Anyone bitten by the pickleball bug knows that half the joy of playing is the community and camaraderie we share with the groups we play with. Even an “off” day on the court is still filled with smiles, laughs, and jokes with our partners and opponents.
For the players in warm locales, there’s no off-season for the pickleball addiction. However, for those of us in the north…winter is coming (or already here). While some might be fortunate to have an indoor spot to play weekly, for most of us it means less pickleball- or no pickleball at all! As gut-wrenching as that is to say and write, it doesn’t mean we can’t use this time to stay sharp and improve our games.
So, here are 4 pickleball drills anyone can do to improve their play during the winter. All of these drills can be modified to the space you do have- whether it be an open room in the basement, a garage door, or braving the cold for some time off the backboard of a local court.
The first pickleball drill is Wall Dinks. Two observations- 1) every time I watch the pros, I’m stunned at how precise they are and how rarely they come up short on their dinks, and 2) I can’t think of any greater frustration in my own game than when I mis-hit a dink and leave it short! So, what could be a better use of practice time than working on your dinking? I generally work from home a couple of days a week, and in lieu of my post-lunch afternoon walk, on pleasant days, I’ve started taking my paddle and a ball to a park adjacent to my house with a tennis backboard. I’ve started each session hitting 100 dinks with my forehand and 100 dinks with my backhand…and I’ve been amazed at how much it’s improved my dinking during games. I add a “target” for increased precision, and it’s stunning how fast you can get a lot of dink work in. As a bonus, when you dink off a wall, you really have to exaggerate bending your knees and getting into your legs (something I've written about before) or you’ll quickly end up with a sore back.
The second pickleball drill is Wall Volleys. Other than a well-executed Erne or ATP, there’s probably nothing much more satisfying than winning a hands battle at the kitchen line. However, I’d venture to guess that this is one thing that most of us aren’t practicing regularly. Along with my dinking routine noted above, another drill I’ve taken to practicing on my lunch breaks is volleying the ball off the wall. I try to get to 100 in a row (which is hard), and generally don’t stop until I at least keep in the air 30 consecutive times. This obviously improves our reaction times, but it has the side benefit of reminding us how important it is to keep our paddles up and in a ready position to be prepared to handle quick shots from our opponents. As you get used to it, try alternating between your forehand and backhand so you have to practice moving your paddle quickly across your body
The third pickleball drill is Serve, Drop, & Drive. This one requires a little more space, though you can modify it to make it work in a 20-foot garage. In this drill, I hit a sequence of 3 shots- I hit a serve at full-speed, then a drive, and I follow that up with a drop shot. The serve I hit with some pace, and in doing this drill as part of my park routine, I’ve really improved my overall accuracy. While I’ve evolved from a player that hit too many drives on 3rd shots to someone that rarely drives them now, it’s always good practice to hit these so it’s something I can have “in my bag” when I do need it. It’s also a great reminder of how important it is to move my feet to be in a position to hit a good drive. And I think I speak for every pickleball player in speaking to the importance of an effective drop shot- we all could stand to practice dropping from the transition zone more often.
The last pickleball drill is Vision Training. Since I work for a vision company, I know the importance of vision training and how it improves athletic performance. I used vision training as a baseball player, and since coming to work for Vizual Edge, I’ve recommitted myself to vision training again to help my pickleball play. I’ve improved rapidly after picking up the sport during the pandemic, but I really took off when I started my vision training again. I’m mis-hitting routine balls far less frequently, and I’m winning more of my battles at the net. Our technology offers players a systematic way to test, train, and track their improvements, but even doing some work on a Brock string will help most players improve their tracking skills.
So, as bummed as any of us are to have to take some time away from the pickleball court in the months ahead, it doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can do to keep our skills sharp before we can say “0-0-2!” with our pickleball pals again!