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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Don't Play Keep-Away

Give them a good reason to stay...

Lesser skilled players like to play with more advanced players. It challenges them to become better players themselves as they see firsthand the strategies and tactics used to construct a point. But too often the lesser players allow their competitive nature to take over. Instead of playing the game the right way - hitting the appropriate shot regardless of their opponent - they play just to win the game by hitting only to their weaker opponent.

If there is a single-most reason that advanced players hesitate to play with less-skilled players, the lack of shots to them likely tops the list. I would like to follow up yesterday's tips about playing up with an article from PickleballMax called Playing Keep-Away from the “Best” Player on the other Team — Good Idea or Inconsiderate Strategy?. Excerpts are shown below. Please read the entire article at the link.

Although I absolutely LOVE pickleball, nothing gets my blood boiling like being on the receiving end of “Keep-Away” during rec play.  And it gets me very frustrated.  Every time.  You see, every once in a while, in a recreational game of pickleball, I’m deemed the stronger player on the team.  And the opponents — you guessed it — hit seemingly every ball to my partner.  All in the name of winning the game to 11.  In rec. play!!!  Not tournament play.  Did I mention this is “recreational” play?

The Shot Chart Tells the Story

This particular blog post has been approximately 4 or 5 months in the making.  Earlier in the summer, my partner and I had just finished playing a match against a very good doubles team. Unfortunately, I must have been considered the stronger player on this particular day — and, consequently, could count on one hand how many balls were hit my way in the course of a 15-minute game to 11.  Of course, the exception would occur when my partner would inadvertently pop up the ball and the opponents would smash it at my feet — as if to say, “there, I hit you one!”

So, like the stubborn and sometimes immature partner I can be, I brooded — and I vowed to write a blog post about this situation.  And shortly thereafter, with the “play-by-play” still fresh in my mind, I created a shot chart of where our opponents directed the balls when I played the odd court.  As you can see from the shot chart, there was absolutely no reason for me to be on the court on this particular day.  I could have just as easily put up a cardboard cut-out of myself and nobody would have known the difference!


Try the Opposite Approach

I like to take the opposite approach — but similarly, I have to be cognizant of not “freezing out” the weaker player — as it works both ways.  You see, I prefer to hit to the stronger players to see how I stack up against a higher skill level.  I want to see how these stronger players move, execute their shots and strategy — and perhaps, above all, I want to see if I can “hang” with them.  It’s not so much about winning in the short-term as it is about improving and learning over the long run.

So, if the opportunity arises to play against a better player, make an effort to hit them the ball.  It doesn’t have to be every ball — but don’t relegate them to being a cardboard cut-out.  By doing so, you will get a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, which will only help to improve your own game — even if it means losing a recreational game here or there.

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