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Thursday, September 1, 2016

High Percentage Winning Pickleball - Patience

My recent experience at Aiken and the information from the IPTPA has got me thinking about one subject - the need to wait for the optimal time to go for the kill shot. It is not a new topic for this blog but the combination of events and some unique phrases have caused the idea to gel a little more in my mindset. Before I get to the punchline, let's review how we got here.

January 25, 2016 - Doubles Strategy

Based on a Joe Baker video called Doubles Pickleball Strategy 101-How to Play Smart Pickleball, my article included 10 tips with one very relevant tip:
Tip # 8 - Soft or Hard:  When your opponents are at the net, hit the ball softly when you must hit up at the ball.  You may hit hard when you can hit down on the ball.

February 6, 2016 - Less is More

A post cited an article in which a top player was interviewed where he stated:
"I’m patient - and I work to make every shot a good one. And I set up for a second shot, or a third shot. I’m not much of a slammer. I work on consistency, getting the ball back, not trying to do too much. They’ll make a mistake before I will."

I discussed a study by Noel White which stated "70% of the time winning teams have less unforced errors (many times significantly less) than the losing teams." An analysis of that study caused me to conclude:
  1. Show more patience. Keep the ball in play more and let your opponent make the mistake that ends the rally.
  2. Use the soft game more. Power has its place. It is perfectly acceptable to hit a ball hard when your opponent gives you the opportunity by making a mistake. But most of your game should be predicated on setting up that opponent error.
February 20, 2016 - The 80% Rule

I wrote about a conversation with another world-class player that included:
Jerry told me that the best players do not jump on the first opportunity just because it may create a win. These players wait for an opportunity that presents an 80% chance for a winning shot.  They will not take the shot if it is 50/50 or even 75/25. They wait for a near certain winning shot.
In April 30, 2016 - The Basic Overall Strategy of Doubles - Wrap-up

I wrote a series of posts based on Joe Baker's video Doubles Pickleball - The Basic Overall Strategy. The last of the series included:
Phase 3 starts with both teams on equal footing with everyone positioned at the net. At this point, all players are very close to one another and a hard offensive shot could quickly end the rally. Also. players standing at the no-volley zone can create more offensive shots by more easily hitting a ball downward. But a downward shot obviously requires a high ball. Top players recognize the situation and try to avoid the high ball by using a soft, short, low shot... 
Eventually, phase 3 ends with a bad dink, i.e., a dink that is hit too high or deep. A bad dink like this means the opponent can make a hard offensive return

Despite all of this previously dispensed advice, I had to write of a lesson learned:
...we often tried to end points prematurely in our losses. Rather than playing the soft game with dinks, we more frequently hit balls below net height with hard volleys or groundstrokes. The most common outcome was...into the net.

I included 24 key elements that contribute to a high winning percentage. Among those were several related to today's subject.

1. Respect the net (hitting every ball over the net will minimize your net errors and lead to more success).

11. Dinking the ball to your opponent should make up the majority of shot attempts.

12. Develop consistency and patience at the NVZ line.

13. Do not attempt a put away unless the ball is a minimum of 1 foot above the net.

14. Winning pickleball is the result of hitting the ball over the net and allowing your opponents to go for winners.

18. If the ball is below the net drop the ball in the kitchen, if the ball is above the net hit to your opponents feet.


I used to preach to my clinic players a version of element 18 above and the tip from my January article. My message was "Hit soft when hitting up and hit hard when hitting down." But I contorted that message in my own play. Hitting "down" turned into hitting "level" or even hitting "slightly up". I was ignoring 2 new elements from the list above - elements 1 and 14.

I love the phrase "respect the net" from element 1, a phrase I had never heard before. It will now become a part of my teaching lexicon. Beyond that simple phrase is a deeper lesson, though. Every time you get the ball over the net is one less unforced error for you and the opportunity for one more unforced error by your opponent. That is the essence of element 14, since we know that unforced errors are the main reason for losing.

I now have some new thoughts to put into my play. Hit soft when hitting up and hit hard only when the certainty of a good shot is high, meaning waiting for a real high ball, rather than an imaginary one.  

Jeff Napier sums it up well:

"If you watch a typical 5.0-level game, you’ll see that the players mostly use conventional moves. They serve deep, but not necessarily fast and low. They return deep, again, not necessarily fast or low.
They drop the third shot into the kitchen, and most often into the middle, not angled to one side. Then they have a soft rally until a genuine opportunity comes along. The intermediate pickleballer tends to end soft kitchen rallies too soon by taking a shot that might be a winner, instead of waiting for one that will be a winner. You’ll often see the best pickleball players wait out a kitchen rally for a very long time, until that decisive moment comes along. And, it might not even require an offensive move. Your opponent may make a mistake, hitting the ball into the net, or may try an offensive move, that you can easily slam back even harder."

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