butt to get up and get the ball. Even if they do get it back it will usually either be a pop up you can put away, or it will go deep out.

The shot you are going to do this on MUST be one you can hit with control when the ball is at shoulder height or lower. If you try and do this drop shot reaching way up in the air you wont have as much control and since you are taking the ball up high, it takes longer for this ball to travel down to the ground and gives your opponents extra time to get to it.

I generally try and put some backspin on this shot if possible as with backspin the ball will "DIE" on your opponents court and it will make it even more difficult for them to return it.

Even if you miss the shot, you are putting your opponents on notice that you have this shot in your arsenal and they have to be on guard for it. They can no longer just hang back at the baseline hitting lob after lob.

jeff shank

Monday, August 12, 2013

Pickleball Tip of Week #22

I got this article from Stu, one of our club members.

1. TRAIN HARD: Train hard now to get in phenomenal physical shape before competing 
during the hot summer months. Physically fit athletes handle the hot and humid 
conditions better because they are able to consume and utilize more oxygen per 
breath. Their ability to handle mild increases in core temperature gives them a 
distinct on-court advantage over opponents who are not in the same physical shape.

2. HYDRATE - Drinking high volumes of carbohydrate & electrolyte-enhanced fluids will 
prepare the athlete and help limit the severe loss of fluids and electrolytes during 
play. Since tennis players can lose between one-fourth of a gallon and three-fourths 
gallon per hour it is important to make sure they do not go onto the court already 
dehydrated. As much as 50 percent of tournament players go into matches already 
dehydrated. We as coaches need to educate our players on the importance of 
hydrating not only during the match, but also the night before and the morning of 
the match. For every 1 percent of body weight that is lost due to sweating, the 
athlete's heart rate rises approximately five to 10 beats per minute. This means that 
the athlete's body will need to work much harder to produce the same result. It is 
important to remember that the fluids consumed need to have appropriate levels of 
electrolytes, specifically sodium, so as not to dilute the electrolyte levels in the body 
(hyponatremia, see tip 3).

3. SODIUM - Consume high-sodium food and drink. Sodium is the major electrolyte lost 
in the sweat, and it is directly related to an athlete's likelihood of cramping. An easy 
way to tell if your players are "salty sweaters" is whether a white residue is left on 
dark-colored clothing or hats. This white residue is salt deposits released from the 
sweat. The higher the athlete's salt concentration in the sweat, the more this white 
residue will show up on their apparel during and after a long match or practice 
session in hot and humid conditions. Another important reason to consume enough 
sodium in the diet and fluids is that athletes who consume large amounts of plain 
water without enough sodium may experience a condition known as hyponatremia, 
or "water intoxication." Diluting the body's sodium stores can have potentially life threatening consequences.
Make sure that rehydration is performed with sodium enriched fluids. However, if the athlete has a medical condition that affects the 
kidneys, heart or blood pressure, it is important to speak to a physician prior to 
increasing the sodium in the diet.

4. BALANCED DIET - A balanced diet is important for all athletes from a general 
performance standpoint and especially in regard to heat-related issues. A balanced 
diet with the needed carbohydrates, fats and protein, as well as the required 
vitamins and minerals, ensures that the tennis player is not deficient in any one 
area. It may also be beneficial for athletes to have their blood work analyzed once or 
twice per year to make sure they are consuming appropriate nutrients (especially 
vitamins and minerals).

5. COOLING - Use ice and other cooling mechanisms to keep the core body 
temperature cool before, during and after practice and competition. Individuals who 
go into hot and humid environments with lower core body temperatures to start with 
have been shown to perform better than when they go into situations with slightly 
higher core temperatures. This process of pre-cooling has shown positive results and 
is something that can be accomplished by tennis players before they go onto the 
court for matches during the hot and humid summer months. Vests are available 
that can store ice for a long period of time and cover the core of the body to help 
lower body temperature. If pre-cooling techniques are used before practice or 
competition, it is advised not to put ice directly on the joints or limbs (arms and 
legs), but instead focus on the core of the body to help reduce core body 

6. CARBOHYDRATES - Maintain blood glucose (sugar) levels throughout a 
match/practice. If an athlete does not consume enough carbohydrates before and 
during the match, energy that can be used for the working muscles is reduced, and 
this will result in the body using other processes to generate fuel for the working 
muscles. These other processes are not as efficient and require more steps to 
produce usable energy for the body. These extra steps require the body to work 
harder, resulting in greater core temperatures.

7. WEAR SUNSCREEN! Sunburn increases skin temperature and makes the body less 
efficient at body cooling. Most of us have been sunburned and had the feeling of heat 
dissipating from the skin. This process limits the amount of heat that will be moved 
from the core to the periphery (skin) and limits the ability to cool as efficiently as 

1. Falk B. Effects of thermal stress during rest and exercise in the paediatric population. 
Sport Med. 1998;25:221-240.
2. Moran DS. Potential applications of heat and cold stress indices to sporting events. 
Sport Med. 2001;31:909-917.

