Does your pickleball game need a GPS?
If you ever use GPS on your phone to find directions, you know you need two points: where you want to go and where you are. The GPS refers to this smartly as “Current Location.” The system follows your location as you move, updating you with traffic and the like until you arrive at your destination.
But have you ever tried to use the GPS, and you can’t seem to pinpoint either your current location or your destination?
Frustrating, isn’t it?
Learning to play your best pickleball is no different from using a GPS.
Start with the end in mind.
What does your best pickleball game look like to you?
If you want to get somewhere – higher level, more confident, win a few more games – you need to know where you are and where you want to go.
Where you want to go can be as varied as noted above. I would suggest that no matter the destination in your mind (for example, just wanting to know more vs. wanting to win a medal), the steps to get there are similar. Both require improvement in your mechanics, strategy, and athleticism (mind/body connection). We call these the Three Pillars of Pickleball.
Decide on the path
Another piece of the journey that deserves some contemplation is the route you’ll be taking.
Just like the route on your GPS, the route to your best pickleball game can also vary widely.
There is the long route: trying to absorb all of the YouTube pickleball videos and just play (no practice).
There is the medium route: take some local lessons, maybe watch a few pickleball videos and practice a little.
Then there is the short route: use a tool like THE System and put in some dedicated practice for the next 6-9 months (players who follow this route are generally amazed at the change in their play and their relationship with the game).
No matter which route you choose, you still need one more piece to your pickleball improvement map: where are you now?
Determine YOUR starting point
The reason you need to know where you are now is it dictates the work you will need to put in.
Say you are new to pickleball and have never played a racket sport. Your time is probably best spent on the Mechanical Pillar – the “How to” of pickleball. You will want to get comfortable with hitting the ball and teach your body to move around the court and execute your shots without having to think about it each time.
By contrast, if you have played years of a racket sport, you will probably focus more on the Strategic Pillar – the “What shot to hit when” of the game. Do not get me wrong; you will still need some mechanical work. Tennis, racquetball, and table tennis shots are all a bit different from optimal pickleball techniques. But you will already know some of the generalities of court movement and paddle-ball interaction.
CJ and I wanted to provide our players with a mechanism for figuring out where they are. We use a mapping called the Success Path – with five segments – to allow players to find where they are. Once you know where you are on the Path, you can better know the work you need.
At a more micro level, it is helpful to identify specific areas where you need more work.
Earlier in my pickleball career, my backhand dink was subpar for my level of play. That determined what I worked on: backhand dinks until my fingers bled. There was a bit of hyperbole there, but I spent the bulk of my time getting comfortable with that shot. Then the backhand volley. And so on.
Inside the Pickleball System, we rank the shots in order of importance. And we suggest to you shots that you do not need to add to your game – these often surprise our members, but it avoids distractions in improvement.
With this information, you overlay where you are in the game on top of the shots in order of importance. By far, the most important shot is the return of serve. If you are having issues with the return of serve, stop there and work on it until resolved. Then you keep going.
The role of a coach is to tell you what is important and show you how to do it properly. You are then in the best position to know what shots/parts of the game give you the most trouble. That is the symbiotic relationship between coach and player and how the System and Success Path inside it work. You evaluate yourself and your play, and we provide you with the tools you need to improve.
Whether you are a member of the System or not, the first step is to know where you are. Here are the steps for you to take:
A. Identify the parts of the game giving you the most trouble/difficulty:
- Mechanical – how to hit the ball, pop-ups, missed shots
- Strategic – not sure what shot to hit when not “seeing” the game
- Athletic – prone to injuries, lose focus, can only play a couple of games before tiring
B. Identify the tools you need to help you with that area:
- Mechanical – guides for how to execute the shot and drills to get in the repetitions you need
- Strategic – game breakdowns or other focused game study as well as explanations of the framework of the game
- Athletic – exercises to strengthen that part of your body, cardio, mental training tools (the Pickleball Therapy podcast is designed for this purpose)
C, Put the tools to work.
We call this closing the gap or the route on the GPS if you will.
A quick final note about pickleball ratings: unless you play at a facility where the number rating is used to assign courts or play a tournament, do not worry about your number rating. You are going to play the way you play regardless of the number. Rather than focusing on the number, please focus on the above framework for figuring out where you are and then get the tools you need to work on it.
Whatever the goals for your pickleball game, improvement will require work. Intentional–focused work. You will need the tools, but the tools alone will not get you there. You must take the tools out of the box and put them to work.
The first step in the process is to activate your GPS. Figure out where you are, where you want to be, and what route you’ll take. The route to your best pickleball game is a lifelong journey, and chances are your GPS will constantly be recalculating – enjoy the process and remember that CJ and I are here (it is what we do).
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