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You're Playing Pickleball Wrong

Is it possible you're playing pickleball wrong?

What kind of game is pickleball?

Pickleball is:

a)      a power game where you win by driving the ball at your opponents, smashing winners and hitting the sidelines, or

b)      a game of patience where you win by keeping your opponents back, out-lasting them at the net and consistently placing winners in wide open parts of the court

Most points in pickleball are lost, not won

Think of this: at almost every level in pickleball, more points are lost than won. At the 2.5 to 4.0 level, over 70% of points are un-earned. They come from mistakes, not from hitting winners!

Even at the pro level, an outstanding winning percentage is only slightly better than fifty percent. Fifty lousy percent!

Pickleball is a consistency and patience game

So no, pickleball isn’t a power game won by driving the ball at your opponents and hitting winners. It is a patience game, where outlasting your opponent (any opponent) is far more effective than trying to beat up on them.

People play the power game because it's easier

People want to play the power game for a simple reason – it’s easier. A third shot drive is easier than a third shot drop. A speed-up is easier than returning a dink for the fifth time. A bad lob is easier than almost anything – we call it ‘the hit and hope’.

Also, in recreational play (where most pickleball is played) the power game is rewarded with wins. If all the game consists of is hard serves, hard returns, third shot drives, lousy lobs and scary smashes – then the person with the most power wins. Newer, older, weaker, all-round less powerful players (the standard recreational mix) don’t stand a chance – unless they learn to be patient and consistent or grow up to be big and strong. What is true in every recreational play setting is that one or two players can always hit the ball harder and faster than anyone else. They are considered the really good players.

It’s time to play the game differently

When we’re coaching, we always ask a new student about their game and what they think they need to fix. The answers are ALWAYS the same: “I need a harder serve. I need to learn to punch the ball back from the net. I need to learn to lob. I need to learn to smash. I need a harder drive.”

No. You. Don’t. What you need to learn is how to take control of the game from anyone.

Here’s how:

1.      learn to play at the net – learn to dink, so that you can hit a 100 in a row without getting bored and speeding up the ball

2.      learn how to consistently hit long, deep serves that keep your opponents back and where all the power in the return is coming from the returning team – not from your serve

3.      learn how to hit long, deep returns that give you lots of time to get to the net

4.      learn how to hit third+ shot drops that take all the power advantage away from the big power player who are feasting on your third shot drive or smashing your mid-court lob

5.      learn how to resist trying to hit a winner off anything that doesn’t come with a sign that is flashing THIS IS WHAT A WINNER LOOKS LIKE. Even then, learn how to place it accurately, and often gently. When in doubt, JUST GET IT BACK OVER.

Change your mindset to controlling the game

The toughest part of playing really good pickleball isn’t the shots. It’s the mindset. It’s the 180 degree shift from ‘I need to hit more winners’ to ‘I need to take control the game’.

Are you ready? Then get out there and practice your third shot drop. Stop hitting lobs and learn to dink. Finally, only hit a winner when you literally don’t have a choice.

Now, watch how your winning percentage climb!


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