Mark Kovacs, PhD, FACSM, CTPS, CSCS

Dr. Kovacs is a former All-American and NCAA tennis champion. His background involves
directing the sport science division for the USTA and is a founding member of the 
International Tennis Performance Association ( which is the leading
organization in tennis fitness, performance education and certification. He is also an author 
of five books including Dynamic Stretching, Tennis Anatomy and Tennis Training: Enhancing 
On-Court Performance and is currently the Director of the Gatorade Sport Science Institute. 
Follow Mark on twitter @mkovacsphd

Pickleball Tip of Week #21

Ok guys,
We have another video this week to watch. It is myself ( in yellow ) partnered with Brian Staub ( who took fourth place in 2012 Nationals Mens Open Division when he partnered with Phil Bagley). We are playing against the team of Rob ( in the hat ) and Matt Staub ( Brians son ). Rob and Matt are practicing for this years Nationals.

There are a couple of things i want you to notice. First off I am the weakest player amongst the four. I am a weak 5.0, Matt and Rob are good 5.0 and Brian is a top 5.0. Being the weakest player on the court , partnered with the strongest player, my role is just to keep the ball low and in play. My opponents are VERY HIGHLY skilled. It is not good odds for me to hit winners against them unless i have a very high ball. So i just try and keep the ball low and in play and let my much better partner go for the winners. This good strategy is not what i see locally in open play. When intermediate players come to play against advanced players, the intermediate players seem to want to "proof" themselves by going for a lot of winners. Not a good strategy when you are hitting against much better opponents.

What you will see is the soft game that i preach so much about. When you get on the court with this high level of opponents, you HAVE TO KEEP THE BALL LOW. You just cant give your opponents a ball that is high because they are very skilled at putting it away. Notice that everyone has really good patience. We have confidence that we can hit dink after dink.
Notice that we try very hard to keep our opponents back. If they are back, hitting up to the kitchen and we have to hit it with a backhand, even if it is a little high, we just keep hitting it DEEP until our opponents get it high to our forehand or they just hit it into the net.

Notice the touch control you see when a opponent hits a hard ball , we have the abliity to do a couple of things with this ball hit hard at us. Either hit it back hard or take the pace off it and drop it in the kitchen. The same thing if we get get caught in no mans land and they hit at our feet, we just drop it back soft into the kitchen and work our way up to the NVZ.
Notice that Matt and Rob usually hit the serve return to my partner Brian instead of to me. They do this because when i hit the third shot, Brian likes to come up to the net and poach. He does this several times when they give me the third shot. Again, they are not doing this because I am a better third shot hitter, they are doing it because if they make brian hit the third shot, he cant come up and poach and overpower them.

You see a lot of CONTROL in this match. You learn control by starting to play the soft game. Hitting balls soft into the kitchen no matter how the ball is hit to you or where you are on the court. If you have a very good soft game, you can play competitively against ANY players in the world. You may not win, but you will be competitive.

This is classic good pickleball.
Deep serve
Deep serve return
Third shot soft into the kitchen
Dink dink dink until someone makes a mistake

jeff shank

Pickleball Tip of Week #20

This weeks tip is a little different. You have an assignment. Watch the following video. It is last weeks Tournament Of Champions in Utah. It was an invite only event which gave out $18000 in prize money.
Print off this email and follow along as you watch the video.
What i want everyone to see most this week is the half volley Tim Nelson ( young man in Red and Black shirt and in my opinion the best pickleball player in the world)
does at both the return of serve and the third shot. He is half volleying or short hopping the ball.
What this does is two things. It gets him up to the net way quick and throws off the timing of his opponents because he is getting the ball back so quickly.

So understand that Tim and his partner Billy Jacobson ( who happens to be deaf) won the winners bracket and have probably been sitting for several hours waiting for Lavon Majors and Mike Gates to work their way thru the losers bracket. Hence see how many UNFORCED ERRORS Tim and Billy make early in the first game. They are down 1-5 and smartly take a time out to try and stop the momentum and get their game together.

You will see a LOT of advanced strategies in this match. You will see that on most points, the servers partner and the receivers partner are moving back and forth as the serve is made. Tim wants to play most of the points on the left side of the court. This gives him more room to poach with his forehand and cover more of the court. Their opponents are moving back and forth based on their own strategies and to try and get in the heads of Tim and Billy.

At 8:25 you will see Tim fake swing at the ball as Billy is actually hitting it. So early in the first game, Tim and Billy make the most unforced errors. In the middle of the first BOTH teams are making unforced errors and in the end of the first game, Lavon and Mike are making most of the unforced errors. At 8-3-2 Tim is behind and  starts the short hop or half volleys that i am talking about.
In the second game, again Tim and Billy make a lot of unforced errors. At 4-0-1 Tim and Billy again take a time out to try and change the momentum. They go down 0-5, but pull it together and Gates and Majors start making lots of unforced errors and Tim and Billy run out the match with 11 straight points.
Notice the ball catch Tim makes at 22:20 !!!!
Notice what we call the "Erne" poach that Tim does at 27:20. You will see that for about 5 seconds before Tim makes this incredible shot, he is wanting to do it. Unfortunately if you watch it a few times you will see that he does foot fault , but he does it so quickly and from out of nowhere, that the ref does not catch it.
Notice the incredible "misdirection" shot that Tim does at 32:53. A misdirection shot is where you are intentionally telling your opponents one thing with your body/head/hand positioning but then hit it the entirely different way.

