Does your pickleball game need a GPS?
If you ever use GPS on your phone to find directions, you know you need two points: where you want to go and where you are. The GPS refers to this as “Current Location.” The system follows your location as you move, updating you with traffic and the like until you arrive at your destination.
But have you ever tried to use the GPS, and you can’t seem to pinpoint either your current location or your destination?
Frustrating, isn’t it?
Learning to play your best pickleball is no different from using a GPS.
Start with the end in mind.
What does your best pickleball game look like to you?
If you want to get somewhere – higher level, more confident, win a few more games – you need to know where you are and where you want to go.
Where you want to go can be as varied as noted above. I would suggest that no matter the destination in your mind (for example, just wanting to know more vs. wanting to win a medal), the steps to get there are similar. Both require improvement in your mechanics, strategy, and athleticism (mind/body connection). We call these the Three Pillars of Pickleball.
Decide on the path
Another piece of the journey that deserves some contemplation is the route you’ll be taking.
Just like the route on your GPS, the route to your best pickleball game can also vary widely.
There is the long route: trying to absorb all of the YouTube pickleball videos and just play (no practice).
There is the medium route: take some local lessons, maybe watch a few pickleball videos and practice a little.
Then there is the short route: use a tool like THE Pickleball System and put in some dedicated practice for the next 6-9 months (players who follow this route are generally amazed at the change in their play and their relationship with the game).
No matter which route you choose, you still need one more piece to your pickleball improvement map: where are you now?
Determine YOUR starting point
The reason you need to know where you are now is it dictates the work you will need to put in.
Say you are new to pickleball and have never played a racket sport. Your time is probably best spent on the Mechanical Pillar – the “How to” of pickleball. You will want to get comfortable with hitting the ball and teach your body to move around the court and execute your shots without having to think about it each time.
By contrast, if you have played years of a racket sport, you will probably focus more on the Strategic Pillar – the “What shot to hit when” of the game. Do not get me wrong; you will still need some mechanical work. Tennis, racquetball, and table tennis shots are all a bit different from optimal pickleball techniques. But you will already know some of the generalities of court movement and paddle-ball interaction.
CJ and I wanted to provide our players with a mechanism for figuring out where they are. We use a mapping called the Success Path – with five segments – to allow players to find where they are. Once you know where you are on the Path, you can better know the work you need.
At a more micro level, it is helpful to identify specific areas where you need more work.
Earlier in my pickleball career, my backhand dink was subpar for my level of play. That determined what I worked on: backhand dinks until my fingers bled. There was a bit of hyperbole there, but I spent the bulk of my time getting comfortable with that shot. Then the backhand volley. And so on.
Inside the Pickleball System, we rank the shots in order of importance. And we suggest to you shots that you do not need to add to your game – these often surprise our members, but it avoids distractions in improvement.
With this information, you overlay where you are in the game on top of the shots in order of importance. By far, the most important shot is the return of serve. If you are having issues with the return of serve, stop there and work on it until resolved. Then you keep going.
The role of a coach is to tell you what is important and show you how to do it properly. You are then in the best position to know what shots/parts of the game give you the most trouble. That is the symbiotic relationship between coach and player and how the System and Success Path inside it work. You evaluate yourself and your play, and we provide you with the tools you need to improve.
Whether you are a member of the System or not, the first step is to know where you are. Here are the steps for you to take:
A. Identify the parts of the game giving you the most trouble/difficulty:
- Mechanical – how to hit the ball, pop-ups, missed shots
- Strategic – not sure what shot to hit when not “seeing” the game
- Athletic – prone to injuries, lose focus, can only play a couple of games before tiring
B. Identify the tools you need to help you with that area:
- Mechanical – guides for how to execute the shot and drills to get in the repetitions you need
- Strategic – game breakdowns or other focused game study as well as explanations of the framework of the game
- Athletic – exercises to strengthen that part of your body, cardio, mental training tools (the Pickleball Therapy podcast is designed for this purpose)
C, Put the tools to work.
We call this closing the gap or the route on the GPS if you will.
