Monday, August 5, 2013

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

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