At The Line Pickleball by Joe Baker (Review and 41 Takeaways)

This is the first book of what I am sure will be many published in the future that I have read on how to improve one’s pickleball strokes, strategies and play. I have been playing pickleball for about four years and much of this book serves as a reminder of things that I should already be doing. This book is an excellent instruction tool and introduction for Beginners and an effective refresher course and guide for Intermediates and above. The instructions are easy to follow and the author includes pictures and diagrams for further clarity.

FYI: Baker has created and posted useful YouTube videos on pickleball tips if you are not inclined to read the book...

Listed below are 41 takeaways from the book that I found helpful to me and I think would be beneficial for other players…

1.The basic strategy of pickleball can be summarized in just a few sentences: (1) get your team fully forward as quickly as possible,(2) keep the other team back as long as possible. (3) if you have to hit up on the ball, which is almost always, hit soft shots designed to bounce before being returned. (4) If all players get fully forward, keep the ball low until a put away opportunity arises.

2. Don’t hit the ball to players. Instead hit the ball to open spaces to make your opponents run or reach.

3. Always look for the down the middle opportunity, as this is a much higher percentage shot than a down the sideline shot.

4. As far as shot depth goes, aim at the depth of your opponent’s feet. That is, don’t provide a shot that can be volleyed back, and don’t provide a shot that bounces well in front of your opponent.

5. About the best thing you can do for your game is to learn how to make drop shots into the kitchen.

6. Intermediate skill play: more than half of the rallies are over with five shots or fewer and this includes the serve. About 70% of rallies are over after six shots. The service fault rate for the 3.0 skill level is about 3.5%. The best strategy is just to aim for the middle of the box.

7. The old rule thumb is that if you have to hit up on the ball, hit softly, aiming to keep the ball in or near the kitchen area. If you can hit down on the ball, you may hit hard.

8. The smash shot is best directed to an unreachable open space. However if there is no such space, the smash should be directed to the area of a player with the least time to react: the near player, not the deep player.

9. The server and the server’s partner should both be behind the baseline. Make sure you and your partner wait behind the baseline until your opponent hits the service return shot before moving into the court. If you step into the court when serving move back behind the baseline after making the serve. A big mistake is moving forward too early and then retreating to field a shot.

10. An ideal serve, if it can be made consistently, it’s fast and deep and usually directed at the receivers backhand. However, not faulting is key. Until you get really consistent, do not attempt to serve fast or deep, and do not attempt to add spin. Just focus on hitting the target: the middle of the box.

11. The player returning this serve should typically be 18 to 30 inches behind the baseline.

12. The team at the net has a huge strategic advantage over opponents who are in the backcourt. Net players have more angles and shot placement options than players who are deep in the court, and they can defend their court better than players who are deep.

13. A beauty of being at the net is that the net shields your feet.

14. For a right handed player, shots that land outside the left heel are nearly impossible to field.

15. Never give your opponent a ball in the air (a ball he or she can volley back) unless it is intended to defeat his or her reaction time or it’s a deep lob. Taking the ball in the air versus letting it bounce helps minimize your opponent’s forward progress.

16. When dinking, it’s OK to hit toward a kitchen sideline. When trying to hit a drop shot into the kitchen, it’s OK to hit toward a kitchen sideline. However, long shots directed toward sidelines outside the kitchen have too much of a risk of going out of bounds and are low percentage shots. Top players rarely attempt such long shots.

17. You must stay linked to your partner, never more than 6 to 7 feet away from your partner to form a wall. Slide and reposition the wall after each hit of a ball.

18. Reduce flubs and mis-hits that usually go into the net. Flubs normally result from hitting the ball outside of the paddle sweet spot or off-center. Flubs or mis-hits often result from not watching the ball.

19. Pregame communications: if not already known, ask or advice your partner about opponent strengths and weaknesses. Issues such as poor mobility, inferior dinking ability, poor lobbing skills, slow hands and poor third shot capability should be communicated.

20. Yell “mine” or “yours” unless the shot is extremely obvious.
Yell “no” to your partner if you see a shot going out of bounds.
Yell “switch” if you’re fielding a lob that goes over your partner’s head. This means that you and your partner will switch sides…

21. When dinking, you should try to stay as far forward as possible, in other words, just behind the no volley zone line. Your toes should only be an inch or two behind the line. Crosscourt dinks are more forgiving for both height and depth and they are usually more difficult to attack than those that come from straight across. Also it’s a mistake to dink to the forehand of the person right across from you as this provides a set up for a straight on attack. About 75% of flubbed dink shots that go into the net occur when a player is trying to field a dink that is low into the backhand.