So in conclusion, my main goal is for you to see what i am talking about with learning the soft game, limiting unforced errors and TRY OUT THIS SHORT HOP return of serve and third shot that you see Tim doing. When you do it on the return of serve, you want to hit it as deep as possible. When you do it on the third shot you want to drop it soft into the kitchen. Try it , You will be AMAZED at how much quicker this gets you up to the NVZ.

Pickleball Tip of Week #19

Ok Guys,
This weeks tip is on equipment, specifically paddles. Here in Florida, in the winter we play in 30 degree to 60 degree weather. In the summer we play in 80 to 97 degree weather with LOTS of hot sun beating on the ball.

In the winter time, our balls are nice and crisp when cold and POP off the paddle with little help. In the summer heat and sun, the balls tend to get soft and are much harder to generate a high rate of speed.
The past month i personally noticed that it was becoming much harder for me to hit winners on my serve. Usually it is not uncommon for my serve to win at least one outright winner per game ( receiver is not able to return the ball ). And smashes at the net were very difficult to overpower my highly skilled opponents.
Today , realizing these things, I remembered to switch back to my summer paddle. This summer paddle hits the ball much harder ( thus less control ) than my lighter , older winter paddle. But i need this extra power on the soft summer ball. Control is great, but when the opportunity arises, you need the power to win the point.
I  had 4 outright winners in one game today on my serve with the summer paddle.

Newer paddles, heavier paddles, composite paddles ( as opposed to light hitting graphite paddles ) and paddles that have had the Jim Carroll upgrade are all good choices for the soft summer ball. I personally like to use a lighter paddle, however  my summer paddle has the Jim Carroll upgrade. He takes an older paddle and applies a tough smooth coating to the surface. He can also put college info or grandkid photos on the paddle with this coating. It does NOT provide any trampoline effect which is against usapa rules, however it does give it a little more pop as it is a nice hard surface. And adds a little weight which also gives extra pop.
So a slow light winter paddle will give you about the same power and control in the winter as a heavier more powerful paddle in the summer.

jeff shank

Pickleball Tip of Week #18

Hey All,
This weeks tip is a short one.
As you are playing make sure that you are ALWAYS facing the ball while you are awaiting the shot from your opponents.  Your feet and shoulders should be SQUARE to the ball. This is true whether or not you are waiting for a dink, a ground stroke or a smash from your opponents.

If the ball is on the opponents right side of the court, that is the direction your feet and shoulders should be facing. Same if the ball is on the left side of the court. Dont get caught up or be lazy and just always be facing straight ahead.
jeff shank

Pickleball Tip of Week #17

Another "quick" tip this week. Todays tip is based on play that i witnessed today.
Lets say that you and your partner are up at the net. Your opponents are stuck at or near the base line. You and your partner are hitting smashes at your opponents. One thing that you need to remember is that it is MUCH better to smash the ball as deep as possible even if you take a little pace off the ball to do this. This is opposed to smashing the ball really hard , but it is hitting the court ten feet or so in front of the opponents. When you smash the ball way in front of your opponents, the ball now is much easier for them to return because it will bounce nice and high by the time it gets to them.

As opposed to hitting with a little less pace, but it will be within a foot or less of their feet. Now with this better smash , it will be much harder for your opponents to do a decent return.
So try and remember, deep near your opponents feet with a little less pace is much preferred to hitting the ball 110% ( which means less control ) way in front of your opponents.
jeff shank

Pickleball Tip of Week #16

Dink Tips
Ok, I have talked and talked about the necessity of being able to hit nice dinks. I understand that you personally may be having great success against opponents by banging or lobbing every ball. Again, this is fine at beginner to intermediate level. But what are you going to do when you come against a team that are advanced dinkers, and are quick enough to redirect your hard shots at the net back at your feet, or quick enough to get out of the way of your hard hit ball that is going to go out?
If you ever want to become an advanced player or win at the high intermediate level or above, you better know how to dink.

So lets give some more dinking tips. Lets assume that you are standing within two inches of the NVZ ( where you want to be to win at PB)
1) Always be square to where the ball is coming from. In other words, your shoulders and feet should be facing in the direction of the ball on your opponents side of the net.
2) Always keep bent knees and slightly bent waist. You dont want to be bobbing up and down. Bobbing up and down will make you pop the ball up. If you dont have the strength to stay at this position for ten or more dinks, it is ok to put your non paddle hand on your non paddle side just above your knee for support.
3) Hit with your arm, NOT your wrist. Keep your elbow and paddle out in front of you. Take the ball out in front of you.
4) Always try and shuffle your feet a little between shots. You dont want to stay planted and do an extended reach if you dont have to.
5) Dont cross step unless you absolutely have to. It takes too much time to get back into a good position.
6) Always try and stay within 6 inches of the NVZ and take the ball on the fly without letting it bounce when possible.

Practice , practice , practice. Watch videos of top advanced players. The dink shot is one shot that you cannot be without at the advanced levels.
jeff shank

Pickleball Tip of Week #15

Hey All,
This weeks tip will be on returning very fast serves.
Some players have very effective serves. Usually the first complaint is that they are serving illegally. This may occasionally be true , but not necessarily. Here is a very effective tip to help you return these really fast serves.
I have found that if as this "super server" is getting ready to serve, i concentrate 100% on THE BALL. I cant tell you why this has such a profound effect, but it does. If you fully and completely concentrate on the ball as the server serves it AND as it is coming toward you, the ball DOES seem to slow down and give you extra time to into position and get the serve back.
I know this sounds a little off, but try it next time you are in a match and see if it doesnt actually work.
jeff shank

Pickleball Tip of Week #14

This weeks tip will be on playing your opponent.
Having played against an opponent before is a great advantage to you if you will remember their strengths , weaknesses and playing style.
Some opponents are great at counter hitting. They can take your moderately strong hit to them and redirect it back for a winner. Those players you dont want to hit hard to unless you are hitting down at their feet. You must have much better patience against them.

