One issue that continually crops up for clubs is how to manage sessions. What is time best spent on? How can you please everyone? What do we do if we can only play once a week? It is not only a problem that I’ve seen when visiting clubs but one that I myself have had to deal with at my home club, Warwickshire Pickleball.
Pickleball only came to the UK in 2008, yet the sport has been played since 1965 in the USA. In the UK, we are unashamedly jealous of pickleball in the states, most notably seeing yet another set of 16 courts being opened, seemingly weekly. It seems crazy to us that Americans can live 5 minutes away from 5 different, public, pickleball venues. It seems unfair that they can go and play almost at any time of the day, week, month or year. This is one of the reasons why it has been so hard for clubs in England, and Europe, to be able to strike the right balance, with our mostly very limited court time.
What is the most important thing to do in your 2-hour weekly session? Should you be drilling non-stop? Should you just all mix in and play matches for 2 hours? Should the best 4-6 players go off and do their own thing? Here’s a breakdown of each “option” you might have and how you might be able to use it to benefit your club.
Drilling is one of the most important factors in developing consistency and accuracy as a player. It is something applicable to all skill levels and something that everyone can do together. Drills not only aid a player’s ability to learn and become more consistent but also allow for creativity and malleability. You name the shot you want to practise and you can create a drill on the court for it. Likelihood is that a drill will require a minimum, but often also a maximum of 2 players. It is a fantastic way for players to work on exactly what they want to and get the most out of a session.
Suggestion: Drip feed drilling into your club sessions. Spend 5 minutes at the start of a session one week, 10 minutes the next to slowly encourage players to get into the habit of doing some drills before games. Maybe use a rotation system to make sure all players have access to a fair amount of time.
Consideration: What about the players who aren’t interested in necessarily getting better and just want to come and play?
Social play is the most common club session throughout England. Players from the club convene at a given time and place to come together and enjoy not only the game of pickleball, but seeing friends and even sometimes giving the ball a good ol’ whack. These players love the game of pickleball but don’t necessarily want to strive to make massive improvements. Maybe they aren’t interested in tournaments and leagues and want to play purely for the fun of it, which is equally as great! It is the perfect way for players to bond, form relationships and ultimately have fun.
Suggestion: Use a system to mix up games, trying to keep the teams roughly equal. At Warwickshire Pickleball, we use magnets to show who is going on for the next games with who. The people sitting off in that round of games make new pairings and try to match games up evenly, ensuring they are still mixed around.
Consideration: What about the tournament/league players who want to improve but don’t feel that they are getting good games/any drill time?
Seeded play is a highly controversial topic between players, club members and committees. It involves some sort of process whereby players are split into “groups” based on their respective skill levels and ability to be competitive in games with other players. Seeded play supports the growth of a group of players as a unit; becoming more competitive in their matches, developing personal battles and sometimes helping pairs practise together for tournaments. It is a great way to make your club competitive and encourage players to strive to become better and make their way up to the top.
Suggestion: Incorporate some seeded play in towards the end of the session, maybe 30 minutes. It gives players the chance to do as they wish in the first part of the session, whether that be social play, drills etc.
Consideration: How likely are players in lower groups to improve if they don’t have access to games with better players?
So, Sam, thanks for the information on each type of session we could do, but how do we actually know what we should be doing in our sessions? What if we only have 1 session a week? What if we only have 1 hour? The most important factor in deciding on all of these points is talking to your players at the club. They are the ones paying the money to be a member, to play, to keep the club running. They should be the ones who benefit from the sessions.
1 session a week – first and foremost talk to the players. If there is interest in all 3 of the main options above then split up the session. 20 minutes drills, 60 minutes social play and 40 minutes seeded play.
2 sessions a week – again, consult the players. Ascertain the interest level for each of the options and achieve a split that works.
3 or more sessions a week – you know what I’m going to say, ask the players. If you have the benefit of playing 3 or more times a week you also have the benefit of being able to dedicate at least one session a week to a particular type of session.
Check out an article written by Jennifer Lucore about one of the best drills you can do in pickleball – you might be surprised!
Sam Basford is pickleballEngland’s Regional Director for the West Midlands Region.
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