CJ Johnson Headshot
CJ Johnson
Tony Roig
Tony Roig

2023 is Almost Here – What’s Next For Your Pickleball Game?

2022 is mostly in our rearview mirror and is soon to be entirely behind us. 2023 is just around the corner, and we will be on that segment of the road for quite a while (one year, to be exact). What’s next for your pickleball game?

This is a great time for some reflection, followed by projection. More specifically:

    1. What was your pickleball journey like in 2022?
    2. What do you expect (want) your pickleball journey to look like in 2023?

Once we have gone through the process, we will share with you some framing for yourself as a player and give you specific tips you can work on for 2023. And, if you are still not sure what to do, we will share with you the “Easy” button you can press to make serious progress in 2023.

Looking back on 2022

Before we look forward to 2023, let’s spend some time looking back at 2022. There are lessons we can take from 2022 into our 2023 journey.

What did we do well during 2022? What could we have done better to get us the results we wanted?

Let’s complete this 4-step process. You can use the 2022 Accountability Worksheet we prepared for you, which is attached as a downloadable .pdf to this article. The Worksheet has spaces where you can write your answers for each.

STEP 1Where were you on January 1, 2022, as a pickleball player (or as early as you started if you are new to pickleball, in which case, welcome to the game)?

What shots were you comfortable with, and which shots were a challenge?

Time to review your Mechanical Pillar.

      1. Serve and return of serve
      2. Dinking, including the third shot drop (a long dink, essentially)
      3. Volleying: block and punch

There are other shots, to be sure, but these are the trinity of pickleball.

What was your understanding of the game?

Time to review your Strategic Pillar.

      1. Did you differentiate between serve and return side play?
      2. Did you have clear objectives when on the serve side?
      3. Did you have clear objectives on the return of serve side?
      4. Did you happen to know the shots to hit to accomplish each of these objectives?

Where were you in body and mind?

Time to review your Athletic Pillar.

      1. Could you play at your best for the entire session of play?
      2. Were you injury-prone or suffer from aches and pains connected to pickleball?
      3. Were you in a good place, mentally, regarding pickleball and your relationship with the game?

Explore any other characteristics important to you as a player and person (physical condition, social circles, confidence as a player, etc.).

Take some time to complete the process. The answers will give you a starting point for the remainder of the exercise and will allow you to make the most out of 2023.

NOTE – this article is premised on you being a player who is curious about the sport and wants to grow as a pickleball player. The tools we share with you here are aimed at helping you accomplish your pickleball objectives.

STEP 2-Where are you today as a pickleball player?

Go through the same litany of questions from above with today as your date. There is space on your Worksheet to complete this step.

STEP 3-Are you satisfied with where you are now (end of the year) in that area?

For each area, identify whether you are satisfied with where you are at the end of the year. You can think of this in a couple of different ways. One way is, did you make enough progress in an area? This would apply if you were intentionally working on it.

For example, you started the year with a backhand block volley that could use some work. You then spent some time during the year focusing on improving your backhand block volley. Are you satisfied with where your block volley was at the end of the year?

Another way to think of satisfaction is for an area where you did not spend focused attention. Are you satisfied with your proficiency in that area? For example, you did not spend time working on your serve side strategies. Are you, in any event, satisfied with the way you play when you are on the serve side?

STEP 4- Are there things you could have done differently in 2022?

Something that you either would have made more progress in your game or, in any event, been more satisfied with your pickleball now?

You can answer this last one as generally or as specifically as you care to. The more specificity, the more actionable your answer will be. Compare “spend more time drilling” to “join the Tuesday night drills group and drilled on my [fill in with the shot that most troubles you].”

Through this process, you will gain a good starting point for where you are today and the things that you could have, perhaps, done differently so that today you would be in a place that is closer to where you want to be as a pickleball player.

Looking forward

Now that we know where we are and how we got here let’s turn to 2023. You can use the 2023 Planning Worksheet, also attached as a downloadable .pdf to this article. The Worksheet will help you track what you will do for 2023.