Some players are great at lobs. You always want to be on your toes and move back quickly to cover this.
Some players never lob so you dont have to worry about the lob from them. Just concentrate on keeping the ball low.

Some players when you are pinned back at the baseline and they are smashing balls back to you there will occasionally do a soft drop just over the net. You have to remember those players that are good at this and be on guard. Other opponents always smash it back, never thinking to do a soft drop. Which player is taking your return, and are you anticipating it?

Some players have extremely accurate serves that can catch you off guard. Are you ready for them.
If you are at the nvz, do you know which of your opponents is the better dinker? That is the player that you DONT want to dink to. Why get into a dink war with the better dinker?

Some players are great at reaching in and taking your dink as a volley and hitting a killer angle against you for a winner. Are you already moving to that angle when you see this skill in your opponent.

Remember, pickleball is like a chess game. Mental assessment is 50% of the game. The good news is the longer you play, the better your brain gets. Your mind is able to slow the game down as it gets more experience.

jeff shank

Pickleball Tip of Week #13

Ok we have this weeks tip of the week and some other announcements.

First off the tip.
This weeks tip will be on the "oh xhit" lob. You are standing at the NVZ and try to do a  lob over your opponents head that all you do is succeed in giving them a ball that they are going to easily smash right back at you because it was a terrible lob.

When this happens, too many players try and move backwards. Your best bet in this instance is TO STAND YOUR GROUND. It takes too much time to move back to try and give yourself more time to read the oncoming smash. All you do is give your opponents your feet to smash at now since you are no further back than no mans land. Also the fact that you are still moving backwards when the smash comes means that you are off balance and not "set" to return the smash. In this case you have almost no chance in getting the smash back.

However if you stand your ground. Watch the ball and your opponents paddle. Bend your knees and get low and default to your backhand to get the ball back, you have a MUCH better chance. This sounds like a lot to do in very little time, but you are doing them all in the same time. The first couple of things are self explanatory. Watch the ball and your opponents paddle face so you already have some idea as to where they are going to smash it. Bend your knees so you are not flat footed and can move a step quickly one way or the other. Default to your backhand means you are going to try and return the smash with your backhand.
Why your backhand? Because you are able to cover much more area using your backhand right or left just as a hockey goaly would. Even if the ball comes to your forehand, you can still hit it back by using your backhand. Committing to using your backhand in this instance lets you cover the most amount of ground in the least amount of time.

Another advantage of using this is that you train your brain how to get back a ball that is being smashed at you from a close distance. Really good players have excellent odds of returning this smash because they have seen this smash 10,000 times before and stood their ground and learned from it.

Lastly , anyone that has not emailed timothy nelson and gotten on his free newsletter email list needs to do it TODAY. He has informed me that the next newsletter comes out tomorrow morning. Tim is the #1 player in the world, not just because of his physical skills but also because of his mental strategies. You dont want to miss this free newsletter. Email him asap at and put in the email to him that you would like to get on his mailing list.

Quick note to Jim Wrights Clinic people that are receiving this email. I am fine with you distributing my tips to anyone you would like. HOWEVER if you get on Timothy Nelsons newsletter, make sure you have others get on it too. He DOES NOT want you to forward the info he puts out to others. They MUST get on his email list. I hope you will respect his wishes.

Pickleball Tip of Week #12

 Today we are going to discuss something i learned from another player i have competed with as a partner. He taught me this concept 5 years ago or so.

First off let me say as a precursor to this tip. If you are the receiving team, the partner NOT doing the receiving needs to be ALL THE WAY UP AT THE NVZ.  I see at least a dozen or so players that when their partner is receiving the ball ,they are standing back near the rear of the court. WHY?????

Ok, now that we have gotten that basic concept out of the way. On with the tip.

My partner is about to return the serve. I am standing at the NVZ. When i am standing at the NVZ waiting for my partner to return the serve, i like to be have my outside foot about an inch from the NVZ and my inside foot back about a foot and a half behind the NVZ. What this does is a couple of things. One, i am able to watch the serve and let my partner know if the serve is good or not. My returning partner is concentrating on returning the serve. So it is harder for them to call a ball out if it is out by only an inch or so. I am just standing there watching where the serve hits the court, so it is much easier for me to call an out ball.

Second, my outside foot ( my right foot if i am on the right side of the court, my left foot if i am on the left side of the court ) acts kind of like a pivot foot in basketball. It lets me get close to the NVZ line as possible and still know what my position is so i dont violate it.

