It’s April(!) and everywhere you go, pickleballers are talking about finally getting outdoors to play. You can feel the anticipation.
While playing pickleball outdoors means a change of location, it doesn’t mean that we will all suddenly begin playing better. In fact, playing with some wind on a different court will require adjustments that actually make the outdoor game a little tougher.
Not everyone moving outdoors is seeking to improve their game. Many are happy simply to get sunshine and fresh air. However, there is a growing local population interested in taking their games to the next level. If that’s you, here are some thoughts on how to improve your pickleball game this spring.
1. Play with different people.
When we play pickleball with the same people over and over we get to know their games really well. Playing with new people means adjusting to new shots, new strategies and new partners. It requires a new level of attention, focus and even stress. That’s good! That’s where new learning starts.
2. Play with better players.
This is one of the best ways to learn. Not only will you get a chance to see new skills and strategies in play, you will need to improve your game to stay competitive. And better pickleball players won’t have a problem playing with you if they see three things: 1) that you want to improve 2) that you are practicing what you are learning 3) that you ARE actually improving when you play.
3. Drill and Practice.
Most of us never practice pickleball. Many people actually hate practicing. But to get good (if that’s your goal) everyone needs to practice. Dink shots, third shot drops, punch volleys and overhead smashes don’t just happen. And practicing them in a game leads to the same result – fear of messing up and frustration when it happens. The only way to truly master a better game is to take time to practice the fundamentals and then apply them to your game.
4. Get a coach.
For most people, there’s a point where it’s just not possible to play your way to the next level. This is where a coach comes in. Good coaches are important for many reasons. First, they understand the game. That means what they are teaching is fundamental and consistent. Lots of people spend the first couple of years overcoming incomplete or even bad advice they received when first starting out. Second, coaches can diagnose the problems you are experiencing and fix the causes, not the symptoms of your bad play. Third, they can push you to try new pickleball skills, shots, strategies and approaches. While you’re doing it, they can provide the confidence for you to keep pushing. A good coach is really, really helpful. Just one caution. Without practice, all the coaching in the world won't help as much as it could.
5. Get a new paddle and courts shoes to match your game.
Paddles especially, and then shoes, make a huge playing difference. The paddles we start out with are designed with one key goal in mind – to hit the ball. They tend to be thin, hard and less than a hundred dollars. Some people even seem to master these paddles. But they shouldn’t, because paddles at the next level are safer (less vibration), more technical (either feel, power, or a combo of both), better surface (control) and better quality (endurance). Also, even good paddles may need to be replaced. My one year old Selkirk was starting to feel like a piece of dead board. No power and no feel. Now I'm using an Oliver Delta Control. The difference is remarkable.
Shoes are kind of the same. While any court shoe can get you onto a court, proper shoes last longer (sometimes way longer), are safer and provide a great stable platform for hitting the ball. Personal example: after blowing through two pairs of Asics court shoes in less than a year I have switched to K-Swiss. They are mind-blowingly better in all respects including weight, comfort, endurance, traction and stability.
6. Play in competitions and competitive events.
There is something about playing pickleball to win that changes your outlook on a game. It’s where everything above comes together. Suddenly, understanding the fundamentals isn’t theory, it’s real. Being consistent is a requirement, not a goal. And when you play well competitively it’s a huge confidence boost, the same way that playing poorly can be a huge motivator.
Not everyone is seeking to take their game to a higher level. Pickleball is fun game and simply playing can be really satisfying. But for those who want to get better, the ideas above will definitely help.
See you on the courts!!