STEP 1. Where do you want to be – as a pickleball player – on December 31, 2023?

This is a general question. It could be achieving a specific level of play, joining a certain group of players, understanding the return side, etc. Whatever it is, describe yourself in a way that, come December 31, 2023, you can say, “I got there” or, maybe, “I did not get there.”

Before we continue planning for 2023, I am going to frame the game out in a way that will help you determine the next step along your pickleball journey. Set aside your Worksheet for a moment, and let’s dive in.

The skill of every pickleball player can be defined along two major categories:

    • How much stress can you withstand on the pickleball court?
    • How much stress can you impart on the pickleball court?

When we use the term “stress” here we are not talking about the stress of taking an exam or being late for an appointment. We mean the stress that is inherent to playing pickleball: hitting a shot, responding to a lob, having a ball banged hard at you. Those sorts of stresses.

Withstanding stress means that you can hit the shots you need to hit without much mental or physical angst. Think of it this way: a ball is traveling towards you, and you are setting up to hit your next shot, be it a dink, block volley, or return of serve. How do you feel at that moment? Does it feel stressful to have to hit the ball? Is your mind full of the steps that are part of the process of hitting that shot?

The higher the stress caused by executing a shot, the lower the player’s ability to withstand stress. This is not a criticism – it is an objective observation that will help you determine where to focus next.

Most beginner/intermediate players (2.5-3.5 level) have lower stress thresholds than advanced intermediate/advanced players (4.0+ level). Their rallies generally end because of a mechanical shot error (or an “easy” put away) created from flaws in the mechanical part of these players’ games.

By contrast, most 4.0+ players are good at withstanding stress. They can hit the shots they want to hit, have a generally decent understanding of the strategy of the game, and overall play well-rounded pickleball. Their rallies end usually become of some elevated stress that has been applied to them by their opponent as opposed to a mechanical error from a “regular” shot.

Now that you have a productive framework you can use to identify your priorities as a player, let’s get back to your 2023 plan of action.

STEP 2. What specific actions can you take to accomplish your answer to No. 1?

You may already have some ideas here, but let’s continue with the above framework for a bit. As you saw above, we can use the 4.0 level as a useful dividing point to determine our focus for 2023.

If you are not yet a solid 4.0 player, you will want to focus on increasing your resistance to stress. The reality of the games you are playing is that the other players also have a low-stress tolerance. If you can increase your tolerance above theirs (make fewer mistakes), then you will win more rallies (and games) without having to add a spin shot or fancy attack serve.

If you are not sure where to start, improve your block volley. Having a sound block volley will help you better withstand the stress applied by hard shots. Think of the bangers you face. An effective block volley will give you the confidence to face them down (you will also want to learn how to avoid out balls, but let’s get the block volley down first).

Here is a video you can watch to see the steps of an effective block volley: https://youtu.be/fiCDh9jvrqI. Notice how calm our guest pro is when she is volleying balls hit at her as hard as we (as pro players) can hit.

If you are already a 4.0+ player, your focus will shift to learning skills for imparting stress to your opponents. A skill we really like, and one that is being used more and more at the highest levels, is the Non-Volley Zone lob. Here is a video you can watch to see the NVZ lob in action: https://youtu.be/b3RIoM_47q0. Notice the impact of the shot – and this is at the highest level of senior pro play at Nationals.

If you are not already subscribed to the In2Pickle Channel, make sure to press that “Bell” button so you are notified of future videos.

Side note – you may be a 4.0+ player who excels at applying stress but not taking it. That was me early in my pickleball journey. I had to work the other way, learning how to take stress better even though I already knew how to impart plenty of it (e.g. I had to work on developing a more reliable backhand dink). If this is you, then use your new understanding of the complete pickleball player – withstand and impart – to determine what to start with.

These two recommended starting points will get you going towards having a productive 2023; taking steps to get you to be the player you want to be.

