One of the most valuable life skills—whether you are at the office, in a social setting, or on the pickleball court—is the ability to “read the room.” In other words, the ability to (1) observe the people around you, (2) analyze who they are, what they are doing, and the environment they are in, and then (3) act accordingly. For instance, I would never discuss playing hooky from work to play pickleball in front of co-workers in the office! They may not have the same appreciation for the importance of a pickleball session.
This skill of “reading the room” is also critically important on the pickleball court.
This pickleball lesson is one that I am constantly trying to master. There is always more to learn, which I am reminded of all too often on the pickleball court. However, the first time that I was humbled by pickleball lesson #3—read the pickleball court—was in my early days as a pickleball player during a recreational play setting.
With only a small experience of pickleball matches under my belt, I was making too many unforced errors, but I was starting to understand basic strategy. One such basic strategy that I executed often was to target my opponents’ backhands, as the backhand side is often the weaker side of pickleball players. I especially tried to target my opponents’ backhands that were close to the middle of the pickleball court. This means that, because most of the opponents that I played were right-handed players, I often hit the pickleball to the left-hand side of my opponent on the even side (or right-hand side) of the pickleball court.
During one recreational pickleball game, I quickly realized that the spots I normally targeted were putting me at a disadvantage. Let me explain. About three points into this pickleball game, I hit what I thought was a decent shot to my opponent’s backhand. However, I was quickly met with a fast-flying return. I glanced back up to my opponent, thinking to myself, “how in the world did she just crush that back?!” I quickly realized, after taking a second to observe my opponent’s side of the court, that my opponent was a lefty. Instead of hitting the pickleball to my opponent’s backhand, I sent the pickleball straight to my opponent’s forehand for an easy kill down the middle of the pickleball court, splitting me and my partner.
This was one of the many moments that reminded me how important it is to “read the pickleball court” before a match and during, and in between, points. This moment in particular also reminded me of an easy habit to adopt before every match:
As a reminder, this is important because, many times, your opponent’s backhand is weaker than his or her forehand. By identifying and targeting your opponent’s backhand, you will probably have greater success in challenging your opponent and winning points.
When you are on the pickleball court—during warm-up, before the game, between points, etc.—constantly observe what is going on around you. This includes what your opponents are doing, what your opponents are saying (both verbally and with body language), what you and your partner are doing, what you and your partner are saying (again, both verbally and with body language), what the wind is doing, where the sun is, how the court plays, etc. Observe everything you can.
Then, take all of the information you gather through observation, analyze it and implement it! React to what you observe. Control your behavior to respond to the setting you are in.
Reading the pickleball court, and altering your behavior to react to what you “read,” will improve your pickleball game. For instance:
Pickleball is a game of constant adjustments—both physically, mentally, and strategically. As a result, pickleball is a game that requires constant observation in order to understand exactly what adjustments to make. So, be sure to constantly read the pickleball court! And, do you best to do it quickly, as the best players are the ones that adjust and execute the fastest!
Read past blogs from the "Lessons from the Pickleball Court" series:
What lesson have you learned from the sport of pickleball? Share with us in the comments below, or reach out to me personally via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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