If you want to improve your game, these seven lessons from THE PICKLEBALL SUMMIT 2022 can help you unlock YOUR pickleball potential.
While it would be impossible to cover everything we learned at the Summit in just one blog post – it is, after all, the largest gathering of pickleball professionals anywhere in the world – we wanted to distill 7 top lessons from the 2022 Summit and share them with you.
Tony’s Top 3 Lessons
Rethink Your Pickleball Serve and Improve Your Results
We all know that the serve is an important shot in pickleball. You need it to score a point.
But at this year’s Summit, three pros gave us perspectives on the pickleball serve that can help you rethink your approach to the serve and, with that, set the tone for each rally.
Shea Underwood and Zane Navratil both talked about using the serve more offensively than would be customary in a doubles context. Whether the spin serve will remain an allowed serve in 2023 is yet to be known at the time of this writing, but regardless of what serves are allowed or not, one thing will remain: you can push some more on the serve side to gain the advantage.
Zane specifically gave his target metric as missing 1/10 serves. If he is not missing a serve, he is not pushing enough. To be clear, Zane is trying to apply pressure with his serve – it is not a get the ball over sort of serve. This is why he can miss 1/10; the pressure he is otherwise creating more than makes up for it.
Senior Pro Sarah Mitten spoke of the serve in terms of its length. The idea is that you want a serve that has weight and depth to it. Thinking of lengthening your serve can help you achieve this objective.
One thing remained constant: you want to serve deep. Depth is more important than placement, spins, etc. Focus on getting your serve deeper, and you will take the early advantage in every rally.
Pros Don’t Mess with the Net – Do You?
We had several pros at the Pickleball Summit help us with the mechanical part of the game: volleys, resets, third shot drops, dinks, and serves. All of these pickleball professionals expressed the same trepidation for the best player in pickleball: the net.
For example, Collin Johns noted that even though the shots of a 4.5 player may look similar to many of his shots, the 4.5 player does not make the relevant adjustments when they are in trouble. He specifically mentioned the net: Collin gives the ball extra lift when he is in trouble because he does not want the ball to land in the net.
PicklePong Deb, who was one of the presenters from The Pickleball Summit 2021, really lifts the “hairpin dinks” (think of the shape of an old-fashioned hairpin to understand the shape of the shot): and Senior Pro John Sperling talked about the loft of his third shot over the net. It is unanimous – if the pro was talking about the net, the key was how to avoid it.
As you work on your game, pay special attention to the net. Taking the net out of play can really improve your play.
By Honoring Your Opponent, you Honor Yourself.
It would not be a Pickleball Summit if we did not spend some time focusing on the mental aspects of the game. How often do we lose focus on the court? Our mind gets pulled in a direction other than the next shot we have to hit.
The exciting thing about the mental part of the sport is that it has unintended benefits. And honoring your opponent is just one of those.
Whenever we get the privilege of playing pickleball, we are not on the court by ourselves. We are generally on the court with one partner and two opponents. That is how we get to play.
When the game starts, however, we turn inwards and forget about the other players on the court. Whatever happened was bad luck for us or some mistake we made. We forget that our opponents are out there battling, giving it their all.
Next time you play, consider honoring your opponents. They are out there with you, enjoying the game and competing as best they can. Sometimes you will be the victor. Sometimes they will be the victor. Do not detract from them by making it all about you.
The benefits of honoring your opponents are:
(1) it is the right thing to do even without any additional benefit
(2) from a pragmatic viewpoint, you will play better.
Rather than being distracted with noise because one of their shots trickled over the net or how unlucky you were that the wind picked up right then, you will be able to focus on the here and now: the moment.
Give it a try.
CJ’s Top 3 Lessons
Good pickleball is not just technique.
The most popular presentations at every Pickleball Summit have been about technique, the “how to,” or what we like to call the Mechanical Pillar.
Yet one of the lowest hanging fruits for most pickleball players to fix is their mental focus. For most of you, that means becoming aware of your mindset on the courts.
Do you have two opponents in each game or three? Many players are playing against three: the two opponents on the other side of the net and the opponent within. “We’ve met the enemy, and he is us.”
After you play or practice, write down:
3 things you did well
2 things you learned about yourself
1 action you’ll take in the next 24 hours.
Notice that #2 is not two things you did poorly or two things you could improve on. It’s easy to walk away from a practice or play session and remember what we need to improve. That’s also an easy way to destroy your confidence.
It wasn’t just the Sports Psychologists (Coach Pete talked about improving your relationship with pickleball) that talked about mindset. Collin Johns, arguably the best right-side player in pickleball, talked about the importance of mental focus. And Nicole Havlicek introduced us to Carol Dweck, the author of Changing The Way You think To Fulfill Your Potential.
Improved performance is not simply a result of improved technique. Change your mind and change your performance.
5 Minutes to Play Better Pickleball
We couldn’t discuss improvement without talking about the physical aspect.
Show up at any pickleball court, and more often than not, you see players hit a couple of shots, and the next thing you know, they are playing a game.
It shouldn’t surprise you that the number of pickleball injuries is rising sharply.
One of the ways to reduce your chance of injury is to take a few minutes and get your body ready to play.
