We can all point to some positives we took out of the pandemic, whether it be new habits, hobbies, interests, or tastes we picked up with our increased time at home.
One hobby I can point to is my budding interest (obsession) with pickleball. Like many, I’d played some pickleball in high school PE class and I’d seen it played at parks and health clubs over the years, but I’d not given it a try until a friend invited me to play over the Labor Day weekend. It was only one day, but I was hooked. I immediately organized a weekly game in my neighborhood with some friends, and it being Chicago during a pandemic, we played through some abysmal conditions to get our weekly fix. A few of us even braved playing indoors a few times where we were quickly winded playing while fully masked.
Sometime after my pickleball dedication began, I began my work with Vizual Edge. Immediately, I realized the benefits that vision training could have to pickleball athletes (just as it has with baseball players). Like baseball (and most other hand-eye coordination-based sports), pickleball is very much a visual exercise relying on skills depth perception, and timing to make crisp accurate shots and decisions.
Recently, we were invited to be a part of the Pickleball Summit hosted by our friends at VIPickleball and We Are Pickleball. We put together a presentation on how our visual skills apply on the pickleball court. As such, here were some of our thoughts (with video!):
Returning a Serve
Much like hitting a baseball, hitting is an exercise testing one’s divergence and convergence. With a pickleball server standing over 40 feet away, an athlete uses divergence skills to recognize the spin, shape, and trajectory of the served ball and uses this information to make a decision about where the ball is traveling. Somewhere near the net, though, an athlete shifts to using convergence skills to track the ball as it nears the paddle. Should a pickleball player have consistent issues returning serves as consistently and accurately as she would like, the first place we’d investigate visually would be her divergence and convergence scores.
Blocking an Opponent’s Baseline Drive
While every pickleball opponent varies, one strategy often used by powerful players is the 3rd shot drive. When I’m playing against a new opponent, I think of this as a test- he or she is testing whether or not I’m quick enough to handle a strong forehand. If I’m not up to the task, I know I’m in store for a game full of more stiff 3rd shots at me.
Handling these drives is a test of an athlete’s tracking ability. Tracking skills help us anticipate where the ball will go and react quickly to our opponent's fast-paced shots both at a distance and close to us. We’ve tested some high-level pros now, and it’s come as no surprise to us that they’ve all had standout tracking scores.
The Dink Game
As we progress as pickleball players, we know more and more points are decided close to the net in the dink game. Our opponents remain patient and wait us out to make mistakes.
Dinking and having a strong net game is reliant on two main visual skills: recognition and convergence (again). Recognition skills help a player capture angles, the pace of the ball, and the opponent's court position as well as helping you recall shot patterns and types. With good recognition, players quickly recognize when an opponent is lining up an aggressive shot, and in turn, it allows a player to be ready to handle someone attacking from a low position.
Likewise, as all dink and netplay take place within a space of 20 feet, our convergence skills are put to the test as we need to accurately focus on the ball coming towards us to help us make clean contact on our return shots.
One aspect we all contend with on the court is the shading and lighting. With a bright green ball coming off a multi-colored paddle (and don’t forget the neon-colored clothing), it’s a wonder we can ever see the ball from our opponent. We all know how different it can be playing on days with a mix of sun and shade, too.
The difference between picking the ball up right off our opponent’s paddle and seeing it a split second late often makes all the difference in winning the point. Fortunately, our contrast sensitivity exercises help you train that very skill so you can react to your opponent’s shots as quickly as possible.
These are some of the issues I contend with, and I could go on and on- our visual skills are vital to everything we do on the pickleball court, and it’s encouraging to know that all of these traits are trainable.
Since the summer has started, I’ve been getting out to play pickleball as often as I can- usually 2-3 times a week. I like to play, and I like it even more when I play well. My life is busy enough that I can’t really ever get out to practice, but I have consistently done vision training since the summer started. I’ve been thrilled with how consistently I’ve been playing- sure, I get better the more I play, but I think the vision training is a good part of my improvement as a player recently.