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…