There are many reasons for it: players don’t want others waiting on them, don’t know what to do, or think it will take too long.
But if you want to play your best and reduce your risk of injury, it pays to take a few minutes to warm up.
All of the presenters, Dr. Rosenthal, Carly Penfold, Marcus Luke, and Nancy Burns, talked about the body, which is part of what we call the Athletic Pillar, reconfirmed what mom told you: an ounce of prevention is worth of pound of cure. The next time someone wants to rush you into a game.
Take a deep breath, and ask yourself this question. Will it be less painful to take a few minutes now or to recover from a potential injury?
The key to improvement is right in front of you.
YouTube creator Picklepong Deb Harrison was one of the few YouTube creators when I first started playing pickleball. Her videos were essential to my improvement.
Deb shared her passion for improvement on THE Pickleball Summit 2021. She was downright giddy when she shared her wall drill practice session and couldn’t stop talking about the new shot she was practicing.
We survey our audience regularly and know that around 50% of you have never played another sport. And those that have played something else were casual participants. How could you be expected to know what works to improve your game?
Rec players have a common misconception that they’ll improve by playing. While it might help in certain situations, such as working to understand the strategy better, you will not improve your technique through playing.
That’s so vital it bears repeating, all caps and bold.
YOU WILL NOT IMPROVE YOUR TECHNIQUE THROUGH PLAYING.
Simply put, you don’t get enough repetitions to change things.
The presenters at the Summit discussed something we refer to at Better Pickleball as “Closing the Gap.” They gave you strategies and tactics to go from where you are today to where you’d like to be as a player. It’s now up to you to apply the information.
Too many players get caught up in the YouTube hamster wheel. They jump from one video to another, getting more and more pickleball information.
The problem with that is that information will not change your pickleball game. It may alert you to the problem or help you find the potential error in your game that you need to correct, but information ALONE will not solve your pickleball problems.
The same could be said about weeding through the massive amounts of content in the Pickleball Summit.
Dr. Kays told us that it takes 6-8 weeks of practice to implement one new habit. If you were to look at his Summit Presentation as an example, there are 10-15 different habits that you might want to add to your game from that talk alone.
When navigating your learning journey, Tony likes to use the phrases “you are all adults” or “you do you.”
While I agree with him that you need to do what motivates you and makes you happy, the lifelong competitive athlete makes me reiterate there is NO SUBSTITUTE for practice.
The 7th takeaway comes from both of us… Fundamentals are not just for beginners.
At Better Pickleball, we have almost completely stopped using the term “fundamentals” in our work. Not because fundamentals are not important: they are, in actuality, the most important concepts you can learn and master. It is because players misinterpret the term “fundamentals” as meaning “for beginners.”
The number of times we’ve had players tell us that they were too advanced for this or it’s too basic for me has been astonishing.
The presenters at the 2022 Pickleball Summit included several of the top pickleball professionals and instructors in the game. You know what they all said, without missing a beat: that fundamentals are the key to their success.
It gets lost because they are such complete players, but when you are watching pro pickleball, what you are seeing is a competition over fundamentals: which team does them better.
There are players who hit amazing shots, but these are not the players who win the most. Instead, it is the players who are the best at the fundamentals: no net, high third shot drop percentage, no missed dinks, volleys in play, etc.
The more you focus on your fundamentals, the better you will play pickleball. Period.
Once you have mastered all the fundamentals, the fancy stuff will still be there waiting for you to learn it if that is what you want to do. But the fancy stuff, without the fundamentals, is a recipe for frustration and stagnation in your game.
With the growing number of voices in the pickleball space, it’s getting increasingly difficult for players to sort through all the pickleball information and find the things that will move the needle on their improvement. That’s one of the reasons we spend an excessive amount of time producing The Pickleball Summit.
As two of the original pickleball content creators and pickleball professionals who do this full time, we take our job seriously. As we see it, our responsibility is to ensure you get the quality information you need to improve your game.
That compels us to produce a vast array of weekly pickleball content, including new videos on Better Pickleball and In2Pickle, blogs, the Pickleball Therapy Podcast, the Pickleball Therapy Live Q&A, and THE Pickleball System.
The Summit and, in the near future, The Pickleball Academy is a chance for us to showcase other teachers like us. Coaches who are committed to refining their skills and increasing their knowledge with the purpose of helping YOU to achieve pickleball goals.
As we put a wrap on THE Pickleball Summit 2022 and begin to plan for THE Pickleball Summit 2023, it bears repeating that your personal pickleball journey is unique to you. Take what you need and leave the rest. 😊
Hey there — I’m a professional three-sport athlete and coach who has spent my entire adult life earning a living from playing and coaching sports. Since I started coaching more than three decades ago, one thing has remained the same: My commitment to see students not as they are but as what they can become and to move heaven and earth to help them realize their untapped potential. You should know that when it comes to helping pickleball players over 50 live their best lives on and off the courts, I'm an expert. Good pickleball is not just technique; it's the mind and body working holistically. That's why I'm also a personal trainer and weight management specialist. When I’m chillin', you'll find me watching Star Trek with my husband John and our two fur babies, Shirley and Ralph. (Yes, Happy Days)