22. Dinking targets: basically you don’t hit directly to your opponents. Instead you hit between them or towards sidelines.

23. Stay compressed in basketball like ready position. When you are compressed, you can move fast and quickly volley back shots that are directed at your feet. If you are standing straight up, you may have difficulty defending against shots that are aimed at your feet.

24. When you get pulled out near the net, hit crosscourt into the kitchen if possible.

25. In the dinking game, it’s best to continuously stress your opponent, making him or her reach, move or scramble. It’s not wise to give an easy dink shot to the opponent directly across from you. Especially avoid hitting it to his or her forehand because it sets up a rather easy attack shot.

26. When playing, keep most shots to your opponents backhand because this will create the highest number of flubs and make aggression more difficult. Stay linked to your partner and slide the wall in relation to the position of the ball.

27. Even the best players, when they launch a fastball attack, will lose the rally about 30% of the time they try. Generally speaking, whenever you have a shot that gives a better than even a chance that you could shut down a rally with it being in your favor, you should make the shot.

28. This statistic is this: among advanced players, if you start the fast game and you fail to defeat your opponents reaction time with your first shot, your chance of winning the rally is about 28%.

29. Hit your fastball to a location that forces an awkward hit… A popular goal is to jam the opponent’s dominant side. This means directing the ball to the right hip pocket or right shoulder of a right handed player. This forces the defender into a high elbow or chicken wing arm position usually leading to a weak return or pop up.

30. When in a fastball fight – – – and especially if you are starting it – – – you should generally fight with the near opponent, not with the far opponent. The near opponent has less time to react.

31. When fully up to the net, keep the paddle up, above your waist, and in front of you with the head of the paddle above your wrist.

32. The main root cause of many of unforced errors is the use of force exactly opposite of what it should be used. In other words, players hit hard when they should be hitting soft and vice versa.

33. A return of serve that is deep is better than a return that is fast because the deep shot makes the critical third shot more difficult. You’ll get better depth accuracy and precision with a slow arcing return then you will with a flat trajectory fastball return.

34. In general, you should get the lobs that go over your partner’s head and vice versa.

35. For a 4.0 level and below players, the overhead smash leads directly to the loss of the rally for the smasher about 28% of the time. Why? Often the smasher tries for too much, too much angle or too much depth.

36. When you and your opponents are close to the non-volley zone line, the best put away smash strategy is to angle it down to the feet. If you are forward and your opponents are back, your best put away smash opportunity is to angle the shot to make it unreachable. It helps if the ball is off center because it gives you an even better angle.

37. When you are at the non-volley zone line, any fastball coming your way that is shoulder height or higher will likely go out of bounds. So starting out, get out of the way of any fast shot at shoulder height or higher and watch the results.

38. On the return of serve, the failure rate at the 3.0 skill level is about 8%. The most frequent fault is having the ball go into the net and the main root cause behind us is trying to use too much power. Provide enough arc to clear the net easily and avoid using more power than it takes to hit this target. The target is to aim at or near the center of the non kitchen area.

39. When hitting to a banger, try to keep most or all shots to the banger’s backhand and to the left heel target.

40. Rather than taking risks with aggression, very often the best strategy is to simply continue to return the ball to your opponent. Under such a strategy, an impatient or less skilled opponent will usually be the first to fault.

41. The ideal strategic arrangement is for you and your partner to play parallel and at the net that will keeping your opponents deep in the court. Therefore your strategy is to get your team to the net while keeping your opponents away from it.

Around The Post

Five Takeaways on the CBS Broadcast of The Sketchers International:
(2) Anna Leigh Waters / Leigh Waters vs. (1) Callie Smith / Lucy Kovalova
(2) Riley Newman / Matt Wright vs. (1) Ben Johns / Collin Johns

1. First network broadcast of pickleball. Ben Johns and Anna Leigh Waters showed why they are the #1 players in mens and women play. Excellent commentary by Morgan Evans. A great introduction to pickleball for newcomers and the general sports audience. Best selling point: quickness of the games; 10 second rule. Play occurs so fast that they weren’t able to show replays on some points.
2. I may have missed it but I did not see a commercial by Sketchers promoting their new pickleball shoe. What a missed selling opportunity! They promoted their walking shoes instead. Strange marketing move?
3. Who says that pros don’t lob? In both matches, offensive lobs were employed and were successful. Even at the pro level, one sees some confusion at covering and defending lob shots.
4. Ben Johns covers the court from net post to net post. I’m guessing he hit about 75% of the shots for his team. He dominates play. I’ve seen him play with Anna Leigh Waters and he seems to be more deferential to her play than his brother. (As an aside, I have seen a few guys in recreation mixed doubles play try this but not with the same results as Ben Johns and not with the cooperation/patience of their female partners.)
5. Ben Johns’s experience in playing table tennis is so evident by his hand speed and how deft he is at cross court dinks.

