On Sunday, I actually watched more of the PPA Cincinnati tournament on Tennis Channel then I did pro football, including the Eagles game. What a huge difference in production value are pickleball games televised on Tennis Channel or CBS Sports network! I was pleased to see that both Tyson McGuffin and Simone Jardin won gold medals in their respective competitions. Both are being prematurely written off as serious competitors due to their age and the influx of younger players. I identify with older athletes trying to stay competitive and relevant.
I did notice that the Cincinnati crowd thinned out for the men’s singles final in Cincinnati. Possibly it was because it was a long day with five finals being decided and the men’s singles final was the last event of the tournament OR fans are just not that interested in singles competition.
I have heard some positive reviews from local players using the Selkirk Vanguard Power Air Invitka. The paddle has a steep selling price of $250 but these players seem to think that the potential results and benefits are worth the cost. They feel it provides more “pop” to their drives and touch to their third and drop shots.
Professional pickleball has not yet developed any significant rivalries like Nadal vs. Federer, Evert vs. Navratilova, Cowboys vs. Eagles or Army vs. Navy. But it is coming. On court, I don’t have any “rivalries” but I do have people I use as “measuring sticks.” These are players whose skill levels are better than mine and I contrast how competitive I am to their game. My measuring sticks include both men and women who help me improve my game.
I really am enjoying the competitive level at Berlin Intermediate meetups. The styles of play vary and I was able to play a few games last weekend that focused on the soft game including third shot drops, cross court dinks and a more cerebral approach to shot selection .
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.
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.
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.
For older guys, Pickleball: Exercise = Viagra: Sex
Ukraine: Their legislators are dodging bullets. USA: Our GOP legislators are dodging ballots.
Hollywood: A slap results in one suffering a 10 year ban from the Academy of Arts and Sciences Washington: An attempted overthrow of the government results in one being the favorite for the GOP nomination for President in 2024
I am a hoarder of cluttered life experiences and emotional baggage including insults remembered, disappointments, unfulfilled expectations, envies, failures and missed opportunities. Time to declutter…
My most irrational belief is that people should act and think like I do.
Most men should be ending their political careers at age 70 not beginning or renewing it.
Voters are doing a poor job of eliminating politicians whose ages may be less than 70 but so are their IQs.
In their teens and 20s, baby boomers crammed to study for exams and finish class papers. In their 60s and older, baby boomers now cram to complete their bucket list while they are still healthy and active.
In their teens and twenties, baby boomers pulled “all nighters” which was staying up all night to study or finish papers. In their 60s and older, all nighters usually represent the hours between 10 p.m and 7 a.m. where baby boomers try to get a good night sleep.
Success strategy in a marriage partnership: “What’s yours is mine, what’s mine is yours.” Successful strategy in a pickleball partnership: “What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is yours.” Poacher strategy: “What’s mine and yours is mine.”
Often I’m more often impressed by the mettle a player displays than the medal a player may display.
To clear their heads in order to think. Many pray, many meditate Some dink.
Great pickleball partners aren’t judged by their wins and losses together but the banter, support and smiles as they play.
Close pickleball line calls have sparked more “border disputes” between teams than Russia and the Ukraine.
There are two different types of players when it comes to choosing sides for a game in an “open setting.” One who seeks the surest way to win vs the one who seeks the most competitive game.
Just about everybody enjoys an ESPN worthy moment (great volley, great passing shot etc) during a Meet-up or session.
Since I could not play pickleball this weekend, I chose to write about it…
The Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP), and Professional Pickleball Association (PPA), similar to the the battle between the American Football Conference vs. the National Football Conference in the 1960s are trying to “poach” players for their respective organizations. The PPA is offering three year contracts to various pro players. This may provide the financial opportunities for many pickleball players to leave their day jobs and focus on their sport. The expectation, is that like football, these organizations will find both business and financial reasons to merge at some point.
Commercialization of pickleball will continue to expand. There will be more playing venues, tournaments, clinics, clothing lines, paddles, magazines and podcasts to attract an affluent and receptive customer base. I don’t doubt that we will soon see $300 pickleball paddles…
On that note, I wonder when there will be online gambling on professional pickleball tournaments?
Recommended YouTube pickleball instruction videos: anything by Morgan Evans. He has this crazy serve that is almost unreturnable. He is also the best commentator on pickleball.
I hope that Simone Jardim has a successful 2022. She announced that she would retire at the end of this year. She has been beset with injuries, personal difficulties and former tournament partners abandoning her. I remember the verbal online abuse when she withdrew from parts of tournaments last year. Turns out she had to withdraw from all her injuries, not from sandbagging.
