It’s been quite a while since we posted anything about pickleball. We had intended to play in Austin during our visit but the rain delayed our arrival and curtailed outdoor play. There are indoor places to play in Austin, but unfortunately, during SXSW everyone jacks up the price of rental cars. So we decided to post one of the most important pickleball mantras we ever learned: Follow the Ball.
Follow the Ball
I suspect this is also a tennis mantra, but since I don’t come from a tennis background I learned it from a very talented tennis turned pickleball coach, who lives in The Villages. (Thanks, Tom!) “Follow the Ball” means exactly that. If the ball is hit down the left sideline one partner covers the left sideline and the other shifts toward the center line. When the ball is then hit cross court, closer to the right sideline, both players shift to the right, often times causing the “center” player’s foot to literally be on the T of the non-volley zone (NVZ) line.
When I was first taught to play pickleball, I was told that I should pretend that there was a rope tied around my waist and the waist of my partner and that we should move in tandem right and left. i also was told to follow the ball as it left my paddle and moved cross court, causing my partner and I to shuffle side to side throughout the point. When playing with Sarah and Linh Ansboury one day, I asked if Sarah had any tips. She said, “Let me ask you a question….you seem to be moving side to side during cross-court rallies. Do you feel you are remaining in balance? Do you feel you are stopping before you hit each ball?”
The fact was I as following the ball. But it was also true, that I was often off-balance and not stopping before I made contact with the ball causing mis-hits. I realized as I watched more advanced matches, that the “pros” weren’t scurrying from side to side on every shot. So I guess too much of something is not always a good thing.
Even if You are Slow, You can Follow the Ball
It is also true that you don’t need to be in your twenties to utilize the follow the ball adage:
1. If you are at the NVZ line when your partner is receiving serve and s/he hits the return straight or down his/her nearest sideline, you shift till your foot is on the T.
2. Likewise, if you are at the NVZ line when your partner is receiving serve and s/he hits the cross court, you must shift to cover the sideline. No running required, just step to one side or the other.
3. If you are the serve returner, your approach to the NVZ line should “Follow the Ball”. E.g. If you return the serve cross court you must favor the middle….just follow the path of the ball.
You may not be able to run to the line, but you may not have to because you will be in the correct position to cover their return.