Now for the actual tip. After  my partner returns the serve, the middle is now MY RESPONSIBILITY on the next shot. It doesnt matter  whether it is my forehand or back hand. I have the best position if the ball comes down the middle. I am just standing there, but my partner has just returned the serve and is busting butt to get up with me to the NVZ. Hence, when that ball comes back to us a second time, he may still me running forward. When he is running forward , he cant control the shot as well as i can when i am just standing there. So most third shots that come back to my partner and i down the middle, it should be the RECEIVERS PARTNER, NOT THE RECEIVER  that should cover the middle.

jeff shank

Pickleball Tip of Week #11

Picture of Jeff Shank
This weeks tip will be on serve and serve return placement.

As stated earlier, it is critical that the serve and serve return should be deep under most circumstances. However there are also other things to consider.

Generally I like to try and serve deep to my opponents backhand because their backhand is usually weaker. However i can think of two or three players that i actually try and serve to their forehand as they like to return the serve with their backhand. But playing to your opponents weakness is a future topic.

If you are playing against someone that loves to crush the serve return, you may want to occasionally serve the ball soft just past the NVZ. Now your opponent will be running forward and will want to hit the ball hard and will end up hitting the ball out long.

You also might want to develop a side spin serve where you serve the ball moving the paddle from right to left. This will make the ball bounce into the body of a right handed player and may cause them problems.

Serve Return............When my opponent is getting ready to serve, i am looking and deciding where would be the best place for me to hit the serve return. If one player is giving me more of their backhand to hit to , i may decide to hit it there. If they are not giving me any backhand to hit to, i may just hit to the weaker player.

 If one player is a tremendous poacher, i may decide to try and hit the serve return toward them , but a little closer to their partner. I would prefer their partner take the shot, but i want it close enough to the poacher that they are a little indecisisive and dont come to the net immediately to poach  because they are not sure their partner is going to take the shot. On righty/lefty partners, i may want to go right down the middle and hope that neither one or both go for the ball.

Lastly , as stated before, you USUALLY want to hit the third shot soft into the kitchen. However if for some reason , the serve returner does not follow their shot up to the net and decides to stay back, i usually will not try and hit the third shot soft. Rather i want to keep that player back and will try and hit the third shot deep to that player that decided to stay back on the serve return. I just have to be cognoscente that their partner who is already at the net, may try and come over and poach my deep shot to their partner.
jeff shank

Monday, August 5, 2013

Pickleball Tip of Week #10

Ok, so lets continue on from last weeks tip about the soft game.

A really good rule of thumb is that if you have to hit up on the ball, hit it soft into the kitchen. If you are able to hit down on the ball it is ok to try and hit it hard.

The best way to practice the soft game is what my wife anita and i do one evening a week. We go to Laurel Manor and spend 30 minutes practicing dinking straight across and diagonally. Then we both stand at the kitchen line. Anita hits the ball at my feet, and i dink it into the kitchen and take one step back. SHE STAYS AT THE NVZ, HUGGING THE LINE.  She now hits it a little deeper as i am now back a little further and i drop it into the kitchen and take another step back. This continues until i am standing at the baseline. If she hits it too deep, i just practice dropping it into the kitchen as a volley. Then we swap places and i am practicing hitting to her feet, and she is practicing hitting it soft into the kitchen from the NVZ all the way back to the baseline.

Choosing how to hit a shot is 50% of PB. You MUST play smart. I am amazed when i am out and about and watching an intermediate player on the court with advanced players. ALL THE INTERMEDIATE PLAYER  WANTS TO DO IS HIT WINNERS. Most advanced players could care less if you can hit winners. We want you to NOT MAKE MISTAKES.

 What worked for the 3.5 player against other intermediate players is a death wish against 4.5 players. They try and hit the ball hard from low to high and the advanced players just redirect it back for a winner. I see this time and time again and the 3.5 player just cannot get away from this poor mentality.

Not making mistakes ( hitting balls hard when you should be hitting them soft, going for winners down the line and hitting them out, popping the ball up too high ) is even more critical when you are the weak link on the court. When Tim Nelson was here and i played as his partner against two other top west coast pros, i got 75% of the balls hit to me. My job here ( being the weak link ) is to just get the ball back low and not make any mistakes. I am going to have to take too big of a chance to hit a winner against this caliber of players. My job is to keep it low and in play and let Tim ( the MUCH better player ) hit the winners. 

This should be your philosophy, if you are the weak player on the court. But, it usually turns out just the opposite. The weak player wants to prove he/she belongs and wants to prove it by hitting winners. This is a death wish for you and your partner.
jeff shank

Pickleball Tip of Week #9

Todays tip is more on the soft game.

There are several reasons why players use the soft game. The most important one is that as you get better, you play against better players. As you play against better players, it is critical that you do NOT give your opponent a ball that they can do anything with. This usually means hitting a ball soft into the kitchen area. This ball is soft and or low and bounces in the kitchen so that your opponent cannot do much else with it other than dink it back to you. If they were to try and  smack this ball, it is so close to the net that it will either go out long or hit the net. Now it becomes a war of who is the best dinker.

Your average banger ( a player that likes to hit the ball hard and end the point now ) does not like the dink ( soft ) game. They DONT want to have to dink the ball. The soft game takes control and patience, two qualities most bangers do not have. If you and your partner are good at the soft game and are willing to both use it, you will generally beat the bangers because you can MAKE them play the soft game. The first time you hit the ball soft into the kitchen, they can't bang the ball. Understand that the banger WANTS you to get into a banging battle with them so it can become a battle of who is the best banger. When you start dinking the ball it becomes a battle of who is the best dinker and then YOU have the advantage.

