Pickleball is frequently described as a mashup of tennis, ping pong and badminton. And, indeed, there are several similarities amongst the four sports. Ping pong, in particular, has remarkable similarities to pickleball. Not only is the paddle similar, but technique and strategy are also similar. Yup, I know. Sounds crazy. Buy playing ping pong may actually help your pickleball game.
Growing Up Ping Pong
But first a little background. Growing up, our family had a ping pong table and pool table. Although the pool table was a frequent dust collector, we definitely got our money’s worth out of the 9’ x 5’ rectangular ping pong table. Although I have rarely played ping pong since these early years – aside from our Thanksgiving and Christmas get-togethers – I thoroughly enjoy the sport every time I play. The imminent laughter, “trash-talking,” and the noise of the paddle striking the ball brings back some of my fondest childhood memories.
Tweaked Knee – No Problem! It will Help the Pickleball Game.
Recently, I have started playing a bit more frequently – in part, out of necessity. A good friend who tweaked his knee on the pickleball court has a table – and we have managed to swap the pickleball paddle for the ping pong paddle (bat) one night a week for a couple of weeks now. It has been so fun – and, arguably, helpful for the pickleball game. The more I play, the more I am convinced that the skills and strategies on the ping pong table translate really well to the pickleball court.
Technique & Strategy Similarities between Pickleball & Ping Pong
So how can ping pong help your pickleball game? Great question!!! I’m glad you asked. The following are similarities between ping pong and pickleball – from both a technique and strategy perspective:
- Relax that Grip!
To be most effective, both ping pong and pickleball require a relaxed grip. Don’t hold the paddle too tightly. In each sport, holding the paddle too tightly results in tension in your arm, wrist, shoulder and elbow. This tension leads to a motion that is not smooth and fluid – ultimately wreaking havoc and inconsistency with your shots.
- Anticipation & Paddle Awareness.
Both ping pong and pickleball require an anticipation and awareness of your opponent’s paddle position and swing path. By being aware of the paddle position and swing path, you can determine potential spin on the ball – backspin, topspin and sidespin.
- Balance, Baby!
Both ping pong and pickleball require balance so that you can move quickly in any direction. In pickleball, you will want to utilize the split step as you’re making your way from the baseline to the Non-Volley Line so that you’re in a balanced, ready position when your opponent strikes the ball. In ping pong you, likewise, want to be in a balanced position after each shot so that you can move your body quickly in any direction. It likely goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: “Keep your paddle up.”
- Move your Feet!
In both ping pong and pickleball it is critical that you move your feet so that you are not excessively reaching when hitting your shot. In both sports, when you are overly outstretched, power and control is sacrificed. Instead of “excessive” reaching, move your feet to get closer to the ball. That may require an extra side-step or slide.
- Give yourself Space!
In ping pong the tendency for “beginners” is to stand too close to the table. That makes it difficult to return shots that land close to the end of the table. Sound familiar? When returning serves in pickleball, the tendency for “beginners” is to stand too close to the baseline. Instead, back up two to three feet behind the baseline so that you can take a full swing for those serves that land close to the baseline. Likewise, when serving in pickleball, don’t venture too far into the court immediately after the serve. You want to stay back after the serve so that you have space to let the ball bounce before executing your third shot. You don’t want to get jammed.
- Use your Whole Body!
Executing effective drives in both ping pong and pickleball is a function of using your whole body – not just your arm. Instead of using just your arm when executing drives, make sure you are rotating your hips and shoulders through the shot and are transferring your body weight from back front to front foot. While this technique is critical for the pickleball drives, it is also true of the pickleball serve.
- Slow Down!
I know. I know. Easier said than done. Instead of hitting the ping pong ball or pickleball as hard as you can, slow yourself down so you are hitting it at an “easy” 75%. Slowing yourself down will help you avoid technique lapses and will help minimize tension in your body – which, ironically enough, may help you generate additional pace on the ball.
- Don’t Follow Thru Too Far!
In ping pong you want to make sure your follow thru is not too long and too far across your body – making it difficult to be in position to hit your next shot. Likewise, in pickleball – when volleying – you want to make sure your follow thru is not too long. If your volley is too extended, it will make it difficult to recover for the next volley in a rapid-volley sequence. When following thru in these situations, you want to make sure your follow thru finishes in the middle of your body so that you are ready for the next shot.
- Drill and Practice with Purpose & Intention.
As is the case with any sport, drill and practice your technique. Practice with a purpose and intention. Find a drilling partner. Drill more than you play. You will see significant improvement when you do this.
So there you have it. For those of you who don’t have access to pickleball courts because of rain, snow or injury, try your hand at ping pong. It may very well help your pickleball game. See you on the courts.