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Pickleball Essentials
 
While playing is what we all focus on, practicing is where you build your game. This section provides tips and drills you can use to build consistency in different parts of your game. Many of these same tips and drills are addressed in our Reboot Clinics.
 
Jeff Anthony
USAPA/PPR Certified Teaching Professional
 

 
Ready Position - Everything Starts Here
 
With the exception of the serve, improved consistency and accuracy begins with a foundational set-up. From there each stroke can be adapted to insure proper weight transfer and ball striking. It's called the "Ready  Position" and it's a BIG deal.
 
     
 
What does a $70,000 C8 Corvette have in common with the paddles in above images?
(HINT: Paddle markings to track the ball.)
 
         
 
Answer:
Steering wheel on the 2020 Corvette uses same idea to track the road.
  • Feet slightly wider than shoulders in closed stance. Pivot step toward the ball.
  • Weight slightly forward on balls of feet.
  • Slight bend at knees.
  • Paddle up/centered. (Try adding strip of colorful tape on end of paddle to help track the ball.)
  • Limit paddle take-away and follow-through to hip width.
  • Transfer weight  forward toward target.
  • Rotation of hips and shoulders against feet.
  • Use non-paddle hand as counterbalance. (This is where your power comes from.)
  • Contact with ball is forward of hips/knees.
  • To increase accuracy, your shot motion should closely resemble tossing a dart.
  • Return to the Ready Position

The Back Court
 
While serves, serve returns, and third shots begin at the Back Court the overarching goal is to be there for as little time as possible. These three shots are essentially the cost of admission for each point. From there the vast majority of your decision making will be in support of a smooth, brisk move to the Front Court/NVZ.
 
 
Serve
 
The most important criteria for any serve is "IN." You will eventually want more than one type serve but master the basics before trying more technically difficult serves. Here are three serves you will want to work into your inventory.
 
 

 
Return of Serve
 
When you crush a service return it may feel great but it can put you and your partner in a tough spot. You are taking all the risk of an error plus it makes it much easier for your opponent to return with an equally fast shot before you can get to the NVZ. Go slow to go fast.
 
Tip: Use your own momentum to follow your return to the NVZ and join your partner.
 
 

 
3rd Shot Transition
 
The purpose of the “3d shot” is to buy time and help the serving team get from Back Court, through the Transition Zone to the Front Court NVZ line.
 
Remember, the receiving team has the advantage of already having one player at the Front Court NVZ line. The thrid shot is a golden opportunity to off-set the receiving team's advantage.
  • Arc ball up and over net to buy time.
  • Key on opponent’s return to decide on drop shot or deeper return.
  • Make opponent hit “UP.”
  • Transition to NVZ with a brisk walk.
  • Shot may change as you move through No-Man’s Land
Tip: Don't be ashamed to think/say "1-2-3" as you work on this shot. It's a great way to get this important shot imbedded in your game.
 
 

 
The Front Court/NVZ
 
The game is won and lost at the Front Court/NVZ. This is where you want to be. Playing up to the NV line allows you greater visibility of the target area, more high/low shot options, and increased ability to influence the point.
 
Dinks
 
Trying to dink straight ahead at your opponent is challenging because you are at the highest part of the net. The risk is twofold...hitting into the net or popping it up and into the opponent’s strike zone (where your opponent can easily overpower your partner with a quick cross-court smash.)
 
Cross court dinks let you begin to shape the point without taking a big risk. It also offers your partner the opportunity to jump in at perfect moment.
  • Bend at the knees.
  • Paddle ready.
  • Move up close to the NVZ line. (If you stay back off the line you dramatically decrease your ability to change the tempo by reaching in for a winning volley.)
  • Stay flexible/light on your feet.
  • Move laterally (like a hockey goalie.)
  • Volley (take ball in the air) when you can.
  • Stay in the point…patience.
  • Take the up-tempo winner if you must….but wait for it if you can.
If you have a tendency to pop the dink into your opponent's strike zone, try the following:
  • Short backswing, striking ball in front.
  • Loosen your grip.
  • Go cross court (middle of net is lower/more airspace.)
 

 
Block
 
Block shots allow you to reset/slow down the tempo of the point. Block shots are like jujitsu, the “gentle art” that allows a weaker opponent to gain advantage over a stronger opponent. Remember, when an opponent crushes the ball their balance is affected and they can often become vulnerable to an off-speed return.
  • Paddle, ready and held close to body.
  • Center of gravity low…but avoid dropping too low.
  • Push rather than swing.
  • Impact absorbs the energy and can also add slight backspin.
 
Block Shot Drill
 

 
Lob Recovery
 
A lob is a tool a team can use to buy time, reset the point, and get out of a jam. The return of a lob can be an equally impactful tool when done properly.
 
  • Turn – Step Out
  • Move swiftly toward back court.
  • Keep eye on ball.
  • Keep distance between body and ball.
  • Try and return the ball from your preferred strike zone.
 
Tip: Cross court lob retrieval requires partner communication. One goes back, front player switches sides.