The solution for all players

This article would be incomplete if I did not also share with you a solution that will provide you with all the tools you need as well as a well-marked path for you to follow to see a remarkable improvement in your game in 2023. This is the “Easy” button I referenced above in that it puts everything you need at your fingertips.

As you no doubt know by now, CJ and I have dedicated our professional careers to helping players, just like you, play their best pickleball (you may have even heard this phrase before because it is what we do).

We know that you want to learn the game and want to play better pickleball. You want to understand what is happening out there and make the most of your time on the pickleball court.

Players who have joined us inside the Pickleball System consistently share with us that this increased understanding and resulting confidence is exactly what has happened to their games:

Alan: “To have an IDEA on the court about how to move, how to hit, when to make a shot, and where, specifically during the first four shots, has been transformational for me. Thank you. I have really benefitted from your course and am still working on lots of things.”

Katie: “I wanted to let you know I have seen a good amount of improvement in my game already. I am a 4.0 player and am playing more calmly and focused, and confidently. My team wins more as a result, even when I’m paired with the weakest player on the court. Your teaching format suits me and has been a real revelation.”

Beth: [After playing in a round-robin with an advanced group of players, Beth and her husband were told they were welcome any time]. “You will love that they said that one reason we would be welcomed is that we understand the game. Thanks again for all you have done for my game! And it’s not just the game—it’s my attitude about the game, myself, etc. I really appreciate the whole package that you and Tony offer.”

Robin: “Perhaps most important: finally understanding the game, not just hitting a ball over a net, relaxing and truly enjoying playing. Thank you, thank you, thank you! CJ and Tony — I cannot say enough good things about the System! Pardon the pun, but it has been a real game-changer for me.”

Each of these players – with their own background, skillset, and approach to the game – has made huge gains in their understanding of pickleball as well as in their performance on the court.

CJ and I want to give you our superpower: clearly “seeing” what is happening during a pickleball game. Knowing what is going on with each shot, each movement, on decision. We designed and built THE Pickleball System to do just this for you.

If you are ready for a significant change in your pickleball game in 2023, join our next class starting on January 9, 2023.

The System is not a set of videos that you just get and put on your shelf and forget about. The System is a yearlong course overseen by CJ and myself to get you where you want to go.

There are two ways you can go about joining us inside the System:

    1. You can register for the Winter ’23 Class. To register, visit this link for the next steps in this process. You will immediately gain access to our 3-Part Miniseries sharing with you the most important concepts to playing your best pickleball and getting you ready for your class.
    2. You can register just for the 3-Part Miniseries. You will learn the core concepts that dictate how you play and work on your game. You will also learn more about the Pickleball System and can (provided seats are remaining) then join the Winter ’23 Class. We will be sending out details about the Miniseries course on December 26th. **Note that registering for the Miniseries does not secure a seat in the upcoming class.

As you think about which one is right for you, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

    • Your System registration comes with a money-back guarantee. Thus, the decision to register for the Winter ’23 Class should hinge on one, and only one, question: do you want to make meaningful improvements in your game in 2023? If “yes,” there is really nothing more to consider.
    • If you have not registered for the Winter ’23 Class by the start of class, you will need to wait until the next class. Again, this is not a DVD video set. You are joining a class.

Here’s to a Great 2023

No matter what you decide, CJ and I are glad to be a part of your pickleball journey in whatever capacity you have chosen. Whether it is reading this far in an article, subscribing to our YouTube channels, listening to the Pickleball Therapy podcast, or going all-in as a student in our Pickleball System.

When you are ready for us to be a bigger part of your journey, we will be here. Seeing the game as we do is what we hope for all of you in 2023. We will do what we can to make that a reality.

Have a great holiday season.

Tony Roig

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.

2 Comments

  1. Avatar photo Kevin Keller on December 18, 2022 at 2:30 pm

    Thanks for all you do for this sport! Appreciate your efforts to help us grow in our understanding of this great game. Thankful for all the instructional videos as well!

    • Avatar photo Tony on December 20, 2022 at 4:06 pm

      Thank you Kevin – it is our pleasure to play our part. Happy holidays.

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