In a recent episode of Pickler The Podcast, long-time pickleball pro, Kyle Yates, described how he has seen the sport of pickleball evolve since getting into the sport about 10 years ago. With more and more people gravitating to the game, pickleball is getting more physical and more athletic per Yates. Shots are hit with more power, there is more quick movement around the court, and fast hands battles are here to stay. This is likely the result of a number of factors, which include:
- The sport of pickleball is getting younger;
- The paddle technology is improving from years past;
- More crossover athletes (e.g., more former tennis players) are coming into the sport; and
- More money is up for grabs, leading to more investment by the pro pickleball players to elevate their game.
To counter this physicality and athleticism in and around the game, Yates has had to evolve his own style of play. For this evolution, Yates has focused on two key factors:
- Consistency; and
- Hand speed.
This increase in physicality and athleticism is not just at the pro level, but rather at all levels (we all know a few “bangers” and the game has gotten faster at every level). As a result, to keep up with the change in the sport, consider learning from Kyle Yates—one of the best in the game—and implementing his two key factors into your game.
Improve Your Consistency on the Pickleball Court
Consistency on the pickleball court boils down to being able to repeatedly make quality shots and avoid unforced errors. To improve your consistency:
- Master your pickleball fundamentals. For instance, improve your footwork, take short backswings, hit the pickleball out in front of your body, etc. These fundamentals put you in a position to be repeatedly hit quality shots.
- Play 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. Although hitting an impressive winning shot is fun and makes you feel good, it may not be the best pathway to winning or success. If you can hit a difficult winning shot only 1 out of 10 chances, you are likely losing too many points and too many games. So, it is important to have quality shot selection and play high percentage pickleball.
- Mentally grind out points. Consistent pickleball may require you to construct a point (rather than hitting a clean winner or being “one and done”). As a result, you may have to hit many quality shots in order to piece a point together. This requires a different mentality. You must be in the rally for a long haul and commit to hitting as many shots as you need to in order to win the rally. Consistency requires a shift in mentality and a mentality to grind out every rally.
Improve Your Hand Speed at the Kitchen Line
With the sport of pickleball becoming faster and faster, your hands need to be faster in order to keep up. This is particularly true at the Kitchen line, where many hands battles take place just 14 feet apart. To help you improve your hand speed, try the following drills:
- Volley Drills – Grab a partner and hit volleys to each other from Kitchen line to Kitchen line. Work forehands, backhands, and then alternate sides. Try to amp it up even more by both you and your partner stepping into the Kitchen and continuing the volleys inside the Kitchen. The shorter distance will take away reaction time, so you can try to improve your skills. You will feel as if you have a ton of time once you step back behind the Kitchen line. If you do not have a partner to drill with, these same drills can be done using a wall.
- Table Tennis Ball – To amp up the volley drills for reaction time, grab a table tennis ball (also known as a ping pong ball). Use your pickleball paddle to volley the table tennis ball. Repeat the same volley drills discussed above and challenge yourself to get as close to your partner or the wall (as applicable) as possible. Using a table tennis ball will really challenge your hand speed and ability to react because the table tennis ball is much smaller and much lighter, so it will move faster than a pickleball—meaning even less reaction time. Also, since the table tennis ball is smaller, it will be more difficult to track—in other words, you will need more concentration to work on your ball tracking abilities.
Also, don’t forget to:
- Stay loose. Your paddle speed will be faster when you are not tensing every muscle in your arm and body.
- Take short backswings. Big backswings can slow you down on the pickleball court. The goal with pickleball paddle speed is not necessarily how fast you can swing the paddle. Rather, it is how much time it takes you to swing the paddle. So, while it is important to work on ways to increase the actual speed of your paddle, it may be more important to focus on ways to cut down on the time it takes you to swing the paddle—like shortening your backswing. Sometimes, less is more!
Continue to Evolve and Grow Your Pickleball Game
Pickleball has evolved in the past 10 years. So, be like pickleball pro Kyle Yates and make sure your game evolves with the sport. Work on your consistency and your hand speed to stay up with the times.
And, don’t forget to continue to evolve. The sport of pickleball is still in its infancy and, as Ben Johns has been known to say, “pickleball is an unsolved sport.” So, continue to grow your game with the sport itself.
See below for the full Pickler The Podcast episode with Kyle Yates – The Pickleball O.G.