CJ Johnson Headshot
CJ Johnson
Tony Roig
Tony Roig

Pickleball Instruction-Are You Hearing It Right?

Spins are BAD! Did you hear that right?

If you are reading this, then you are pickleball curious. You want to know more about the game that you have come to love. And you are open to pickleball instruction.

As you learn more, you must accurately understand what you are hearing – including from us. Often we find that tips or instruction is misunderstood, leading to a misapplication of the information.

This not only undermines the potential benefit of the instruction. It can result in a negative impact by the misunderstood or misapplied instruction.

It is critical that you correctly understand what you are learning or hearing.

We recently have been talking about spins and their potential impact on your game.

(If you missed any of the articles, here are lesson 1, lesson 2, and lesson 3)

Our tips regarding pickleball spins have elicited feedback, including some that clearly misunderstood the lessons in our material.

Here is what we said about spins – in broad terms:

1. Spins are part of the game, and you are spinning the ball now even if you are not trying to

BUT

2. Focusing on spins can prove a distraction AND

3. Trying to add spin (beyond the natural spin of your shots) will increase the chance of errors

What these last two should tell us is:

1. Add spins only when you are ready for the – other parts of the game will have a more significant marginal advantage to your game than spins and that you should likely focus on first (assuming, as we do, that you are motivated by playing your best pickleball)

AND

2. You need to determine whether the advantage provided by spins outweighs the increased variability – hence errors – that come from spinning the pickleball.

Here is what many players who listened to the instruction heard:

    1. Spins are bad
    2. Do not add spins to your game
    3. Poo poo on spins

Notice how what we said was filtered and processed, resulting in something inconsistent with what we said. Thus, this article (and podcast).

Specifically, we felt it essential to help you properly frame the instruction in a video, article, or podcast.

What is the pickleball instruction trying to tell us, and how can we best use this instruction?

When you hear something – whether from us or someone else – make sure you are receiving the correct message. When you hear something from us, keep these things in mind to help you process it correctly:

    1. We operate from the premise that you are interested in playing your best pickleball. Often, the best approach is the less sexy one. If you allow this cliché, it is the “vanilla” approach.
    2. We are almost always going to recommend keeping it simple. Simple does the trick, whether in pickleball or almost everything else in life.
    3. Success in pickleball (again, also in life oftentimes) is to avoid making errors. We do not teach high-risk pickleball strategies because these do not work most of the time. We teach the fundamentally sound approach that will give you the highest chance of prevailing in a rally and, thus, pickleball game.
    4. Probabilities and the big picture drive us. We are not looking for outlier shots. You know, the exciting shots that make the highlight reel(the Erne for example). We are teaching you critical shots and optimal game strategy that wins most of the time (attacking down the middle, for instance).
    5. We do not offer you click-bait tips (“noise,” as we call it). There is no silver-bullet shot that will transform your pickleball game next week. Improvement and skill development will require you to become better at the game’s building blocks. One shot at a time. It may seem tedious, but it is what works.

One last word on the manner in which we offer pickleball instruction.

We want to share the “why” of a thing with you. We want you to understand the game of pickleball in the same way that we do. This is why we do not just say, “hit the ball like this” or “stand here” and move on. Instead, we take the time to explain the reasoning behind it to you.

In the instructional pickleball videos, when we spoke about spins, we explained the effect of spins and the cost of adding spins to your pickleball game (Video 1).

We then demonstrated a common misconception about how spin is imparted (Video 2) (one that, unfortunately, some instructors teach online and in-person).

Lastly, we showed you the actual physics of how spin is imparted to a pickleball (Video 3) – in an effective as well as consistent and repeatable manner.

When receiving what may be perceived as “negative” pickleball instruction – for instance, when we tell you to avoid or to shelve this concept for now – keep in mind that many times the reason is simply that there are other, more important areas of the game to be mastered before moving on to the “negative” area.

The same can happen when you hear “positive” pickleball instruction. Something like “you need this shot.”

Before jumping into it, ask yourself: is this what I need right now in my game at my skill level? You may also want to ask: what is the cost/benefit of adding this pickleball shot? Both in terms of the work that will be required (which will take you away from the work you may otherwise be able to do) and the potential for increased pickleball errors and the like.

When deciding what pickleball instruction you take, you need to know where you are in the game.

Are you just starting your journey, been playing pickleball for a bit, or are you a former college tennis player with solid stroke mechanics? Where you are in your learning process plays a huge role in determining what information is most relevant to you now.