So, how do you get the bangers into the soft game?  If you are the serving team, just hit the third shot, soft into the kitchen, and the soft game is started. If you are the receiving team it is a little more difficult. The key now is to make sure that the serve return that you are going to hit does one of the following:

1)Goes to the backhand of your banger opponent. Very few bangers can bang as well with their backhand.

2) Goes to the weaker of the bangers so they are not quite as able to overpower you.

3) Go deep on the return. It is very hard to overpower you if the banger has to hit the ball back at you from the baseline. It just takes too much time for the ball to travel that distance. You should be waiting at the NVZ for this return and try and hit it back to the baseline area again. It is hard for a banger to hit three good shots from the baseline in a row. They will get frustrated with each shot that comes back to them and each time they'll try and hit it harder and lower. After a couple of shots they will hit it in the net or out long. After you get better, you will develop a drop shot with you standing at the NVZ with them banging away at the baseline. This is a SOMETIME effective shot as now they dont know if you will return it back at their feet or drop it soft into the kitchen. The problem with dropping it soft into the kitchen is that it brings your opponents up to the net. It depends on your opponent as to which way you might want to proceed. Again the key is to get the serve return DEEP to them. If you get it shallow, into no mans land, they will be able to overpower you.

I hear lots of comments from beginner and especially intermediate players that they're not interested in that soft game crap. Look at EVERY top 5.0 player and see how many of them do not readily adopt the soft game. Players have to realize that pickleball is all about ADAPTING. What you win with at the intermediate level will NOT let you win at the advanced level. A banger standing at the baseline trying to overpower two advanced players that are standing at the NVZ is not a good situation for the banger. Intermediate players that are bangers quickly get frustrated when they play against advanced players. What was winning for them before is now a liability.

We in the Villages are lucky because EVERY advanced  instructor here all know the absolute importance of the soft game. We teach it, we stress it, we play it. 90% of the players across the country have never seen or heard of the soft game.  Pickleball at the higher levels  is all about controlled aggression. You must know when to hit hard and when to hit soft. You must be a SMART player above everything else.

How to learn and practice the soft game and how to be a smart player will be next weeks topic.

Jeff Shank

Pickleball Tip of Week #8

Hey All,

Todays tip will be on what to do if you hit a ball that hits the net and dribbles over onto your opponents side of the net. When this is the case, one of your opponents need to enter deep into the NVZ and attempt to get the ball back over the net onto your side. Usually they will do this straight back across into your NVZ. When they do this your goal is to go right back at the player that entered into the kitchen hitting the ball into their chest area. You  DONT have to hit it hard at them. Since they entered the NVZ, they must get BOTH feet out of the kitchen AND ONTO THE COURT SURFACE before they can volley the ball. That is why you are trying to hit it back at their chest area so that they HAVE to take the shot as a volley. They usually are going to violate the NVZ if they try and hit the ball at all. 

If you watch this scenerio in open play you will notice that 80% of the time the player does NOT go back at the opponent who entered the NVZ. They hit back to their partner. Thus they loose a great opportunity for and easy point. Again you are not trying to injure your opponent , just trying to make sure they have to volley the ball and thus violate the kitchen. 


I can not tell everyone how much fun i had when the west coast players where here. I got to play numerous games with them. I want to give a big thank you to the three host families that housed these top players. Anita and i hosted Tim and Don. What a treat. Tim is by far and away the most polite , intelligent, easy to get along with 23 year old i have ever seen. Both these players have very healthy diets and each year that Tim has stayed with us, we have adopted more of his eating habits. 

Everyone that is leaving us to venture north, have a safe and fun summer. 

I have been able to post onto youtube three videos from the Pro event. The first is a compilation of the four games with Tim and Billy VS Phil and Brian. This video has the best action, but is NOT in HD so it is a little grainy. The second two videos are their first game in its full length. They are both in HD . 

jeff and anita

Pickleball Tip of Week #7

This week we will discuss communication and not taking your partners ball.

Almost every time the ball comes back to my partner and i to hit the THIRD shot, i will say mine or yours. This is one of the best and easiest times to communicate with your partner. How many times has the ball come down the center with you both standing at the baseline and you either let the ball just go between you or you are late in hitting the ball and do a terrible third shot. You have plenty of time to call this one out as the ball is traveling from baseline to baseline.

Next, when the ball is down the middle and you are in the middle of a point you should call out whos ball if there is even a chance of indecision.

Next , if your partner calls the ball as theirs , YOU better not take it unless you hit a winner. If i call the ball mine and move to hit it and my partner takes it, 99% of the time i will now be OUT of position and we will loose the point.

