CJ Johnson Headshot
CJ Johnson
Tony Roig
Tony Roig

Teaching Pickleball and Advice Giving-A Look Through the Eyes of a Contrarian

One of the things that makes teaching pickleball so much fun is there are always exceptions to the rule. It also makes receiving pickleball advice confusing.


In addition to teaching pickleball, I coach golf and skiing. In my career as both athlete and teacher, I’ve encountered a lot of advice-givers, some good coaches, and a few great coaches.

What’s the difference?

Advice givers are everywhere. They are eager to share the latest tip or tell you what you should be doing to improve. Mostly they parrot something they’ve heard and rarely understand if or why that skill would be appropriate. Usually, their input is unsolicited.  (Beware; they are lurking in every sport!)

Good coaches have a fundamental understanding of how to teach a skill. They understand the fundamentals and how to build correct movement patterns.

Great coaches master more than just the skill. They understand people, and they know how to teach the skill that’s most appropriate for the student. Additionally, they are well versed in communication and can adapt to the student’s preferred learning style.

My friend Bev drove this point home when she recently shared her thoughts on taking the ball out of the air versus letting it bounce.

To a person, instructors and coaches tell us to take the pickleball in the air as a volley whenever you can, rather than bouncing it.

I guess I have always been a contrarian, and once again, I see it differently. Here’s why I sometimes favor the bounce.

Taking the ball in the air is all about speed – giving your opponents less time to react or get into position. And that is a great advantage. But you also have to be mighty quick to hit all volleys. And, you can only volley the higher shots that come to you, often reacting rather than plotting and controlling the delivery.

Letting the ball bounce gives your opponents more time to get into position and anticipate your shot. But it also gives you more time to consider your options.

What I have found is the longer I  wait for the ball to bounce, the more entrenched the opponents get in their positions waiting for the action. If I am patient and can disguise my return shot, I will hit a well-placed winner. Since I am not much of a slammer, I find more finesse opportunities if I let it bounce.

To each her own. . .

Perhaps this isn’t just a contrarian’s thoughts on the bounce. Maybe there’s a message about advice-giving and teaching pickleball here.

Some might read this and think that Bev shouldn’t be trying to hit a well-placed winner. Others may say that letting the ball bounce moves you off the non-volley zone and puts you in a weaker position. Still, others would encourage her to work on her reactions and volleys. While there may be some truth to all of those observations, in reality, her approach makes perfect sense for her.

In my opinion, two of a coach’s most significant considerations when teaching are physical stature/ability, and current/desired level of expertise. It’s evident to most that teaching someone who is 5’0 vs. 6’0 is as different as teaching someone who is 30, 50, or 70.

What’s less obvious is that it also means considering if that person wants to be a little better rec player or desires to be a competitive 5.0.

Perhaps most importantly, WHY does a person do what they do?

What does this mean if you aren’t regularly “teaching pickleball”?

It’s a great reminder that coaching or merely doling out advice requires you to understand THE INDIVIDUAL.

Yes, the advice may be correct, but if you don’t understand their goals and if they haven’t asked for your input, do you know what’s best for them?

Maybe next time you are in a situation to teach or give advice, you’ll stop and ask the player WHY?

Is Bev a contrarian? I think not.

What are your thoughts, to bounce or not to bounce or to coach or not to coach? Put your comments down below.

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 Mary on September 21, 2019 at 3:16 pm

    Like all things, the decision to bounce or not to bounce is situational. Yes, there are many times at the NVZ when I want to take it in the air- taking time away from my opponent. Personally, I prefer to NOT give up my position at the NVZ very often. But, there are also situations where I need to buy a little time. Let’s say my partner gets pulled out of position. That is one time where I might risk losing my position at the net, take a step back, and get the ball on the bounce – thus giving my partner time to recover his/her position. Or, if my opponent is quickly attaching balls, I might want to step back, let the ball bounce, then do a very soft reset.

    Thanks for bringing up subjects like this. Rather than discussing whether this is an always true/always false situation, subjects like this inspire one to really think about when they do certain things on the court.

    • Avatar photo Cathy Jo Johnson on September 22, 2019 at 9:06 am

      There are many times I answer a question with “it depends” and some people find it very frustrating. I think along the same lines you do Mary, let’s have a discussion and then find out what works for you!

  2. Avatar photo Wally on September 21, 2019 at 3:39 pm

    CJ as always your spot on. My reach is limited, I hit the ball on the end of the paddle a lot, when it does not bounce. My aggression also gets me in trouble , and I attack the ball that is not attachable. Love talking with you. We are doing skills and drills on Tuesday afternoon, we use what you have taught us. The people have no negative comments so far. Much thanks. Wally

    • Avatar photo Cathy Jo Johnson on September 22, 2019 at 9:03 am

      Wally I had a great time with everyone in Graeagle. You have developed a group of players who are eager to learn. Congratulations on your efforts. Thanks again for your hospitality, I can’t wait to visit again!

  3. Avatar photo D Olive on September 22, 2019 at 5:08 am

    Yes I see for an older player age 71 it is better to let it bounce as better chance to return shot and more time to think

    • Avatar photo Cathy Jo Johnson on September 22, 2019 at 9:02 am

      I believe you are right, we need to take a lot of things into consideration and develop shots that are best for us.

  4. Avatar photo Chuck Dunn on September 25, 2019 at 11:54 am

    I am 82 and getting low at the NVZ is getting a little difficult so most of the time, if it is not easily reached I let it bounce but try to return it while it is still low. I think the idea is to not give them (on the other side of the net) a chance to attack and a high bounce or high return will have you eating the ball, and it don’t taste good. I think it is up to each shot. Don’t try to say “I will get each shot before it bounces every time”. Let your body tell you what it should do. You brain works a whole lot faster if you are not trying to think each shot.
    I am enjoying your letters very much.
    Thank you

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