We say that pickleball is a great game that is easy to learn but can take a while to truly master. What does that progression look like? I read this article and thought that the pyramid visual summed it up perfectly. So I asked the author, Alice Tym, if I could reproduce it here.
About the author of the article:
Alice Tym was ranked 13th in the world for tennis in the 1960’s. She’s been named USPTA Coach of the Year and is a USPTA Master Professional. As a 4.5 pickleball player, she won gold in Huntsman, NSGA Nationals, US Open and USA Pickleball events around the country. Alice is an IPTPA member, SSIPA founding board member, Bainbridge Cup Originator and was a gold medallist in Spain, Italy, Ireland (pictured left) and Germany.
The following article was first featured in the March/April 2021 Issue of Pickleball Magazine. Both Alice and Pickleball Magazine agreed that we could share it here.
I bought a paddle. What do I do now? In order to have fun playing pickleball, you need to be consistent. Spraying balls all over the court is no fun for anyone, so you first need to learn to keep the ball in play. Next, you want to be able to aim the ball so that the other team or player is doing all the running!
As you get a handle on aiming your shots, you can pick up the pace so that your opponents have to run faster than you do. You, in turn, have more time to hit the ball since they are scrambling. Once you get some consistency and accuracy with your pace, you can change the pace of different shots so that you are not so predictable. You don’t want your opponents to get in a groove. Changing the pace lends itself to deception. Prepare and look the same, but redirect the ball. Go down the line instead of the crosscourt they are anticipating.
Now you have some tools in your toolbox. Don’t just use the ruler. Put some strategy into your play. Plan the point and execute it.
How do you achieve each block of the pyramid?
- Practice hitting against a wall
- Develop a smooth, even swing by practicing in front of a mirror
- Take lessons
- Use a ball machine properly
- Drill crosscourt and down the line, keeping your stroke smooth
- Have someone video you and critique your form
- Have an eye exam. You can’t hit what you can’t see!
- Work on extending your follow-through so that you complete 100% of each stroke
- Give 100% in each practice. Develop skill of effort
- Bend your knees. They will help you control the height of the ball and the pace.
- Use Targets
- Practice by dropping balls out of your hand so that you learn to hit early for crosscourt and later for down the lines
- Chalk targets on the hitting wall
- Put a tacky overgrip on your handle so that you hold the paddle the same way every time
- Think of yourself as an archer on the serve so that your entire body is lined up in the direction you want to serve
- Use your left hand for balance and stability
- Keep your head down on your groundstrokes throughout the complete stroke
- Keep the ball out in frontal vision, especially on the volley
- Watch the ball come off of the opponents paddle. Pick up the direction early
- Visualise hitting down a hallway so that you maintain your stroke longer.
- Bend your knees because pace comes from weight transfer using your legs and hips
- Prepare early. You can’t step into the ball if you haven’t taken your paddle back
- Use your left hand to push the paddle back on your forehand and pull it back on your backhand if you need to be reminded to prepare early
- For added pace on your overhead, think and visualise ‘Attack’. Don’t let the ball drop
- Play the ball; don’t let it play you
- Take your opponent’s pace and add to it by being prepared early
- In baseball, players pitch using the term ‘rock and fire’. It works on a serve too. Rock back and fire
- Never hit harder than you can cover in the next shot. Pace works both ways
- Just because you hit hard does not mean you should hit hard. If you are out of position, give yourself time to recover
- Do not confuse pace with depth. Depth is more important. Work to achieve both.
CHANGE OF PACE & HEIGHT
- Don’t let your opponents get grooved. Change the pace
- Be sure to set up the stroke the same way so that you don’t telegraph the change
- Use change of pace on your serve
- Change the height of your serve. Changing the trajectory keeps the opponent on his/her toes
- Not every overhead needs to be hit hard. Not only is placement important, so too is pace. If the opponent is waiting not he fence, good drop volley or drop overhead works well
- A high, deep return to the backhand is often more effective than a low drive. Mix it up
- Dink, dink, dink then drive the attackable ball
- Don’t be predictable. Practice a variety of shots with different speeds
- Stay focused on depth. hard and short is going to bite you
- If you are a senior, work on your lobs!
- Stand the same way when you serve. Don’t give away direction or pace
- Wear a visor so your eyes don’t give direction away
- Don’t be predictable. Return down the middle. Return down the line. Lob a return
- Work on your redirects and misdirects
- Try some ‘rolls’ (topspin for pickleball)
- Throw in a slice serve or a slice dink
- Learn to stack
- Use signals behind your back to tell your partner that you are going to cross and/or poach
- Tell your partner when you are going to serve short so he/she can cover the short return
- While I do not approve of this, pickleball has no rules regarding colour of clothing. You can wear clothes that match the colour of the ball so that your opponents lose sight of the ball.
- Subscribe to Pickleball Magazine – and read it
- Watch videos of good players setting up a point
- Play tournaments and learn from others
- Practice with better players
- Experiment in practice to learn what works for you
- Play chess. Thinking 5 moves ahead trains you to think five shots ahead
- Play with a variety of partners including left handed players. You can learn from everyone
- Know thyself. Know what shots you can make under pressure
- Be prepared. Bring plenty of food, water, sunglasses, sunscreen, hat or visor, cool clothes, warm clothes, good shoes, spare paddle, etc. It is a Boy Scout’s dream out there!
- Practice on all surfaces, indoors and out and with all ball brands.
The best part of pickleball is its inclusiveness. People will help you and they will make it fun for you. But you must do your part by dedicating time and effort to improvement. Then you, too, can pass it on.
Alice Tym 2021
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