Personal Thoughts and Reflections:
My 2022 Resolution: Invest time in drilling and practice. I have witnessed players who probably have increased their ratings by .25 to .50 by participating in weekly pickleball drills.
Presents I wish I found under my Xmas Pickleball Tree:
Willie Palm’s lobs Linda Zarrilli’s temperament Liz TE’s energy Sean McCloskey’s serve Jay Doskis drop shot Manny Lai’s forehand drive Troy Clemmer’s court coverage Lee Collins’s backhand volley Julie Close’s angled shots Reuven Cohen’s spin shots Lucy Kovalova
The local game is changing exponentially. On the plus side, we have more places to play, increased opportunities for clinics and training, more tournaments and membership in South Jersey Pickleball continues to grow. However with the growth comes challenges. Even with the additional venues, there are still sizable waitlists at various Meet-ups frustrating many. The wide community of South Jersey pickleball is slowly being re-organized into smaller units of informal pickleball groups where you can only play or participate by invitation only. In some cases, the criteria is not how you play, but how you fit in. I understand the exclusivity, up to a point, if it is based on competitive criteria. I just hope that South Jersey Pickleball does not become a group of smaller locked communities.
Third edition of muses, thoughts and rants on pickleball…
If you measure your worth in recreational Pickleball by wins and losses, you are playing the wrong game at the wrong time.
I created an unscientific, no data included chart of how I view the estimated progress of many (not most) pickleball players in their first year of play. My chart is based on an older player, who plays 3-4 times weekly mostly for exercise and to meet new people and is not interested in tournament competiton. Every player is different and their rate of progress is contingent on the following factors below:
Experience with other racquet sports
Level of Competition/Play
The fastest rate of improvement usually starts when the player first starts learning to play pickleball. Credit beginner classes taught by Denise Donald, Cookie Sey, Lori Flickinger and others for the fast start in providing new players the basics of the game and more important, the encouragement to have fun and relax.
One of the most effective ways to increase your rating from 2.5 to 3.0 besides lowering your unforced error rates is not hitting “out balls.”
A performance plateau tends to occur between levels 3.0 to 3.5. Many of us start to pick up nasty playing habits and our performance tends to stagnate.
Many players achieve level 3.0 within a year. Some achieve it within days. Depends upon the individual’s starting points, experience and talents. My guess is that Roger Federer would be a 5.0 as soon as he picked up a paddle.
Many players are content with just reaching an intermediate level. Again due to age, health and time commitments, a 4.0 rating may be out of reach for many. However I am aware of the 60+ age players who invested the time, practice and dedication to reaching an advanced rating.
I’m amused by this description on Meet-Up describing an Advanced only session. “Come play on 6 courts with like minded advanced players without worrying about the intermediates or beginners jumping on a court with you.”
For many of us, playing pickleball is a short time travel back to our youth…
Inflation: A Players Rogue 2 that I purchased for $89 in 2020 now retails for $124. It is a very good paddle but that is a 40% increase! Tournament fees, paddles, pickleball shoes, and classes are also experiencing significant rises in pricing. Given the sport’s popularity and growth, there must be a public company or companies that may be investment worthy??
Observation: I rarely see two of the same model paddle hanging on a fence or queue at Meet-ups.
Revised edition: With apologies to my past and future pickle ball partners, here’s what you may expect from playing with me (I have added two more to the original post shown in italics:)
I will continually forget the score and you will have to remind me what the score is.
I will poach at the most inopportune moments and leave you to cover the entire court.
I will chase “out balls” like a dog chasing a flung chew toy
My eyes are not what they used to be so my line calls may need a second review.
I will play with anyone and at any level. Win or lose, I want my partner to have fun and to be willing to play with me again.
I am not good enough to offer advice. My best and only advice to most players is to continue to play, have fun and your game will improve over time.
When I “tag” someone on the opposite team, I will generally apologize and check to ensure they are OK.
My hearing is as reliable as my third shot drop – – so you may have to repeat things to me.
If I forget to bring it up before we play, let’s communicate how we will handle lobs and shots down the middle.
I may sometimes forget your name if it has been awhile since we played. I apologize beforehand. The only two things I definitely remember are my wife’s birthday and our anniversary!
Musings, thoughts and rants on the game of pickleball…
Ratings:pickleball = handicap:golf
While I appreciate the need for ratings in organizing tournaments and some meet-ups, I don’t take them as seriously as many recreational players do. In the course of one game, I can swing from play consistent for a 2.5 player to play suitable for a 4.0 player. I rate my game as “consistently inconsistent.”When I played pick-up basketball, I and other players did not have a court rating.
