During the current global situation, many of us have found it harder to get out on the court for our pickleball fix. So how can pickleball addicts stay limber and active, even while stuck at home? Ben Johns shares a few answers to this question.
1. Coordination drills
Coordination and movement are a crucial part of pickleball and can be worked on in a variety of ways, all without a paddle in your hands. Try a few “quick feet” drills to help improve the communication between your brain and the fast twitch muscle fibers that coordinate your body’s movement. One popular and effective way of improving this is by using a foot ladder (buy one online or, better yet, make your own!).
Johns also suggests hand drills to improve your coordination and hone your reflexes so that you’re ready to return every drive and dink when you step back out on the court. He uses a wall and two balls to achieve this, throwing them against the wall simultaneously and catching them again, one ball in each hand. Once you’ve mastered this, try switching up the speed and spin, and count how many successful catches you can manage. This drill can also be done with a partner instead of a wall. Throw one ball to your partner with one hand, while simultaneously catching the other ball they throw to you with your other hand. Add in movement to increase this drill’s difficulty.
I know, I know, everyone has heard about the benefits of stretching, yet few of us actually do it consistently! Johns and other pro players stress the importance of stretching for both flexibility and muscle recovery. Ever lean back and jump up for an overhead, throw yourself wide for an ATP, or get down low for a tough dink? For these shots, an elastic body is important. Although you may not feel like you need it after an hour or two on court, stretching helps prevent injuries and will keep your body loose and agile during a long day of tournament play. If you’re playing real matches that “count” (so to speak), the pros know that you tend to tense up more than usual, which drains your energy faster and makes your body less flexible. Stretching will help keep you relaxed and ready to play your best game. Johns reports that he completes a full-body stretching routine four times a week or after every workout. If the pros can do it, so can you!
3. Match analysis and instructional content
One thing that may surprise some readers is that the pros frequently rewatch their old matches or the matches of their competitors. There’s no better way to reflect on what went wrong, what you can do better, and what strategies work best against certain types of players. Try filming some of your matches (even taping your smartphone to the fence for a game will get you some decent footage), then rewatch them later, armed with a pen and paper. What shots were effective? Why did you miss that dink? Which opponent was weaker and how did you exploit that? How is your communication with your partner? Some pros even offer reasonably priced match analysis if you need help critiquing your play.
Another valuable resource is pickleball instructional content. Youtube has some video offerings, but we’d recommend choosing to watch a bonafide pickleball professional to ensure you’re learning from someone with real knowledge and acumen. Bad habits, once acquired, are difficult to unlearn. Several of the top pros offer instructional videos and packages at a fee, some of which even include video analysis and personalized training. Johns himself is unveiling a virtual pickleball academy called Pickleball 360 in the spring of 2021. Check it out at https://www.pickleball360.com/. Skip a few of those episodes you planned to watch on Netflix and learn some new shots instead to surprise your opponents and gain an advantage on the pickleball court!
Don’t forget to tune into the PPA’s action-packed tournament schedule in 2021 using Facebook or ESPN3. One of the best ways to improve your game is by watching how the best players in the world destroy the competition. Better yet, come out to support and learn from your favorite players LIVE or even sign up to play some of the events yourself at https://www.ppatour.com/2021-season/.