Lastly on lobs, or balls hit hard at your team. I hate playing with a partner, and i go back for a lob and my partner does not verbalize  if it is good or bad. I am moving back , watching the ball and my partner is just standing there with an excellent view to see if the ball is going to be in or not and whether or not i should hit it or let it go out. So everytime my partner should say , "good", "NO", or "bounce it" if they are not sure. It takes all the decision away from me so i can concentrate on hitting a good return as opposed to thinking whether or not i should hit the ball

Pickleball Tip of Week #6

I am emphasizing this tip so you can observe what i am saying when the pros are here playing on April 21st. Pickleball is all about CONTROL. In order to be able to hit the ball with the most control you must use AMS.
A....Anticipate. You should be able to anticipate where your opponents are going to hit the ball back to you. You do most of this subconsciously, and part of it consciously. Watch your opponents paddle, remember how they've hit back in the past, know where would be the best place for them to hit it back. Use this knowledge to know ahead of time where you should expect the ball.
M....Movement. You should move to the spot that you Anticipate the ball will be coming back to you. If you are able to do this, you will be sitting there waiting and be able to do a
S.....Smooth stroke to return the ball. Generally a nice smooth and SHORT backswing is best. The more compact the shot the better.
Using this method of anticipating, moving to the return spot, and smoothly stroking the ball back gives you ultimate control on the return. When the Pros are here you will see that they are rarely out of position. They are not usually hurried on their strokes. And generally give a nice smooth stroke return. 
The opposite of this is what you want to AVOID. That is Not being ready for where the ball is going to come back , moving too late to get to the ball, and quickly "poking" at the ball instead of doing a smooth return stroke.

Pickleball Tip of Week #5

Today we will discuss the three cardinal rules of PB.

1) Get to the net. Yes i can hear everyone saying we all know this. But not everyone does know it and / or do it. This is especially hard for beginner players or ex tennis players. You need to play PB at the NVZ about 3 inches behind the line. Only enough behind it so you dont violate it. Enough said on this.

2) Limit unforced errors. We discussed this in the second of this series. Enough said.

3) Learn the soft game. This is where we will spend most of our discussion. You need to learn to dink the ball while standing at the kitchen and you must be able to consistently hit the ball from the base line, softly into the NVZ ( this is usually most critical on the third shot ). The third shot is the most important shot of the game. It's what sets up the rest of the point. If the serving team hits a nice soft  third shot into the NVZ from the baseline, the serving team is now able to follow that soft shot up to the NVZ and are on an equal footing with their opponents (both teams at the NVZ).

Understand that what works well at beginner and intermediate level does not work at the higher levels. Banging ( hitting the ball very hard ) from the baseline, generally, is not an overpowering or good shot to use at the advanced levels. Your two advanced opponents, are ready at the NVZ, waiting for you to bang the ball from the baseline,which will usually translate into you losing the point.

You need to have a total array of shots in your arsenal. If you are lobbing or banging the ball instead of hitting soft shots into the NVZ, you will only progress so far. We are lucky that every instructor in The Villages stresses learning the soft game. Hence, the Villages' players are generally a leg up on their competition who aren't experienced in playing the soft game.

We will also be fortunate to see the soft game at its extremes when we witness the Pros playing in the April Exhibition. Pickelball is all about CONTROL. Controlling your shots, and thus controlling your opponents.
One of the main reasons top players play the soft game is that it gives them the ability to hit shots in which their opponents can't hurt you with their return shots.

Your best way to learn the soft game ( dinking and hitting shots softly into the kitchen from anywhere on the court ) is to get a practice partner and go out on the courts by yourselves and practice the soft game.

jeff shank

Pickleball Tip of Week #4

This weeks tip will be on training to improve your game. Many won't like this tip, as it involves work :).

There is no place in the world that offers the free ongoing education that we offer in The Villages. Everyone is aware of beginner 101 , 102 and 103. Then there is an advanced beginner clinic that players can attend. You have Deb Harrison's free Advanced  Skills Practice session at Miona courts every friday at 10:00am.  Sign ups begin one week ahead of time.

Coach Mo's free clinic is taught at Churchill on Mondays and you have my free Strategies clinic taught the first Wednesday of the month which is held at the Miona courts at 10:00am with sign up beginning one week beforehand.

Space is always limited but everyone should try and attend each of these clinics, at least once. Playing games is fun, but probably less than 5% of players actually practice with one or more players to improve their skills. My wife and i try to practice once or twice a week in the evening, spending 30 minutes working on our soft shots. Try and find another partner or several people and PRACTICE. That is the best way to improve. Maybe not the most fun, but the best.

The second thing i do to improve my game is watch the best players in the world and try to emulate them. Two weeks ago i gave a link to the 2010 Mens Nationals finals , just the last game. This week i will include the link to watch the entire match. Understand that this match is over an hour in running time. It is probably the best match i have ever seen and certainly the closest. Understand that both teams started that day at 8:00am and this match finally finishes approximately 11 hours later. Both teams have match point. Three of these four players are coming to our April Exhibition. Here is the link...............................

I have personally watched this entire match around 50 times in the two plus years it has been out.

Next i would highly suggest that you pay for a private lesson from Deb Harrison ( our resident pro instructor ). A private lesson with a top player is an hour well spent.

Finally, i would try my hardest to watch the best players you can find. Or, attend any of our advanced/open tournaments and watch the finals. Anyone that was at Pimlico yesterday, and saw the mixed finals match witnessed some outstanding 5.0 play. It expands what your mind realizes is possible when you see others making incredible shots. You will have such an INCREDIBLE opportunity in April when the best players in the world come here and compete in our exhibition tournament. Traveling to the west coast would be a costly adventure if you wanted to see this quality of play, as it is ONLY available on the west coast. All our club members attend this event for free.

