Here is some great advice from our resident expert, Glen Peterson. Enjoy!
To start, here are three things I tell every beginner:
- Be mesmerized by the spinning ball and ignore everything else.
- Move into the best position to hit the ball and get to the kitchen.
- Stroke the ball over the net and inside the lines every time, and let your opponents try to hit the winners.
Keeping my head down and eyes on the ball throughout the stroke is the most effective way to improve my game. This is likely true at every level of pickleball. Some suggest watching your opponents to anticipate their next shot or target their right hip or shoulder or hit to the hole between them. All of that is fine as long as you are not actually watching them but are simply aware. One of the greatest advances in tennis occurred when a well-known instructor authored a book essentially suggesting players do only one thing: watch the ball. Everything else happens by instinct.
Pickleball is fraught with distractions. Where is my partner? Where are our opponents? Where will they hit the next ball? How close are my toes to the kitchen line? Did we serve or receive correctly? Where should I hit the next ball? What is all that commotion in the adjacent court? Does my outfit match my paddle?
The wiffle ball is no distraction. It is the focus. The only focus. So watch the bouncing ball and say goodbye to all distractions. And watch it all the way to your paddle!
Why is this important?
First, check out the paddles of great players. You will likely find a 3 inch circle at the center of the paddle where the paint is marred or the paddle is discolored indicating that most balls strike the center. A ball which strikes the center of the paddle emerges with a consistent velocity. Beginners use the entire paddle face. Balls which strike the paddle near the edge come off with less energy and consistency.
Second, keeping your eyes on the ball throughout the stroke keeps your head down and steady. Most beginners raise their heads just before hitting the ball to see their opponents and find a good target. When they raise their heads, their entire body lifts, often resulting in miss-hits. Golfers get this.
Thirdly, raising your eyes before hitting the ball telegraphs to your opponents where you plan to hit. This may not seem intuitive, but your body is aware of the target without actually looking at it. In many sports, including basketball, only the target matters. In racquet and paddle sports, only the ball matters. Never aim. Let your body perform. Baseball pitchers see only a target while hitters and fielders see only a ball.
Fourthly, if you see how the ball is spinning, you can make adjustments. Look for back spin that might require that you lift the ball a bit higher to avoid hitting the net. More importantly, by looking for ball spin, you will actually ensure that you are focusing on the ball.
Now for one small exception: Don't watch the ball when your partner is hitting. Keep your eyes forward and see the ball emerge back into your peripheral vision. If you watch it carefully, you will see it hit the opponents' paddle and be prepared when it flies toward you.
Pickleball is such a simple game! Practice being mesmerized by the spinning ball and see whether this helps your game. When I won the Senior Open Men's Singles and Doubles at the US Open in Naples a few weeks ago, I reminded myself at nearly every point to do one thing: watch the silly ball all the way to my paddle!
If anyone has suggestions for drills or tips to develop this habit, I am listening!