A quick final note about pickleball ratings: unless you play at a facility where the number rating is used to assign courts or play a tournament, do not worry about your number rating. You are going to play the way you play regardless of the number. Rather than focusing on the number, please focus on the above framework for figuring out where you are and then get the tools you need to work on it.
Whatever the goals for your pickleball game, improvement will require work. Intentional–focused work. You will need the tools, but the tools alone will not get you there. You must take the tools out of the box and put them to work.
The first step in the process is to activate your GPS. Figure out where you are, where you want to be, and what route you’ll take. The route to your best pickleball game is a lifelong journey, and chances are your GPS will constantly be recalculating – enjoy the process and remember that CJ and I are here (it is what we do). We’ll be starting another class of THE Pickleball System soon.
Hola. Hello. Konichiwa. After 40 years playing tennis, I am now a full-time pickleball player and professional. As a 5.0 rated Senior Pro Pickleball Player and an IPTPA-certified Master Teaching Professional, my focus is on helping players like you learn to play their best pickleball. In 2016, shortly after starting to play pickleball, my friend Tom and I jumped into the highest division at the first US Open in Naples, Florida. That morning it became clear just how much there is to learn in this seemingly simple sport – a lifetime of learning if you so choose. Since 2018, I have been on a mission to share my knowledge of pickleball so other players can enjoy the game at a higher level and attain their pickleball objectives. When not studying or playing pickleball, I like to travel with my other half, Jill.
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When I joined our pickleball club court time was six days a week for three hours each day. Who ever showed up we played alternating winners/learners (my word) as courts became available when a match ended. As a newbie it was fun, mentors helped guide us to learn the game. Then it was decided members should rate themselves using a self rating chart. Our membership paid for our court fees during the winter and time slots were evenly divided based on ratings. Some believed members rated themselves incorrectly so testing sessions were arranged. I endeavour to improve my game using the system. Competition is not my goal. How do I now fit in to a club which has changed from who ever shows up to being slotted into a rated group? I feel caught between two worlds. I worry this will work against my attempts to improve.
Hi Shawn, I think it only works against your attempts to improve if you let it bother you mentally. If you feel a lot of pressure it might be time to consider a different place or group to play with. Perhaps you can even form your own group.
Excellent advice. And the “ Five Powerful tips on winning more games “
My problem is staying focused easily distracted.
Thinking of non important thing’s.
Do have trouble sleeping.
Enjoy coaching 2.5-4.0.
Could need help going through the process of getting certified as a coach.
Hi Gary if distraction is an issue, I’d recommend our Pickleball Therapy Podcast. It’s designed to help players focus. https://betterpickleball.com/podcast/. As far as certification, there are 3 organizations at this time ITPTA, PPR and PCI. They all have pro’s and con’s it depends more on what you’d like to get from the certification but they are all good organizations.
This is a great piece, as an instructor for beginners and intermediate players, I have explained to them these basic pillars of the sport. I enjoyed your explanation and examples. I liked the GPS analogy! Thanks
Hi Joe, thanks for sharing this great sport with other players!
I am in! How do I sign up? This sounds like a great way to help me transition tennis out of my pickleball/tennis life!
Hi Jo. Welcome to pickleball! If you are inquiring about sign ups for the next Pickleball System Class which starts in October, you can join the waitlist here. https://betterpickleball.com/pickleball-system-waitlist/ In the meantime, we’ve got a number of resources right here on the website, videos, podcasts, blogs. Use the search bar to find the topics that interest you the most.
Informative and insightful.
We’re glad you enjoyed it John
You guys are the best! You are so knowledgeable about the entire game. How did u get so knowledgeable, studying the game, years of playing? You can see how much your intentions are for others to get better and I thank you for all that you do in that regard. 🙏
Deb from Canada.
Wish you would come up here and run one of your camps. They are the only ones I would go to as I trust your honest intentions and that you are not only interested in making money like the guru is.
Hi Deb, thank you for such a nice compliment. We’ll be having camps in Tampa in the first quarter of 23 and Tahoe later in the year. We realize that the cost including travel may be prohibitive for some people, which is why we created the Pickleball System. Think of it like an online version of our camp. We’ll be forming a new class in October. We hope we get the chance to meet you!