Intentionality is a big concept. It covers a lot of ground.
CJ and I use intentionality as a guiding principle in everything we do at Better Pickleball. From videos to camps to a phone conversation with a member. A great deal of what we teach can be boiled down to applying intentionality in your game and in your life (at least as it pertains to pickleball – if not beyond).
In its simplest meaning, intentionality is “the fact of being deliberate or purposive.”
Reading this blog is an intentional act. Stubbing your toe, by comparison, is not.
What, you may ask, does this have to do with pickleball? The short answer: everything.
Many pickleball players – even perhaps the majority of them – play reactionary pickleball. The players move around the court and hit the pickleball, but they do so in a purely reflexive manner – like when your leg kicks out when the small rubber hammer strikes your knee at the doctor’s office.
Many shots hit by players are simply hitting in the general direction of the opposite court. The ball comes over, and the ball is hit back. That is it.
This sort of play is reactionary: players are simply reacting to balls coming at them and then sending the ball back from where it came.
Intentional play involves not just sending the ball back over the net.
Intentional play means having a purpose for each shot. For example, are you trying to hit a shot that will bounce inside the Non Volley Zone (a reset)? Or are you trying to attack one side of a player (I.e., the backhand or forehand)? Finally, are you hitting your fourth shot to accomplish some objective (like keeping them back)?
All of these are examples of intentional shots.
Let’s take the last one and break it down a bit further to illustrate the difference: the fourth shot. A common error occurs when players hit too-short fourth shots. It is one of those “hidden” errors because it may not be readily apparent to the player that it was an error.
A too-short fourth shot gives up some of the advantage that you have as the return team and makes the job of the serve team easier. The question, then, is why a player would hit a short fourth shot?
Was that the intention of the shot? The answer is likely “no” (if it is “yes,” that is a different conversation). The intentional shot, there should be the shot that keeps the serve team as deep as possible.
To be clear, we are not talking about a ball that is short because it was mis-hit; mechanical errors will happen no matter what. Instead, we are talking about a ball that is short because the player did not intend anything different. In other words, where there was no intentionality in the shot hit by the player: the ball simply ended up where it ended up.
Intentionality in the shots you hit, however, is the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Intentionality starts before you step onto the court:
- Have you prepared mentally for the day? (listening to an episode of the Pickleball Therapy podcast on the way to the courts is a great way to do this)
- Is your body ready – stretched and warmed up – to do your bidding on the court? Here’s a 5-minute warm-up to help you get ready to play.
- Are you taking care of your body between game days (stretching, strengthening, cardio)?
While you are playing, intentionality includes:
- Hitting the shot (or at least trying to) that makes the most sense then.
- Knowing where you are standing on the court and trying to put yourself in the best position.
- Knowing where your opponents’ strengths and weaknesses are.
- Having a general strategy for each rally and the game.
If you are serious about your pickleball improvement, intentionality plays an important role there too:
- What are you doing to improve your shots (The Mechanical Pillar)?
- Your understanding of the game (The Strategic Pillar)?
- Your mind and body (The Athletic Pillar)?
- Do you have a trusted source helping you (The Better Pickleball Success Path™)?
- Do you have a plan for your improvement – for you to achieve your pickleball objectives?
As you can see, intentionality permeates every aspect of our relationship with pickleball. The more intentionality in your pickleball and how you approach it, the more success you will have. And the more confidence and fun. You will be in charge – be the protagonist of your game.
Next time you are playing, pick one or two things to be more intentional about: warm-up and stretch before you play, and then focus on your court position when you serve and return.
Then the following time you play, add a couple more: listen to a Pickleball Therapy episode on your way to the courts and try to figure out the weak spot on your opponents. Keep going, and eventually, you will be the most intentional player on your courts.
The Better Pickleball Success Path™ is grounded in intentionality: about your shots, your strategy, and your mind/body connection. click here if you’d like to like to learn more about the pillars. And when you are ready to be more intentional, go to Better Pickleball.com/join-us to find out when the next Success Path Class opens.
Keep working on it!
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.