There is a life cycle when starting to play pickleball that most players will experience. The Holderness Family created a tongue-in-cheek video that explains this life cycle the best, as they breakdown the “5 stages of pickleball” (which are (1) Judgment, (2) Curiosity, (3) Reluctance, (4) Commitment, and (5) Obsession).
For most people, once they get out on the court with a pickleball paddle in their hands, they become hooked or addicted. And, it is at this point, when they transform into a pickleball player that wants to improve their skills and better their on-court strategy.
I, myself, have been there, too. After getting beat on the court by players more than twice (and sometimes even three times) my age—while at the same time, having more fun than anything else that I was doing—I knew I wanted to improve my pickleball game.
I found that there were two skills that allowed me to improve the most. In other words, “I got really good at pickleball when…”
1. I committed to hitting high percentage shots.
On the pickleball court, there are shots that are simply better than others to hit, which changes in every moment based on a number of factors (for instance, where you are standing, where your partner is standing, where your opponents are, what your strengths and weaknesses are, what your opponents’ strengths and weaknesses are, how the pickleball is traveling, what the elements are, etc.). The ability to determine which shot is best at any given moment—in other words, shot selection—is a crucial skill on the pickleball court that separates the best players from the rest.
Once I committed to understanding this crucial skill of shot selection and using shot selection to hit shots that give me the highest chance of success, is when I started to have more success on the pickleball court. In other words, I committed to playing “high percentage pickleball.”
High percentage pickleball is about hitting shots that give you the highest percentage of success and the lowest chance of making an unforced error. For instance, avoid attacking pickleballs that sit below the top of the pickleball net, and avoid going for shots that give you a slim margin for error (such as a shot an inch inside the sideline). Rather, wait for an attackable ball, and go for shots that give you more room for error (such as a shot a few feet inside the sideline).
To learn more about high percentage pickleball, check out Pickler’s article, “Want to Play High Percentage Pickleball? Then, Avoid These Shots!”
2. I could anticipate which shot my opponents would hit.
The second skill that helped me improve my pickleball game is almost the inverse of the first, which is that I improved my ability to anticipate what shot my opponents would hit. In other words, I became better at understanding what the highest probability shot from my opponents would be and where it would be going.
To improve your anticipation, it helps to play more pickleball, as you become exposed to more types of play, more shots, and more tendencies of players. Playing more pickleball helps improve your pickleball IQ. However, you can also improve your anticipation by:
- Looking for tells or cues in your opponents’ shots. For instance, if you opponents take a bigger backswing, then they may be speeding up the pickleball (as opposed to a dink). Or, if you are at the Kitchen line, and your opponents get a little lower and bring their pickleball paddle back with a low backswing and a relatively flat paddle angle, then they may be sending a lob your way.
- Always being in a strong ready position, which will help to reduce your reaction time.
- Expecting a fast shot (as opposed to a dink or a slower-paced shot). It is better to expect a fast shot, as, if your opponents throw a slow shot your way, you will have time to react. So, expect speed, and react if you receive the off-speed.
- Always expecting the pickleball to come back—no matter how great of a shot you or your partner hit. Do not give up on a rally until there is a definitive fault or the pickleball goes into the net, out of bounds, or double bounces. Until then, remain ready and expect the pickleball to come back to you.
- Position yourself and your partner on the pickleball court to cover the highest percentage shots from your opponents. Force your opponents to have to hit to you, or have to go for a low percentage shot and risk making an unforced error. Once you understand your high percentage shots (as noted in skill #1 above), it will be easier to understand what your opponents’ high percentage shots are, too.
So, if you are hitting Stage 4: Commitment of the Holderness Family’s “5 Stages of Pickleball,” or you otherwise want to improve your pickleball game, try to focus on the two skills that helped me the most: (1) commit to high percentage shots, and (2) anticipate your opponents’ shots.
WANT MORE PICKLEBALL TIPS AND STRATEGIES?
Struggling against aggressive players on the pickleball court? For instance, those pickleball bangers? Learn 7 strategies on how to defeat the banger now.
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