Sound of Music:
iTunes has music for pickleball. You can download an album titled Pickleball:Songs of America. However, here is my suggested playlist of hits titled suitably for a pickleball theme.
Hit Me With Your Best Shot Pat Benatar
Inka Dinka Doo Jimmy Durante
Let’s Stay Together Al Green
Play Me Neil Diamond
Games People Play The Spinners
Sultans of Swing Dire Strait
Fun, Fun, Fun The Beach Boys
As Good as I Once Was Toby Keith
It’s My Party Leslie Gore

Sound Off on Sound Offs

I enjoy hearing the following: the bounce of basketballs on a hardwood floor, the thud of a thrown baseball into a glove, and the crack of the bat against a pitch. There is a symphony of sounds generated within each sport. So I’m against efforts to reduce the thwacks of pickleballs by significantly modifying the pickleball or the paddle. A well hit smash or soft brush of the paddle for a dink have their own sounds that are part of the game.

Kitchen Komments

After playing outside so much this summer and ending the relentless heat and humidity, I am ready for fall weather. When the heat index is over 90, I feel like I am playing with 20 lb. ankle weights on each leg and a mask covering my mouth and breathing.

“It’s my belief that pickleball will be the largest participatory sport in the US eventually” – Bahram Akradi, CEO Life Time. A very bold statement made by a CEO but he is also putting his money where his mouth is by investing in building more pickleball courts at his facilities.

Let’s wait another 25 years before we begin to designate anyone as a GOAT (Greatest of All Time) in pickleball. Way too early…

South Jersey: Pickleball = Alabama: College Football

Serena Williams intends to play her last game competing at the U.S. Open Tournament in New York before retiring. When I’d play my last pickleball game, it would be at the courts at Browning Road in Pennsauken. It’s where I started and in many ways, it was where I had the most fun. Opponents to be named later. But I do know who I would want to be my partner…Cookie Sey.

Reading Between the Lies

If you’re smart, you believe half of what you hear. Brilliant is when you know which half.
Robert Orben

In my younger years I had a friend who was a great storyteller. He spun stories of his various adventures in travel, career and financial success and seducing women. His stories enthralled many a stranger or new acquaintance. My friend’s tales were entertaining and always showed him in a positive light. The sad part was that my friend was starting to believe in his stories. He could not differentiate between truth and fiction. He believed in his lies.

Lies and exaggerations are the verbal currencies of politics, business, advertising, culture and social media. The more outrageous and fanciful the lie or exaggeration, the more likely it is to spread and to be believed. Indeed, in politics, many campaigns spin fake news in order to stoke contributions and support.

Followers of professional wrestling are labeled as “marks.” Marks totally buy into the character branding of the wrestlers, the contrived storylines and rivalries and that the match results are not scripted. They have not understood that pro wrestling is entertainment, not sport. Great athletes performing choreographed feats of strength, agility, strikes and body slams.

Politics also has “marks.” They are known as “Trumpsters.” Donald Trump has worked with World Wrestling Entertainment in the past. He has participated in a Wrestlemania storyline and his casinos sponsored Wrestlemania events in the past. One of Trump’s Cabinet appointments was Linda McMahon who along with her husband Vince owned the WWE. January 6, 2021 was Trump’s political version of Wrestlemania. Trump promoted the event and his “marks” thought that they could overturn the results of a fair election process. Just like a “battle royale,” Trump’s followers battled Capitol police and even used not so hidden foreign objects just like “heel” wrestlers do to cheat in their matches.

George Washington purportedly said in his youth, “Father, I cannot tell a lie.” There is very little evidence that Washington ever said those words. It’s part of the myth around our first president. Sadly, no modern day politician could ever say that phrase with a straight face.

I have picked on politicians and their lies. However the business world is replete with lies, exaggerations and spin. One cannot trust the accuracy and integrity of quarterly corporate results, CEO guidance, product and service capabilities, mission statements and denials of corruption, regulatory malfeasance, sexual harassment and mismanagement.

Photo by Joshua Miranda: