I’m currently on the injured list after a mishap on the pickleball court involving a dog leash and said time on the shelf has given me ample time to reflect on what was a great summer of pickleball. From the end of May until the end of August, I was able to get in 53 pickleball sessions. Given the stage I’m at in life, this is the busiest season of pickleball for me, and I was thrilled to be able to find so much time on the court.
I’ve improved a ton over the course of the last year, and as such, I found myself standing on courts with players that compete at the 5.0 (or higher!) levels in tournaments more than a few times.
While they’re better than me, I felt I held my own. Even more importantly, though, is how much I learned from being on the court with these experts.
The lessons? Here they come…with my 3 top takeaways from sharing the court with 5.0 players these last few months:
- The Best Way to Improve? Make Fewer Mistakes
I know I’m guilty of thinking the best way to improve is coming up with a new serve…or trying to Erne more, or trying to invent a new no-look dink shot that I’m unable to master.
While I expected the 5.0s to have shots that blew my mind, they really didn’t do much that I can’t do on the court.
But where they stood out is how few mistakes they made in the routine shots that they have to make over and over and over again.
3rd shot drops? Hardly ever miss, and if they miss, they tend to miss long (where it keeps the point alive instead of an automatic loss of point with a drop into the net).
Baseline drives? They weren’t otherworldly with power but they were in play and consistent.
Dink game? They were boring metronomes of consistency with smooth, fluid, non-attackable dink returns.
The lesson? If you really want to get better, stop trying to think of what to add to your game and instead subtract the mistakes you make on serves, returns, drops, drives, and dinks.
- Don’t Think You Have to Attack Every Attackable Ball
One thing I expected was to see these 5.0s take advantage of every slightly-high dink with a speed up at more forehand shoulder.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Instead, these advanced players waited for a ball they could attack, and then waited some more. High dinks that I would think to attack were hit back soft but low and in a spot where the opponent was apt to make an even worse mistake.
And you know what? They did. Eventually, they’d get a juicier ball to put away without having to take the risk of speeding up a marginal ball.
Instead of thinking I needed to work on my speed-ups, I came away realizing I just needed to exercise even more patience!
- The Best Offense Can Be A Well Placed Dink to Your Opponent
Along those same lines, I came to understand that 5.0s create their own offense by well-placed shots instead of forcing the action.
Nowhere was this more evident than at the kitchen line. Instead of speeding up marginal balls (as I noted above), they consistently put the ball after all in tough spots for the opponent. They might return one nicely…and maybe even another. But eventually, the weaker player would crack and hit a ball into the net or leave one high enough for an easy attack.
I didn’t think of offense coming from defense in pickleball- I’ve been too busy trying to force the action, but it was all too obvious from playing with high-end players that the best way to get a ball to put away is to consistently hit balls to the weaker player in a vulnerable position.
It’s good to be back here at DinkTank and I’d love to hear if anyone else has any other lessons they’ve learned from the experts in our favorite court sport!
Until next time…