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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Beginner Pickleball

Experts start as beginners...

I recently have been filling in for a fellow ambassador giving beginner-to-intermediate clinics. This week I will begin a series of articles on drills, but today's post will use the newest RV Pickler article to kick off the keys to teaching beginner pickleball. It will help readers to understand why the drills are placed in the order I chose as well as their points of emphasis.

Golf instructors will tell you, “If you want to teach a new player the game start at the hole”. The same goes for pickleball 101, start at the NVZ line.

Pickleball 101: Safety

Many pickleball clubs, facilities, and groups have created programs to introduce pickleball to new players. The Villages has one of the most robust. With over 75 volunteer instructors offering at least one class per week in the off-season and at least five classes per week in-season, this program introduces about 5,000 seniors each year to the game of pickleball.

During a typical 2 hour class, 24 students listen to a brief introduction that promotes safety and common sense. Again, the vast majority of students are over 55 and many were pursuing business rather than athletic pursuits prior to retirement. The safety review includes:
  • the benefits of court shoes,
  • learning to call “ball on court”,
  • not walking behind players during a game,
  • how to proceed in case of an emergency, etc.

Students are asked not to run. They are asked to use this class simply as an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the game, its rules and some very basic strokes.

Pickleball 101: Groups of Four

Groups of four students and one instructor are then distributed over six courts. As the athletic ability and hand-eye coordination of students may vary greatly, I would ask the students to bounce a pickleball on their paddle while they introduced themselves to the group. Some students quickly get the hang of it. Others would chase the ball across the court. Regardless, at some point, you had to begin.

Pickleball 101: Begin at the NVZ Line

We always began the instruction at the non-volley zone line. Our initial focus was not to explain the rules associated with the NVZ but rather to just get a feel for hitting a ball over the net with control. There are times when you have four students with good hand-eye coordination. They may have some prior racket-sport experience. In these situations, you are able to engage all four of the players into an exercise to learn together. Other times, you may be required to toss a ball across the net to one player at a time. Regardless, starting at the net offers many benefits:
  1. It emphasizes the importance of the position and the fact that the vast majority of the game is played from this position;
  2. Close proximity makes it easier to explain a few basics such as grip, posture, ready position and what “at the line” really means;
  3. You are able to focus on proper technique which includes making contact in front of the body, swinging from the shoulder (not wrist), extending toward a target, etc.
  4. Throughout the exercise you emphasize control.

Pickleball 101: Introduce the Rules

In my experience, adults learn best when you are able to combine activity with other learning. Once everyone has a feel for hitting a dink or a soft volley, you can begin to introduce the rules. At this point, we would take a hydration break and explain that a ball could not be hit prior to bouncing while standing in the NVZ (which of course includes the line). We would go on to explain associated rules such as momentum, re-establishing position outside of the NVZ, touching the NVZ with ones paddle or clothing, etc.

Having introduced these rules, students were then given an opportunity to again practice dinks and volley as a team while adhering to these rules. Using one ball, we would play a “kitchen game”. In addition to practicing their strokes, students could be introduced to important topics such as court coverage, communicating with your partner, etc.

During a typical two-hour class, we would spend perhaps 20 minutes at the non-volley zone. Certainly, there is a lot to cover when you are introducing a new group to the game of pickleball…but this is time well spent. If you want more information on creating a Pickleball 101 program in your community, contact us. We would be happy to share a sample course outline via email. 

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