Pros- they’re just like us, except they don’t have to hide that they play pickleball everyday.
Unlike football or basketball or soccer, pickleball is one game where the pro players don’t do anything otherworldly that we can’t (kinda) do. They don’t serve all that much faster, jump that much higher, or dink much differently than we all do.
But however similar we might think we might actually look (and play) to the pros, any of us that have actually been thrust into a 5.0 (or higher) level game, we quickly realize that, despite all appearances, there’s still a sizable chasm between our skills and those that get paid to play.
There are a host of lessons we can take from their games, though, and today I offer up 3 areas we can focus (and practice) on now to start making ourselves look more like Simone and Zane and Lindsay and Dekel.
1- Making the routine shots routine
Pretty boring, right? But as Warkittens has shown in some initial pickleball statistical analysis (and be on the lookout for more), we’re finding the best player in the world makes the fewest mistakes!
May that be a lesson to us all: it’s never harmful to practice the shots we know we need to hit most often. So, if we’re missing too often on our 3rds (or 5ths), messing up resets, or hitting our dinks into the net, we’re leaving points on the table. And speaking of leaving points on the table, that leads me to…
2- Returning every serve
What’s funny is that for many people, the typical pickleball warm-up starts with dinking, then a few drops, then a few drives…and then someone breaks the ice and says, “I’m ready, I’ll probably screw up my first few shots anyway.” To be fair- this is usually me saying this.
However, we rarely practice returning serves in warm-up, which is a little crazy given that any missed return results in a point for our opponents. That makes the return one of the most important shots we’ll hit every point! We’re foolish for not taking more time to work on this, especially if we can match up with someone with a strong serve.
We’ve seen pros learn to master the return of serve (even with the now-illegal Zanesaw) with practice. It should be our goal to never lose points on a return of serve.
3- Not sprinting to the kitchen
One of the first lessons we learn when we’re new to pickleball is to get to the net. And by and large, that’s great advice.
But as we start to play more high-level players, we start to see skillful players are really good at hitting the ball at their opponent’s feet, and it’s really hard to handle a ball placed at our feet as we’re sprinting forward!
One of the better players I know has taken some lessons from a top 10 pro that lives locally. One of his messages is progress forward with each shot, but take your time getting to the net- and get comfortable making shots from the transition zone.
This has helped me immensely. Instead of treating the pickleball court as binary- I’m either at the net or I’m not- I now work to get forward, but I’m not in a hurry. I can hit a drop or reset from a lot of areas on the court, but I’m getting very few shots hit to my feet that I’m on the move that I’m unable to handle.
There will always be a lot of things the pros do that we can’t, but there’s always nuggets we can take from their games to apply to our own.