Have you ever lost your serve? It is amazing how common it is for players to suddenly, inexplicably get the yips on their serves. It has happened to many, many players regardless of their USAPA Skill Rating.
Not Your Occasional Miss
I believe your serve can be an offensive weapon. Though you aren’t likely to get a bunch of free points, i.e. aces, a good deep return results in a weaker return by your opponent and definitely gives the serving team an advantage. So I don’t mind missing a serve every once in a while. I will intentionally aim deep into the corner on my serve, or try to give it a little extra juice. In those cases, an occasional miss is acceptable. But missing multiple serves in one game. Then we have a problem.
I have seen many cases of the ball shooting in one direction or another. At times, it may land in the middle of the net. The next shot nearly sails over the fence. It lands in the neighboring court on the left, then the right. Frankly, for those that have had the serving yips, they don’t have any idea where the next ball will land.
As always we want to be aware of where our paddle starts and finishes. So the very first thing to check, if this happens to you, is your finish position. Regardless of your level of embarrassment or frustration, hold your finish position and analyze where it is. Your paddle should be extended flat toward our target.
- You want to swing from your shoulder, not your wrist, not our elbow;
- You want to extend out away from your body…to often we become cramped, too close to our body;
- You want to be fairly upright so your hips and shoulders can naturally rotate into the shot.
Your goal is to allow your body to move effortlessly. Allow your body to turn naturally. Increase your range of motion.
It’s All in Your Head
There are times, particularly with new players, where they need to learn the correct paddle position and stroke. Their sole problem with serving may be they have not learned simple stroke mechanics. However, if you have been playing for months or years and getting your serve in regularly then suddenly lost your serve…we need to look at more than mechanics. Your sudden poor service motion is likely not the fault of your body but your mind.
It is no different than the golfer that can hit a high arching 9-iron 100 yards or more on the driving range, or from the middle of the fairway…but dribbles it 30 yards directly into the lake in front of them when aiming for an island green. They see the water, their anxiety rises, and they hit it to what they focused on …. the water. In these cases, you should stop concentrating on your mechanics and instead focus on your preparation.
- First, you need to adopt a pickleball mindset. All competitive athletes have the ability to stay in the present. They develop selective amnesia. They know that what happened the last time they served has absolutely no impact on what they will do next. What happened, happened. The only thing that matters now is this shot.
- Next, take your time. Too often when the service yips occur, the player hurries to hit their serve too quickly. They just want to get it over with. As the game progresses, you can see them taking less time with every serve. Stop, take a breath. Consciously relax your neck, your shoulders, and your arms. Inhale and exhale fully.
- Focus on your pre-shot routine. Sometimes simply creating a new pre-shot routine, and focusing on executing it (rather than the shot) is all that is needed. We all know that the top players execute a pre-shot routine before serving a tennis ball, hitting a golf ball, or sinking a free-throw. Create your own preshot routine, and commit to only focus on it as you prepare to serve.
Our minds are amazing things. Though some people need to work on their service motion, many of us just need to relax and change our focus. I realize it can be frustrating and embarrassing to lose your serve. But take heart in the fact that it happens to a great many people, and they worked through it. So can you. Remember, focus on the process rather than the motion if you lost your serve.