The skills of players and broadcast of pro pickleball tournaments have improved exponentially over the last couple of years. Gone are the days of watching a single, static feed with no commentary from the baseline at much too high of an angle and having no idea what the score is. The pickleball associations have invested resources to produce much more attractive online feeds, complete with insightful commentators and attractive on-screen graphics.
A recent tournament in Texas was one such feed that I enjoyed watching, and it culminated with the following match point in the mixed doubles final:
It was an incredible point with all sorts of action and variety, and as an amateur, it was the sort of skilled exchange that made my jaw drop!
While we’re not apt to have such incredible drawn-out points such as this, I did get thinking about how much we, as amateur players, can learn from watching the game's top pros and then apply some of these skills to our own game. I came up with a list of 4.
Compare that with this (which, I'm afraid, is probably a lot more how I look):
I previously worked as a baseball scout, and my job was to notice and observe high-end athletes. One HUGE difference I see between pro and amateur pickleball players is how much more athletic the pros are in their ready positions.
Fortunately, this is a pickleball skill we can all improve on. Like keeping our paddles up, we can remind ourselves to bend our knees more and stay in an athletic stance even when the ball isn’t coming our way. I think we’d all surprise ourselves by converting some extra shots when we commit to doing so.
Speaking for myself, I know when I hit a ball that I expect to be a winner that my opponent somehow returns, I tend to want to hit the next ball EVEN BETTER in order to win the point. But watch how willing the pros are to reset the play after a fast rally.
They don’t let their ego get in the way (as mine does) but instead accept the situation they’re in and convert the next shot. Often, that’s a drop or a reset even if they previously were in an offensive position.
This is a good lesson to us all-we can’t force the action. The best players wait on the right time to attack, and equally, they recognize when it’s NOT the right time to go for the winner. They stay composed and wait on the next ball that they might try to put away.
I’ve always been struck by how seriously Simone Jardim takes every dink- it’s almost like she’s exaggerating her form. Meanwhile, I can point to 3 points in every pickleball outing where I chunk a dink right into the net BECAUSE I got lazy and tried to hit a dink without resetting my feet. It’s almost like the world champ might be onto something…
Like I mentioned in working low to the ground, this is a pickleball skill we can all improve on no matter our skill level. We can consciously remind ourselves to stay low and reset our feet after each shot and to consciously work our feet into a proper position so we can hit each return shot with good form. After a while, these movements become habitual and we become better players.
You couldn’t have come to a visual company’s blog and not get one point on vision, right?
But it’s absolutely true- hands battles on points like these draw audible gasps and cheers from the crowds for their ability to track the ball so quickly and still make precise, aggressive shots at their opponents. Much like hitting in baseball, it's a staggering display of quickness in being so precise.
We’ve tested a handful of the top pickleball professionals on our Edge Trainer test, and it should come as a shock to no one that their visual processing abilities look much like some of the top players we work with in Major League Baseball. Their convergence, divergence, recognition, and tracking are top-notch, and it’s no wonder that the top-performing pickleball players have elite visual skills. Much like baseball players with elite control of the strike zone (and seem to know the pitch and location as soon as it leaves the pitcher’s hand), these top pros really do see the game slower and are able to make swing/don’t swing decisions faster and more accurately than an average player.
Luckily, these are all skills that can improve, and there are a couple of ways to go about improving them. In addition to being a great way to warm up, a tennis backboard is an awesome place to practice our reaction time and hitting volleys. Get close to the wall, hit the ball with some pace, and see how long you can keep the ball off the ground. You can make it more challenging by getting closer (or further) from the wall, hitting the ball harder/softer, or by trying to alternate forehands and backhands.
If you want to go deeper, our technology is designed to help you improve all of these skills. The Edge Trainer platform helps you figure out where your visual processing skills are deficient, and you can then systematically train all of your skills to help you make quicker decisions on balls hit your way, leading to more consistent quality contact on the balls you do opt to hit.
There are certainly more lessons to be learned from watching top pros, but these 4 are ones we can apply to our games this weekend.
Follow Lukas on Twitter @LMcK_Baseball
Follow Vizual Edge on Twitter @VizualEdge