I’m starting to get the itch again. It’s an itch that more-and-more wants to be scratched. With local, skill levels rising, indoor venues springing up throughout Greater Cincinnati (Aces and The Pickle Lodge) and a new paddle (Selkirk 002) in tow, I’m looking to further improve my own game and play a bit more frequently.
Prior to 2020, I played in a handful of tournaments. I did the Royal Oak Tournament in Royal Oak, MI, the Survivor Tournament in Lafayette, IN, the Beer City Open in Grand Rapids, MI and a few others. More recently, however, I’ve been content to be on the courts teaching and running pickleball tournament desks.
A Focus on my Own Game
My standing schedule of “rec” play for the last several years has simply consisted of Saturday morning play with three or four buddies. We’re on about year #6 or 7 of doing this. We arrive at the courts at 6:00 AM or 7:00 AM (depending on sunrise) and play for 2-3 hours. It’s the only time in the week that I get a chance to play “competitively” (with a fair amount of banter and silliness thrown in) and test my skills.
Outside of that Saturday morning window, however, my time spent on the court is primarily teaching. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love teaching. It is, indeed, my first passion and will continue to be my priority.
Now, I’m simply getting the hankering to play a bit more – to practice and “perfect” my own shots and strategies.
Road Map for Improvement Over the Next 4-6 Months
A the risk of giving my opponents a bit too much ammunition when positioned on the other side of the net – shown below is a sampling of some of the shots that I want to really work on over the course of the fall and winter months. I’m thinking of this as my personal road map to improvement.
1) Two-handed backhand
There is little doubt, that a two-handed backhand offers more power and stability – particularly from the baseline when hitting a drive. I’m looking to add this to my repertoire primarily as a singles weapon when I want to hit passing shots off the backhand wing. I also want to experiment with two-hands when hitting a backhand counter and resetting balls from the transition area. At the moment, I’m content to continue dinking and volleying with one-hand off the backhand wing.
2) Erne Threat
The Erne is a shot that shrinks the intended target area for an opponent. A shot dinked too close to the sideline from an opponent, for example, should result in an offensive opportunity. I will be spending a fair amount of time on the footwork required, the shot selection and patterns required prior to the Erne and the shot execution of the Erne itself. If I am even able to pose the threat of an Erne, it should pay significant dividends.
3) More Powerful Counters
On a speed-up, I want opponents to “pay-the-price” when I see it coming and am on-balance. A better counter – one that’s hit firmly downward or into an open space – will make the opponent think twice before challenging me with an undisciplined speed-up.
4) Better Overheads
For whatever reason, this is a shot that I just don’t drill. Being able to end a rally with an angled overhead off the court or a powerful smash between your opponents is the goal. A bit of purposeful practice should help make this a rally-ending shot.
5) Leveraging the Serve as a Fundamental Weapon to Begin the Rally
Having a big serve is crucial as it relates to setting up a rally. Although hitting an ace is not the goal, generating a weak return-of-serve is. A weak return-of-serve gives the serving team a much better opportunity to be successful on the third shot – regardless if the third shot is a drive or drop. I will be working on adding pace and shape to the serve, and, of course, continuing to hit a short, angled serve off the court when the opponent’s court positioning dictates it.
Join Me on My Journey
Improvement in each of these five areas – the two-handed backhand, counters, overheads, serves and Ernes’ – will be my focus over the course of the next several months. Of course, I will continue to drill my dinks, drops, resets and other fundamental shots. I look forward to bringing you along with me on this journey.
What about you? Are there shots/strategies that you are hoping to “perfect” over the fall/winter? Please let us know in the comments below.
See you on the courts!