I have submitted paperwork to hold a second free monthly clinic, for members ONLY, at Lake Miona. I have also, requested  2 hours of court time at Pimlico to hold our first members only  "Play with the Medalists" event.  You will be on the court with two of the Villages top players and get helpful advice on improving your game. I hope to get this approved for sometime during the first week of April. I will have all the info for these instructional events at our meeting next friday.

Lastly i have had a request from a resident to have a deaf interpreter at our meetings. If anyone knows of someone that can provide this service, please forward their information. Just so you know, Billy Jacobson, one of the players in the finals game, from the link I gave, who is coming to the villages, also happens to be deaf.

Alright now get out there and practice.

jeff shank

Pickleball Tip of Week #3

This weeks lesson is on the lob. Not my favorite shot. To me, most players use the lob as a crutch, instead of using a better more advanced shot.

Before the soft game is learned, most players have two shots, the hard or banger shot and the lob. If there is one shot that you can win at the highest levels and not have to use....its the lob.

If you watch top players ( last weeks video is a great example of this ) they dont use the lob a lot. I took one game at random in that 2010 finals match and sat down and counted the shots. AFTER the serve and serve return  84% of the shots were soft shots, 15% were hard or attempt at winner shots, and 1% were lobs.
Dont get me wrong, there are a handful of players in The Villages that use the lob effectively and can gain an advantage or win points with the lob. But 95% of you use the lob as a crutch.

Best uses of lobs>>>>>
1)As an offensive shot when you are up at the NVZ and your opponents expect a dink.
2) As an offensive shot when the serve returner has just returned your serve and is running up to the net,... going back over their head as their momentum is going forward.
3) As a defensive shot when your opponents have cranked an overhead at you and you have NO OTHER option to just get the ball back.
4) As a defensive shot when your opponents have hit a drop shot way out of your reach, you can use the lob to give yourself MORE TIME to get back on the court and into position.
5) When your opponent(s) are infirm and cant move or are weak and cant hit an overhead .

When you are caught near the back of the court with your opponents cranking overheads and you are lobbing back to just get the ball back, you and your partner are always looking for the first possible shot for  you to work your way back up to the net. That would be a shot that is not cranked quite as hard and you can drop the ball into the kitchen, OR you hit a lob that drives your opponents back or they have to hit your lob with their backhand, where they are less likely to hurt you. As soon as you and your partner recognize this IMMEDIATELY get up to the net.

Your goal should be to replace lobs that you are making from the back court with soft controlled shots into the kitchen.

Pickleball Tip of Week #2

This weeks tip is on unforced errors.

Next time you are on the courts in line waiting to play watch and see how many unforced errors players make. EVERYONE makes unforced errors, however the better you become, the fewer unforced errors you make.

I always make the distinction of ......

Beginner players just want to get the ball back.
Intermediate players place highest regard on hitting winners.
Advanced players place highest importance on NOT MAKING MISTAKES.

You need to start reducing your unforced errors.
If you get a chance , watch this youtube game of the 2010 nationals........
Watch especially near the end of the game, how these top players just are not willing to make mistakes. I am NOT saying to not  go for a winner when you have the shot. However understand that you may only want to smash the ball at 90% instead of 110%. Go for a foot inside the sideline instead of AT the sideline. And dont try and hit a winner when there is NO winner to be had.

What i personally look for in a good partner is a SMART partner. I could care less if you can hit a winner. I am much more impressed if you make the correct decision on the shot. There are 4 basic choices when a ball comes to you.
1) Hit a neutral shot
2) Hit a defensive shot
3) Hit an offensive shot
4) Let the ball go by you as it will either  go out, or it is better for your partner to hit it.
TRY and start to think when you play. PB is like a chess game. It is a thinking game. The good thing is that the longer you play and the better you get, your mind is able to slow the game down. You will be able to make better decisions as to which shot to make.

So in the next couple of weeks, PLACE HIGH IMPORTANCE ON REDUCING YOUR UNFORCED ERRORS and see how much better you play.

jeff shank

Pickleball Tips of Week #1

Hey All,
As promised , here is the "tip of the week".

Since i am a huge proponent of the soft game, many players ask me how to play against "bangers". First thing you need to do is start THINKING when you play. This is hard early on, but as you play longer and longer, the game seems to slow down as your mind is also able to slow down.

Lets start with the return of serve. Lets say that you are playing against a team that has one player that is much more skilled at banging than the other. As my opponent is getting ready to serve to me, i am already decided as to where i want to put this return. If i decide to go back to the great banger, i MUST return it DEEP or to his/her backhand. If i put it short to their forehand, they may be able to overpower me as i stand at the net. They wont be able to overpower me with a banger shot from the baseline ( too much travel time ) or with their backhand.

My return of service does not have to be as precise if i go to the bangers partner. It can be a little shorter or to their forehand . So this is usually the shot i will do as i dont have to be as perfect in the return.
Once you get the bangers up to the net, if you are able to dink to them , you  have the advantage. Dont forget, they WANT you to hit them the ball hard. They dont like the dink game.

So in recap. As you stand ready to return serve, ALREADY  have in your mind  where you want to hit the return. A deep return to the backhand  is usually  best as your opponents now have to hit a more perfect shot. However getting it too deep make it an out ball and you loose the point. So either hit it deep or to the backhand of the better player, or go to the weaker player and you dont have to hit such a perfect shot.

jeff shank