Land of the Sky Tournament information can be found by clicking on the button above.

Newcomers to the site should note the pickleball book "chapters" in the left column and the repository of expert articles and videos in the right column.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Predicting the Future

Most endeavors in life are undertaken with a plan. That plan may be either formal or subconscious. Some actions to succeed in the endeavor can be reactive, waiting for someone else to act before acting. But the best actions are those that are based on accurately anticipating the actions of others before they are completed. Pickleball is no different. Anticipating the shots of opponents allows players to be prepared to make better returns and provides a competitive advantage.

Anticipating a shot is a matter of looking for visual clues when an opponent hits the ball. Most players have shot tendencies, i.e., they will use similar movements to hit a shot. But tendencies also are situational, where players will usually hit the same shot in a given situation (time and place). Human nature is such that players will rely on a favorite shot - and one in which they have confidence - when under stress. Tendencies can be learned by watching an opponent's games and warm-ups. At the very least, early play in a match will show opponents' tendencies that can be used later in the match.

Observing the entire motion of an opponent, including feet, eyes, shoulder, and paddle provides the ultimate set of clues for anticipating a shot. However, the reality is that players must focus on the ball, meaning the biggest clue can found by watching the paddle, especially focusing on the following factors:

  1. For direction, watch the angle (compared to parallel with the net) of your opponent’s paddle as it hits the ball. The ball will travel in the direction the paddle is angled.
  2. For speed, watch the backswing and how quickly the swing moves forward.  A long backswing and quick swing means a hard hit ball. A short backswing or easy swing means a softer shot.
  3. For spin, watch the direction of the swing. A high-to-low swing means backspin while a low-to-high swing means topspin (see the post on Spin). A swing that has the paddle cutting across the ball means sidespin with the ball spinning in the opposite direction of the swing.
  4. Also for spin, watch the paddle face. If the paddle face is open, i.e., the top is tilted back, the result will be backspin. If the paddle faced is closed, i.e., the top is tilted forward, the result will be topspin.
  5. For shot type, watch where the paddle is during the opponent's setup. If the paddle is above the shoulder, it means a hard volley or overhead smash. If the paddle is near parallel to the floor, it means a lob.
That sounds like a lot of observations to make in a couple of seconds time - and it is. It takes practice watching to learn but it does happen. In fact, some of the other parts of the opponent swing will become more evident even as the focus remains on the ball. Peripheral vision will observe factors like feet and shoulder direction, which are good indicators of where the ball will be hit for most players. Some players have the ability to change direction by using their wrists so the body direction can be misleading. The paddle always gives the correct read, though.

Situational tendencies can only be learned by observing play, ideally in a match involving another team. Learning in a match while playing is essential - by watching for the following tendencies:

  1. Watch where opponents like to hit the ball. Do they hit to the backhand or forehand side or do they favor hitting down the center or down the lines?
  2. Watch how opponents attack players at the kitchen line. Do they like to lob, dink, or bang the ball?
  3. Watch for opponent's "tell". Do they have a move they make consistently that leads to the same shot?  
  4. Watch for opponents' approach to backhands. Do they hit backhands with confidence or do they run around the backhand to use a forehand instead?
Pickleball is a very quick game requiring fast reflexes. An advantage of even a fraction of a second can prove to be the difference in winning a rally. Anticipating the opponent's shot provides that precious time advantage. No one can predict the future every time. Otherwise, I would have won the $1.5 billion Powerball.  But trying to predict the future as far out as the next shot must be a part of every player's game. Deb Harrison has a video on the topic called Anticipation.

No comments:

Post a Comment