Anyone Can Play... and Play Well

by glenepeterson on Jan 1, 1970

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After years of studying, playing and teaching pickleball, I'm convinced that any player at nearly any age and level of athletic ability, with no prior paddle or racquet sport experience, can achieve a level of mastery in this quirky sport that will result in confident strokes, long rallies, great enjoyment, and the occasional befuddling of more athletic opponents and an elitist tennis player or two.

Watch any 4.0 level bracket in a tournament and you will conclude that winning has little to do with age or athleticism or weight or size or gender. It has everything to do fundamentals. And 4.0 level play today is darn good play! In six blog posts, I would like to share those fundamentals with you.

First, I am 56 years old and fancy myself among the top ten men's Over 50 doubles and singles players in the nation. I am a mediocre athlete, played tennis through high school, did desk work for 25 years, retired and fell into pickleball. My wife says I am obsessed with the silly sport.

We won't start with grip or stroke or technique or tactics or strategy. The most essential trait is determination and focus. You can win a lot of games with the gritty determination of just keep getting the ball over the net and in the court. Over and over again. Focus involves three things.

  1. See the ball the same way you would a pitched baseball. See it come off your opponents' paddle. See it spin. See it all the way to your paddle and see it blur off your paddle face. The court and opponents and net and partner are all part of the backdrop; only the ball is in focus. This little discipline is what Federer has to tell himself to do every time he steps on a tennis court.  Golfers do the same. For whatever reason, it is not intuitive, but entirely necessary.  Magical things happen when you really see the ball.
  2. Move. Your half of the court is only 200 square feet, but you must be in the right place at the right time. Speed is less important than anticipation. But you must move. The better positioned you are to take a shot, the better your shot. Happy feet, healthy heart.
  3. Think about where you are trying to hit the ball.  Every ball has a target. Please don't look at the target; you instinctively know where it is in the backdrop. A golfer sees the green in his mind but only looks at the ball. Try to hit that target. Pick high percentage targets, never low percentage targets. If you miss the target, the ball is still in play. Reserve the trick shots until you master consistency.

See. Move. Think. Be focused and determined. Just keep getting that ball back over the net to the target. Every time. Eventually it won't come back. Just you and the little wiffle ball. Such a simple game. So often I have seen determined players prevail over more skilled players.

Watch Che Cui or Brian Ashworth play; the ball always comes back! [include short video clip of long rally with Brian scrambling]

Thanks for reading!