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.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Targeting: Where and Why

Be sure to positively identify your target before hitting the ball...

It is skills and drills time for me. A couple of days ago I started leading a group of experienced players through improvement drills. This is a group with whom I have worked in the past so I am familiar with their skills. Instead of focusing on generic skills like groundstrokes or serves, I chose to work on strategic placement of shots. Each week, we will work through the options available to players for a specific shot (or two shots at most). The options will vary based on the locations of all 4 players on the court. I will write a post for each session and publish it on the Monday before the Tuesday drill sessions. 

Before kicking off the drills, some basic premises must be established in order to understand why the strategic targets were chosen. These include:
  1. Create an advantage by taking your opponent out of his comfort zone.
  2. Percentage pickleball is a winning strategy due to reduced unforced errors and forcing opponents into defensive shots.
  3. Control of the NVZ line determines the winner.

Creating an advantage

The photo above shows a player in a very unfavorable position. First, he is forced to stretch far from his core. This diminishes his ability to both control the ball with a high degree of accuracy as well as hit with power. The position also greatly reduces his options and forces a defensive return. Those are the 3 goals of creating an advantage. There are multiple ways to accomplish them. A ball hit to the feet or paddle hand armpit can be just as effective.

Let's first talk about what a comfort zone is. All players have a "sweet spot" where their swing and paddle contact with the ball is most comfortable for them. Most players' sweet spot is thigh-to-waist high on the forehand side of their torso. Kyle Yates' form exemplifies the majority as shown below.

Those images show that Kyle looks in complete control of placement and can generate power as desired. It is an easy and athletic motion.

A player's comfort zone is slightly different than his sweet spot but very much interrelated. The comfort zone is an expanded area surrounding the sweet spot where a similar easy swing can be used. The comfort zone can extend to the backhand side for some, but not all, players. Both a sweet spot and a comfort zone exist because these are the shots most often hit by players, thus creating muscle memory. Players will make every effort they can to get into a position to hit in their comfort zone. 

Premise #1 - It is our goal to create an advantage by making an opponent hit outside his comfort zone.

Percentage Pickleball

The concept of percentage pickleball contains multiple elements, all of which were discussed in Winning with Percentages. The 3 concepts relevant to this post are summarized below:
One basic tenet of winning pickleball is understanding that a high percentage of a rally's final shots result from unforced errorsFrom a percentage pickleball
 perspective, that means a player must have immense patience. Instead of trying to create a heroic winning shot from a disadvantageous position, create (or maintain) a neutral position while waiting for a ball that can be more easily hit for a winner. The spectacular shot looks good but is not a consistent basis for winning pickleball.
Another tenet of winning pickleball is understanding that placement is more important than power. Every shot made should have an intended target. The target is dependent on the type of shot and player positions. Some targets may be deep in the court. Other targets may be opponents' feet... 
The final tenet I want to mention here is best expressed with a line from the Dirty Harry movie Magnum Force - "A man's got to know his limitations". Players develop additional skills as they play and practice. Only the best players can successfully hit even close to all shots. Players must understand where they are along the skill progression continuum. Percentage pickleball means that a player should stick with their strengths and avoid their weaknesses.
Percentage pickleball is about patience, placement, and strengths. The objective of the shot is to keep the opponent in a defensive position, but not at the expense of your hitting the ball out of bounds. 

Premise #2 - It is our goal to put our opponent in a defensive position within the tenets of percentage pickleball.

Control of the NVZ

There is unanimity of opinion that the team controlling the NVZ will be more successful. Statistics show that the team failing to get to the net will lose 70% of the rallies. There are a couple of reasons for greater success at the net.

First, a player at the net has more horizontal options to place his shot as the court "opens up" to a wider field.

Second, the player at the net has more vertical opportunities.

Premise #3 - It is our goal to get to the NVZ while keeping our opponent off the NVZ through our shot selection.

With those 3 premises established, we will move forward each week with a discussion of selecting the best shot option to succeed for specific shots and situations.

1 comment: