CJ Johnson Headshot
CJ Johnson
Tony Roig
Tony Roig

Stop Trying to Play Like the Pickleball Pro’s

If you want to improve your pickleball, stop trying to play like the pros. That may seem counterintuitive, but let’s think about it for a moment.

Chances are pretty good that unless you’re a pickleball pro, you don’t;

Hit like a pro
Play like a pro
Train like a pro
And most importantly, you don’t play their opponents.

So….stop trying to play like a pro.

Now, let me clarify that before everyone has heart failure.

If you’re trying to change your technique, find the pro that hits that shot the best, and see if you can emulate what they do.

If you want great footwork, look at Jennifer Lucore.
Who else dinks more consistently than Gigi LaMaster?
If you want a great backhand serve, look no further than Scott Moore.

But when it comes to playing, you don’t play their opponents, so why copy their style of play and strategies?

Recently I was talking to Helle Sparre, and Ben Johns name came up, arguably one of the best pickleball pros in the world today.

Players try to emulate his style and his shots, specifically the backhand roll. A shot that he’s mastered that few others are capable of doing consistently, similar to Karem Abdul Jabbar’s skyhook.

Her observation was that when players without the ability or physical conditioning try to copy his style of play, they often put themselves at a disadvantage against their opponents.

They don’t need that shot to win the rally, and either they make a mistake by trying to do too much, Or if they do manage to execute the shot, they’re often out of position for the next shot because they don’t understand exactly how and when to use it.

Now that you know when to copy the pickleball pros and when not to what should you do to improve?

If you want to get better at your level of pickleball, figure out how to do these three things.

1. Solve the problems that you encounter today.

What is it that you face every time you walk out on the pickleball court?

As an example, let’s talk about baseline lobs.

If you watch pickleball pros you rarely see a lob from the baseline. One of the reasons is it’s not an effective strategy because most of those players have an almost impossible to return overhead smash.

Yet at lower levels, a baseline lob could help your team get to the non-volley zone.

I watched a team win the Gold medal 4.0 women’s division at a large tournament almost exclusively by hitting lobs, defending from the baseline, and waiting for the other side to miss.

2. What skills will you need to solve the problems at your level?

Let’s use our lob example again.

While that may help you win a tournament or move to the NVZ at your current level as you move up in levels, the opponents you face will have better overheads. That requires you to develop another method of getting to the non-volley zone, the third shot drop or a third shot drive.

3. Make a Plan

You know me, plan, plan, plan.

Anything unplanned is left to chance. Put a plan into place to start building those skills.

Now some of you are thinking how exactly do you do that?

The first thing to do is to become a student of the game.

While professional pickleball players are fun and exciting to watch, you’ll get more value by viewing tournament videos of people who are your age at your level.

Professional players often have rallies that go 20, 30, or 40 plus shots.

However, if you watch most 3.5 and below level players, the average rally is somewhere around five shots. This shows you which shots are most important for improvement at that level.

The second thing is self-awareness.

Take a critical look at your pickleball game. What are your strengths and your weaknesses?

Here’s one of my most popular resources
to help you take a critical look at your game and create a personalized practice plan.

Once you’ve got your baseline, here are two different video series to help. This one focuses on the basics, and a second focuses on the harder shots in pickleball. These videos are full of tips and drills to help you solve your problems today and get ready for tomorrow.


CJ Johnson

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)


  1. Avatar photo Debi on July 4, 2020 at 3:11 pm

    Thank you CJ , great advice..
    will try watching more 4.0 play as I am trying to become a more consistent 4.0 player..
    love your videos.

    • Avatar photo Cathy Jo Johnson on July 4, 2020 at 8:10 pm

      Hi Debi, there are a lot of matches on Youtube. Let me know what you notice!

  2. Avatar photo Mayruth Guenter on July 4, 2020 at 3:56 pm

    This was really helpful. I love to focus on one improvement and work on it until i feel i have at least improved it.

    • Avatar photo Cathy Jo Johnson on July 4, 2020 at 8:09 pm

      Hi Maryruth that’s a good plan. Too many people hop from one area to another and never really see improvement.

  3. Avatar photo Tannie on July 4, 2020 at 7:12 pm

    Thank you CJ! Love your tips and down-to-earth help!
    Looking forward to utilizing worksheets!
    Have a happy and healthy 4th (and beyond)!

    • Avatar photo Cathy Jo Johnson on July 4, 2020 at 8:08 pm

      Hi Tannie, Thank You and I hope you have a great holiday as well.

  4. Avatar photo James R Crane on July 4, 2020 at 9:39 pm

    excellent video. I definitely was trying to improve too many things too fast. crawl before you walk. This year I have slowed my game way down in order to work on ball control and ball placement. Before I was tying to keep up with the heavy hitters. Your suggestions hit home.

  5. Avatar photo ray Eargle on July 5, 2020 at 9:51 pm

    Hello CJ your info is great I wanted to thank you. I am really at the holding pattern until COVID – 19 gets figured out. I play with my wife. I have the garage hanging ball and the courts when no one else is on them. Also, an exercise program to keep me ready.
    Please keep the info flowing thanks for the insight.

    • Avatar photo Cathy Jo Johnson on July 11, 2020 at 5:16 am

      Hi Ray, Sounds like you are doing everything you should so you play well post COVID. Stay Safe. CJ

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