Huge fan of Ebony J. She won the singles competition at the recent Runnemede tournament that included men. Ebony has the potential and skills to be a pickleball player at a very high level. She’s just in high school and already is quite the athlete in track and basketball. She has incredible court coverage and a booming serve. A very pleasant and mature young woman too…
Maybe it’s the pickleball company I keep but I have only seen maybe five players use the drop serve since it was approved for play. I also understand that it has been rarely used by advanced or professional players in tournaments. The drop serve can be an effective remedy if one has the serving “yips” as it mirrors the groundstroke motion. I’m not sure its effectiveness as an offensive weapon and that may be the reason we don’t see it used in tournaments by players currently.
To get a fast start, practice your serves before you play! In most pickleball games, I see that players warm up by practicing their dinks or ground strokes but rarely their serves. Games then start out with service faults committed by players who did not calibrate their serves due to wind or lack of practice.
There are no shortages of choices for pickleball paddles. There are 964 approved pickleball paddles on the USA Pickleball website; 42 new paddle models have been introduced since the start of 2021. I think if we took a survey of pickleball players, many have two or more paddles. The paddle market is growing, paddle costs are rising and more companies are producing them. As an aside, I am very happy with my Rogue 2 paddle from Players Pickleball that I have used for over a year.
The addition of new pickleball courts (River Road, Brush Hollow etc.) in South Jersey will relieve overcrowding and help service the demand for venues to play. That is a very good thing. On the other side, it may fragment what used to be a pickleball community that congregated en masse at Lions Den, Gloucester Township and Marlton Field House a few years ago.
Ben Johns is easily the best men’s pickleball player today. At last week’s U.S. Open Pickleball Championships, he won the Men’s Pro Singles, Men’s Pro Doubles (with Colin Johns) and Mixed Doubles Pro (with Simone Jardin). I saw the streamed Pro Singles championship where he played Tyson McGuffin. McGuffin played out of his mind the first game of the best of three and won. However Johns recovered and took the last two games and the championship. However Johns is not pickleball’s GOAT (greatest of all time) just like George Mikan wasn’t the GOAT in the early days of the NBA. It’s way too early in the sport for that designation, but Johns does close out matches like Michael Jordan closed out basketball games.
Being an “older player,” it’s hard to identify with 23 year old Ben Johns. I do enjoy watching Scott Moore who won the Men’s Senior Pro Doubles with Rick Witsken and the Mixed Senior Pro Doubles with Eva Welsher at the U.S.Open Pickleball Championships. Moore is 57 and his instructional videos on YouTube are excellent. Moore was also involved in a singles match against Simone Jardin that mimicked the Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match many decades ago. You can see a video of the match here. The result may surprise you!
Below is a guidance list from the USA Pickleball Rule Book for common scenarios that happen in many recreational pickleball games:
1. Make prompt calls to stop play on balls that roll onto to your court to eliminate the ‘two chance option’. For example, a player cannot claim a hinder from a ball rolling on the court after they hit a ball ‘out’; they gave up their ability to call the hinder by choosing instead to hit the ball.
2. Call the entire score before the ball is served.
3. Signal “not ready” prior to the start of the score being called. One of the following signals must be used to indicate “not ready”: 1) raising the paddle above the head, 2) raising the non-paddle hand above the head, 3) completely turning their back to the net.
4. Except the serve, any ball in play that lands in the court or touches any court line is in.
5. The opponent gets the benefit of the doubt on line calls made. Any ball that cannot be called “out” will be considered “in.” A player cannot claim a replay because the ball was not seen or there is uncertainty.
6. A player/team may ask the opponent’s opinion to make the line call on the player’s end of the court. If requested and the opponent makes a clear “in” or “out” call, it must be accepted. If the opponents cannot make a clear “in” or “out” call, then the ball is ruled as being “in” on the receiving team. The moment the receiving player/team asks for the opponent’s opinion, they lose their right to make any subsequent “in” or “out” call for that rally.
7. All “out” calls must be made “promptly”; otherwise, the ball is presumed to still be in play. “Promptly” is defined as calling “out” prior to the ball being hit by the opponent or before the ball becomes dead.
8. While the ball is in the air, if a player yells “out,” “no,” “bounce it,” or any other words to communicate to their partner that the ball may be out, it shall be considered player communication only and not considered a line call.
I find myself awestruck not so much by the skills of advanced Pickleball players I see but by the progress of beginners and novices. Once such player is Celeste Kleaver who started out under the tutelage of Cookie Sey at Browning Road and who now performs as a competitive intermediate level player. When she started to play at Browning Road, she possessed the motivation and enthusiasm to get better. She was always asking how she could do things better. My concern was her footwork, balance and positioning. However partnered with her in a recent game, I saw Celeste digging out shots aimed at her feet and returning sharply angled shots at her opponents for winners. She does all this with a smile on her face and with a joy for the game that I could only envy.