This weeks tip is moving from baseline to NVZ after 3rd shot.
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.
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.
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.
This weeks tip is a little about the drop shot when your opponents are back at the baseline.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 !!!!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Another "quick" tip this week. Todays tip is based on play that i witnessed today.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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
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.
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. Watch videos of top advanced players. The dink
shot is one shot that you cannot be without at the advanced levels.
This weeks tip will be on returning very fast serves.
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.
played against an opponent before is a great advantage to you if you
will remember their strengths , weaknesses and playing style.
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.
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.
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.
Ok we have this weeks tip of the week and some other announcements.
First off the tip.
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
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 Tnpuppetmaster@live.com and put in the email to him that you would like to get on his mailing list.
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.
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.
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
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.
This weeks tip will be on serve and serve return placement.
stated earlier, it is critical that the serve and serve return should
be deep under most circumstances. However there are also other things to
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.
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.
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.
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.
, 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.
Ok, so lets continue on from last weeks tip about the soft game.
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
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
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
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.
Words to live by.........KEEP THE BALL LOW AND IN PLAY, DON'T TAKE SO MANY UNFORCED ERRORS
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
This week we will discuss communication and not taking your partners ball.
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.
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.
, 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
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.
Today we will discuss the three cardinal rules of PB.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.