Say, for example, that you have been playing for a bit and have no prior racket sports experience. You have made some advances in your pickleball play but are now stuck. Will spins get you out of the rut? Probably not. You need to look at the cause of your “stuckness” and address that.

More likely than not, something as “simple” as consistently returning the serve deep will cure many ills for most players. Focusing on that (again, “simple”) concept can provide significant payback.

To give you scale, mastering spins (and I mean mastering) may give you a 15/100 benefit. Consistent deep returns will give most of you a benefit of 90/100. That is a big difference.

To complete the picture, let’s compare the effort it would take to master these two skills.

Unless you already come to the game knowing how to spin the ball (a background in tennis or table tennis), learning how to spin properly can be a 60/100 proposition. Learning to return the ball deep consistently is closer to 10/100 in effort. If you think returns of serve are more difficult than 10/100, then adjust the spins difficulty upward as well (no criticism – we each come to the game as we are – just an honest statement of relative difficulty between these two areas).

Applying the above, you can have a 90/100 benefit for 10/100 work or a 15/100 benefit for 60/100 work. It should be pretty straightforward.

Hopefully, you can see how important it is to figure out what you need and fully understand what you are hearing in any pickleball instruction you receive. Otherwise, you end up spinning your wheels or misapplying your time and energy.

It is worth taking a moment to explore one other area: what do you want as a pickleball player? It is a fair question as it helps inform your subsequent decisions.

For many of you (pretty much all of you if you are reading this), you want to improve as a player. You want to have more confidence on the pickleball court. To play the best pickleball you can play.

If this is your objective, then we recommend taking our teaching to heart. It is designed to help you accomplish this objective: to play your best pickleball.

You may, however, want other things from your relationship with pickleball.

For instance, you may want to learn how to do the Erne. Or to hit an ATP. Or you may just really like spinning your shots.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with any of these.

They will not, however, get you to play your best or have the best outcomes in your rallies or games. This is not a criticism of your decision to focus on any of these things. It is just us doing our job as your pickleball professional to tell you how things are.

Once you know what you want, you can decide how to approach your pickleball game.

If improvement is your aim, stick with our pickleball instruction, and you will see results. If something else, keep this in mind as you hear from us and adjust accordingly.

Ultimately, we hope to help you achieve your pickleball objectives, whatever they may be. And, in doing so, to help you get the most out of this beautiful sport.

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Gail Becker on September 25, 2022 at 5:53 pm

    Hi CJ & Tony,

    I’m so surprised that some people misinterpreted your recent videos on spins. I thought they were on point. Even before I watched the videos, I had already observed on the courts how frequently some people (especially male players) like to focus on spins and, just how many times they miss their shots.

    I just shake my head and say to my partner, “way too much spin on the ball”…or, “that guy needs to stop concentrating on his spins. He’d fare much better just playing out the rally without forcing spins.”

    I think you nailed the topic and, indeed, I’ve practiced in lessons (spins on serves and backhand slices) and I know how often I end up missing the shot! So, I’m reluctant to add much spin to my games. I may try a spin or two on my serve IF we already have a good comfortable point lead on our end. (Thinking, IF I miss my serve, it won’t be quite so detrimental to our game.) So, I am very conservative with them. My motto is to use spins judiciously and just keep practicing and working on the fundamental shots (and we have enough of an arsenal of shots that we can do well in any game without having to use much spin.)

    To me, consistency, reducing your unforced errors, and having quick hands are what we all need to strive for. If you can spin the ball with consistency…well great…good for you…then go for it!!! BUT> Know your limitations as a player and work on balancing your shot strategy with your comfort and skill level and always bear in mind that you want to get the ball OVER the net and in play on the court. Because we all know that the #1 player in the world you face with ALWAYS be the net!

    Thank you for some great insight into the topic of spins. It just helped confirm my initial observations on the court playing with others who like to add lots of spin to their game – regardless of the fact that many times it just results in an error and a lost rally/point.

    Here is one suggestion….how about a video or podcast on how to return spins?? For those spins that do make it over the net (cough-cough) and into your court, how to recognize them, how to adjust your footwork if needed and mechanics to return them, etc. I do play against a few higher skilled players who are able to put a successful extra topspin on some of their shots and have had some difficulty returning them (and my ball ends up in the net!) I’ve been told to hit up more on the ball, etc. to compensate and that does sometimes help. But that topic would be a very helpful to cover.

    • CJ Johnson on September 25, 2022 at 6:33 pm

      Those are some excellent observations Gail. And a great idea for a video. Just added it to the list.

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