A student recently asked me, “What should we do when my partner and I find ourselves out of position on the pickleball court?” Good question! Here are three things to keep in mind.
Often players find themselves in a defensive position and panic. Out of panic, players try to go straight from defense to offense. This is the equivalent to a pickleball hail Mary…it only works one out of 100 times. Instead, your goal should be to move from a defensive to a neutral position. To do that, consider these three things.
Give Yourself Time to Recover
Your first goal should be to hit a ball that will give you time to recover. Usually, this is a ball that will travel further…i.e. cross-court. Too often players are only concerned with getting the ball over the net. In a panic, they swat at the ball in the air. When you are out of position, allow the ball to bounce in front of you and consciously slow the ball down and aim cross-court.
Wherever you are on the court, or off when your opponent makes contact with the ball split step. Again, our tendency is to panic and run from outside the court back to the middle. However, this opens the opportunity for the opponent to hit behind you. It is almost impossible to change directions again to recover the ball where you just were.
Whenever I find myself running off the court to retrieve a ball, I try to resist the urge to run back to the center. Instead, my goal is to stand up and split step wherever I am. The split step allows me to move in any direction…forward, back, left or right. It is ten times easier to move to the position I need to be if I begin in a balanced, upright position.
Whenever you are out of position, take a breath to reset yourself. When we find ourselves scrambling on defense, panic sets. When this happens, we speed ourselves up only compounding the problem.
One of the first things I do in the middle of the point when I need to reset the tempo towards something I want is to stand up, relax my shoulders, let the ball bounce and take a nice breath. This will not only slow things down for me but also will enable me to refocus on how to turn the point towards something more offensive. It also resets my body so I can now control my outcome a little better. The last thing I want is for my opponent to be in control of how I am moving.
When we are panicking we hold our breath, which causes us to hold the paddle tighter. As a result, the ball comes off the paddle harder and with less control. If you want to soften the ball, to slow it down, you need to loosen your grip. So try your best to breathe.
Resetting the Point
I consider myself pretty decent at resetting the point and turning it towards my advantage. It takes practice to calm oneself and actually think about where to hit the ball rather than just reacting and getting the ball back. Whenever you are out of position, remember these three suggestions:
- Hit the shot that gives you more time;
- Split Step; and