Last week, I jumped into why Ben is the GOAT and why some of the traits that make him such are not skills that the rest of us mortals should be worried about in our own play.
However, as we’ve written about before here at DinkTank, there’s an awful lot we CAN learn from watching pickleballers at the highest levels – even one as otherworldly as Ben!
So today I wanted to dig into 3 traits that we should be trying to apply to our own pickleball games in the months ahead.
Composure: Maybe it’s because he’s winning all the time, but I’ve never seen Ben Johns look flustered on the court. Sure, he might shrug his shoulders or curse himself out under his breath briefly after a missed shot, but there’s not a time where he’s not supremely confident-looking when he’s making his next serve or return.
We all know how important confidence and the mental side of the sport is when we play. We could all take a lesson from the Champ on how to calm our nerves and put the last point(s) in our rearview mirror so we can be our best, present selves in the points ahead.
We can’t control what just happened, but we have a lot of control about what happens next. Ben knows this and his ability to apply this is part of what makes him the best in the world.
Equal Comfort with Forehands and Backhands, especially at the net: More to the pickleball skills, no one is as good with the control of their backhand at the net as Ben; it’s truly insane how he seems to be able to hold the ball on his paddle for a split-second as he reads his opponent and then directs the ball to an uncomfortable place for said opponent. It’s likely a skill he brought over from his time in table tennis.
While we’ll never have this sort of control (or weapon), what we should learn from Ben is what an advantage it is for him to be equally comfortable hitting from his forehand and backhand.
While we’re always likely to have better attacking options from one side vs the other, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t learn to be equally as comfortable hitting from either side.
If we are weaker on our backhand side, better opponents are going to sniff that out and target us there. It will lead to weaker backhand shots, or to us running around the ball to get to our forehand, which likely will put us slightly out of position for the NEXT return.
If you are weak on your backhand, it’s good reminder to hit twice as many backhands as forehands in your next drilling session.
Playing the game to his strengths: Since he’s the world’s best and seemingly good at everything, it’s funny to say that Ben plays to his strengths. However, as Warkittens showed us in statistical analysis of Ben’s games, it’s clear Ben does just that: he knows that if gets to the net, he’s got an awfully good chance of winning enough points to win the match.
For Ben, that means dropping instead of driving given his insane accuracy with 3rd (or 5th) shot drops.
We all have things we do better on the court than others; for me, I’ve got a pretty good backhand- both a cut (that I use for returns and drops) and 2 handed (for power). Usually in rec play, most teams defer to the forehand on shots down the middle, but I’ve taken to letting my partners know that I prefer my backhand, so I might take the 50-50 balls down the middle. Often, we steal a point or 2 in the match since not as many players hit a backhand with pace.
I mention this because I didn’t used to do this until a wise-sage of a player told me I needed to be taking advantage of my backhand better, and if I didn’t, I wasn’t taking advantage of one of my better skills. I thought about and realized he was dead right.
Like my situation, you can probably think of one area of strength in your game that you could better be utilizing.
I’d love to hear if there are any other thoughts out there where Ben’s game has been an inspiration (or lesson) to your own!