2 Reasons NOT To Keep Your Eye on the Ball in Pickleball

2 Reasons NOT To Keep Your Eye on the Ball in Pickleball

From the moment we start playing baseball/softall/basketball/soccer/tennis/etc, one of the first pieces of coaching advice we get is “keep your eye on the ball.” While it’s generally a sound strategy to watch the ball that’s the focus of play, it’s also pretty obvious. If someone’s not watching the ball much in any of these sports, they aren’t apt to play long.

So while the advice to watch the ball might seem sound, it turns out there’s a lot more to it- especially when it comes to a fast-moving sport like pickleball.

As such, if we’re trying to focus on the ball all the way until it hits our paddle, this is mostly a waste of energy in our play (might I say eye-wash?).

Why? I’m so glad you asked.

Here are 2 reasons it’s NOT worth keeping your eye on the ball in pickleball:

1: You can’t see the ball when it gets close to you anyway!

Baseball research has long shown us that players cannot track pitches all the way to the bat, and in a sport in baseball where pitch speed regularly reach 95+ MPH, the batter tends to lose sight of the ball during the last 15 feet before contact.

While we thankfully don’t see speeds like this on the pickleball court, the point remains the same: we make a decision when and where to swing well before the ball gets close to us and we likely lose sight of the ball 5-10 feet before it gets to us. (On another note, check back soon for some fun we had using a radar gun on our serves on the pickleball court).

2: Knowing where the ball is is only half the battle in pickleball!

Hitting is so hard in baseball that all you’re trying to do is make contact. Where the defenders are positioned makes no difference to the player at bat. Thankfully again, that’s not the case in pickleball.

One of the reasons our great game is so attractive to new players is that it’s easy to hit the ball. Play pickleball a while and making solid contact becomes 2nd nature.

However, where our opponents are situated is important information to know as a pickleball player. A player is slow to get to the net? We better be ready to hit the ball that direction. A player is looking to poach a high return during a dink rally? We’d better to be able to hit the ball to a safe spot to combat that. A player is getting into an Erne position during a sideline exchange? Well…we all know the feeling of being on the wrong side of that one.

The point is that if all we’re doing is focusing on the ball, we’re missing out on vital information during our pickleball play. We have to know where the ball is, but we also have to have a soft focus on our opponent during our volleys and exchanges.

So if you’re new to pickleball and racquet sports, keeping your eye on the ball might not be bad advice. But once you can make solid contact with the pickleball regularly, if you’re focusing on the ball hitting your paddle with each and every shot…well, you’re missing something.

Until next time…


4 thoughts on “2 Reasons NOT To Keep Your Eye on the Ball in Pickleball

  1. I have to disagree with the thrust of you blog post. When I played baseball we used to have an eye exercise where we narrowed our view to more tightly only focus on the ball. This exercise helped us make better contact with the ball as the hand/eye coordination was improved. I agree it is hard to see the ball come in contact with the ball but the exercise helped us keep the ball in our view longer than we normally did. I have brought that over to pickleball in my instruction. It maybe less important with more skilled players than new players but if you watch the pros in slow motion their heads are down watching the ball longer than most rec players. In terms of not watching where my opponents are positioned because my head is down watching the ball I make my decision of the shot I want to make by their position when they return the ball.

    1. Good thoughts, Duane.

      Yes, it’s a good idea to train our eyes to focus and track the ball better…but we still don’t see the ball all the way to our paddle, and we can’t track the ball the last few feet. I would agree our topic is more applicable to the stronger players, but the main point is watching the ball all the way to the paddle for players that don’t have trouble making contact really isn’t necessary.

      Interesting thoughts on noticing your opponents. I’ll have to think more about this!

      Thanks for chiming in.

      1. I think @duanestclair is bang on, and he doesn’t say that he’s tracking the ball all the way to the paddle. Our brains are able to track the last bits of distance for us.

        I can’t think of any sport where I need to catch or make contact with something (catching a disc in ultimate, catching/hitting a baseball, catching a football, taking a pass in hockey) where I’m following the object ALL THE WAY with my eyes. Depending on the task at hand, due to speeds and other factors, it’s almost impossible. But the principle is the same: you track the object for as long as you can until the distance to our action is minimal/negligible, at which point our brain takes over.

  2. I think we mostly agree with each other on this topic. Watch the ball as long as you can even though we probably all pick our heads up to quickly. Watch Dave Weinbach when he does a third shot drop and see how long he keeps his head down. He does that to make sure his paddle motion puts the correct arch on the ball. In my instruction sessions when I talk about keeping your eye on the ball I use the example of an outfielder in baseball running into the fence when they are so focused on watching the ball and block out their peripheral vision where they would have seen the fence. I enjoy your blog and your take on pickleball.

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